First European Congress of World and Global History - Panel 38: Gender and World History

First European Congress of World and Global History - Panel 38: Gender and World History

European Network in Universal and Global History; Organisationskomitee Leipzig: Frank Hadler, Matthias Middell, Hannes Siegrist, Katja Naumann
From - Until
22.09.2005 - 25.09.2005
Ruth-Stephanie Merz

The aim of global history may be characterised as an interdisciplinary effort to analyse and conceptualise the dynamics and processes that lie at the base of societal, cultural, economic or political interactions within humanity. In this sense, and regardless of time and space, the most fundamental common characteristic of societies found all over the world have always been the interaction between men and women, old and young, foreigners and natives and that may be summarized under the vast category of “gender”.
The First European Congress on World and Global History tackled this subject with a panel entitled „Gender and World History“ under the chairmanship of Ida Blom (Bergen/Norway) and Ruth-Stephanie Merz (Leipzig/Germany). The guest speakers were Ida Blom (Bergen/Norway), Marnie Hughes-Warrington (Sydney/Australia) and Tine de Moor (Utrecht/Holland).

Ida Blom introduced the subject of gender analysis in world history with an outline of the field of research and stressed the necessity and fertility of introducing gender relations as a fundamental category of analysis in the global concept of world history. Understood as the search for networks between national and cultural boundaries, world history and gender still lack to a certain extent comparative studies concerned with cross-cultural encounters in space and time. The interaction of gender has manifested itself in all cultures and at all times in relationships, in which dichotomous constructions and essentialism, as well as multiple forms of hierarchical structures, assert themselves. Depending on the cultural context and the special period considered, gender aspects merged with other analytical categories (caste system, class, race, ethnicity or the nation state) and revealed their meaning in relation to economics, society, politics and ideologies. These meanings can easily be traced out in a multitude of topics inherent to gender specific human experience: the consideration of the genesis and development of welfare states and their demographic discourses, economic and labour market developments, the formation of political ideologies (socialism, liberalism, religion) and their meaning for gender relations, the growth of the nation state in the 19th century, as well as 20th century questions dealing with environmental issues. The overcoming of eurocentrism is of particular importance to the analysis of gender relations in world history. It presents an intellectual challenge for European scholars that have been trained in the tradition of the universally formulated concepts of the first and second wave of feminism in the 19th and 20th century respectively. This idea was reiterated by Ida Blom in her words: “Understanding is not the same as accepting”, which underlined the importance of cultural identity in the construction of gender relations, and with which she closed her talk.

Marnie Hughes-Warrington questioned in her presentation entitled “On the Margins of the World? Women make Universal History” the widely accepted thesis that 19th century Europe, with its epigones (Hegel, Marx or Ranke), and its professionalization of historiography, were the starting point for reflexions upon world historiography. For this purpose she extended the scope of the analytical photographic lens far into the 15th century, enlarged the source corpus and pleaded for a broader definition of universal history. Her presentation, which could also be understood as a curriculum criticism, was dedicated to universal historiography generated by women. Her talk consisted of the partial results of an interdisciplinary project with Deborah Bird Rose, that, as well as advocating the opening of time, called for an opening of space by taking into consideration Chinese or Islamic traditions of world historiography. Marnie Hughes-Warrington subdivided the universal historiographic work of women into three categories: (1) Publications that were commonly regarded, by the authors, the editor and the reader, as being universal historiographic presentations. In this context Marnie Hughes-Warrington emphasised the work of Hester Piozzi, whose works are a “collage” of information, as the author was a great annotator of her own work. (2) The second category of work she mentioned consisted either of translations conducted by women, publications with a foreword formulated by a woman, or works that “redesigned” known historiographies by men, for example the case of Christine de Pizans Livre de la Cité des Dames, which rewrites to St. Augustine’s City of God. (3) The third category was concerned with the ‘Women’s Worthies’. Although these works were subjected to the usual morality of their time and society, the compilation reveals their significance to universal historiography. On the one hand many of the texts go far beyond the narrow space and time conceptions of the proposed biographies. On the other hand these texts allow what for the contemporary understanding of the world and its proposed interpretations.

Tine de Moor followed with a presentation entitled „Girlpower. The European Marriage Pattern (EMP) and labour markets in the North Sea region in the late medieval and early modern period“. She presented the characteristic attributes of the EMP in the North Sea region in the 15th century, discussing the labour force shortage, which resulted from the devastation of the Black Death, the Church’s acquiescence in the approval of non-marital partnerships and the inheritance system, as well as moderate power hierarchies, which influenced gender and generational relationships. In relation to space Tine de Moor distinguished the EMP from marriage patterns in other regions (Southern Europe and China), where women, instead of experiencing the relative freedom on the labour market and in the private sphere of their north European sisters, where confined to the house and family tasks. Furthermore Tine de Moor traced parallels in a temporal perspective to demographic and wage labour developments in the 20th century Europe. Although the presentation was interesting, as well as challenging with regard to the analysis of western European gender relations, it must be stated, that this presentation did not comprise a world historiographic approach. The comparison – especially the one with China – and Southern Europe was merely, as the panellist herself announced, one of contrast, and wasn’t carried out in a systematic way. Also, a clear distinction between urban and rural areas would be needed to judge the relevance of the author’s suppositions. Still the trans-cultural comparison of marriage patterns undoubtedly promises worthwhile insights into economic, social or cultural interrelations for the broader understanding of processes in global history.

Two motifs lead the discussion, which, as regards content, should be seen together, one being theoretical and methodological and the other organisational:
(1) The unconsciously perceived unilateral establishment of gender analysis as being the examination of the unique role and function of women and the analysis of the construction of femininity obstructs the study of the gendered notion of men in relation to femininity. The absence of men on the panel (except for Patrick Manning and Muhammad Zaman) may in this context lead to reflection.
(2) As this was the first Congress of its kind in Europe, there is some hope that the “feminisation” and “exoticisation” of gender research might be easily overcome. Ida Blom, in this context, recommended that, systematic reflections on the impact of gender be required at, and that they inhabit the same level of discourse as other categories of analysis, when future calls for papers are issued and when panels are composed. The task of such a systematic reflection on gender relations could be, as the three panellists and the final discussion suggested, the questioning of existing concepts that claim to be the only possible interpretations.

Contact (announcement)

Katja Naumann
Universität Leipzig
Zentrum für Höhere Studien
Emil-Fuchs-Str. 1
04105 Leipzig
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