In 1880, the revolutionary anarchist feminist Louise Michel returned to Paris from France’s penal colony in New Caledonia. Arrested, convicted, sentenced, and exiled in the wake of the France’s 1871revolutionary civil war known as the Paris Commune, Michel had spent seven years imprisoned in the South Pacific archipelago. During these years, Michel became fascinated with the indigenous Kanak people. She studied their languages and their history, she gave them lessons in English and mathematics, and she came to strongly sympathize with them in their resistance to French imperial rule.

While in New Caledonia, Michel also developed a camaraderie with the group of Algerian Kabyles who had been exiled to the archipelago for rising against French rule in 1871. Michel identified with both the Kanak and the Kabyles in their desire to cast off French imperial power. In 1904, the final year of her life, she traveled to Algeria on an anti-militarism, anti-religion, and anti-colonial speaking and propaganda tour. This culminated decades of anti-imperial and revolutionary activism in which Michel discussed and compared life and civilization in New Caledonia and Algeria with that of France and England. In many cases, the European nations fell short in her estimations. Yet, she described the Kanak and Kabyles as child-like and, in the case of the Kanak, stone-aged. Michel advocated a revolutionary anarchistic, anti-clerical, feminist vision of Western education as a means to “uplift” and liberation. In Europe, she focused on school children; in Algeria and New Caledonia she targeted subjugated peoples. Michel’s educational theory explains why she equated the development of children with the liberation of a culture, and thus unintentionally imposed imperialist Western forms.

This raises the question of what we can term “anti-imperialist” in the nineteenth-century context. Does a person’s self-identification as anti-imperial suffice? Does she or he have to oppose imperialism and colonialism in all its forms? As in the case of Michel, how does one’s advocacy of a radical form of Western education shape our understanding of her politics? Are there contexts beyond France that provide points of comparison for these, and related questions?

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On November 8, 2013, Haiyan, one of the strongest typhoons on record with sustained winds up to 195 mph, made landfall in the eastern and central Philippines. For three days, I waited anxiously to hear from my family in one of the affected areas. After sending out numerous e-mails and making frantic phone calls to friends and other family members, I learned that my immediate family safely evacuated to a nearby city. Finally, I received an e-mail from my sister detailing how she made the decision to evacuate my elderly parents to an inn in a nearby city. As she explained, the inn was chosen because it was near a hospital and she was concerned about my parents’ medical conditions and overall health. She was also concerned about strong winds and heavy floods as our town is situated along a major river; consequently, she had my parents move out of the house a day before the typhoon made landfall on the island. Super Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) left more than 5,000 people dead and displaced around four million people in the Philippines. It is unclear how many of those who perished and were injured were women and children. In my hometown of approximately 32,000 people, one of the two reported casualties was a woman.[i] According to the municipal government’s disaster report, there were 3,209 houses that were totally damaged, and 2,532 houses that were partially damaged.[ii]

Inspired by Barbara Molony’s blog, I originally planned on writing about another topic related to transnational studies in East Asia. However, the recent catastrophe in the Philippines made me reflect on women and disasters in Asia, particularly on how the mass media and social media employed images of women as icons of disaster. The situation in the Philippines also made me think of the actual role that women play in emergency management and postdisaster recovery. My sister’s account points to the potential significance of women in emergency management. Furthermore, reports from the mass media and social media suggest that women’s movements could play an important role in postdisaster relief efforts. My cursory survey of the literature on disasters in Asia shows that scholars have paid little attention to these topics.

As I read the news reports from local and foreign media and watch news coverage and interviews with typhoon survivors, I notice that they tend to use images of women and children. In addition, the interviews were mostly with women. Women, especially mothers, figure prominently in narratives of sorrow and despair, and of hope and perseverance. “In the Philippines, world scrambles to deliver ‘the basics’ as one mother despairs,” wrote Joe Sterling for CNN.[iii] In the Anderson Cooper 360 show, the host, who visited the city of Tacloban in the eastern Philippines, paid tribute to the resilience of the Filipino people: “…Imagine the strength it takes for a mother to search alone for her missing kids, the strength to sleep on the street near the body of your child…..”[iv] In another news report, Philippine Air Force Capt. Antonio Tamayo happily announces Emily Sagalis’s successful delivery of a baby girl named Bea Joy. “The baby came out and cried right away. There wasn’t any problem. And there was no bleeding. So it was a perfect delivery in a very imperfect environment,” Tamayo explained.[v] Photographs, too, are powerful vehicles for conveying messages of vulnerability, despair, and need as well as hope, support and immediate action on the ground. There were photographs of women and children standing at the center of the debris of what used to be their home, a mother watching the dead body of her child stretched out on a church pew, and Filipino and U.S. male soldiers helping an elderly woman disembark a C-130 aircraft.[vi] In these stories and images, women served as “icons of disaster” as well as symbols of strength and resilience. Similarly, in Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley’s study of cultural responses to the drought-famine that killed 10 million people in north China in the 1870s, women, especially famished women sold into prostitution, were among the most common “icons of starvation.”[vii] Although Super Typhoon Haiyan affected women and men, girls and boys, young and old, these news reports and images, for the most part, reinforce the view of women, the elderly, and children as the most vulnerable groups (and of men as heroes and first responders) during times of disaster.[viii] Drawing on their study of natural disasters from 1981 to 2002, Eric Neumayer and Thomas Plumpert explained that “[i]t is the socially constructed gender-specific vulnerability of females built into everyday socioeconomic patterns that lead to the relatively higher female disaster mortality rate compared to men.”[ix]

