The Feminist Histories Podcast Series

The institutes of the Max Weber Foundation (MWS) regularly present their research to an interested public and contribute to the exchange with the scientific community in the host countries. Due to the COVID‑19 pandemic, they now implement their lectures, seminars, book presentations and panel discussions as virtual formats. In this article, Jane Freeland, Research Associate at the German Historical Institute London (GHI London), reports on the Feminist Histories Podcast Series that the GHI has organized this month.

From articles exposing the gendered impact of Coronavirus measures to #MeToo and the revelations of systemic sexual harassment and assault against women to the ongoing debates surrounding gender identity and women’s spaces, questions about what feminism is have increasingly preoccupied the popular imagination. All of these discussions, however, are embedded within a longer history of women’s rights activism that has necessarily critiqued gender inequality and politicized women’s issues. Indeed, the history of feminism is an incredibly dynamic field of study. Building as it does on developments in gender and women’s history, much of the scholarship on feminism draws our attention to the intersections of marginalization, to the interconnectedness of social movements and to the ways in which theory is put into practice. It is also a field that is strongly interdisciplinary and theoretically engaged, and requires us to re-think the historical discipline. Whether it is to question historical periodizations, the significance of national boundaries or even the very meaning of ‘political’, the history of feminism necessarily expands and challenges historical categories.

The Feminist Histories podcast series, produced by the GHI London, invites listeners to reflect on the historically-produced meanings of feminism and practices of women’s activism. Originally planned as a lecture series, lockdown measures have given us the opportunity to bring the series to a broader audience. The three episodes feature scholars from the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and explore different facets of the history of feminism and feminist histories. They are available for download on the GHI London website.

Chiara Bonfiglioli (Cork): Internationalist Waves and Feminist Waves in Italy, Yugoslavia, and Cuba from the 1950s to 1970s

Chiara Bonfiglioli is a Lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies at University College Cork, where she also coordinates the one-year interdisciplinary Masters in Women’s Studies. She is the author of Women and Industry in the Balkans: The Rise and Fall of the Yugoslav Textile Sector (I.B. Tauris 2019).

Her lecture focuses on women’s internationalism in Italy, Yugoslavia, and Cuba, and on the gendered imaginaries of citizenship that circulated among the generation of women active within Cold War mass organizations in the 1950s and 1960s. It also considers how this ‘internationalist wave’ engaged with second-wave feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, a time characterized by the overlapping of different generational paradigms of women’s and feminist activism, the “emancipation” one based on women’s socio-economic rights and institutional reform, and the “liberation” one based on gender, sexuality and grassroots activism. These generational paradigms were not only national but also transnational, and were shaped by the global developments of left-wing parties and movements, and of women’s and feminist movements worldwide.

Jane Whittle (Exeter) and Laura Schwartz (Warwick): Understanding Women and Work from the Early Modern Era to the Present. A Roundtable

Jane Whittle is Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Exeter. She currently holds an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council on ‘Forms of Labour: Gender, Freedom and Experience of Work in the Preindustrial Economy’. She has published widely on the history of work, consumption, property rights and the household economy in England 1300-1750.

Laura Schwartz is Reader in Modern British History at the University of Warwick. Her most recent book Feminism and the Servant Problem: Class and Domestic Labour in the Women’s Suffrage Movement was published with Cambridge University Press in 2019. Having previously worked on the history of British feminism, she is now moving more definitively into labour history and is in the early stages of developing a collaborative project entitled ‘”Ordinary” Working-Class People? Brexit Britain and the ‘New’ Labour History’, which aims to critically interrogate the contemporary political mobilisation of a ‘white’ male working-class and to consider alternative and more heterogeneous histories of class in Britain.

This roundtable brings together two experts in the field of women’s work to discuss how ideas of work and gender have changed across the centuries. Alongside considering what women’s work is, it explores how women’s work has been defined and valued in the past and within historical scholarship.

Maud Bracke (Glasgow): Inventing Reproductive Rights: Sex, Population and Feminism in Europe (1945-1980)

Maud Anne Bracke is a historian of 20th-Century European social, political and gender history. A graduate of the European University Institute, Florence, she has published two monographs, three edited collections and over 20 articles on feminism, gender and work, translation, ‘1968’, and European communism. She co-directs Glasgow’s Centre for Gender History and is a former editor of the journal Gender & History.

Her lecture presents an interpretation of the emergence following World War Two of the notion of ‘reproductive rights’. Drawing on critical understandings of reproductive biopower, it focuses on the ways in which the introduction and legalisation of the contraceptive pill across France in the long 1960s produced new, gendered discourses on family planning, responsibility in reproduction, sexual morality, and bodily autonomy. The analysis focuses on tensions between different groups advocating access to the pill: the family planning movement, rooted in population control and neo-Malthusianism, and the ‘new’ women’s liberation movement, which re-centred debates on reproduction on the principles of bodily autonomy and individual rights.

All podcasts of the GHI London are available here!

Information on further events of the GHI London can be found on the institute website and in the MWS calendar of events.

Max Weber Stiftung

The Max Weber Foundation promotes global research, focused on the areas of social sciences, cultural studies and the humanities. Our research is conducted at ten institutes in various countries across the globe with different and independent fields of focus. Through our globally operating institutes, we are able to contribute to the communication and networking between Germany and our host countries or regions. By promoting academic dialogue and merging academic and non-academic employees from several countries with different cultural backgrounds, the Max Weber Foundation is able to strengthen the internationalization of research.

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