History seminars at the IHR

Women's History

Convenors: Dr Kelly Boyd (IHR), Dr Anna Davin, Dr Lucy Delap (ICBH/KCL), Dr Amy Erickson (Cambridge), Dr Laura Gowing (KCL), Prof Clare Midgley (Sheffield Hallam University), Prof Janet Nelson (KCL), Dr Krisztina Robert (Roehampton), Prof Pat Thane (ICBH/KCL), Prof Cornelie Usborne (IHR/Roehampton)

For enquiries relating to this seminar please contact Kelly Boyd: k.boyd at blueyonder.co.uk

Venue:  John S Cohen Room N203, 2nd floor, IHR, North block, Senate House

Time: Friday, 5.15pm

Autumn Term 2015
DateSeminar details
2 October Vanishing for the Vote: The Suffragette Boycott of the 1911 Census

Pat Thane (ICBH/King’s), Jill Liddington (CIGS/Leeds) and Elizabeth Crawford (Independent Scholar)

The seminar explores the significance of the 1911 suffragette census boycott. On the one hand, the census  was designed to provide accurate data to underpin much-needed health and welfare reforms. On the other, suffragette organizations incited women, all still unenfranchised, to boycott this census. They were urged either to evade the enumerator by hiding away in darkened houses; or to resist ~ defiantly inscribing ‘No Vote No Census’ onto their schedule.  Many women did indeed boycott. Yet many decided to comply and handed over a perfectly accurate census schedule. Based upon Jill Liddington’s Vanishing for the Vote (MUP, 2014), this seminar analyzes the ‘battle for the census’ arguments that raged across Edwardian  England in spring 1911, and is illustrated by individual schedules ~ which can still be read in the head of family’s own hand.

Venue: Bloomsbury Room G35, Ground floor, South block, Senate House

16 October Figuring Pictures and Picturing Figures: Early Modern Images of the Unborn Child and the Pregnant Body

Rebecca Whiteley (UCL)

How women in early modern England experienced and understood their bodies, especially in pregnancy and childbirth, has been a topic of great interest for historians in recent years. And while much has been done with a great range of textual sources, from court records and midwives’ account books to printed midwifery manuals, comparatively little sustained attention has been paid to images in this context.  Images of the pregnant body and the unborn child, especially ‘birth figures’ depicting possible fetal presentations, were commonly found in popular midwifery manuals in the late-sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These images found a wide viewership among men and women, professional and lay, and they gave these viewers an entirely new vision of the inaccessible bodily interior.  Focussing particularly on female viewers, this paper will examine how these images can be understood to have both reflected and affected the ways in which contemporary viewers understood and visualised the pregnant body and the unborn child.

30 October Every woman's destiny is motherhood: Women and Work in Post-War Italy (1945-1970) [Postponed from an earlier date]

Pamela Schievenin (Glasgow)

Women in post-war Italy were presented with different interpretations regarding women’s work outside the house. The view promoted by the Catholic Church, which emphasised the maternal role of women and condemned female employment, appeared dominant. Yet women were also exposed to discourses which presented female employment as a positive and valid choice. This paper discusses these diverse models of femininity and traces how they evolved as the country moved towards industrialization and modernization. Through the lens of oral history, the paper also explores whether and to what extent women had the opportunity for constructing their identities outside the home and the family, how they negotiated their individual choices and social expectations, and how they reformulated their identities as working women.

13 November Keep Calm and Carry On: The Public Memory of Second World War Food Rationing and Gender History in the Imperial War Museum

Kelly Spring (Manchester)

There are almost daily reminders of the Second World War in some cultural form or another in Britain, including the recent popularity of the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ posters, rebroadcasts of Dad’s Army on television, and yearly commemorations and celebrations. Continual depictions of the war in modern-day media are often shaped along the lines of a sexual division of labor, projecting hegemonic masculinity and domestic femininity. Margaretta Jolly suggests such a division is replicated in museums like the Imperial War Museum, depicting different war histories for men and women. Taking Jolly’s research as my starting point, this paper assesses recent presentations of war in the IWM to determine how gender history is being configured in twenty-first century public settings. Specifically, the paper examines the Imperial War Museum’s representations of food rationing in the ‘Ministry of Food’ exhibition (2010-2011) and the ‘Horrible Histories Rotten Rationing’ big picture show (2013-2015) to investigate if a gender division exists within these displays on rationing. It argues that wartime roles associated with food rationing are not fixed gender constructions within public memory, but complex and fluid configurations that result from the confluence of personal and situational contexts.