Although women figured prominently in disaster stories that highlight the theme of vulnerability, studies also show that some women were more vulnerable than others. Alluding to the  differential impact of famine among Chinese women in the 1870s, Edgerton-Tarpley posited that unlike elderly mothers who have low market value during the famine, young women who allowed their families to sell them or who sold themselves in exchange for food sometimes managed to survive the famine.[x] During Hurricane Katrina in the United States, “most of the victims trapped in New Orleans were Afro-American women with their children, the poorest demographic group in that part of the country.”[xi] Socioeconomic status, Neumayer and Plumpert explained, is one of the factors that determine a person’s vulnerability to disaster: “When the socioeconomic status of women is low, more women than men die.”[xii] When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines a few weeks ago, my sister was thankful that she had a job and was able to move the family to a nearby inn. In previous typhoons and floods, they fled to a relative’s home that was built on higher ground. Other residents sought refuge in their relatives’ homes in the higher part of the town or they evacuated to nearby schools, parts of which were flooded or destroyed with roofs that were blown away by the typhoon.

More importantly, women devised ways to deal with emergency situations and mitigate the impact of the disaster.[xiii] As a working woman, my sister was able to make a timely decision for the whole family. She bought a small transistor radio, a flashlight, candles, and canned food two days before Typhoon Haiyan hit our province. She moved my parents out of the house before the government authorities enforced preventive evacuation.[xiv] Her case demonstrates women’s emergency management skills, a relatively neglected aspect of disaster studies in Asia. Another related theme that is worth exploring is women’s coping mechanisms during and after disasters. In their book titled Disaster and Gender: Impact of Super Cyclone on Life and Livelihood of Women, Mamata Swain, Mrutyunjay Swain, and Ranju Hasini Sahoo examine the coping responses of women in Orissa in eastern India after the 1999 Super Cyclone.[xv]

Equally important is the role that women’s organizations and networks play in postdisaster relief efforts. In the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan, the Filipino Women’s Council (FWC) raised funds especially for women and children in the affected areas.[xvi] Established in Rome in 1991, the FWC aims to provide for the needs of Filipino women in Italy, such as those related to marital conflict and sexual abuse.[xvii] Considered the largest and most influential association of Filipino women in Italy, the FWC is but one example of a women-driven movement for women. In addition, newly-established all-women grassroots organizations, like the Bundles of Joy and Letters of Hope, provide on-the-ground aid that includes food, water, clothing, vitamins, and flashlights as well as handwritten messages of solidarity sent from other countries. The Bundles of Joy was started by three young women activists (two are based in the Philippines and one in the U.S.) and supported by an all-women international volunteers from around the world.[xviii] As I read about the relief initiatives for the Philippines, I wonder, during the famine in China in the 1870s, were there women’s groups (e.g., Anglo-American women missionaries) that worked together to raise funds for the survivors? Edgerton-Tarpley noted that there were missionaries and foreign relief workers who visited famine areas in north China, but it is unclear if women were involved in these relief efforts.[xix] What about the survivors of what J. Charles Schenching described as “an urban catastrophe surpassed in scope only by the devastation wrought by aerial bombing during the Second World War” – the Great Kantô earthquake in Japan in 1923 that claimed somewhere between 100,000 and 140,000 lives?[xx]

There is a growing body of work on women and representations of disaster and on the gendered impact of disaster, especially the 1999 Super Cyclone in South Asia[xxi] but gender seems to be understudied in relation to other disasters in Asia. Sonya Ryang noted that scholars have studied the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo and the massacre of thousands of Koreans in Japan within the context of colonial racism.[xxii] Other works consider the fractured politics of reconstructing Tokyo after the 1923 earthquake.[xxiii] We know so little about women and disasters in, for example, late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Asia. Following Glenda Sluga’s call for the incorporation of women into international history, I would like to say that we would do well to consider women and gender in the history of disasters in Asia, exploring what Elaine Enarson calls “the gendered terrain of disaster”[xxiv] and the role that women’s networks played during and in the aftermath of the disaster.

Febe Pamonag, Department of History, Western Illinois University

[i] Natashya Gutierrez, “Iloilo works towards recovery after Yolanda,”, Posted on Nov. 9, 2013, accessed Nov. 25, 2013.

[ii] Municipality of San Enrique Disaster Report,!/municipalityofsanenriqueiloilo accessed Nov. 25, 2013.

[iii] Joe Sterling, “In Philippines, world scrambles to deliver as one mother despairs,” accessed Nov. 27, 2013.

[iv] Anderson Cooper, “Reporter’s Notebook about the victims of typhoon Haiyan in Philippines,” accessed Nov. 24, 2013.

[v] AC 360 Later, aired Nov. 12, 2013 accessed Nov. 26, 2013.

[vi] Ibid.; Agence France-Presse, “More US aircraft bound for storm-hit Philippines,” accessed Nov. 24, 2013. Also see photos in “The Philippines: One Week After Typhoon Haiyan,” The Atlantic, Nov. 14, 2013 accessed Nov. 27, 2013.

[vii] Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley, Tears from Iron: Cultural Responses to Famine in Nineteenth-Century China (University of California Press, 2008), 159. Edgerton-Tarpley also cited Margaret Kelleher’s work on the Great Irish Famine and the twentieth- century Bengali famine that demonstrates how images of women are used as “bearers of meaning” because they have great power to move the reader or spectator. Edgerton-Tarpley, 161-62.

[viii] Although these reports and images dovetail with the view of men as the “stronger sex” who are expected to take heroic actions, studies also show that in some cases, this belief has put men in great risk in disaster situations. For example, “there were more immediate deaths among men when hurricane Mitch struck Central America, not only because they were engaged in open-air activities, but because they took fewer precautions when facing risks.” “Disaster and Gender Statistics,” International Union for Conservation of Nature,,d.cGU accessed Nov. 27, 2013.

