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

General Programming

February 8, 2013

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. 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. 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?