On 8th March 2021 the Women’s History Network held a student conference called Studying Herstories. Due to the Covid pandemic, this took place online enabling a wide range of speakers and attendees from different backgrounds, institutions, and career stages to participate. It was an excellent way to celebrate International Women’s Day and bring together those interested in exploring all aspects of women’s history. 29 presentations by students covered a range of perspectives and subjects revolving around the diverse and complex issues of Women’s history.
The conference itself was split into 6 distinct sessions, each featuring presentations from 4 or 5 students around a theme. The Culture, Media, Representations sessions examined how women have been represented through in different ways including portraiture and self-presentation throughout history.
A session on Reading, Writing and Literary Practices followed, exploring writings by women, with examples such as the relationship between utopian fiction and women’s possessions pre-1800.
Then came, Knowledge and Professionalism, looking at topics such as discourses of female scientific expertise and hysteria, and including an interrogation of women’s archival labour at Chatsworth House (seen here).
Gendered state structures followed, which highlighted such diverse activities as female perpetrated homicide in late medieval Yorkshire and female gangsterism in 1920s London, subjects I knew very little about prior to this conference.
Issues such as women’s involvement in Revolutionary Ireland and the development of lesbian activism in Britain were included in the next session on Activism.
And finally, there was a session on Elites, Intellectuals and Transnational Networks, which looked at topics such as foreign women’s networks in late Imperial China and the Queen’s household in the thirteenth century.
In the middle of the day, we were treated to a keynote talk by Dr Lucy Delap the deputy chair of the history faculty at Cambridge University. She spoke about the intersection of gender and disability and she gave a very interesting speech including discussion about how those with disabilities were assessed in relation to work.
For a list of all the speakers and their abstracts see https://womenshistorynetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Studying-Herstories-3.pdf
The decision to run a virtual conference was new for the network and we were thrilled that most of the technical side of the conference ran smoothly, hopefully setting the stage for the online national conference in September (link here?). A virtual conference was not only able to take place during the pandemic, but also able to reach an international audience with speakers who were based in Canada and Spain. This added to the overall celebration of International Women’s Day with a range of speakers and topics beyond those who might have been able to attend a physical conference. Although of course, many of us felt that a virtual conference can never replace the atmosphere of meeting in-person, something we can all look forward to when the world returns to normal!
It was very encouraging to see that the feedback from speakers and attendees was overwhelmingly positive with many praising the welcoming atmosphere of the conference and the range of topics presented. Attendees remarked they felt able to ask questions and that the moderators were excellent at keeping the event organised and on track. Speakers also seem to have felt very comfortable presenting and sharing their research on a variety of topics, although understandably some did mention that it was odd not being able to see the audience as they were presenting on zoom.
It is fair to say that the Women’s History Network student conference was a success not only as an event itself but also as a way to get more people involved in the network. Some participants have already furthered their involvement through contributing blogposts. Feedback shows that many of the attendees are looking forward to future events and have become WHN members and hopefully will become more involved going forward. This will enable us to carry out our online events effectively and efficiently in the future, when we are looking forward to an even more diverse range of topics being covered and universities represented. Alongside our regular online seminar series we have also hosted particular events for LGBTQ+ histories, and community history, and, on June 19th, are marking international day for the elimination of sexual violence with events including a student roundtable.
I hope that all attendees enjoyed and gained something from the conference and felt that it was able to provide an excellent way to celebrate International Women’s Day, even in this difficult time and will be able to attend future events!
I am a student at Northumbria University, studying for a BA History. I worked with the Women’s History Network on a work experience placement from January – May 2021. I supported the conference through social media, organising the speakers’ details in the lead up to the conference and creating the abstract booklet.