WSG 30th Anniversary Commonplace Book

As regular readers of this blog will know, the WSG is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017 (the date is a little bit hazy – it was so long ago! – but it is generally agreed that our panel at BSECS 1987 was our first meaningful action). As part of the celebrations, WSG has not only instituted a bursary, but is in the process of compiling and editing a volume intended to be a reflection of its members’ 30 years of research and activism.  Edited by Carolyn Williams, Sara Read and Louise Duckling and with a working title of the Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 Commonplace Book, it will comprise a mixture of short research articles, reminiscences, interviews and poems by members past and present.  Those interested in the upcoming book can get a taste of it by listening to Elaine Hobby, Professor of Seventeenth-Century Studies at Loughborough University and a long-time associate of WSG, in conversation with Sara Read in a separate blog post later this month.

Commonplacing was a common knowledge-making practice during the early modern period whereby people would write short extracts or digests from their reading into books under topical headings.  These could be poetry, prose, quotations, proverbs, letters and prayers, which the compiler could then reference and recombine.  Books could be kept for pragmatic as well as recreational reasons.  Men such as Francis Bacon and John Locke famously wrote about and kept commonplace books, but women kept them too, and in recent years much work has been done on a closely related genre, the recipe book, to which the whole household might contribute.  Some thought the practice of commonplacing a cause for concern, because it would encourage superficial reading.

The commonplace book as a discursive practice arguably reached its peak during the early modern period but commonplacing is by its very nature also highly personal and has continued in various forms into the Romantic period and the present day.  WSG’s Commonplace Book will be a printed rather than manuscript form, but it will reflect the collaborative, interdisciplinary, unruly, highly mobile forms of interaction and support WSG has encouraged over the years. We hope to see it published in 2018.

Charmian Mansell awarded WSG 30th Anniversary Bursary

The WSG is pleased to announce it has awarded its 30th Anniversary Bursary of £500 to Charmian Mansell for her project ‘A new history of female service in early modern England 1550-1650’, which will give a more accurate picture of everyday life for female servants, how they fitted within their local communities and how their work and sense of place shaped their identities.

Building on her PhD thesis, Charmian is producing a monograph on the history of female service.  The WSG bursary will assist with research costs for this as well as a journal article on female service and space within the rural community in early modern England.

In awarding Charmian the bursary, the WSG panel highlighted her thoughtful application, its social interest, and the fact that her dataset will be deposited with the UK Data Service at the end of the project, making these records open access. They thanked the other applicants for their applications, many of which were of very high quality.

Charmian, of the University of Exeter, recently gained her PhD for research examining the experiences of female servants in the south west of England from 1550-1650.  She is the current EHS Power Fellow at the IHR and tweets as @charmianmansell.

WSG 30th Anniversary Bursary

Richard Samuel, Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo, oil on canvas, 1779. NPG 4905. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Creative Commons License.
Richard Samuel, Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo, oil on canvas, 1779. NPG 4905. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Creative Commons License.

The Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 has always been an interdisciplinary collective of scholars, interested in collaboration, and in promoting research that might not otherwise have found a champion in usual university depts, museums, libraries, or other cultural institutions.  And since WSG’s founding (or at least its first event) at the BSECS conference in January 1987, this format has proved surprisingly durable.  Today the WSG is going from strength to strength, with an expanded annual seminars programme, new connections made through facebook and twitter, and we’re working on a special project… more of which in the new year.

In addition to these activities, WSG is hugely excited to announce that to celebrate its 30th anniversary, the group is offering a £500 bursary to an early career researcher, independent scholar or PhD student who is a member of the Group to support research in any aspect of women’s studies in the period 1558-1837. The grant may be awarded for a new or continuing interdisciplinary or single-discipline project.  For further information about the bursary, and to apply, please download the application form. For further information on membership, see here.

Women’s Studies Group at BSECS 2016

WSG will be at the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies annual conference in January 2016 presenting the “WSG Panel: Minds, Bodies, and China as Sites of Female Growth, Expansion and Contraction in the Long Eighteenth Century”.

Our three papers consider women in confrontation with the great and the little, and their movements between them, whether mentally, physically, or through material objects. Dr Tabitha Kenlon begins by considering the engagement between gothic novels and other literature of the time, particularly conduct manuals, whose functions they often perform, both extending and restricting women’s boundaries by presenting heroines who defy
and embody social conventions. Just as conduct manuals provided guidelines for young ladies to be recognized as proper women, the gothic novel often features heroines searching for their appropriate place in society. Understanding the connections between
gothic novels and conduct manuals provides a more nuanced and complete picture of the ways texts worked together to construct ideals of female identity in the eighteenth century.

Carolyn D. Williams discusses textual representations of physical size and its bearings on female sexuality. Expansion and contraction are seen both as creating characters who are bigger and smaller than the normal run of human beings, and as the process of changing physical size. Jane Sharp’s The Midwives Book (1671) and the anonymous Aristotle’s Master-Piece (first published c. 1680) are cited in a discussion of controversy over the proper size of women’s generative organs. Swift’s Travels (1726), Parts I and II of Thomas

Killigrew’s  Thomaso, or, The Wanderer (1663) and Part II of Aphra Behn’s The Rover (1681) are brought to bear on the question whether people of non-standard size are ordinary humans on a different scale, or are monstrous, evil, and bestial. The plays combine both senses of expansion and contraction by introducing two Jewish sisters from Mexico, one a giant and one a dwarf, who wish to be transformed to normal size. Killigrew’s work in particular, where characters undergo magical sex changes that are
accompanied by transformations into giants, reveals a close and complex relationship between size and sexuality requiring further exploration.

When Alexander Pope, in his Epistle to a Lady (1735), described his ideal woman as ‘mistress of herself, though China fall’, he was both punning and reflecting a common eighteenth-century assumption that the passion for porcelain was a major threat to women’s sense of proportion. It is therefore appropriate that Dr Emma Newport’s paper, which concludes this panel, should explore the complex relationship between china the
substance and China the nation in British cultural consciousness. The focus of her research is Lady Banks’s porcelain dairy and the complementary text of her ‘Dairy Book’.
Her achievements re-imagined the aristocratic porcelain dairy as a site of research, of social arts and as a synthesis of male and female collecting practices. They engender both expansion and contraction: as gateway to wider narratives, technologies and aesthetics, but also contracting as the porcelain metonymises these wider representations.

Go to the BSECS website for the full conference programme.

WSG Foundling Museum talk

Jacobus Reuff, Lying in room with attendant, child and midwife, Woodcut, 1616. L0006501. Image courtesy of Wellcome Library, London Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0
Jacobus Reuff, Lying in room with attendant, child and midwife, Woodcut, 1616. L0006501.
Image courtesy of Wellcome Library, London
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

UPDATE, 2 December 2015: Unfortunately this talk has been postponed for unavoidable reasons. We will post details when a new date has been set.

WSG is excited to announce that on 6 December 2015, committee member Sara Read will give a talk at the Foundling Museum.  She will be discussing customs and experiences of childbirth during the early modern period.  The talk begins at 2pm, followed by an interpretation of Baroque music at 3 from pianist Louise Cournarie.

The talk and performance are free to visitors of the Museum.  Sara is speaking as part of WSG’s commitment to developing its relationship with the Foundling, which is hosting our seminar series and workshop during the academic year 2015-2016, and we hope to be able to announce details of further collaborations in the future.  Those interested in Sara’s work can follow her on Twitter; her handle is @floweringbodies, while WSG tweets at @WSGUK.