Restoring Women to History

How can we recover the stories of historical women?

Most people who ever lived left barely a trace of their existence, but with women the problem is compounded.

Women have historically been less powerful and less literate than men, and this has affected their presence in historical archives. Ordinary women left behind few documents in their own hands and appear to us only fleetingly through the eyes of others. If we know of them at all, it’s generally because a handful of their words were written down by a man.

So how can we access their lives? How can we reclaim them from historical oblivion? Can we restore them to history?

In this special four-week course run by HistFest, Suzannah will share some of the ways we can do that, some of the stories we can unearth, and some of the problems that are raised.

The course explores these questions through three detailed case studies. These suggest different ways to approach the study of the past but also offer the opportunity to explore the lives of ordinary, poor, marginalized, and enslaved women throughout history.

The course will be delivered by a series of four pre-recorded video lectures from Suzannah, plus four live online Q&As with her

If you sign up, you’ll also receive a reading list, course literature, and activities a few days before the course begins.

The course starts on 2nd October 2023 – but you can sign up now.

Lectures will be released at 7pm GMT each Monday and will be available to view for a month and half. The live Q&A will take place at 8pm GMT each Monday of the course. It will be recorded and made available to view afterwards.

All lectures will have closed captions. The live Q&As will have live captioning.

And what are the lectures? They are:

Restoring Women

1: How can we recover the lost lives of women?

This introductory lecture explores power in the archives and thinks about possible methods to access the stories of ordinary women through a series of examples that range from ancient Rome through 16th-century Spain and Mexico up to 19th-century Jamaica and 20th-century New York.

2: Women, witchcraft, and fantasy

Our first detailed case study examines how women were seen in the early modern period, and what this has to do with women’s executions for witchcraft.

We consider what we can learn of the experiences of women accused of being a witch, the fate of those who were tortured, and what confessions can tell us about their fantasies. We dwell on 17th-century England and Germany.

3: Finding the voices of 16th-century rape victims

Our second case study explores three women who were sexually assaulted in 16th-century France and the odds against them getting justice.

Using testimonies I found in the archives of the Protestant church of Languedoc, this lecture gives an opportunity to confront the raw primary sources and hear these women’s voices as directly as possible.

4: Violence in the archives: The experience of enslaved women

Our final case study considers how the intersection of gender and race has profoundly affected the state of our historical knowledge.

We explore the problem of accessing the lives of millions of enslaved women who endured the Middle Passage and consider how different historians have addressed the violence that attends these women’s traces in the archives.

We explore the stories of women in New England, Barbados, and the Atlantic in the 17th and 18th centuries.

And all this for just £44.04.