WSG Edited Collection of Essays: Call for Proposals

“Global Exchanges”

In Summer 2021, ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640–1830 published a series of reflections on the pandemic. In her contribution, Karen Griscom (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) described how WSG’s Zoom meetings had been a lifeline, helping her to ‘remain optimistic about my scholarship’. The WSG’s forced transition from London-based seminars to an online global platform generated many benefits, allowing us to widen participation from our members based in the US, mainland Europe and New Zealand. Our new book project is inspired by the conversations we have enjoyed with our international community.

We are seeking contributions to a collection of essays on the theme of global exchanges. Papers will explore the international connections made by women during our period of study (1558–1837). While there has been a great deal of recent interest in women’s travel and their travel writing, the scope of this collection is intended to be much broader and embrace all types of exchange, including for example, ‘travel of the mind’, material culture, music, or writings that engage with the wider world.  

Submissions may address any of the following questions or related themes:

  • What types of exchange have been made by women travellers in their journeys around the globe, and what role has gender played in facilitating these connections and interactions?
  • How have women enabled the transfer of ideas – artistic, literary, philosophical, political or scientific – from one geographical region to another?
  • How have women embraced, interpreted or influenced the art and culture of different territories, and what was the effect of this exchange?
  • In what ways were women nourished and supported by international friendships, networks and correspondence?
  • To what extent did women translators innovate, or develop their own literary voice, in the process of translation?
  • What relationships were forged with material objects from overseas, and what do these connections tell us about how women saw the world and their place within it?

Submissions will be invited in two formats (please specify your chosen format in your proposal):

  • Full essays (approximately 7,000 words including references)
  • One-page picture ‘postcards’ incorporating a short reflection on an object, image, or piece of music or writing (approximately 400 words, plus an image).

Contributions should feature strong case studies and may cover any topic relating to women’s and gender studies. This call for papers is open to all sections of our membership* and we aim to build a diverse and inclusive collection. The book will be pitched to an academic press.


  1. Abstracts to be submitted by 1 January 2022 (400-word abstracts for essays or a brief 100-word description for ‘postcards’).
  2. Editors to respond to all submissions by end January 2022.
  3. Accepted papers/’postcards’ to be submitted by 31 August 2022.

All queries and abstracts to be sent to both Louise Duckling ( and Brianna Kirkland-Robertson (

* The WSG is open to men, women and non-binary people, students, faculty and independent scholars. We are trans-inclusive. 

Reminder: WSG seminar September 2021

The first seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 25 September 2021.

This seminar will take place on Zoom. Please be aware, you must be a member of the WSG to gain access to the Zoom sessions. The links are distributed through our WSG mailing list 24-hours before the event. Becoming a member means you will be able to attend the Zoom and in-person seminars for the 2021-2022 season.

Valerie Schutte

Anachronistic Representations of Edward Underhill

Upon Queen Mary I’s accession on 19 July 1553, Edward Underhill, a Gentleman Pensioner under Henry VIII and Edward VI, was arrested for producing an anti-Catholic ballad, interrogated by the Privy Council, and served one month in prison. Yet he went on to serve as a Gentleman Pensioner during Wyatt’s Rebellion and at Mary’s wedding. In 1561, he wrote a memoir of his life beginning with this arrest. His memoir received much historical attention in the mid-nineteenth century, as it was reproduced several times in both extracts and its entirety. This culminated in two high-profile publications in the 1840s, one historical and one fictional. The first of which was William Harrison Ainswoth’s novel, The Tower of London (1840). In this novel, Ainsworth emphasizes Underhill’s zealous religious convictions. He is an outspoke supporter of Jane Grey, who eventually gets burnt at the stake on Tower Green for his beliefs. Five years later, the Strickland sisters mention Underhill in their Lives of the Queens of England.

In this presentation, I will offer a textual transmission of Underhill’s memoir from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, as well as analyze the memoir for Underhill’s service to the crown. I will focus my time on the anachronisms employed by Ainsworth in his presentation of Underhill. Ainsworth describes Underhill as an “enthusiast,” which would have held distinct meaning for his Victorian audience, suggesting an extravagance applied to dissenting religion. Ainsworth carefully crafted Underhill’s character through religious anachronism to show his disapproval of religious fanaticism, for both Protestant extremism, as well as Mary’s Catholicism. In Ainsworth’s depiction, Underhill is the first victim of religious persecution in Mary’s reign and is a symbol of all that was to come.