[ix] Eric Neumayer and Thomas Plumpert, “The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters: The Impact of Catastrophic Events on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy, 1981-2002,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 97, no. 3 (Sept. 2007): 551.

[x] Edgerton-Tarpley, Tears from Iron, 188.

[xi] “Disaster and Gender Statistics,” International Union for Conservation of Nature.

[xii] Neumayer and Plumpert, “The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters,” 552.

[xiii] Similarly in the case of Hurricane Katrina, Enarson pointed out that “the camera lens for the most part captured the familiar gender line (dependent women, heroic men) though some photographers showed some women organizing collective care and young men keeping the peace in the Superdome of New Orleans.” Elaine Enarson, Women Confronting Natural Disaster: From Vulnerability to Resilience (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2012), 10.

[xiv]  On preventive evacuation in Iloilo, see Voltaire Tupaz, “Test of resilience: State of calamity in 4 Iloilo towns,” posted on Nov. 8, 2013, accessed Nov. 26, 2013.

[xv] Mamata Swain, Mrutyunjay Swain and Ranju Hasini Sahoo, Disaster and Gender: Impact of Super Cyclone on Life and Livelihood of Women (New Delhi: Serials Publications, 2006).

[xvi] “Emergency Philippines: Filipino Women’s Council and Defence for Children-Italy,” accessed Nov. 27, 2013.

[xvii] On Filipino Women’s Council, see Wendy Pojmann, Immigrant Women and Feminism in Italy (Ashgate Publishing Company, 2006), 89-90.

[xviii] Kristina Rodulfo, “Young Women Activists Band Together To Fight Typhoon Haiyan with ‘Bundles of Joy,’” Elle, Nov. 18, 2013, accessed Nov. 25, 2013. On Bundles of Joy, also see

[xix] Edgerton-Tarpley, Tears from Iron, 182.

[xx] J. Charles Schencking, “Catastrophe, Opportunism, Contestation: The Fractured Politics of Reconstructing Tokyo following the Great Kantô Earthquake of 1923,” Modern Asian Studies 40, no. 4 (2006): 833.

[xxi] On the gendered impact of the 1999 super cyclone, see Mamata Swain, Mrutyunjay Swain and Ranju Hasini Sahoo, Disaster and Gender: Impact of Super Cyclone on Life and Livelihood of Women (New Delhi: Serials Publications, 2006). On gender and disaster management, see Manjari Mehta, Gender Matters: Lessons for Disaster Risk Reduction in South Asia (Kathmandu: International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, 2007).

[xxii] Sonia Ryang, “The Great Kantô Earthquake and the Massacre of Koreans in 1923: Notes on Japan’s Modern National Sovereignty, “Anthropological Quarterly 76, no. 4 (Autumn 2003): 737.

[xxiii] J. Charles Schencking, “Catastrophe, Opportunism, Contestation.” Also see Schencking, The Great Kanto Earthquake and the Chimera of National Reconstruction in Japan (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013).

[xxiv] Enarson, Women Confronting Natural Disaster, 1-2. On gender and the distribution of risk, see “Disaster and Gender Statistics,” International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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I am delighted to kick off the East Asia blogs for the WIG website! Joining me are Rui Kohiyama (American and Gender Studies, Tokyo Women’s Christian University) and Febe Pamonag, History Department, Western Illinois University). We welcome other contributors and are particularly interested in specialists in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Please contact me if you would like to join us (

I had planned to inaugurate the East Asia blogs with an overview of the very lively field of Japanese transnational feminist studies in English. In North America in the past six months alone, numerous scholars in a variety of disciplines have given papers addressing transnational feminisms at major conferences. Presenters at the Emory University conference on “Sex, Gender and Society: Rethinking Modern Japanese Feminisms” (April 2013), the Association for Asian Studies meeting (March 2013, San Diego), the Western Association of Women Historians (May 2013, Portland OR), and regional meetings such as the conference of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association (August, Denver CO) added to this growing field in the spring and summer of 2013. Books and articles in major disciplinary journals have included works by Anglophone scholars from all over the world. So it’s no exaggeration to say this is a lively field of study!

But I was inspired by the exciting blogs on the WIG website describing the IFRWH conference at Sheffield Hallam University, so I’ve decided to join them and discuss my experience at that meeting. For a Japan specialist, the conference was a real thrill. I had never been able to attend the IFRWH in the past, and this meeting was fabulous. The contingent of Japan specialists was huge, and the quality of their work was really fine. The organizers’ integration of the Japan work in panels that covered a variety of global and thematic areas was brilliant. Most of us came from very long distances, but the excitement of seeing old friends and meeting new ones, together with copious amounts of coffee and tea during the breaks, kept us all on our toes. Unfortunately, as prolific as the Japanese scholarship was, the number of presentations of work on other parts of East Asia was small.

Many papers were in panels whose titles explicitly foregrounded transnationalism, and I could wander from session to session and never be far from the topic. Among the presenters whose panel titles included “transnational” either explicitly or implicitly were: Andrea Germer, “The Gender of Modernity in Foreign Propaganda: Transnational Trajectories in Wartime Japan;” Vera Mackie, “The Local and the Global in the 1950s: The World Congress of Mothers and the Hahaoya Taikai;” Ulrike Woehr, “Japan’s Post-1970s Anti-Nuclear Power Movement in National and Transnational Contexts;” Tamiko Miyatsu, “Daughters of Transnational Women’s Activism in the Progressive Era: Mary Church Terrell and Raicho Hiratsuka;” Marie Sandell, “‘Unifying the People of the East and the West”: WILPF’s Mission to East Asia in the Late 1920s;” Mieko Kojima, “Ana. C. Hartshorne and the Funding of the Philadelphia Committee;” Barbara Molony, “Transnational Feminisms;” Christine Levy, “Globalisation et feminisms au Japon: de la critique de l’impérialism à la question dépassement des nationalisms;” and Mara Patessio, “Rough Encounters, Jagged Conflicts, and Intimate Exchanges: Japanese Women Teaching Korean, Taiwanese, and Chinese Women during the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries.” This was such a rich collection of papers that I hope I haven’t left anyone out!

