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Handmaid’s re-telling: Library holdings explore ‘One Book’ novel

A pair of classes from fall 2018 used the Libraries’ holdings to go deeper into themes of The Handmaid’s Tale, this year’s One Book One Northwestern selection. A poster exhibit now on display at University Library draws on library materials to examine the lives of feminists and LGBTQ groups who were contemporaries of Margaret Atwood when she wrote her book about religious extremism and oppression.

Cartoon collage

Political cartoons from the Femina Collection.

The first-year seminar “The Handmaid’s Tale: Women, Speculative Fiction, and Dystopia,” taught by English professor Helen Thompson, focused on feminist attitudes from 1985, the year Atwood’s book was first published. Thompson’s class of 10 used the Femina Collection in the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections to find archival evidence of how feminists perceived their times.

“My first-year students had never been in Special Collections before, and were excited and surprised by the range of feminist periodicals,” Thompson said.  In addition to the rich array of material Thompson knew was there, she said students made two surprising discoveries:  a journal dedicated to witchcraft and a journal dedicated to music, both of which made appearances in the exhibit.Handmaid's Tale Poster Display

Fall quarter’s “Queer and Feminist Archives,” taught by graduate student Kyle Kaplan, also worked with the Femina Collection to investigate how marginalized lives are overlooked in historical records.

Feminist and Queer Archives exhibit“Feminist Periodicals in the Year of The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Engaging Archives:  Feminist and Queer Encounters from Northwestern University Libraries’ Special Collections” are on display through the end of spring quarter in 1 South.