 Hampton Court Conference 1604

 First, The Church of England since the abolishing of Popery hath ever held and taught, and so doth hold and teach still, That the Sign of the Cross used in Baptism, is no Part of the Substance of that Sacrament: For when the Minister dipping the Infant in Water, or laying Water upon the Face of it (as the manner also is) hath pronounced these Words, I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, the Infant is fully and perfectly Baptized: So as the Sign of the Cross being afterwards used, doth neither add any thing to the Vertue or Perfection of Baptism, nor being omitted, doth detract any thing from the Effect and Substance of it.

Secondly, It is apparent in the Communion Book, that the Infant Baptized is by Vertue of Baptism, before it be signed with the Sign of the Cross, received into the Congregation of Christ’s Flock as a perfect Member thereof, and not by any Power ascribed unto the Sign of the Cross. So that for the very remembrance of the Cross, which is very precious to all them that rightly believe in Jesu Christ, and in the other respects mentioned, the Church of England hath retained still the Sign of it in Baptism: following therein the Primitive and Apostolical Churches, and accounting it a lawful outward Ceremony and honourable Badge, whereby the Infant is dedicated to the Service of him that died upon the Cross, as by the words used in the Book of Common Prayer it may appear.

Lastly, The use of the Sign of the Cross in Baptism, being thus purged from all Popish Superstition and Error, and reduced in the Church of England to the primary Institution of it, upon those true Rules of Doctrine concerning things indifferent, which are consonant to the Word of God, and the Judgments of all the ancient Fathers: We hold it the part of every private Man, both Minister and other, reverently to retain the true use of it prescribed by publick Authority, considering that things of themselves indifferent, do in some sort alter their Natures, when they are either commanded or forbidden by a lawful Magistrate; and may not be omitted at every Man’s pleasure contrary to the Law, when they be commanded, nor used when they are prohibited.

Helen Leighton-Rose

Women’s  Subversion of the Scottish Church Courts 1707-1757

My quantitative and qualitative analysis of eighteenth century Scottish Kirk Sessions had shed light on Scottish women’s subversive and consistent challenges to patriarchal control. Numerous women argued against the judgement of these sessions and petitioned the Presbytery courts. The paper will highlight some illuminating examples of women’s subversion including the subversion of the Scottish Kirk by Isabel Clinckscales who irregularly married Thomas Lyon, unknown to her to be a thrice bigamist. Over eighteen months Isabel was called before the Kirk Sessions and ordered to perform penance as an adulteress which she consistently refused. She subverted the kirk authority to such a degree she was placed under the penalty of lesser excommunication. There is no record of Thomas Lyon receiving any rebuke. On the 25th January 1722 Elders of Duns Kirk deem

‘..after all the serious dealings with Isabel Clinkscales she still persisted in her obstinacie, he therefor this day according to the recommendation did lay the said Isabel Clinkscales under the sentence of the Lesser excommunication’.

My paper will raise the profile of the richness of archival material for Scottish border towns.

Matthew Reznicek

Healing The Nation: Women, Medicine, and the Romantic National Tale

The National Tale, a literary attempt to understand and reconcile the 1800 Act of Union, was dominated by early nineteenth-century women writers, including Maria Edgeworth, Sydney  Owenson, and Germaine deStaël; using gendered embodiments of various national identities, the National Tale imagined socio-political union through the union of individuals. For roughly the past thirty years, scholars the Romantic period have understood the National Tale in terms of marriage, whether a shotgun marriage, an arranged marriage, or a forced marriage. What this focus on marriage has overlooked is the repeated pattern in which National Tales alsodepend upon an act of healing before the marriage can take place. Surprisingly, this medical aspect of the National Tale and its narrative of social cohesion has been ignored and unrecognized. By exploring the role of illness and healing in the National Tale, the medical metaphors not only help diagnose and mark as different the foreign body,  but the act of healing fundamentally restores the newly formed body politic to its new and healthy condition. This analysis reveals a pattern in which women perform the medical care that heals these diseased populations, allowing them to achieve full membership in the social body. Despite the long-eighteenth-century belief that men and medicine were responsible for  national well-being, the National Tales of Walter Scott, Maria Edgeworth, and Sydney  Owenson undermine this medical and political narrative by having a diseased or unwell male body stand in for the nation and a female physician or healer work to heal and restore the national body to health. Thus, the medical role of women in the National Tale reveals the interconnections between illness, healing, and the narrative form of the National Tale. To provide a small iteration of this pattern, I will attend to the moments of medical anxiety and fever in Sydney Owenson’s The Wild Irish Girl (1806), Maria Edgeworth’s Ennui (1809),  and briefly Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814) to render visible the political and social role that healing women play in the National Tale.