A number of papers addressed empire and its ramifications: Chisako Uno, “Woman and Body in Imperial Japan;” Misako Kunihara, “Images of Nurses in Imperial Japan;” and Shizue Tachibana, “Between Two Empires: The Marriage of Harriet Dickinson and Kojiro Tomita. Empire is arguably a manifestation of transnationalism as well.

Joining those papers were excellent presentations in panels that dealt with women whose transnational migrations attuned them to questions of identity: Junko Sakai, “Japanese Women on the Move: Between Global and Local Identities;” and the only paper with a Korean-American theme, Sandra J. Song’s “Memory’s Irreverent Stain? Family, Nation, and Blood in the Writing of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.” Topics in transnational marriage and discourses on sexuality were addressed by Taeko Shibahara, “American Nadeshiko, Frances Hawks Cameron Burnett;” and Yoko Hayashi, “The Influence of the British Movement against Licensed Prostitution upon Japanese Society in the Meiji Era.” The implantation of democracy in postwar rural Japan was carefully analyzed by Fumi Iwashima in “Rural Women and Democratization Policies in Postwar Japan: The Big Picture as Seen from a Case Study of Kumihama-cho.”

South Asian topics were also well represented in numerous papers at the meeting.  But there were only five papers on the rest of East Asia. These were the excellent presentations on the Philippines—Inma Alva’s “Trader Women in Manila in the 18th Century,” Laura R. Prieto’s “Women, Missions and the Politics of Dress in the Philippines, 1898-1940,” and Emily Sloan’s “Suffragist Identity and Networks of Power: Carrie Chapman Catt in the Philippines, 1912”— on China—Jerry Chang’s “Banking of Women in Shanghai: The Shanghai Women’s Commercial and Savings Bank, 1924-1955,” and on Malaya—Arunima Datta’s “From Dependent Wives to Independent Wage Earners: Indian Coolie Women on Colonial Malay Plantations.” The next IFRWH will be in China, and I hope those of us in the Japan field will be joined by more of our colleagues who work in other parts of East Asia.

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  • Rui Kohiyama
    In response to Barbara Molony by Rui Kohiyama I was so glad to see many Japanese scholars present at Sheffield, ...

Having recently returned from the WHN/IFRWH conference at Sheffield Hallam University (29th August – 1st September), I feel confident in saying that this is an exciting moment for women’s missionary history. Undoubtedly inspired and aided by the conference’s ‘local and global’ theme, the conference was positively overflowing with scholars working on the history of Christian mission, and women’s involvement in that global religious enterprise. While (some) feminist historians have long been wary of the history of religion, seeing it as confining to women, and as perpetuating the patriarchal social and religious structures that restrained their autonomy, historians of Christian mission have long known that the nineteenth-century missionary movement provided an outlet for female philanthropic and global action – as well as a means for women at home to exercise their ‘feminine’ philanthropy in a public and global arena. This was by no means an uncomplicated nor unproblematic process. As many of the papers explored (and as recently demonstrated in Rosemary Seton’s book: Western Daughters in Eastern Lands), female missionaries were often still constrained by the male-dominated power-structures of missionary organisations, as well as individual mission stations and communities. But certainly if missionary women were not uncomplicatedly ‘freed’ by their involvement in Christian mission, women’s history seems to have flown fairly effectively out of its secular (and indeed national) coop!
The number and range of papers on mission history was astonishing really – and a great pleasure for a mission historian such as myself. The conference itself had a magnificent range of papers – 189 in total plus three keynotes (see Jane Purvis’s review on this blog for more details). Eighteen of these were explicitly about the history of mission activity – not to mention the many papers about religion more generally, and the many women featured in other papers who were involved in mission work and/or organisations, were from mission families, or were mission educated. Jacqueline van Gent, meanwhile (and in addition), gave a fascinating keynote on ‘Rebecca and her sisters: indigenous women, gendered authority and global mission networks’. There she explored the social conditions that produced a certain form of inclusion for converted women, but one contingent on the erasure of their indigenous identity, and the imprinting of their newly converted self onto the mission archive – most often evidenced through baptismal (re)naming practices. Seeing what has in the past been a fairly niche topic breaking into the mainstream of women’s history, (again, facilitated by the local and global theme of the conference) was extremely gratifying, and there was a definite buzz about the various contributions and the perspectives on offer.
As always, there was also discomfort with the continuing dominance of white women’s history – and the methodological issues involved in excavating, exploring and reconceptualising women’s history from a more global perceptive. I suspect this is a problem that the ‘local’ in the conference title was trying to address – the writing of non-white (for want of a better term) women’s history is more often focussed on the local than the global. This is not because only white women had access to the institutional and economic forces that facilitated global movement. Mrinalini Sinha’s keynote paper on ‘Kunti’s protest: the paradox of gender in anti-colonialism’, which explored the theme of women and the gender politics of accusation in the world of Indian indentured labour, made this abundantly clear. Rather, it is because of the nature of the colonial archive – which inevitably reflects the interests and preoccupations of the “colonisers”, rather than the “colonised”. Nonetheless, Sinha (among others) provided a powerful example of how to read with and through the archive in order to part excavate and part extrapolate non-white women’s stories, journeys and perspectives from the material available. What Van Gent’s keynote reminded us was that ‘the global’ does not exist in abstract form, but is rather an amalgamation of local narratives. The key, she argued, is the analytical translation that occurs (through the mediation of historical writing) between the local and global – an idea I for one found particularly stimulating.
The missionary endeavour from the 17th – 20th centuries provides a particularly fruitful site for this kind of historical analysis. An enterprise that was self-consciously aware of, and deeply invested in, its own globality, internationality and trans-nationality, Christian mission was also essentially local – operating within and connecting both spheres through networks of mobilised people, transported objects, and voluble communications (both public and private). Christian mission was at one and the same time embedded in the grass roots of colonial encounter, and skimming the surface of imperial and global expansion. It was invested in the most intimate aspects of individual lives (faith, belief, spirituality), and at the same time what Christopher Bayly would call ‘the birth of the modern world’ – in other words the promotion of global similarity (as opposed to homogeneity) through what missionaries themselves called ‘the civilising mission’. Mission history, in short, allows for a tightly organised and methodologically innovative historical translation between the local and the global.
And women, meanwhile, were absolutely crucial to the mission endeavour. As missionaries they outnumbered men by the end of the nineteenth century; as domestic supporters they created and sustained (financially, materially and emotionally) complex and trans-local networks of philanthropic action; and as converts in the field they formed the backbone of everyday, on-the-ground evangelical action. Ideologically, too, the desire to ‘uplift’ non-western women was a strong and ever-present justification for missions, imperial-feminism and imperialism more broadly (formal, economic and cultural). Women rhetorically and actually embodied the missionary movement in the age of empires – and I am pleased that this conference gave women’s history more generally an opportunity to see the innovative work being done in that field.

