Cfp: WSG Seminars 2016-2017

UPDATE: 13 April 2016.  We are delighted to announce that a fourth date has been added to our seminar series: we will now also be meeting on 18 March 2017, with a focus on work in progress.

WSG is issuing its annual cfp.  Please note potential topics and the change of seminar dates to the 3rd Saturday in each month.

The Women’s Studies Group: 1558-1837 is a small, informal multi-disciplinary group formed to promote women’s studies in the early modern period and the long eighteenth century. The group organises regular meetings and an annual workshop.

WSG membership is open to men and women, graduate students, faculty, and independent scholars.  Papers can be any length up to 25 minutes, and can be formal or informal, or even work in progress. The papers are followed by very supportive and informal discussion.  Speakers are strongly encouraged to become members of WSG.

Topics can be related to any aspect of women’s studies:

  • Not only women writers, but any activity of a woman or women in the period of our concern, anything that affects or is affected by women in this period, such as the law, religion, etc
  • Male writers writing about women or male historical figures relevant the condition of women in this period
  • Papers tackling aspects of women’s studies within or alongside the wider histories of gender and sexuality are particularly welcome
  • Topics from the early part of our period are also especially welcome
  • Work in progress is invited for the March session.

Venue: Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ
Dates: Saturday 17th September, 2016, Saturday 19th November, 2016, Saturday 21st January, 2017, Saturday 18th March, 2017.

We will be allowed into the room at 12.30 pm, to give us time sort out paperwork and technology, but sessions will run from 1.00 – 4.00pm. So please arrive a little early if you can.  Please reply to WSG Seminars Organiser Carolyn D. Williams on

Carolyn Williams: thoughts from BSECS 2016

In January the Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 presented a panel at the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies annual conference at St Hugh’s College, Oxford.  Here one of the panel speakers, WSG committee member Carolyn Williams, reflects:

Anonymous, The wonderful and surprising English dwarf, etching, c1725, BM PD 1872,1012.4329 By permission of the Trustees of the British Museum
Anonymous, The wonderful and surprising English dwarf, etching, c1725, BM PD 1872,1012.4329
By permission of the Trustees of the British Museum

“The BSECS annual conference has been the site of encounters that have played a significant role in the formation of the WSG itself, so we feel we have a special relationship with it. We have always fielded speakers there, and since the organisers declared they welcome panels, these are what we have offered. Now there is an annual theme we also like to adhere to that, but we don’t let it cramp our creativity: the enlightened mood of the conference encourages broad interpretations.

The 2016 theme was ‘Growth, Expansion and Contraction’, and we called our panel ‘Minds, Bodies, and China as Sites of Female Growth, Expansion and Contraction in the Long Eighteenth Century’. This year BSECS kindly provided a chair, Dr Penny Pritchard, to look after us. We tried to be good, to stick to time limits, and to sort out our technology before the panel was due to start: particularly heroic because we were on at 9 am!

Dr Tabitha Kenlon flew in from the American University in Dubai to read a paper on ‘The Virtues of the Gothic: Lessons in Female Comportment from the Gothic Novel’. She examined the relationship between Gothic novels and conduct manuals, showing they both extended and restricted boundaries by presenting heroines who defied and embodied social conventions. Her argument took its rise from Eliza Parsons’ novel The Castle of Wolfenbach, where the heroine, on encountering a mysterious woman dwelling in secret at the castle, asks her for guidance, saying, “I shall think myself particularly fortunate if you will condescend to instruct me, for… more attention has been paid to external accomplishments than to the cultivation of my mind, or any information respecting those principles of virtue a young woman ought early to be acquainted with”.

As panel organiser, I put myself in the middle, the position which usually attracts fewest questions, and I used no technology: everybody has different skills and my speciality is distracting the audience’s attention while people behind me do clever things with computers. I took the theme literally and applied it to the human body, in a paper entitled ‘“Marry a Monster? Who would have them?”: Size and Female Sexuality’. My inspiration was the 2015 workshop, headed by Elaine Hobby, who had discussed her forthcoming edition of Aphra Behn, and particularly some episodes in The Rover Part II (1681) where men of average size pay court to a giant and a dwarf. Examining the language applied to them in this play, and also its sources, Parts I and II of Thomas Killigrew’s Thomaso, or, The Wanderer (1663), I found that the ladies’ difference from the average was often seen as a matter of quality rather than simple quantity, and that, though size did not mean everything, it could, in certain circumstances, mean anything.

Dr Emma Newport, from King’s College London, concluded the panel with ‘Interplay and Interpretation: Lady Banks’s “Dairy Book” and the collection and collation of Chinese Porcelain.’ Her paper brought to light an unpublished, hand-written account of Lady Sarah Sophia Banks’s Chinese porcelain collection, the ‘Dairy Book‘, as an example of how networks of exchange were created and complicated by the influx of Chinese goods, materials and ideas. She argued that the porcelain collection and the ‘Dairy Book’ engendered both expansion and contraction: as gateway to wider narratives, technologies and aesthetics, but also contracting as the porcelain metonymized these wider representations.