Norena Shopland

Women Dressed as Men

Much of women’s history has been dominated by exclusion – but where exclusion exists there will always be those who challenge that state. A History of Women in Men’s Clothes sets out to show how women utilised clothes banned to them to escape domestic violence; to earn money when the man had died or left the family and women’s wages were not enough to live on; to find a man who had deserted them; to avoid being sexually accosted when travelling; so those we would today recognise as lesbian and trans could live freely; and many more.

During the late 18th-early 19th centuries so many women had become female sailors and soldiers that newspapers were complaining there would be no room for men. While books exist on both groups they are placed in an ‘other’ category of sexual orientation and/or gender identity when in truth it was common among all women. Similarly, in the theatre, actresses were being forced to sign contracts that they would appear ‘in male attire’ as managers sought to exploit this highly lucrative market. Leaving the odd situation of men forcing women to appear as men for the heterosexual male gaze.

Research for the book realised around 4,000 worldwide articles, most of them unpublished outside their original source and only 10% was used for the book. As this research was conducted in English and stopped when enough material had been gathered it can be imagined how much more there is to discover. But one thing is clear, thousands upon thousands of women across the world refused to be constricted by what clothes they were told they could wear – and women’s history now needs to recognise this.

For further information, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

Material Literacy in Eighteenth-Century Britain: A Nation of Makers, Edited by Serena Dyer and Chloe Wigston Smith. London and New York: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2020. Pp. 309, 74 bw + colour illus. £ 91.80 (hardback), ISBN: 9781501349614

In Material Literacy in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Serena Dyer and Chloe Wigston Smith reveal how ‘this nation of shopkeepers’ was, in fact, ‘as much a nation of makers.’ (p. 13) In doing so, this important collection redresses narratives of the industrial and subsequent consumer revolutions that have previously minimized broader histories of making and material knowledge. Upsetting ‘the familiar delineation of women’s craft and men’s production,’ they argue instead ‘for a flexible and inclusive approach to material practices’ that, in the eighteenth century, were ‘fundamental to men, women and children alike.’ (p. 1)

Across its fifteen chapters, Material Literacy expands established definitions of the spaces of eighteenth-century making to incorporate diverse and sometimes surprising sites in which objects were engaged. The systems of material knowledge and the processes by which it was generated and performed – cutting, sticking, stitching, forging, melting, carving, trading, appraising and more – are traced through provincial and urban communities, ‘workshops and factories, […] drawing rooms, shops, parlours and backrooms of Britain.’ (p. 1) Three categories of maker emerge. The first of these represent active producers; those who ‘held the needle or chisel.’ The second represents those who ‘guided and advised, acting in partnership with other professional or amateur makers’ and the third, those who ‘mobilized their knowledge […] to comment upon, judge and inform their own activities as consumers and owners of material objects.’ (p. 1)

Material literacy, ‘like textual literacy, was never a zero-sum game, but instead ranged up, down and across a person’s age, class, experience and dexterity.’ (p. 4) Ariane Fennetaux notes that written instructions for the manufacture of pockets did not appear in print until 1838, meaning women and girls worked instead from private knowledge, inherited in families and swapped amongst friends. As Crystal B. Lake’s chapter attests, ‘embroidered works produced during the long eighteenth century remind us that learning to read and write frequently entailed handling not only pens, ink and paper but also needles, thread and fabric.’ (p. 35) Turning to needlework verse, Lake reveals how second wave feminists of the late twentieth century mistook the embroidery of women in previous centuries as evidence of domestic confinement and oppression; an assumption, Lake warns, that ‘threatens to erase the writing that appeared’ on samplers and other forms of embroidery.

