Transcribing Class and Gender (2012)


It’s not very often you find a modern book written about the history of shorthand (this one was published in 2012).  I just started reading this so I can’t comment too much about it yet, but here is a summary from Amazon.

Transcribing Class and Gender: Masculinity and Femininity in Nineteenth-Century Courts and Offices by Carole Srole

From Amazon:

“Drawing upon census data, trade periodicals devoted to stenography
and court reporting, the writings of educational reformers, and fiction,
Srole allows us to better understand the roles that gender and work
played in the formation of middle-class identity. Clearly written and
thoroughly researched, her book reminds us of the contradictions that
both men and women faced as they navigated changes in the labor market
and sought to realize a modern professional identity.”
—Thomas Augst, New York University

Transcribing Class and Gender
explores the changing meanings of clerical work in nineteenth-century
America, focusing on the discourse surrounding that work. At a time when
shorthand transcription was the primary method of documenting business
and legal communications and transactions, most stenographers were men,
but changing technology saw the emergence of women in the once
male-dominated field. Carole Srole argues that this shift placed
stenographers in a unique position to construct a new image of the
professional man and woman and, in doing so, to redefine middle- and
working-class identities.

Many male court reporters emphasized their
professionalism, portraying themselves as educated language experts as a
way to elevate themselves above the growing numbers of female and
working-class stenographers and typewriter operators. Meanwhile, women
in the courts and offices were confronting the derogatory image of the
so-called Typewriter Girl who cared more about her looks, clothing, and
marriage prospects than her job. Like males in the field, women
responded by fashioning a gendered professional image—one that served
to combat this new version of degraded female labor while also
maintaining traditional ideals of femininity.

The study is
unique in the way it reads and analyzes popular fiction, stenography
trade magazines, the archives of professional associations, and writings
by educational reformers to provide new perspectives on this history.
The author challenges the common assumption that men and women clerks
had separate work cultures and demonstrates how each had to balance
elements of manhood and womanhood in the drive toward professionalism
and the construction of a new middle-class image. Transcribing Class and Gender
joins the recent scholarship that employs cultural studies approaches
to class and gender without abandoning the social history valuation of
workers’ experiences.

Carole Srole is Professor of History at California State University, Los Angeles.




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