-    Emily Manktelow (University of Kent)

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As promised, here is the blog on women in international history as part of a History Workshop Journal on-line roundtable on Mark Mazower’s weighty tome Governing the World.

For those of you interested in the intersections between international history, European history and gender, see the interviews taped as part of the Sorbonne based consortium rewriting European history: at

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REPORT ON ‘WOMEN’S HISTORIES: THE LOCAL AND THE GLOBAL’: international conference of the
International Federation for Research in Women’s History and the Women’s History Network (UK),
Thursday, 29th August to 1st September, 2013, Sheffield Hallam University, UK
June Purvis, Professor of Women’s and Gender History, University of Portsmouth, UK
It was with great excitement that I arrived at Sheffield Hallam University on 29th August to
participate in the above Conference, where over 250 delegates had gathered. There was a chance to
meet up with old friends I had not seen for some time, renew acquaintances and meet people I had
never spoken to before. The buzz of activity and engagement, evident on that very first day, stayed
throughout. The delegates, overwhelmingly women, came from all corners of the world – including
Bangladesh, Australia, Belgium, India, Finland, Norway, Canada, Japan, Hungary, the USA, Iceland,
the UK, Italy, Nigeria and Cyprus.
The three plenary speakers, all well-known figures in international history, gave stimulating
addresses – Catherine Hall, University College, London, spoke on ‘Gendering the legacies of slaveownership’,
Mrinalini Sinha, University of Michigan on ‘Kunti’s protest: the paradox of gender
in anti-colonialism’ and Jacqueline van Gent, University of Western Australia on ‘Rebecca and
her sisters: indigenous women, gendered authority and global mission networks’. The opening
Reception on Thursday evening, 29th August, sponsored by Sheffield Hallam University and Women’s
History Review included also the Routledge book launch of Women’s Activism: Global Perspectives
from the 1890s to the Present, edited by Francisca de Haan, Margaret Allen, Krassimira Daskalova
and myself. The 12 essays in the book, written by feminist historians from around the world,
developed from papers given at the International Federation’s 2010 Amsterdam conference. They
all explore how women have always found ways to challenge or fight inequalities and hierarchies.
The Reception the following evening was sponsored by Gender and History to celebrate their 25th
anniversary. It also included the Manchester University Press book launch of Modern Women on
Trial: Sexual Trangression in the Age of the Flapper by Lucy Bland as well as the awarding of the
Women’s History Network (UK) Book Prize for an author’s first book. The lucky recipient was Angela
Davis for Modern Motherhood: women and family in England, 1945-2000 (2012). Based on an
impressive 160 oral history interviews, Davis skilfully draws a compelling picture of the ambivalence
and contractions of motherhood in the post-war world.
Such celebratory events came at the end of enjoyable days, popping in and out of panels, listening
to fascinating papers that linked the ‘local’ and the ‘global’, chairing sessions – and enjoying the
delicious chocolate fudge cake served with afternoon tea! (I returned home 2 lbs heavier ….) So I
will just mention a few of the excellent papers I listened to, to give a flavour of what the conference
was about.
In one panel, on ‘Beyond national biographies: transnational perspectives on women’s lives and
activism’, Tamiko Miyatsu, from Japan, spoke about two daughters of transnational women’s
activism in the Progressive Era, Mary Church Terrell in the USA and Raicho Hiratsuka in Japan. Both
were college-educated women from wealthy families. One of the women’s colleges, with which
Raicho was involved, had a school song ‘O, Alma Mater, Mother dear/With songs they name we
greet/Who dost the Gate of Knowledge here/Set open for our feet.’ At the end of her paper, the
presenter began to sing this song, as did other women in the room who had attended that school –
and the rest of us joined in! That poignant moment underlined a key point about transnationalism –
many of us in the UK knew the tune since it was an old English one titled ‘Drink to me only with thine
eyes’. The other paper presenter in this session, Erla Hulda Halldorsdottir from Iceland, discussed
the life and correspondence of one of her fellow countrywomen of the past, Sigridur Palsdottir
(1809-1871). How can we represent this woman’s life beyond its national context? What are the
discrepancies between the grand narratives of European women’s history (mainly British, German or
French) and the local histories and experiences of women in ‘marginal’ areas such as Iceland? Is the
life story of a woman who cannot be counted as a pioneer or having changed the course of history of
any value for European women’s history?
In another panel, on ‘Feminist struggle in the contemporary academy’, Phillidia Bunkle, from New
Zealand, told a distressing story about the ways in which some New Zealand feminists, active in
the international Women’s Health Movement, had been misrepresented as hostile, unreliable
controversialists in some academic studies and inquiries. What should be the relationship between
feminist activists and academic historians? Whose story has greater legitimacy? This latter theme
was particularly evident too in the other paper in this session, that by Gail Chester from the UK,
about the fate of The Women’s Library, formerly housed at London Metropolitan University in a
purpose-built building and now – minus its building – at the London School of Economics. With the
title ‘LSE plays the long game, or how a global institution snatched women’s history’, Gail described
