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Women through time - reflecting on Women's History on International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day everyone! In the spirit of Women’s History month and to commemorate IWD 2023, I wanted to write a quick blog about my experiences studying Women's History at Uni, to hopefully give you all an idea of the breadth of things you can study when you do History at Uni and to help you can get a more intimate idea of how we approach things here at UoR!

As a young woman with a keen interest in Gender History, the University of Reading’s range of modules on the topic made it an easy top choice for me when I was applying. Whilst modules are changed every year, knowing the department had a keen interest in Gender and Women’s History really intrigued me.

My journey into women’s history began in my first year with a module on Women’s History in America. It provided me with an overview of the evolution of American Suffrage and the moulds of conventional femininity women were forced into some of you may be familiar with the concepts of ‘separate spheres’ and ‘republican motherhood’ already. Alongside this exploration of politically active (and predominantly white) women, we looked at the parallel groups of enslaved women and women of colour, comparing their life experiences and public perception of their activism in later weeks when we discussed the Civil Rights Movement - which was a fascinating but appalling topic! This module really opened my eyes to the diversity of experiences of womanhood; introducing me to the idea of intersectional feminism and confirming my passion for the subject: there’s something so fascinating about learning about the women who came before us who paved the way for modern-day women’s rights.

As a bit of a medievalist, I had to choose a second-year module on Women in Medieval History. This module, in opposition to my previous exploration of evolving women’s rights movements, looked at the roles of women in medieval societies and the interplay between femininity and religion. The perfect woman was perceived as the contemporary embodiment of various biblical wives in appearance, conduct and legal presence. We also looked at women on the edges of communities, heresy and the life cycles of women ideologies that helped shape my approach to my dissertation on the Witch Trials and quickly made it one of my favourite modules. The most shocking part of this module for me was the extent to which modern stereotypes and cultural norms still enforce similar presupposed roles for women!

Both courses began with an overview of the module structure, which included sessions dedicated to ensuring understanding of key themes and concepts before exploring each topic, concept or case study one week at a time. I found this a really well-paced, easily accessible structure that enabled me to plan ahead and organise my learning. Of course, each module has a suggested reading list to supplement your learning, which made it easy for me to do further research on my own, as well as find material for my assignments, a tool that lecturers utilise really well here at UoR.

A range of other modules within my course have touched on the various roles and accomplishments of women through time, namely seen within a module on Colonial Africa, which touched on the role of women in colonial society (both white and black), Society, a module on Art in Modern Europe where we explored ‘The Woman Question’, and a module on Chivalry and the Medieval Ethos, which looked into gendering chivalry and exploring a woman’s role in chivalric literature. All of these examined gender from different perspectives, enabling me to discover the multifaceted role of women in different societies both geographically and temporally. We have a number of gender historians here at the university too, which always makes for interesting seminars where we discuss the controversialities of the relationship between gender and sex, especially in regard to medieval gender constructions.

Hopefully, this gives you an insight into the breadth of ways you can study Women and Women’s History at Uni! Feel free to ask me any questions.

3rd Year History Undergraduate

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