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The Research Platform “Repositioning of Women’s and Gender History” at the University of Vienna

Edith Saurer, Michaela Hafner et Li Gerhalter

I. An innovative tool

The research platform “Neuverortung der Frauen- und Geschlechtergeschichte im veränderten europäischen Kontext”(Repositioning of Women’s and Gender History Within the Changed European Context)was initiated in 2006. The name and the year of its creation are both meaningful. The following three points present the history and the reasoning underlying the platform.

1. 1989 not only changed the European political landscape, it also had a momentous influence on the social sciences and humanities. This was also true for women’s and gender history that found both an enlarged (European) sphere of discussion and some newly-shaped research topics. One task was to examine women’s and gender history of the former socialist countries and to integrate it within European history. This research emerged within the larger framework of discussions on virtual spatial orders and descriptive terms that would influence the general perception of Europe.

The term “Eastern Europe”, above all, met with resistance in most of the former socialist countries; scholars began a critical examination of the imaginary lines that divided Europe – East/West, North/South1. In response, the term “Central Europe” reemerged as a more suitable term for describing the desired affiliation. The map of Europe was henceforth questioned; the East shrank revealing the ways it always had been more than merely a direction. In a different context Edward Said had already highlighted as early as 1978 that ”the East” (or Orient) contained multiple meanings and attributions2. This discussion revealed a new polyphony within Europe that necessitated “dealing with reciprocal intra-European perceptions in a historical-critical manner”3. Today, this necessity can only be met if (women) historians from the different European countries maintain continuous communication and become acquainted with each other’s academic cultures. To facilitate such an exchange has been one of the research platform’s concerns.

2. European universities changed greatly at the beginning of the 21st century. In Austria, universities underwent a reform in 2002 whose provisions are still valid today; it was met with widespread criticism mainly because it restricted the participation of certain university groups, notably students, lecturers, assistents and administrative staff. The financial autonomy imposed on, or permitted, for the universities (depending on one’s interpretation) led to a commodification of the university system; at the same time, it opened up opportunities for an autonomous allocation of research funds. Accordingly, the University of Vienna initiated a series of research platforms (and main areas of research) as new organisational units in 2005; preferably they were to be interdisciplinary and to “promote especially innovative fields of research” or “to open up new opportunities within the framework of academically established fields”4.

In 2006, the first six research platforms were founded, following an international peer-review of their proposals. While there were only a few platforms during the first year (including the one presented here), by 2010 there were sixteen. These include: “Ethics and Law in Medicine“, “Centre for Interdisciplinary Research and Documentation of Inner and South Asian Cultural History”, “Sensitive Mountain Limits of Snow and Vegetation”, “Translational Cancer Therapy Research” and “Migration and Integration Research”. Through its independent decisions on funding, the university is able to implement its priorities, and the researchers themselves are given the chance to expand their research activities at the university. Funding consists of core financing, including payroll costs, with differing amounts determined by the research proposal(s) and requirements. The research platform “Repositioning of Women’s and Gender History” received two part-time positions (currently held by Li Gerhalter for the “Collection of Women’s Estates” and Michaela Hafner for “L’Homme. Z. F. G.” and a project entitled “Salon 21”). The funding lasts for three years, but can be extended to a total of six years after undergoing another international review. In 2008 the research platform “Repositioning of Women’s and Gender History” successfully extended its funding until 31 December 2011.

3. The University of Vienna thus made a framework available to researchers in general and, in particular, to a group of women historians in the Department of History – including Edith Saurer, Christa Hämmerle and Margareth Lanzinger – that offered the opportunity of building on existing instruments and institutions, establishing greater professionalism, and increasing international visibility. The most important instruments are the international periodical L’Homme.European Journal of Feminist History, complemented by two book series, and the “Collection of Women’s Estates”. The platform’s first project initiated in cooperation with the Collection was entitled “Language and Memory in Women’s Diaries of the 20th Century” (a research collaboration with linguist Ruth Wodak, University of Lancaster, and literary scholar Juliane Vogel, University of Constance), which was then followed by others. The platform also founded “Salon 21” website publishing calls for papers or meetings and conference announcements that is also available as a discussion forum. The resources, projects, and a far-reaching network all contribute to the visibility of the research platform, as well as the frequent publications by the research platform’s contributors5.

The example of the research platform shows the importance of university-directed funding for university-based research activities in their broadest sense. The tools created then become available for the university as a whole and for teaching and research in particular.