the battle fought in 2012 about the future of The Women’s Library. In particular, she highlighted
the question of why the LSE, with its demonstrable wealth, would only take the contents of the
library, claiming that it was unable to sustain the cost of maintaining its purpose-built building.
Lively debate followed. Some contributors pointed out that the key fact was preserving the
contents of The Women’s Library which, many felt, would be better looked after at the LSE, the only
university left in the bidding process for this irreplaceable and unique archive. Why do so many of
the purpose-built buildings specifically for women face such a fate? And why are governments so
reluctant to support them? Very sad indeed.
Buildings featured in another absorbing session I attended, on ‘Women’s Heritage and Public
History’, a field of growing interest. All the speakers were from the UK. Rosie Sherington, from
English Heritage spoke about the problems in presenting a history of women through buildings –
how do they relate to women’s social status and employment opportunities? Kate Hill focused
on souvenirs, gender and museums from 1850-1914, discussing how women often donated to
museums ‘souvenirs’ which were of their menfolk’s travel abroad, perhaps as acts of mourning or
commemoration. Alison Oram took a different line, discussing gender, intimacy and queer space
in the historic house whose inhabitants have been claimed for LGBTQ history. To what extent is
gender and sexuality inherent in room layouts, gardens and material objects? Of course, it was
not just in the formal panel sessions that discussion took place. Lunchtime chats often lead to an
exchange of email addresses while the lunchtime demonstration by Thomas Dublin and Kathryn Kish
Sklar of the transnational digital resource Women and Social Movements, International, 1840-2010,
attracted an appreciative audience. ‘Did women in the past really do as much as this?’ one delegate,
new to the field, whispered to me.
The range of the papers presented at this conference were far ranging and informative, making us
all think about the ‘local’ and ‘global’ in new ways, from transnational childhoods to stay-at-home
internationalists. Emily Sloan, from the USA, raised important questions about the experiences of
the American suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt in the Philippines when on her 1911-12 suffrage tour.
Catt, as President of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance and a prominent American political
figure, wrestled with the reality of imperialism, concluding that no nation ought to own another. A
loud Amen to that, over and over again.
Many of us came away from this conference feeling energised. And that is how it should be.
In these times of economic recessions it is important that we support, nurture and cherish our
international and national women’s history networks. We cannot afford to do otherwise.
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On August 31, 2013, in an article on ‘Promotion and self-promotion’, The Economist reported on new research undertaken by Barbara Walter, of the University of California, San Diego showing ‘that unlike their male colleagues [women] do not routinely cite their own previous work when they publish a paper. Since the frequency a paper is cited is an indicator of its importance—and one which, since it can be measured, tends to weigh with appointment committees—a systematic unwillingness by women to self-cite may help tip the balance against them’ (, accessed 7/9/13). But are only women to blame?

In current months I have been having an ongoing discussion with my female colleagues in history (and other disciplines) regarding the citation habits of their male peers. Most agree that they have observed in following the citations of their own work, a tendency for men to cite other men, even when the woman’s research is more pertinent, and is known to them. I am not certain how one might study this phenomenon, or whether it would be possible to remove it from the realm of anecdotal evidence. I have noticed it in regard not only to my own work, but that of other women scholars. Is there an issue here that needs more discussion? How appropriate would it be to revise bibliographies of articles we have read in order to bring them ‘up-to-date’ and make them more gender-neutral and relevant? I have heard of some female professors choosing not to review or referee articles that do not cite women. Is that the best way forward? I don’t have answers, but I do have a lot of questions I’d like answered.

My suspicion is that if we looked closer we would find that even in the age of global history all kinds of biases re embedded in the literature we cite, if not that which we read and use, including a bias that non-English language historians, have long noted against the citation of work published beyond the linguistic borders of the transatlantic.

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Glenda Sluga, Professor of International History, University of Sydney.

It’s been a long time since I last posted, so much has been happening in the field of international history, although not all of it has touched on women and gender. And that’s the issue I want to take up here. With all this new research and publication activity, much of it centred on the history of international institutions and forms of internationalism so long identified with feminism and women’s activism, it’s becoming increasingly clear that once again women, let alone gender, are being sidelined or completely ignored. The feminist historiography that has developed the field through the twentieth century, like the primary sources written by or about women just isn’t being taken up, except by committed feminist historians. When it comes to the general histories of internationalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the stories of men as historical agents once again dominate.

