International Women’s Day has been recognised by the United Nations since 1975, but it has its roots much further back in the early twentieth century (the first National Women’s Day was celebrated in the USA on February 28th, 1909). It has a background in labour movements – workers’ rights, democratic socialism – and today continues that campaigning message by asking people to consider the contributions to society, culture and history made by women, and therefore also consider their value and how to increase women’s opportunities for further contribution.
Indeed, it isn’t only women of the past who require that kind of advocacy: though many of our modules here at Gloucestershire attempt to focus in whole or in part on the particularly female experience of history, there are plenty of issues today, too – from equal representation to female genital mutilation – which require us to consider why women are still treated differently to men by society at large. (In the Independent yesterday, Katie Grant went so far as to say, “To those who can’t see the point of International Women’s Day: you are the very reason it exists”).
March, too, is Women’s History Month, giving historians a particular opportunity to emphasise the often over-looked role of women in the past (BBC Radio 4′s Woman’s Hour began a series of historical segments to this effect on Monday). I’m excited to be taking part in two conferences this summer which focus on various aspects of the female experience in the early modern period and beyond, and in my Gender and Power course here at Gloucestershire help undergraduates understand the ways in which gender and femininity can be imagined in such a way to limit women’s choices (not only an early modern problem!) … but also how women throughout history have learned to negotiate these visions of femininity in order to express themselves and win agency.
That’s why today – and Women’s History Month as a whole – is so important. It allows us all, women and men alike, to consider how gender is constructed … and how, therefore, we can just as easily reshape it in order to create better and more equal circumstances for women everywhere.
So think about your favourite woman from history today. And then go and discover a new one.
Not far up the M5 from Cheltenham is the Black Country town of Stourbridge. The town is perhaps most famous for its glassmaking (the process of using glass to make a range of vessels, from bottles to bowls), and was historically part of Worcestershire – though it has long since been merged, controversially for local residents, with Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council. I grew up not far from there, so it was with interest that I read an email sent to me by one of our Research Fellows, Dr Tim Copeland, concerning a project of ‘historical archaeology’ about to be launched in the town.
Tim tells me that Stourbridge’s Glasshouse College wishes to develop its car park – and that under planning regulations the remains of the late seventeenth-century Coalbournebrook and Coalbournehill Glassworks, which underlie the area, have to be archaeologically evaluated and explored. Glasshouse College is a specialist further education establishment operated by the Ruskin Mill Trust, which works to provide Practical Therapeutic Skills for young people aged 16-25 years. These students have a range of learning difficulties including autistic spectrum disorders and behaviours which challenge.
That opens up some really interesting educational opportunities for the excavation. Indeed, the Ruskin Mill Trust has gained contributions from the Heritage Lottery Fund for an archaeological assessment of the remnants, followed by a Community Archaeological Excavation. The work is being undertaken by Nexus Heritage – and Tim will be designing the heritage and community involvement strategies as part of his wider research.
“Initially,” Tim writes, “the site will be explored by professional archaeologists, to evaluate the preservation of the remains of the glassworks – which closed in the 1950s without leaving behind any documentary evidence associated specifically with them. Once the extent of the remnants is determined there will be a four week excavation by the students from Glasshouse College and volunteers from the area, specifically members of the local historical society who largely comprise of retired persons. The excavation will end with an ‘Open Weekend’, when members of the local community will be invited to visit the excavated structures and examine the artefacts retrieved from the site. The Glasshouse College students will act as guides. It is likely that there will be oral histories connected with the glassworks and these also be collected by the students.”
Tim continues that, following the excavation project, and depending on the quality of the structures, decisions will be taken about the physical conservation of the site as well – alongside ‘preservation by record’ in archived documents, and both an academic and a popular publication (providing both an authoritative and accessible accounts of the work). It sounds like a really interesting project on many levels: historical, social, pedagogical and (for me, at least!) local.
I hope we’ll hear more from Tim as the project progresses.
Our final video features Professor Neil Wynn, who has established a very successful and popular American History strand here at Gloucestershire. Students can follow the American History elements of the course right through from first to final year, exploring a wide range of that nation’s past, and the many debates which surround it. Neil himself focuses on African-American history in particular.
Christian now teaches on the American strand, but in this video Neil also talks a little about it – and in addition about his own research and what being a ‘Professor of 20th Century American History’ really means!
The Applicant Day takes place this afternoon, and we’re really looking forward to it.
Our fourth video in the series leading up to Wednesday’s Applicant Day features our Course Leader, Dr Iain Robertson. Iain is a Reader in Historical Geography, and discusses in the video what that is, as well as talking about his own research and the modules he teaches on our History course.
Iain’s Course Leader role is a key one in terms of making the student experience as good as possible, so watch his conversation with Dave to get a sense of what life studying History at Gloucestershire is all about!
Ahead of that applicant day next Wednesday, here’s the third in a series of video profiles of members of the History team here at Gloucestershire.
Dr Christian O’Connell lectures on our American History strand, which students can take at every stage of their study. In this video, he talks about what the strand looks like, how his own research into American blues and popular music helps illuminate other parts of US history, and a little about what students can expect whilst reading History at Gloucestershire.
We’ve been linking to these videos from our Twitter account, too – and there’s lots more getting to know us to be had over there. Why not give us a follow?
Second in our series of video profiles is Professor Melanie Ilic, our Professor in Soviet History and a long-standing member of the history team here at Gloucestershire. In conversation with Dave Webster, Subject Group Leader for Religious, Philosophical and Historical Studies, she discusses her research interests – including her recent book on the lives of Soviet women – and the way in which this research informs her teaching.
Russian and Soviet history forms a distinct strand at every level of our History course here at Gloucestershire, and it’s a fascinating topic to tackle, in whatever shape you choose.
Next Wednesday, February 19th, sees the first of our 2014 Applicant Days, which provide applicants who have applied to study at UoG the chance to spend a day with us, getting to know the campus, staff and what life here might be like for you!
In the ‘getting to know you’ spirit, our colleague Dave Webster over at RPE has taken a series of short videos of History staff, each talking about their research interests and the modules we offer to our students.
In the first of the History Staff Videos, I talk about early modern History at UoG. Take a look, and get in touch with us here or over email if you have any questions about our courses.