27 November 'I'm not really political, but...:' Women's Political Subjectivity in Postwar Britain

Eve Worth (Oxford)

This paper uses the oral history interviews conducted for my DPhil thesis as the evidence base to explore women’s ‘political subjectivity’. The thesis starts from the position that all women are political subjects and the aim has been to find the conceptual tools to analyse how this plays out in the articulation of selfhood. The interviewees were not chosen because they were involved in party politics or activism, although some were, but because they were women born between dates that place them firmly within the realm of postwar experience. The choice of postwar is important; the period witnessed considerable social and political change which Celia Hughes has argued can be linked to a shift in the structure of feeling. The topics discussed in this paper include political philosophy, class and paid work. These aspects have emerged as important in the course of the research into political subjectivity for they link to the understanding of the self within public matrices of power. Selina Todd has recently re-emphasised the Thompsonian notion of class as a ‘power relationship’ rather than a ‘thing’. In this paper I suggest that we need to imbue the idea of the ‘political’ in women’s life stories with a similar pervasive and relational meaning.

Spring Term 2016
DateSeminar details
22 January Interracial Relationships and the 'Brown Baby Problem': White British Women, Black GIs and their Mixed Race Offspring in World War 11

Lucy Bland (Anglia Ruskin)

When GIs arrived in Britain in 1942 in preparation for an invasion of France, amongst their numbers were 130,000 American Americans. Many British women formed relationships with these black GIs, resulting in the birth of 1700 to 2,000 mixed-race children. Despite racial prejudice and stigma, approximately half of the mothers kept their children. The African-American press named these children “brown babies”. To the African-American newspaper Pittsburgh Courier “the entire ‘Brown Baby’ question is one of the most controversial subjects in this country [USA] today. It is a question that involves two great nations – the United States of America and Great Britain.” The nature of this “controversial subject” is the focus of this talk – a subject that has received little historical attention but at the time filled the pages of the press both sides of the Atlantic.

5 February Women and Work in Provincial English Towns: 1851-1911

Amanda Wilkinson (Essex)

The census is arguably the most important source that we have for carrying out large scale studies of the changing patterns of women’s work in Victorian Britain. Following the launch of the I-CeM project it is now possible to carry out research on a broader scale than ever before, exploring in greater depth the information contained within the censuses. This paper examines the differing experiences and employment patterns for working class women in a number of provincial towns and cities spread across England between 1851 and 1911, and asks how reliable the census is as a source for social and economic historians.

19 February Battered but not Broken: Women's Resistance to Marital Violence in Post-Independence Ireland, 1922-1970

Cara Driver (KCL)

In the years following Irish independence, abused wives had little hope to escape their violent marriages: they no access to divorce facilities and few legal remedies; most did not work outside of the home and were thus kept in a state of financial dependence; and social and religious pressures dissuaded them from seeking formal or informal marriage separations.  However, as this paper will discuss, many women actively resisted the violence of their husbands.  Although their options were limited, abused wives fought back with retaliatory violence, sought outside help, and took legal action against their husbands.  In the process of resisting their husbands’ violence, abused women involved a wide variety of people in their private plight and drew upon a broad network of support.  As this paper will argue, marital violence blurred the boundaries between ‘private’ and ‘public’ behaviour because so many people outside of the conjugal home were forced to confront the issue.

4 March Married Women Pleading their Cases in 17th Century England

Tim Stretton (Saint Mary’s University, Nova Scotia/Leverhulme Visiting Professor, Cardiff University)

This paper uses the extraordinary testimony of Mary Whettenhall from East Peckham in Kent–who was prosecuted for adultery, incest and slander after accusing her father in law of rape and theft–to explore the constraints married women laboured under in the seventeenth century and the limited legal options and remedies available to them. It identifies two divergent patterns of change over the seventeenth century, setting the expansion of equitable possibilities against a narrowing of overall legal options, and reflects on the implications of these developments for the exercising of female agency.

18 March Lesbian mothers and practices of conception in post-war Britain and Australia

Rebecca Jennings (Honorary Fellow: Macquarie University, Sydney/Visiting Research Fellow: Kings College, London)

The post-war period witnessed significant shifts in the experience of lesbian mothering in Britain and Australia.  Prior to the 1970s, the typical experience was of a woman who had conceived children in the context of a heterosexual marriage, before recognising or acting upon same-sex desires.  For these women, resolving potential conflicts between their roles as wives and mothers and their same-sex desires could pose significant challenges, and some women chose to remain married while others faced contentious custody battles for their children.  A small number of women in the 1950s and 1960s sought to become mothers in the context of same-sex relationships, through adoption or extra-marital conception, but it was not until the 1970s that this became an increasingly common experience.  The development of reproductive technologies in this period, combined with new ideological approaches to the family, encouraged a growing number of women to explore the possibility of conceiving children in the context of a lesbian relationship.  Drawing on oral history interviews with British and Australian women, press reports and other written accounts, this paper will trace the shifting ways in which lesbians became mothers in this period and explore a range of discourses of lesbian motherhood.