I want to make the argument that even though in the 1980s, the cultural turn, and the more general interest among historical scholars in theory, helped push advocates of women’s history towards gender history, we would do well to pick up the threads of that earlier push in the interest of incorporating women into international history; I think of this as the ‘Add Women and Stir’ approach…a conscious attempt to revisit the moment when gender historians abandoned adding women to history as rather banal, on the grounds that stirring in a new ingredient was less sophisticated than coming up with a whole new recipe, that adding women did not adequately shift the parameters of male-dominated masculinist history, in preference for gender history.  Yet, I think there is still life in the project of recovering of women in the past, and working to expose the processes by which they were made absent, of forcing European and non-European, state, non-state, and personal, national and international archives into conversation, and integrating the evidence of women’s presence into the narratives we have (master or otherwise) of international history and politics, and, as importantly, the even more gender recalcitrant field that is the history of ideas, which is also expanding into an ‘international’ direction. I also want to emphasise that the stirring is as important as the adding… and while it involves gender, it also involves the reintegration of women into our understanding of the past and non-gender-specific historical questions.

There are a number of projects looking at the future of gender, see for example, in Paris, the Sorbonne-based Lab-ex on Gender and Europe, dedicated to inserting gender into a larger historical project on rewriting history. I was lucky enough to be invited to a preliminary workshop, along with Gisella Bock, Karen Offen and others, to discuss how we all wrote gender into our older published histories of Europe (see, and how we would do it now.

When it comes to international history, Harvard University has set up a wonderful website entitled the UN History Project, which has a sub-theme on ‘Women and Children’ (not my favorite combination, but better than nothing). In this context I talk about the importance of looking for women if we want to find them, not because they were not there in the past, but because women become invisible unless we remember to notice them.

I have been writing about this recently in regard to Mark Mazower’s magisterial new book, Governing the World: The History of an Idea, published last year (my comment is forthcoming on the History Workshop Online Blog, I’ll keep you posted), which over more than 400 pages barely includes any women as historical actors, until the post Cold War era. Yet we know from women’s history that women’s international organizations have a long history, and the engagement of women’s international organizations in international politics and international institutions is as long. For the last two hundred years, the ‘international’ has provided women with a political space in which they could make demands for the same national, state or even imperial rights exercised by men and otherwise denied them; or from where they could participate in the workings of international politics, and the conceptualization of internationalisms—whether liberal or socialist. (We need only remember Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas). One useful thing WIGS can do in this context is to become a good place to exchange sources. I’ll be regularly updating publications I come across, in the cause of adding women to international history, and stirring. Here’s some to begin with (taken from

Peggy Antrobus, (2004), The Global Women’s Movement: Origins, Issues and Strategies (London: Zed).

Charlotte Bunch, “Women’s Rights as Human Rights: Toward a Re-Vision of Human Rights,” Human Rights Quarterly, 12(4),November 1990, pp. 486 – 498.

R. Charli Carpenter, “‘Women and Children First’: Gender, Norms, and Humanitarian Evacuation in the Balkans, 1991–95,” International Organization 57 (Fall 2003): 661–694

Coltheart, Lenore ed. (2004), Jessie Street: A Revised Autobiography (Sydney: The Federation Press).

Matthew Connelly, Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population (2008), esp. chapter 8, pp. 276-326.

Arvonne S. Fraser, “Becoming Human: The Origins and Development of Women’s Human Rights,” Human Rights Quarterly 21(4), 1999, pp. 853-906.

Galey, Margaret E. (1995), “Women Find a Place,” Ch. 2 in Anne Winslow ed. (1995), Women, Politics, and the United Nations (Westport; London: Greenwood Press), 11-27.

Karen Garner, Shaping a Global Women’s Agenda: Women’s NGOs and Global Governance, 1925-85 (Manchester: Manchester University Press; distributed by Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

Haan, Francisca de, “A Concise History of Women’s Rights,” UN Chronicle XLVII no. 1 (2010).

Aziza Hussein, “Crossroads for Women at the UN,” in Fraser, Arvonne and Irene Tinker eds. (2004), Developing Power: How Women Transformed International Development (New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York), p. 3-13.

Jain, Devaki (2005), Women, Development, and the UN: A Sixty-Year Quest for Equality and Justice (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), Ch. 5, “Lessons from the UN’s Sixth Decade, 1996-2005.

Adam Jones, “Gendercide and Genocide,” Journal of Genocide Research 2(2000): 185–212;

Lake, Marilyn (2001), “From Self-Determination via Protection to Equality via Non-Discrimination: Defining Women’s Rights at the League of Nations and the United Nations,” in Patricia Grimshaw, Katie Holmes and Marilyn Lake eds., Women’s Rights and Human Rights: International Historical Perspectives (Basingstoke: Palgrave).

Lake, Marilyn and Henry Reynolds (2008), Drawing the Global Colour Line. White Men’s Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality (Cambridge, New York, etc.: Cambridge University Press).

Catherine A. MacKinnon, “Rape, Genocide, and Women’s Human Rights,” and Rhonda Copelon, “Surfacing Gender: Reengraving Crimes Against Women in Humanitarian Law” in Mass Rape: The War Against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina, ed. Alexandra Stigalmeyer (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994).

Miller, Carol (1994), “‘Geneva – the Key to Equality’: Inter-war Feminists and the League of Nations,”Women’s History Reviewvol. 3, no. 2, 218-245.

Offen, Karen (2001), “Women’s Rights or Human Rights? International Feminism between the Wars,” in Patricia Grimshaw, Katie Holmes and Marilyn Lake eds., Women’s Rights and Human Rights: International Historical Perspectives (Basingstoke: Palgrave) 243-253.

Valerie Oosterveld, “Prosecution of Gender-Based Crimes in International Law,” in Gender, Conflict, and Peacekeeping, ed. Dyan Mazurana, Angela Raven-Roberts, and Jane Parpart (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005)

Peters, Julie and Andrea Wolper eds. (1995), Women’s Rights, Human Rights: International Feminist Perspectives (New York, NY [etc.]: Routledge).