II. “Salon 21”

As a tribute to the salon hostesses of the 18th and early 19th century, the research platform “Repositioning of Women’s and Gender History” established the web platform “Salon 21”. Salon 21” presents calls for papers and advertises events (conferences, workshops etc.) in the field of women’s and gender history and gay and queer studies. The categories “Discussions” and “Commentaries” offer additional space for presenting research interests and for feminist or civic involvement. For example, historians discussed the topic “Is a European Women’s History possible?”, and another debate concerned the European Science Foundation’s new practice of evaluating journals in the humanities and social sciences;

Relevant masters and doctoral theses are presented in the section “Archive for the History of European Women’s Movements”, thus offering opportunities for networking among young researchers. Additional categories can be added at any time.

The contributions in the weblog are in German and English. At peak times, the web platform “Salon 21” registers 130 visitors per day. Until now, most users have been located in Europe and North America (top five: Austria, Germany, USA, Italy, and Switzerland).

III. L’Homme. European Journal of Feminist History

L’Homme. Europäische Zeitschrift für Feministische Geschichtswissenschaft (http://www.univie.ac.at/Geschichte/LHOMME/), (European Journal of Feminist History) was first published in December 1990, making it the first German-language journal of feminist historiography, shortly after the emergence of the first Anglophone academic journals in women’s and gender history: the Journal of Women’s History and Gender & History. Similar projects were initiated elsewhere (including a German journal metis, the Spanish journal Arenal, and the French journal Clio. Histoire, femmes et société). Currently in its 22nd year of existence, L’Homme is published biannually by the Böhlau publishing house and each volume comprises approximately 340 pages6.

The journal’s title – L’Homme – was and is a “permanent provocation”7. The editors report that it was hotly discussed even at the time of its inception: the ironic reference made “the postulate of Women’s and Gender History clearly visible – that is, to re-write history”. And they continue, optimistically: “No doubt, the tradition of unconsciously associating the double meaning of man – as a human being and a male person – has declined, both semantically and in social representations”8. The journal’s artist-designed logo also illustrates the intention of thoroughly revising theory and practice. It shows a version of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” – but does not depict man keeping the world together at its core.

L’Homme seeks to connect current events with historical contexts and attaches great importance to topical themes that can concern social or political issues or contemporary working life. Two or three scholars edit each volume, which is structured around a central theme. Chronologically, articles range from the Middle Ages to the recent past. The themes addressed include the ‘classical’ subjects of early women’s history (e.g. care-giving, home industries, marriage or domestic servants) but also more contemporary historiographic issues, as the volumes on “War”, “Violence”, “Soldiers”, “Crisis/es of Masculinity”, “Post/Communism”, “Whiteness”, “Citizenship” or “Gender & 1968” clearly demonstrate. The journal pays close attention to questions of methodology and theory, and has published discussions of “Interdisciplinarity”, “Text-Writing Lives” or “Current Gender History”. The influence of historical anthropology, mentioned in the first editorial, can be seen in the issues addressing nutrition, age(ing), the body or names.

The journal includes “thoughts, reports and discussions on the situation of women” within a section “News and Comments” that reports on research projects and discusses women- and gender-related issues. Book reviews address the volume’s theme, but cover as well important new publications. The section “L’Homme Extra” publishes open texts that are not associated with one of the focus themes, whereas the “Forum” contains reports and sometimes even debates on research questions in women’s and gender history within individual countries. Some issues include sections entitled “In Discussion” and “From the Archives”.

The Working Group on Women’s History in the Department of History of the University of Vienna initiated L’Homme in the late 1980s. Eight Austrian scholars, including a philosopher and a political scientist, were the founding members. In 1995, German and Swiss scholars joined the board of editors; today the board is international and includes nineteen scholars from eight European countries (Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and Switzerland). The editorial office has remained within the University’s Department of History. Articles are first assessed by the editors and then peer reviewed.

The journal has sought from the outset to highlight German-language women’s and gender history while paying tribute to the diversity of European research traditions. Through its rigorous scholarly standards and its commitment to building networks over the past twenty years, L’Homme has established itself as a bridge within Europe and also between Europe and the U.S. The journal has become part of the European research landscape –a development that is still exceptional among European academic periodicals. Notably it has organized international conferences and workshops that have taken place in various European cities during the past few years that support the networking of researchers. Since 2004, the journal’s international approach is reflected in its subtitle which has become “European Journal of Feminist History”. The editors explained this was evidence of “the European/transnational positioning of the editors, but not of a geographic limitation of research”9.

In its commitment to encouraging different cultures of language and scholarship, L’Homme has always included texts in German and in English. From the beginning, it also included translations from other languages, especially Italian or French. More recently, the journal has included an increasing number of articles by scholars from Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, an initiative the editorial board encourages providing it has funding for translation.