Question time was enthusiastic. As well as casting new light on Gothic fiction in general, Tabitha Kenlon attracted new readers to Eliza Parsons. Jane Austen, who included this book among the ‘horrid’ novels in Northanger Abbey, and who became notoriously ‘sick and wicked’ at the prospect of perfection in fictitious characters, must have really enjoyed it. A great deal of interest was expressed in Sarah Sophia Banks: her porcelain dairy opened up a new world for the audience. Dr Matthew McCormack, whose own paper, earlier in the conference, had expressed an interest in the relationship between humoral theory and masculine size, took my own subject in a new direction by asking whether there was any evidence of an interest in humours in depictions of giants and dwarves that I had come across. I could not provide any, but Emma Newport could: she has been conducting research into dwarves on the eighteenth-century stage, which she has generously offered for my perusal. I can’t wait!”

Do you have any further information about depictions of size on the early modern stage?  Get in touch with Carolyn here.

Valerie Schutte: women’s libraries in the age of Mary I

The independent historian Valerie Schutte recently gave a paper on ‘Pre-accession Printed Book Dedications to Mary and Elizabeth Tudor’ at the WSG’s seminar series.  Valerie’s  Mary I and the Art of Book Dedications: Royal Women, Power, and Persuasion is published by Palgrave Macmillan and is out now.  You can read a sample chapter here.  Valerie has another title, The Birth of a Queen, marking the 500th anniversary of Mary I’s birth, also in Palgrave’s Queenship and Power series, coming out in the spring.

After the seminar the WSG blog had a chance to catch up with Valerie about her various projects:

“I have several projects I am working on that are of interest to the WSG, and I can’t wait to come to another seminar to talk about them. Many still relate to Queen Mary I. I actually mentioned these at the WSG meeting and got lots of positive feedback. I plan on writing an article titled “Mary in Miniature.” I frequently get asked if any images are connected to the book dedications to Mary. Generally the answer is no. Mary’s books and manuscripts tend not to be illuminated or have gorgeous decoration. In “Mary in Miniature,” I am going to address this lack of images as well as address the few manuscript images of Mary that do actually exist. For my other project on Mary I am planning an essay on her relationship with Hampton Court Palace. This is a palace that she chose to use and visit for the most important personal occasions in her reign, such as her honeymoon and her first childbirth. I am going to address why she chose this palace and how she used it as Queen.

My next major project is one that I mentioned at the WSG meeting and was highly encouraged to pursue. In my first monograph, I spent a chapter recreating the personal library of Queen Mary I. It was some of my most rewarding and enjoyable research. Rather than undertaking a monograph on only one woman’s library and books dedicated to her, I have decided to write one where each chapter is about one woman related to or connected with Queen Mary I, such as Jane Dormer. Each chapter will cover a different woman and her books. Once I have around five or seven women and have recovered their literary history, I will put them together in a monograph along with an introduction and conclusion that tie the patterns of their libraries, book collections, and dedications together. This will allow me to draw conclusions about Mary’s literary influence at court.”

We’re looking forward to hearing further details of Valerie’s work as these projects progress.  You can see Valerie’s webpage for further details and relevant cfps.  Along with her Unexpected Heirs in Modern Europe and Shakespeare’s Queens (co-edited with Kavita Mudan Finn) collections, it looks like Valerie is going to be extremely busy in 2016.

Gendering the maritime world

James Gillray, Dido in despair, satirical print, 1801, BM P&D 1868,0808.6927 © The Trustees of the British Museum
James Gillray, Dido in despair, satirical print, 1801, BM P&D 1868,0808.6927 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Building on last week’s post linking the study of women to broader issues of gender and sex, the Journal for Maritime Research has published a special issue on ‘Gendering the maritime world‘, in which long-time WSG member Margarette Lincoln has an article on ‘Emma Hamilton, war, and the depiction of femininity in the late eighteenth century‘.  Emma Hamilton, the artist’s model and creator of her famous ‘attitudes’, is today best remembered for her affair with Admiral Horation Nelson. Margarette’s article explores the caricaturist James Gillray’s depiction of Hamilton as Dido, which hints at her pregnancy, Gillray’s more sympathetic uses of the Dido figure to represent other public women, and the particular restrictions on female conduct in wartime.

Maritime history is an evolving field which in recent years has focused on the broader social, economic, political, and cultural trends which link “ship and shore”.  One of the most fertile recent areas of inquiry has been gender, especially during the early modern period and eighteenth century, and some of the articles in this special issue, from sailor’s tears to sodomy, reflect this growing interest.

Gillian Williamson: British Masculinity in the Gentleman’s Magazine

Gillian Williamson, front cover of British Masculinities (Palgrave, 2015)
Gillian Williamson, front cover of British Masculinities (Palgrave, 2015)

This is a great post with which to kick off 2016, for all readers who believe the history of early modern and 18thC women should be considered (and practised) as part of a broader history of sex and gender.  WSG member Gillian Williamson has published her study British Masculinity in the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’, 1731-1815 with Palgrave Macmillan (£63 hardback).  Gillian is an independent historian.  She read classics at the University of Cambridge then worked in corporate finance. She returned to academic study after editing a lottery-funded local history book.

Launched in 1731, the monthly Gentleman’s Magazine was the dominant periodical of the 18thC, drawing its large readership from across the literate population of Great Britain and the English-speaking world. Its readers were highly responsive. By the 1740s their letters, poems and family announcements, especially obituaries, filled at least half its pages, sitting alongside articles by a circle that included Samuel Johnson. It was a Georgian social network as readers engaged in a continuous dialogue with each other, but not all these readers were as comfortably established as gentlemen as the title implied.

Gillian’s study traces how, from launch to the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the magazine developed as a vehicle for the creation and national dissemination of a new middling-sort masculine gentlemanliness in a Britain that was increasingly commercial, fluid and open. You can read a sample chapter here.