This close relationship between text and craft runs throughout Material Literacy. In her chapter on Hannah Robertson’s 1766 The Young Ladies School of Arts, Chloe Wigston Smith reveals how such texts ‘made craft and artisan knowledge accessible, unmooring it from the traditional apprenticeship and guild systems, which had largely excluded women from formal instruction.’ (p. 51) They also offered women opportunity to monetise craftwork ‘without the help or hindrance of men.’ (p. 63) The socio-economic status of women who made, reworked and repurposed objects is the focus of Nicole Pohl’s chapter, which takes as a case study the Bluestocking Elizabeth Montagu and her younger sibling Sarah Scott. Working from largely unpublished letters written by the two women, Pohl demonstrates how textiles – whether practical, everyday fabrics or more elaborate embroidered work – ‘functioned as subtle markers of social mobility both within a social circle and a family’ and were accordingly related in detailed correspondence. (p. 68) Texts could inform how people understood and appraised objects, but also how they desired them and imagined their corporeal and emotional effects. Jon Stobart’s essay turns to pattern books, trade cards and auction catalogues to unite questions of material literacy to corporeal experience – specifically comfort – in the home. While taste, Stobart argues, had to be constantly honed and practiced, comfort (and its close relation, luxury) could be attained through the purchase of sofas, chairs, curtains and beds by anyone with the financial means to do so. Exploring the extent to which commercial advertisements infiltrated and shaped the private Georgian domestic environment, Stobart asks ‘how comfort and convenience were described’ and the rhetoric around them ‘internalized’ by consumers who appraised items before and after purchase. (p. 84)

For Serena Dyer, the material literacy of the shopper was informed by the introduction of amateur making skills to the marketplace which, as a result, ‘necessitated shopping skills beyond bargain hunting and quality assessment.’ (p. 99) Consumer knowledge, she suggests, became a commodity of its own central in ‘navigating the eighteenth-century shop.’ (p. 99) Dyer records how ‘making, acquiring, stitching and shopping’ were intertwined activities for predominantly female consumers of dress, with many working as ‘judge, facilitator, collaborator and maker during the course of garment construction.’ (p. 100) Collaboratively produced and multi-authored objects are similarly the focus of Alicia Kerfoot’s chapter on it-narratives. Kerfoot traces the ways literary productions took up such items to reveal (and satirise) the political and economic dynamics behind them.

For Sarah Howard, Emily Taylor and Hilary Davidson, shifting tastes and trends in the eighteenth century required makers possess a broad and adaptive set of skills, particularly in the design, manufacture and sale of sartorial items. Howard’s chapter uses as its framework the surviving account book of provincial Hampshire tailors George and Benjamin Ferrey to reveal ‘the material competencies and ingenuity required to craft clothing, respond to distinct requirements from clients and also to create non-clothing items for their customers.’ (p. 134) Similarly, Taylor explores how professional mantua-makers could both ‘catalyse and contain’ evolving dress fashions. (p. 151) By ‘publishing theories of proportion and cutting practices’ as well as working in partnership with clients, these professional groups were able to create shared knowledge and ‘a foundation of understanding around materials’ that allowed garments to be reworked over time, adapted and restyled. (p. 167) For Davidson, shifting our own methodological approach to made garments holds rich opportunity to explore some of these processes. ‘Shifting our perspective from Regency fashion to its makers and materials,’ she proposes, ‘answers different questions about how this period of great stylistic change was embodied.’ As Davidson claims, ‘exploring modes and processes of making emphasizes the ways makers’ and wearers’ bodies interacted with materials, and their bodies with clothing.’ (p. 191)

The final chapters of Material Literacy focus on the narratives made objects could be used to tell. Elisabeth Gernerd’s methodologically rich chapter draws together especially compelling textual and visual sources in its account of the manufacture, wearing and eventual translation to print of decorative ostrich feathers. Gernerd tracks the ‘less-visible narrative of the ostrich feather,’ focusing on the systems of empire by which they entered Britain and underscoring how attendance to such quotidian materials might reveal broader maritime networks and imperial economies. This focus on empire and the role of objects as key tools in its storytelling continues in Robbie Richardson’s chapter on tomahawks and scalping knives. Richardson opens with a scene from a London coffee house in 1759, in which an individual billed as ‘A Famous Mohawk Indian Warrior’ and equipped with such tools entertained a curious public. But while these Native American items ‘became a trope easily deployed to evoke Indian cruelty,’ those on display in Britain were, by the mid-century, almost exclusively of European manufacture and served the imagination of those with little understanding of their ‘transcultural provenance.’ (p. 219)

