GAZETTE: How does this all translate to the classroom, and what you are teaching?

MITRA: This semester I taught a course directly on my research from my first book called “The Sexual Life of Colonialism.” This course is based in the colonial/postcolonial world. It focuses on diverse geographies, including South Asia, Southeast Asia, Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa, and it looks at questions of same-sex sexuality, interracial sexuality, queer sexuality, transgender politics, and rights in those spaces and questions of disability. The other course I taught was “Solidarity: Transnational Women’s Rights from Suffrage to NGOs,” which is based on my book project that I’m working on now. My first book is about erasure and control of female sexuality in the making of modern social theory, while my second book moves forward in time to the later part of the 20th century to ask what happens when women take up intellectual life and systematically start to account for the conditions of women’s lives in the decolonizing world. In many ways, this project again circles back to my mother. Women of her generation and one generation before her were the first set of women to get Ph.D.s in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. So, unlike the colonial period, modern social theory is no longer just men studying women. Instead, with the writings of Third World women, I ask: What kind of radical imaginations do women have for the future of their societies that are more equitable for women?

My “Solidarity” class is part of the Long 19th Amendment Project, which is a Mellon-funded project at the Schlesinger Library. It was meant to be entirely taught in the library as a workshop or laboratory, with discussions and also work with primary materials. After our classroom went remote due to COVID-19, the course moved online, and we used the extraordinary digitized collections of the Schlesinger Library to work together in an online lab setting. I think, despite the challenges of moving to remote teaching, the course was a success because every class we came together to learn together through an encounter with archival objects and think critically about women’s issues, including issues exacerbated by COVID-19, from issues of unequal gendered distribution of housework to the dramatic increase in domestic violence as people stayed at home. The course was experimental, in an exciting way, and really showed how critically important it is to continue to study and teach women’s lives and struggles during this uncertain time.

Interview was lightly edited for clarity and length.