In March we celebrate Women’s History Month, part of the context for annual celebrations of International Women’s Day on 8 March. In this seminar, three historians share their experience of researching women’s lives, as biographical dictionaries strive to increase their representation of women. From a medieval countess to Victoria’s female criminals, the stories uncovered range widely in both time and place, pointing to the richness the archives can yield 'with a little more effort and research'.
The presenters and their topics are:
Dr Carolyn Rasmussen, public historian
' "They just need a little more effort and research to track down": addressing the gender imbalance in the Australian Dictionary of Biography'
The Australian Dictionary of Biography was, from its inception, intended to include representative as well as significant Australians, but nevertheless women remained in the shadows with only 10 women to 565 men in volume one and 11 women to 596 men in volume two. The proportion has gradually increased to nearly one quarter of those who died between 1991 and 2001, but the challenge to redress the balance has now been taken up and the number of ‘recovered lives’ is testament to the effort and research of recent years. Plans are in hand to incorporate them into a revised Australian Dictionary of Biography.
Dr Kathleen Neale, Monash University
'Looking for Elizabeth: locating medieval women in the archives'
In response to shifting community expectations, major biographical dictionaries are moving to include more women among their entries. How can medieval women be located in the archives of institutions from which they were largely excluded in their own time, and in which later archivists were often uninterested in noticing and listing them where their lives were recorded? This presentation reflects on my experience of researching the biography of one of the daughters of Edward I.
Dr Alana Piper, University of Technology Sydney
'Freeing female prisoners from the archives: understanding “criminality” in context'
In his 1937 memoir about his career as a police detective in Melbourne, Alfred Stephen Burvett made a seemingly oxymoronic remark when he stated 'It must be remembered that it is not always criminals who commit offences or crimes'. Historically not every individual who entered the prison system fitted popular conceptions of the ‘criminal’; this seems especially true of women prisoners. Using archival prison records, this paper will discuss the offending careers of 6,042 women incarcerated in Victoria between 1860 and 1920 in order to reveal the complexities behind the 'criminal' identity imposed upon such women.
Margaret Anderson, Director at the Old Treasury Building, will facilitate the discussion.
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The seminar is part of an ongoing series, Making Public Histories, that is offered jointly by the Monash University History Program, the History Council of Victoria and the Old Treasury Building. Each seminar aims to explore issues and approaches in making public histories. The seminars are open, free of charge, to anyone interested in the creation and impact of history in contemporary society. Click HERE to learn about other events in the series.
and the organising partners:
20 Spring St
East Melbourne, VIC 3002
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