Questions of how to read (in)authenticity – both in the eighteenth century and for scholars today – continue in Laura Engel’s chapter on the famous waxworks of Madame Tussaud who, in 1804, travelled to Britain from France, with an infant and the tools of her trade in tow. Tussaud’s sculptures of celebrities and notable people were ‘dressed […] in real clothes’ and presented with ‘historically accurate props’ and, although most do not survive today, ‘engendered a mode of embodied social interaction with famous faces and bodies that remains a hallmark of contemporary celebrity culture.’ (p. 239) For Engel, wax is an especially intriguing and uncanny material, one variously useful in representing human flesh and tactile, even sexual, encounters with it. It is also potentially disruptive of time and art history, with its specific material properties ‘analogous to how women artists have appeared and disappeared in the archives, as well as the ways in which women’s embodied experiences are mediated through material representations that both preserve and obscure their presence.’ (p. 243) The skills needed to fashion works like Tussaud’s, and correspondingly to read them, were not only put on display in the public spaces of eighteenth-century Britain, but actively taught. In the closing chapter of the volume, Beth Fowkes Tobin explores how shops, dealers’ warehouses and stationery stores became crucial sites of instruction to many who otherwise did not have access to formal training. At George Humphrey’s 1760s shell warehouse in London, for example, customers could attend practical sessions run by the prize-winning shellworker sisters Elizabeth and Hannah Humphrey.

Importantly, ‘material literacy’ emerges not only as crucial terminology in the scholarly articulation of eighteenth-century modes of manufacture and object reception, but also as a central tenet in modern-day methodological approaches to their study. Offering up a range of interdisciplinary frameworks, the essays gathered in Material Literacy sit alongside ongoing work by Leonie Hannan, Kate Smith, Pamela H. Smith and Paula Hohti to reflect recent turns in material culture studies ‘towards experiential research and research-as-practice.’ Among the book’s contributors, Dyer, Hilary and Pohl are all ‘experienced in the period hand-stitching that their subjects exercised.’ (p. 8) Another of the collection’s strengths lies in its inclusion of curatorial voices and expertise, reflected not only in the list of authors (Howard is a freelance conservation consultant and Taylor an Assistant Curator at National Museums Scotland), but also in the broad array of materials presented from collections at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, the Lewis Walpole Library, the Museum of London, the National Museum of Australia and more. The subsequent result is a beautifully illustrated, multi-perspective volume that will be essential reading for anyone working on material culture. Moreover, Material Literacy’s methodological focus on accessing previously invisible lives and modes of making will be of special interest to Women’s Studies Group members.


Madeleine Pelling

University of York

Dr Madeleine Pelling is an art historian specialising in eighteenth-century visual and material cultures. She is currently preparing her monograph, The Duchess’ Museum: Collecting, Craft and Conversation, 1730-1786, for publication and is co-editor of A Cultural History of Historiography: The Age of Enlightenment and Revolutions (under contract with Bloomsbury) and ‘Women and the Making of History, 1500–the Present’ a special issue for History: Journal of the Historical Association (forthcoming September 2021).

Reminder: WSG seminar September 2021

The first seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 25 September 2021.

This seminar will take place on Zoom. Please be aware, you must be a member of the WSG to gain access to the Zoom sessions. The links are distributed through our WSG mailing list 24-hours before the event. Becoming a member means you will be able to attend the Zoom and in-person seminars for the 2021-2022 season.


Valerie Schutte. Anachronistic Representations of Edward Underhill

Helen Leighton-Rose. Women’s Subversion of the Scottish Church Courts 1707-1757

Matthew Reznicek. Healing The Nation: Women, Medicine, and the Romantic National Tale

Norena Shopland. Women Dressed as Men

For further information, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

Send in your news!

Have you published a new book or article that members of our Women’s Studies Group (WSG) would be interested to read? Do you have information about a new call for papers, conferences, grants, jobs, seminars, or workshops that our WSG members might be interested to hear about and contribute to?

If so, please send your news to Sara Read who writes out monthly newsletter! The newsletter is sent to all WSG members at the beginning of each month and Sara is looking for content that would benefit our membership. Please email Sara your news no later than the 30th of the month or no later than the 28th/29th if it is February!). Her email is: