York women’s studies professor to edit a motherhood encyclopedia

York women’s studies Professor Andrea O’Reilly is always several steps ahead of the curve, always pushing forward into new territory, and her latest project is no exception. O’Reilly is in the beginning stages of editing an encyclopedia of motherhood.

It will be the first encyclopedia of its kind. There are encyclopedias on just about every scholarly discipline imaginable, but motherhood has not been tackled until now.

As founder and director of the Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) and founder and editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering (JARM), O’Reilly is ideally suited to the task at hand. ARM, founded in 1998, was the first research association dedicated to mothering, while JARM, founded the following year, was the first scholarly journal devoted to mothering in the world. O’Reilly also launched Demeter Press in 2005, the first feminist press on motherhood, and has contributed to encyclopedias on masculinity and black women.

Right: Andrea O’Reilly, photo by Jennifer O’Reilly

“My job is to come up with the list of motherhood topics and invite individuals to do an entry on each. I will be inviting scholars from around the world,” says O’Reilly, considered a top scholar in the field of motherhood. “There will be 700 entries, so all topics will be covered from mother goddesses to childbirth and infertility to motherhood in Australia.”

Some of the other topics to be included are – young mothers, feminist mothering, mothering and poverty, violence and what it means to be a mother in places such as India or Africa.

The encyclopedia means a lot to O’Reilly. It means she can finally feel vindicated in the face of the many naysayers who brushed the subject of mothering aside as unworthy of academic study and research.

“It’s like ‘wow’, we’ve arrived. The encyclopedia means that motherhood is now recognized as an independent, viable and legitimate area of scholarship. When I first started doing motherhood scholarship close to two decades ago, it was seen as anything but,” says O’Reilly. “This encyclopedia means, for me, that day has indeed arrived and I am proud and delighted to know that ARM played an instrumental part in making it happen. Fifteen years ago, this would be unimaginable.”

Over the years, enough critical mass of scholarly work on mothering and motherhood was amassed to warrant an encyclopedia dedicated to the subject, she says.

Left: Andrea O’Reilly with her son, York MA student Jesse O’Reilly-Conlin

It has been her mission, says O’Reilly (BA ’85, MA ’87, PhD ’96), to create a distinct field of interdisciplinary and international scholarship called motherhood studies that is respected as an academic discipline in its own right. She realized there was a need for such a discipline in 1997 when she organized a conference on mothers and daughters, sponsored by the Centre for Feminist Research at York, and was overwhelmed by the response. A second conference the following year on mothers and sons was equally as popular. It was at that point O’Reilly decided to launch ARM not realizing that it was to become the first research association dedicated to motherhood in the world.

O’Reilly has published 14 books on mothering and designed and taught the first university course on motherhood in 1991. She is the author of Toni Morrison and Motherhood: A Politics of the Heart (Albany: SUNY Press, 2004) and Rocking the Cradle: Thoughts on Motherhood, Feminism and the Possibility of Empowered Mothering (Demeter Press, 2006). She is also the editor or co-editor of more than 10 books, including Maternal Theory: Essential Readings (Demeter Press, 2007), Motherhood: Power and Oppression (Women’s Press, 2005) and the forthcoming Feminist Mothering (SUNY Press, 2008).

Her current research projects include a three-year SSHRC-funded research project on “Being a Mother in the Academe” and a York Knowledge Mobilization research project on Young Motherhood.

This forward-thinking professor has won the University-Wide Teaching Award in 1998 and last year was given the Dean’s Award for Outstanding Research by the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies.

The encyclopedia, to be published by Sage Press in three volumes, is due out in 2010 and is expected to be available through the Internet and at university and public libraries.

For more information, visit the ARM Web site or e-mail O’Reilly at aoreilly@yorku.ca.

By Sandra McLean, York communications officer.