History

Establishing the Pembroke Center

Brown University established the Pembroke Center in 1981 as a research center on gender, with historian Joan Wallach Scott as its founding director. Funded in its early years by the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Rockefeller Foundation, the Center now supports its programs largely through endowment, made possible by generous alumnae and other donors.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, numerous centers for research on women and gender were established in the US. What distinguished the Pembroke Center was its focus on the theoretical dimensions of the category of gender. The story of the Center's uniqueness can be seen in the relation between its name and its research mission--a relation that has carried a productive tension from the beginning. In 1981, a decade after the merger of Pembroke College with the [men's] College, the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women was named in honor of Pembroke College and the history of women's efforts to gain access to higher education. The first two women were admitted to Brown in 1891. In 1928, the women's college was named Pembroke after Pembroke College at Cambridge University and retained that name until the 1971 merger. The name of the Center was designed to keep alive the history of women at Brown and Pembroke.

On the one hand, the name of the Center evokes the concrete historical achievements of women. At the same time, the Center's research and teaching has, from the outset, questioned the self-evident meanings of the categories of "women" and "woman." While most centers and programs in the late 1970s and the 1980s were taking women as a starting point, the Pembroke Center's scholars and students took neither women nor gender for granted, but looked, rather, at the many and complex articulations of difference that produce such categories and give them their historically specific meanings.

At the heart of the Center's research agenda is a questioning of what counts as foundational knowledge in a given discipline. This questioning of the production of knowledge is related, in turn, to the challenges that studies of "difference" present to the academy--gender studies; studies of race, ethnicity, multiculturalism; cross-cultural and postcolonial studies. Scholars affiliated with the Center look to the complex ways "differences" are produced culturally, socially, epistemologically: sexual and gender differences, the differences that are fundamental to the categories of "race" and ethnicity, nationality, religion, and so forth. It is there, at the intersection of the production of knowledge and articulations of "difference," that the Pembroke Center locates its research and teaching.

Pembroke Center Directors

Joan Wallach Scott, 1981-1985

Karen Newman, 1987-1993

Ellen Rooney, 1993-2000

Elizabeth Weed, 2000-2010

Kay Warren 2011-

Notes on Pembroke Center's History: 1981-2011, by Elizabeth Weed