Two book series complement the journal; L’Homme Schriften (L’Homme Writings) and L’Homme Archiv (L’Homme Archives). The Writings series welcomes monographs and anthologies presenting new results in feminist historiography. Publication include books on female partisans in the Yugoslav resistance, unmarried bourgeois women and men of the 19th century, and a study of the political companionship of German feminists Helene Lange and Gertrude Bäumer. The anthologies contain articles on “Letter-writing Cultures and Their Gender”, “Women’s Movements in Post-Communist Countries” or “Gender Politics in Central Asia”. The publications concern mainly works from German-speaking countries, but also German translations of important books and English-language anthologies. Eighteen volumes have been published since 1995 and six manuscripts are currently being assessed or edited.

The Archives series contains editions of selected sources for research and teaching. In the past thirty years, women’s and gender historians have brought to light many new and existing sources. The series presents documents that are at the heart of current research while also seeking to preserve the memory of classic texts. Ideas for the future include new editions of out-of-print writings. In 2010, three new Archives volumes were published: an edition of the diaries of Therese Lindenberg, who lived and survived the Holocaust in Vienna with her Jewish husband; the diary of Wetti Teuschl, whose records offer insight into the (working) life of a small-town bourgeois woman from the second half of the 19th century, and the volume “Aushandeln von Ehe (Negotiating Marriage)”, which compares various Central European marriage contracts from the early modern period. The edited diaries of Therese Lindenberg and Wetti Teuschl came from the “Collection of Women’s Estates” which is also part of the research platform.

IV. The “Collection of Women’s Estates”

The « Sammlung Frauennachlässe (Collection of Women’s Estates) », (http://www.univie.ac.at/Geschichte/sfn/) located at the University of Vienna’sDepartment of History, currently contains the estates of 230 individuals. These women were teachers, Red Cross assistants, a butcher, a musician, writers, farmers, a miller, a photographer, housewives, maids, aristocrats, actors, factory workers, pupils, students, medical secretaries, a knitter, hat makers or dressmakers. They were young, old, urban and rural women, and there are their family members, acquaintances and friends. None of them was prominent in public life10.

The Collection’s estates vary greatly as do the life stories of their authors. The “Collection of Women’s Estates” archives these historical sources, processes them and makes the contents available for research. In addition to their historical value, the documents can also lead to a modification of genre-related discussions and assumptions; the auto/biographical records, that have also been treated – and evaluated – according to strict criteria of literary studies.

Currently, the inventory of the “Collection of Women’s Estates” contains 532 diaries and diary-like records, 479 other book-like documents such as almanacs, household accounts, poetry albums etc., about 25,500 pieces of correspondence, around 7,950 photographs, roughly 2,550 official and business documents, certificates, 45 autobiographical texts and seven literary archives. Thirty-six estates contain not only written records but also small objects like awards and medals, so-called Star of David badges, needlework, children’s shoes, caskets, decorative laces and other things. Additionally, the collection includes the archives of a women’s welfare association, the “Wiener Settlement”11.

Most of the archival sources were written in the late 19th and in the first half of the 20th century. All in all, however, the estates inventoried cover a period of three hundred years, the earliest record being an official document from 1738, the most recent a diary from 2002. Most have a regional focus on what is today Austria, but numerous items come from the crown lands of the former Habsburg monarchy and some correspondences span continents.

The archive has concentrated its collecting activities on various themes, the most recent being migration. Historically the focus on “great events” and “important men” from the fields of politics (or art, science, economy, and the military) had established a standard by which sources were considered to hold historical value and importance or not. Ego documents and documents by women –but also by men from the middle and lower classes and by members of so-called minorities– were often neglected in state archives and museums.

At the same time, scholars have long underestimated the prevalence of writing as a social practice, especially among the strata of society with little or no education. They simply did not know how much had really been written, or how many of these personal notes, letters, etc. were kept in private attics. New interest in such sources developed in the 1970s under the influence of the new social history, women’s history and microhistory. As scholars have looked for ego documents, more and more records have been unearthed, written at times by authors who would otherwise have been considered illiterate.

Today many special purpose archives have been found, in particular within institutions centring on the so-called Second Wave Women’s Movement. Information scientist Dagmar Jank, has argued, however, using the example of Germany’s “Zentrale Datenbank Nachlässe” (Central Database Archive), that these initiatives cannot “compensate for the shortcomings of a male-dominated world of archives and libraries”12. In 2006, this database contained the names of 25,000 persons, as opposed to a list compiled by Jank of only 2000 women’s estates archived in public (German) institutions.

In this context, it should also be mentioned that women’s estates are often neglected in public inventories. Municipal or state archives do contain the written estates of women; due to traditional academic approaches, however, the processing of these estates is often postponed – and the documents remain inaccessible. Additionally, many documents written by women are hidden in the archives of the men they had some relation to13.

As an academic institution, the “Collection of Women’s Estates” illustrates a changing sense of history that involves the emergence of new historical questions and an intensified interest in research on auto/biographies. Its establishment highlights the growing importance and institutionalisation of women’s and gender history. With its primary interest in the estates of women who did not exercise a special profession or belong to a special group, political movement or party, the archive is unique in all Europe.

