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Research in Progress Postgraduate Workshop – Histories of Gender, University of Reading, 24 October 2018

A report from the post-graduates students who were awarded a grant by the WHN in 2018.

The University of Reading’s History Department hosted its inaugural postgraduate workshop under the recently launched Gender and Sexuality Research Cluster. The theme of the workshop was deliberately broad, inviting papers that were not limited by any specific historical period or global region; the premise of the workshop was to provide a platform for researchers of a variety of topics to engage with each other by a universal approach.

Reading’s own Associate Professor in Modern African History, Dr. Heike Schmidt, kicked off the day with her keynote titled, ‘Gendering Gender History: Observations by an Africanist’. Dr. Schmidt traced the history and establishment of mainstream gender history, using data acquired from American Historical Review, to demonstrate new popular trends in publication titles since Joan Scott’s pivotal contribution to gender studies in 1986. One of these trends that was observed by Dr Schmidt was the assumed position of western researchers of gender not needing to stipulate the geographical location of their research. In response to this observation, the keynote explored the conversations of the ‘silent referent’ and how Europe is the silent referent in general academic discourse, as much as woman is in gender discourse.

Dr. Schmidt’s remarks on the current state of the field were in many ways reflected in our panels. It was, however, actively recognised by the organisers, presenters and attendees alike that facilitating wider, non-European research is an issue at an institutional level. One of the primary aims of the workshop was to connect a wide-array of research topics, encouraging non-western histories of gender. This goal was, to an extent, successful, as the workshop boasted papers from Japanese to South African history, and late antiquity to contemporary. This variety in topics made for lively discussions amongst postgraduate students, highlighting that particular issues and themes span timeframes and continents.

A priority of the organising committee was to provide a friendly, collaborative place for postgraduate researchers to present their research, and receive direct feedback in focussed discussions on their topic. For this reason, the workshop was designed with six panels, made up of three or four speakers, which was followed by break-out discussion groups specific to each paper. This structure allowed for participants to receive feedback from attendees and other speakers as well as generally opening wider discussions in reference to their research. The panels covered themes such as, ‘Labour and Leisure’, and ‘Methodology’, which allowed interdisciplinary and cross-institutional conversations to flourish. The success of this format was reflected in the post-workshop feedback, in which speakers rated the break-out discussion groups an ‘excellent’ experience. It was particularly noted in the feedback that for those having issues in reference to their methodology or the ethical aspects of their research that these discussions provided them with good guidance and suggestions on how to overcome such obstacles.

There were optimistic closing remarks from members of the department regarding the direction future workshops may take,with particular reference to further encouraging the diversity of topics within histories of gender and providing more platforms for these topics to be discussed. Conversations and debates continued during the wine reception at the end of the workshop; it was noted in particular in feedback forms that the event was an apt opportunity for networking. It was also highlighted that without the generous funding provided by the Women’s History Network and the Royal Historical Society a large number of the speakers would not have been able their research and attend the workshop, and ultimately for the success in terms of diverse attendance.