Events

The Moment of British Women’s History: Memories, Celebrations, Assessments, Critiques

General Programming

Cosponsors
  • The Department of History
  • The Department of English
  • The University Seminar in Modern British History
  • British Studies at Columbia
  • The Institute for Research on Women and Gender
  • The Office of the President, Barnard College
Notes
  • Free and open to the public
  • First come, first seated

About forty years ago, historians of women began to claim a place for their subject as a distinct scholarly field. This movement emerged particularly powerfully in Britain, its early preoccupations and questions shaped by the feminist movement, the New Left, and especially by Thompsonian social history. A clutch of brilliant young feminist scholars uncovered the forgotten claims and achievements of women Chartists, Owenists, suffragists and social reformers, their work enabled by and further fostering a raft of innovative and successful (if financially fragile) networks, institutions, and publishing ventures. At the meetings of the London Feminist History Group and through chance encounters in the Fawcett Library’s rediscovered and rich collections, in early issues of Feminist Review and History Workshop Journal, through Virago Press’s publication of new scholarship on women and the rediscovered fiction and historical records of earlier periods, and in the struggle to found women’s studies courses and programs, this new field took shape.

That early flowering of British women’s history was symbiotically bound to American developments from the start. Strong transatlantic feminist ties brought young American women scholars to London, and the better-funded and, to a degree, more anarchic structure of American higher education also made space for collaboration. The Berkshires Conference of Women’s Historians, Feminist Studies and other new journals, and the Conference of Women’s Historians, fostered exchanges, friendships, and paradigms. Graduate courses and then graduate programs in women’s history and women’s studies emerged, launching a generation of women into the profession. Through the seventies, women’s history also engaged with, and was reshaped by, well-founded criticisms of its blindness to imperial legacies and racial hierarchies; paradigms asserting the ‘primacy of patriarchy’ jostled with those relying on the triumvirate of ‘race, sex, and class.’ Connections to literary criticism on the one hand, and to sociology on the other, turned Victorian ideology and male-dominated social structures into major foci of research. Then, suddenly, structuralist explanation was under challenge from within, as scholars turned to Foucault, Saussure and Lacan for a theory of ‘difference’ less tied to physical bodies and material or state structures. Some of the field’s prominent early founders changed course; ‘gender history’ had arrived.

Today, that moment of ‘women’s history’ seems both present and a long way off. The field’s founders and pioneers are now retiring. They leave impressive accomplishments – an academic landscape in which ‘women’ as subjects of study and ‘gender’ as a ‘useful category’ are taken for granted; positions, programs and professorial chairs in the UK and US alike; rich scholarship stretching across three generations. But institutionalization and what we might call analytic ‘complexification’ has also changed the field in many ways. It seems a good moment for celebration and acknowledgement, then, but also for reflection. How does this field now look to some of its early pioneers? How has mentorship and ‘school-formation’ worked? What have successive generations taken from earlier generations’ work, and how have they transformed it? What happened to those early institution and networks? What has been gained and lost through the process of institutionalization? What has happened both to the ‘place’ of the feminist imperative within history, and to the relatively privileged place of Britain within that scholarship?

Program

February 8, 2013  Friday

8:15am - 9:00am EDT

Coffee and Welcome (Susan Pederson)

