Yeshiva College Professor Receives Grant to Continue Work on Gender Issues in Nineteenth-Century France

By: Sarah Casteel  |  October 19, 2017

Dr. Rachel Mesch, associate professor of French and English at Yeshiva College, has been named a recipient of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) 2017 Public Scholar Program grant.  The $29,400 grant, intended to fund “well-researched books in the humanities intended for a broad audience,” will allow Mesch to take a semester off from teaching to finish her book titled, Trans Before Trans: Three Gender Outlaws in Nineteenth-Century France.  Mesch, who is a scholar in the areas of nineteenth-century French studies, women writers, and gender studies (among other things), intends to “offer a meaningful addition to contemporary debates” regarding gender.  In addition to many articles, this book will be Mesch’s third published work, along with The Hysteric’s Revenge (2006) and Having it All in the Belle Epoque (2013), both of which explore similar themes.

Mesch is excited about being able to continue her research “because of its relevance to our contemporary discussions, but also, because it is fundamentally about a human struggle that goes beyond questions of gender identity: that of self understanding.”  The book will follow three main subjects whose journeys to self discovery are both enlightening and relatable to readers.  The three women who lived in France in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, “did not see themselves as women” according to Mesch.  She will use their stories to shed light on the topic of gender identity before the modern idea and terminology of transgender identities existed.

Mesch said that, “This book is truly meant to connect the present to the past, and to help readers understand the richly textured discussions of identity associated with our present moment by situating them in a longer, critical, and historical trajectory.”  Her goal — like that of the NEH program — is to make her work available to scholars and non-scholars alike. This includes her own students and the YU community.  Mesch’s other works are recognized and highly revered amongst her students and fellow faculty.  She explains that her classes are “about getting students to be interested in the past and in worlds outside of their own, but also about developing an appreciation for the Humanities and how it can broaden one’s experience of the world.”  Her students often report that they gain new and meaningful understandings about the various subjects covered in class, and she hopes to accomplish a similar goal by making the findings of her current research public and accessible to them as well.

Yeshiva University values and appreciates its faculty members’ contributions to both scholarly circles and the institution’s academics, and Mesch’s book will be yet another of her many additions to the school’s resources for further learning and understanding of the greater world.  Mesch was previously awarded a small Dr. Kenneth Chelst Book Grant from Yeshiva College, allowing her to hire a YU student to transcribe various archival materials, but this substantial grant affords her the opportunity to complete her work back in Paris.  Mesch plans on taking a semester off from teaching to continue archival work and other research in what will be her second trip to Paris for the project.