Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society is recognized as the preeminent academic journal of women’s and gender studies. Signs is currently based at Northeastern University and is published by the University of Chicago Press. The journal was founded in 1975 and has been in continuous publication since.
Signs’ founding editor was Catharine R. Stimpson, then a professor of literature at Barnard College. Stimpson came to the project through the efforts of Jean Sacks, who conceived of the new journal during her tenure as manager of the journals division at the University of Chicago Press and had secured the support of the press (including its director, Morris Philipson), arguing for the project’s merit and viability. Sacks, who continued to be involved with the journal until her retirement in 1984, approached Stimpson at Barnard’s 1974 The Scholar and the Feminist conference, and Stimpson agreed to edit the journal.
In her inaugural editorial, Stimpson wrote that the journal was committed to “publish[ing] the new scholarship about women.” This new scholarship exhibited a “charged, restless consciousness” that questioned “the social, political, economic, cultural, and psychological arrangements that have … defined femininity and masculinity.” The editorial also raised concerns regarding the nature of interdisciplinary work and knowledge production that continue to animate feminist scholarship, including that published in Signs.
With the recognition that “truth is never monolithic” Signs established a commitment to interdisciplinarity and to publishing multiple, often contradictory, voices. To create this space, Signs published several genres: editorials, articles, review essays, research reports, and “lost or forgotten” archival documents. And with the commitment to interdisciplinarity came concerns about the methodology of feminist scholarship: “Does it differ from a focus on women or on sex roles or from traditional scholarship?” a question that has come up again and again in subsequent issues of Signs and in feminist scholarship more broadly.
Over the past forty years, the genres published by Signs and the topics engaged in the journal have certainly changed. But Signs remains a space where the feminist scholarship is enacted through interdisciplinary, multiply voiced conversation and debate, all in a spirit recognizing that “intellectual value lies not in stasis but in energetic diversities,” as it was put in the second issue of Signs.
The editorship of Signs rotates periodically, and has taken different forms: single editors, pairs, and collectives. From 1975–80, Signs was edited by Stimpson (Barnard College). From 1980–85, the editor in chief was Barbara C. Gelpi (Stanford University). From 1985–90, the editor in chief was Jean F. O’Barr (Duke University). She was succeeded by Ruth-Ellen Boetcher Joeres and Barbara Laslett (University of Minnesota), who edited the journal from 1990–95. From 1995–2000, the editors in chief were Carolyn Allen and Judith A. Howard (University of Washington), who were succeeded by Sandra Harding and Kathryn Norberg (University of California, Los Angeles), who served as editors from 2000-2005. From 2005-2014, Mary Hawkesworth (Rutgers University) served as editor in chief. Since 2015, the journal has been edited by Suzanna Danuta Walters (Northeastern University), with Carla Kaplan (Northeastern University) serving as Chair of the Board of Associate Editors.
Launching a Journal, Building an Academic Field: The Legacies of Signs, an event celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Signs, featuring reflections from editors of Signs, including Catharine Stimpson, Barbara Gelpi, Barbara Laslett and Ruth-Ellen Boetcher Joeres, Carolyn Allen, Kathryn Norberg, and Mary Hawkesworth, as well as remarks from Holly Smith of Rutgers University and Andrew Bauman from the University of Chicago Press. The event was held at Mabel Smith Douglass Library, Rutgers University, on April 6, 2006.
Celebrating Signs@40: Feminist Scholarship through Four Decades, which took place at Rutgers University’s Douglass Library on November 20, 2014, explores the history of feminist publishing and the use of digital humanities techniques to map the field. Hosted by Professor Mary Hawkesworth, outgoing Editor in Chief of Signs, the program begins with Signs Founding Editor Catharine Stimpson and Founding Associate Editor Domna Stanton offering reflections on the establishment of the journal and its pivotal role in the early years of women’s studies. Art historian and Signs Associate Editor Susan Sidlauskas discusses the evolution of the cover art of the journal. Women’s Studies Librarian Kayo Denda uses the topic model of Signs to discuss archives and libraries in the journal. Then, Andrew Mazzaschi, Andrew Goldstone, Lindsey Whitmore, Susana Galán, and C. Laura Lovin, editors of the Signs@40 virtual issue, discuss how its use of digital humanities techniques, including topic modeling, a cocitation graph, and edited tables of contents, offers new possibilities for teaching, research, and understanding the history of feminist scholarship and the field of women’s and gender studies.
Catharine R. Stimpson’s inaugural editorial.
Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi’s first editorial, Signs 6, no. 3 (1981).
Jean F. O’Barr’s first editorial, Signs 11, no. 3 (1986).
Barbara Laslett and Ruth-Ellen Boetcher Joeres, “Looking Backward, Moving Forward,” Signs 16, no. 3 (1991).
Barbara Laslett and Ruth-Ellen Boetcher Joeres, “Looking Backward, Moving Forward: Five Years Later,” Signs 20, no. 3 (1995).
Carolyn Allen and Judith A. Howard, “Signs: Moving Forward in Provocative Times,” Signs 21, no. 3 (1996).
Sandra Harding and Kathryn Norberg, “From the Signs Editors: New Contexts, New Issues,” Signs 27, no. 4 (2002).
Mary Hawkesworth, “Legacies, Transitions, and New Directions at Signs,” Signs 31, no. 4 (2006).
Mary Hawkesworth, “Signs 2005–2015: Reflections on the Nature and Global Reach of Interdisciplinary Feminist Knowledge Production,” Signs 36, no. 3 (2011).
Suzanna Danuta Walters, “Thinking and Doing Feminism,” Signs 40, no. 3 (2015).
Kelly Coogan-Gehr, “The Politics of Race in U.S. Feminist Scholarship: An Archaeology,” Signs 37, no. 1 (2011).