Edith Saurer initiated the project of collecting women’s estates in 1989 in the context of research on the political anniversary of “70 Years of Women’s Suffrage in Austria”. As the organisers wanted to include ego documents by women in a planned exhibition14, an advertisement was posted in one newspaper. This call brought to light the personal archives of Mathilde Hanzel-Hübner, a woman who had been active in the First Women’s Movement around 190015. As a result, the archive was established within the University of Vienna’s Department of History. Since 2000 it has been organised as an association. The work of the research platform “Repositioning of Women’s and Gender History” has enabled the archive to grow while also stimulating research and analysis of its records.

Notes

1  Cf. Luisa Passerini, “Ist eine europäische Frauengeschichte möglich?” and Franziska de Haan, “Is a European Women’s History possible? Reflections on the “East-West” Dimensions of this Question”. Both papers were first read at the round table of the 4th congress of the Italian Historical Society (Società italiana delle storiche), which had been organised by Angiolina Arru and Edith Saurer, cf. http:/www.univie.ac.at/Geschichte/salon 21. The papers were published in: Genesis. Rivista della Società Italiana delle Storiche, VII/1–2, 2008, p. 287–308.

2 Edward Said, Orientalism, New York, Pantheon, 1978. See also Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997.

3  Passerini, Frauengeschichte, op. cit., p. 2.

4 Rectorate of the University of Vienna, Research Platforms: http://rektorat.univie.ac.at/en/research-platforms/

5 Cf. the research platform’s web site: http://www.univie.ac.at/Geschichte/Neuverortung-Geschlechtergeschichte/

6  In French, see Christa Hämmerle, « L’Homme. Zeitschrift für Feministiche Geschichtswissenschaft. Un projet éditorial entre intégration et exclusion », Clio. Histoire, femmes et société, 16, 2002, L’histoire des femmes en revue, France-Europe, dir. F. Thébaud and Michele Zancarini-Fournel, p. 33-49.

7  Gabriella Hauch, « Liebe L’Homme! », L’Homme. Z. F. G., 11, 1, 2000, p. 148–149.

8  « Editorial », L’Homme. Z. F. G., 1, 1, 1990, p. 4.

9  « Editorial », L’Homme. Z. F. G., 15, 1, 2004, p. 10.

10  In English, see Li Gerhalter, « Decisions and Chances – the Winding Path of Women’s Personal Testimonies. The Collection of Women’s Estates / Sammlung Frauennachlässe, Vienna », in Kristina Popova, Marijana Piskova, Margareth Lanzinger, Nikola Langreiter and Petar Vodenicharov, eds., Women and Minorities: Ways of Archiving, Sofia, SEMARSh, 2009, p. 20-34 or Christa Hämmerle, « Fragmente aus vielen Leben. Ein Portrait der Sammlung Frauennachlässe‘ am Institut für Geschichte der Universität Wien », L’Homme. Z. F. G., 14, 2, 2003, p. 375–378; an English translation of this text is available at the website : http://www.univie.ac.at/Geschichte/sfn/content/view/2/1/lang,de/

11  See: Elisabeth Malleier, « The „Ottakring Settlement“ in Vienna, 1938 », in Ruth Gilchrist, Tony Jeffs and Jean Spence, eds., Drawing on the Past. Studies in the History of Community and Youth Work, Leicester, The National Youth Agency, 2006, p. 122-131.

12  Dagmar Jank, « Frauennachlässe in Archiven, Bibliotheken und Spezialeinrichtungen. Beispiele, Probleme und Erfordernisse. » in Bothe Brachmann, ed., Die Kunst des Vernetzens. Festschrift für Wolfgang Hempel. Berlin, Verlag für Berlin Brandenburg, 2006, p. 412.

13  Cf. Allessandra Contini, « ‘Archivio per la memoria e la scrittura delle donne’: un cantiere aperto. » Archivio storico italiano. CLX 2002, p. 769–787. Cf. also: http://www.archiviodistato.firenze.it/memoriadonne/.

14  Edith Saurer, Monika Bernold, Initiative 70 Jahre Frauenwahlrecht, eds.,Wer wählt gewinnt?‘ 70 Jahre Frauenwahlrecht in Österreich. Broschüre zur Ausstellung im WUK, Wien, 1989 (exhibition brochure).

15  See inter alia: Monika Bernold und Johanna Gehmacher, eds., Auto/Biographie und Frauenfrage. Tagebücher, Briefwechsel und Politische Schriften von Mathilde Hanzel-Hübner (1884–1970), Wien, Böhlau, 2003, and id., « ‘A private Eye on Feminist Agency’. Biography, Self-Documentation and Historical Consciousness. » Women's Studies International Forum 22, 1, 1999, p. 237-247.

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