Pietilä, Hilkka (2007), The Unfinished Story of Women and the United Nations (New York, UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service):

Pietilä, Hilkka and Jeanne Vickers (1996), Making Women Matter: The Role of the United Nations (London: Zed; third ed).

TV. Spike Peterson, “Whose Rights? A Critique of the ‘Givens’ in Human Rights Discourse,” Alternatives, XV, 1990, pp. 303 – 344.

Popa, Raluca Maria (2009), “Women Activists from Hungary and Romania in the International Women’s Year. Translating Equality between Women and Men across Cold War Divides,” in Jill Massino and Shana Penn eds., Gender Politics and Everyday Life in State Socialist East and Central Europe (New York: Palgrave Macmillan) 59-74.

Elisabeth Prügl and Mary K. Meyer, eds., Gender Politics in Global Governance (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999)

Ferree, Myra Marx and Aili Mari Tripp (2006), Global Feminism: Transnational Women’s Activism Organizing, and Human Rights (New York: New York University Press).

Margaret Snyder, ‘The Politics of Women and Development,” Ch. 7 in Anne Winslow ed. (1995), Women, Politics, and the United Nations (Westport; London: Greenwood Press) 95-116.

Carolyn M. Stephenson, “Women’s International Nongovernmental Organizations at the United Nations,” Ch. 9 in Anne Winslow ed. (1995), Women, Politics, and the United Nations (Westport; London: Greenwood Press) 135-153.

Skard, Toril, “Getting our History Right: How Were the Equal Rights of Women and Men Included in the Charter of the United Nations?,”Forum for Development Studies no. 1 (2008): 37-60.

Sluga, G. Internationalism in the Age of Internationalism, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (Human Rights series, 2013).

Sluga, G. The Nation, Psychology, and International Politics, 1870-1919 Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave (Transnational History series, 2006).

Sluga, G. ‘Gender’ in P. Finney (ed.), Palgrave Advances in International History (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2009).

Sluga, G. ‘New Histories of the United Nations’ Journal of World 2008 History, 19 (3), pp. 251-274.

Sluga, G. ‘Spectacular Feminism: ‘The international history of women, world citizenship and human rights’, in Francisca de Haan, Margaret Allen, June Purvis and Krassimira Daskalova (eds), Women’s Activism: Global Perspectives from the 1890s to the present (Routledge, 2012)

Sluga, G. ‘Gender Images and the New World Order: On the European  Debates of an International Peace Order after the First World War’ in J. Davy et. al. (eds.), Pacifists/Pacifism: Peace and Conflict research as Gender Research (2005).

Sluga, G. Women, Diplomacy, and International Politics (edited with C. James and G. Calvi) Routledge, 2015.

Walter, Lynn ed. (2001), Women’s Rights: A Global View (Westport; London: Greenwood Press).

Anne Winslow, ed. Women, Politics, and the United Nations. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Winslow, Anne, “Specialized Agencies and the World Bank,” Ch. 10 in Anne Winslow ed. (1995), Women, Politics, and the United Nations (Westport; London: Greenwood Press) 155-175.

Zinsser, Judith P. (2002), “From Mexico to Copenhagen to Nairobi: The United Nations Decade for Women, 1975-1985,” Journal of World History vol. 13 no. 1, 139-168.
Francisca de Haan, Margaret Allen, June Purvis and Krassimira Daskalova (eds), Women’s Activism: Global Perspectives from the 1890s to the present (Routledge, 2012)

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Welcome to the newly relaunched WIG—the Web’s richest location for historians of women’s transnational activism.

Previous subscribers–rest assured, you’re still with us.  New subscribers—sign up for our RSS feed.

Everyone—join the conversation.  WIG grew out of the 2010 Amsterdam meeting of the International Federation for Research in Women’s History (IFRWH).   Founded in 1985, IFRWH meets every five years with the International Committee of Historical Sciences (ICHS, founded in 1926), and holds a more informal meeting during the interval between ICHS meetings.   The IFRWH meets soon in Sheffield, England, August 29 to Sept. 1, 2013.

In Amsterdam in 2010, Glenda Sluga and I and met with Eileen Boris and Barbara Caine and others to plan a blog that we named WIG—Women, Internationalisms and Gender.   Launched from a server at the State University of New York, Binghamton in 2011, WIG grew into a useful means of communication among scholars of women’s transnational history.  Now on the eve of the Sheffield meeting we want to make it even more useful — with more scholars posting and exchanging ideas.

So we have cleared all previous posts, enlarged the editorial board, and decentralized WIG’s organization.  Teams of editorial board members will organize blog discussions for two months each.  All will focus on women’s international history, but they will bring different perspectives to that focus.  We’ll begin with Glenda Sluga and Kitty Sklar in International/ Global women’s history in September and October.  Barbara Molony and Febe Pamonag are organizing a team that will discuss women’s international history from the perspective of Asian women’s history in November and December.  Eileen Boris will lead a team that will discuss women’s international history from the perspective of women’s transnational policy history in May and June.  Jenny Thigpen is organizing a team on women missionaries.  Katherine Sadler is organizing a team on African women’s history. We’ll announce other team leaders soon.   Interested in joining or leading a team?  Please contact Kitty Sklar.

Please join our discussions. Help us nurture and shape the growth of women’s transnational history.  Wish you could communicate with scholars working on topics related to your research on women’s transnational activism?  Or test new ideas?  Or keep up with the field’s burgeoning growth?  WIG can help in these ways and more.

So—subscribe!  And let us hear from you.

Kitty Sklar and Glenda Sluga

Kitty Kish Sklar                                                           Glenda Sluga
Distinguished Professor Emerita                            Professor of International History
State University of New York, Binghamton          University of Sydney

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