9:00am - 10:15am EDT

Opening Panel - Situating the Subject: The History of Women’s History

Bonnie Smith

Board of Governors Professor of History

Rutgers University

Kathryn Gleadle

Lecturer in Modern History

University of Oxford

Chair

Bonnie Anderson

Professor Emerita

Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York

10:30am - 12:15pm EDT

Round Table I - Innovation and the Problem of Institutionalization

Sally Alexander

Professor of Modern History

Goldsmiths, University of London

Anna Clark

Professor of History

University of Minnesota

Mary S. Hartman

Founder and Senior Scholar – Institute for Women’s Leadership

Rutgers University

Penny Summerfield

Professor of Modern History

University of Manchester

Chair

Ellen Ross

Professor of Women's Studies

Ramapo College

1:45pm - 2:30pm EDT

Conversation I - Mentors and Lines of Transmission

Judith Walkowitz

Professor of Modern European Cultural and Social History

John Hopkins University

2:45pm - 4:30pm EDT

Roundtable II - Paradigm challenges and generational change: Part I

Seth Koven

Associate Professor of History

Rutgers University

Susan R. Grayzel

Professor of History

University of Mississippi

Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska

Professor of History

University of Illinois at Chicago

Chair

Jean Howard

George Delacorte Professor in the Humanities

Columbia University

5:00pm - 7:00pm EDT

Reception

February 9, 2013  Saturday

9:00am - 9:45am EDT

Breakfast and Welcome

9:45am - 11:30am EDT

Roundtable III - Paradigm challenges and generational change: Part II

Arianne Chernock

Assistant Professor of History

Boston University

Lucy Delap

Faculty of History

University of Cambridge

Durba Ghosh

Associate Professor of History

Cornell University

April Gallwey

Research Fellow in Oral History, Institute of Advanced Study

University of Warwick

Chair

Deborah Nord

Professor of English

Princeton University

11:45am - 12:30pm EDT

Conversation III - Mentors and lines of transmission

Thomas Laqueur

Helen Fawcett Professor

University of California, Berkeley

Deborah A. Cohen

Peter B. Ritzma Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History

Northwestern University

2:00pm - 2:45pm EDT

Conversation IV - Mentors and lines of transmission

Pat Thane

Professor Emerita

University of London

Selina Todd

Lecturer in Modern British History

University of Oxford

2:45pm - 4:30pm EDT

Roundtable IV - Tracking women across four decades: Reflections

Leonore Davidoff

Research Professor, Department of Sociology

University of Essex

Deborah Valenze

Professor of History

Barnard College

Judith Walkowitz

Professor of Modern European Cultural and Social History

John Hopkins University

Chair

Phyllis Mack

Professor of History

Rutgers University

4:30pm - 5:00pm EDT

Closing Comments

Christopher L. Brown

Professor of History

Columbia University

Participants
  • Sally Alexander Professor of Modern History Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Bonnie Anderson Professor Emerita Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Christopher L. Brown Professor of History Columbia University
  • Arianne Chernock Assistant Professor of History Boston University
  • Anna Clark Professor of History University of Minnesota
  • Deborah A. Cohen Peter B. Ritzma Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History Northwestern University
  • Leonore Davidoff Research Professor, Department of Sociology University of Essex
  • Lucy Delap Faculty of History University of Cambridge
  • April Gallwey Research Fellow in Oral History, Institute of Advanced Study University of Warwick
  • Durba Ghosh Associate Professor of History Cornell University
  • Eileen Gillooly Executive Director Heyman Center for the Humanities
  • Kathryn Gleadle Lecturer in Modern History University of Oxford
  • Susan R. Grayzel Professor of History University of Mississippi
  • Mary S. Hartman Founder and Senior Scholar – Institute for Women’s Leadership Rutgers University
  • Jean Howard George Delacorte Professor in the Humanities Columbia University
  • Karen Hunt Professor of Modern British History Keele University
  • Seth Koven Associate Professor of History Rutgers University
  • Thomas Laqueur Helen Fawcett Professor University of California, Berkeley
  • Phyllis Mack Professor of History Rutgers University
  • Deborah Nord Professor of English Princeton University
  • Susan Pedersen Gouverneur Morris Professor of British History Columbia University
  • Ellen Ross Professor of Women's Studies Ramapo College
  • Bonnie Smith Board of Governors Professor of History Rutgers University
  • Penny Summerfield Professor of Modern History University of Manchester
  • Pat Thane Professor Emerita University of London
  • Selina Todd Lecturer in Modern British History University of Oxford
  • Deborah Valenze Professor of History Barnard College
  • Judith Walkowitz Professor of Modern European Cultural and Social History John Hopkins University
  • Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska Professor of History University of Illinois at Chicago