Monday, August 31, 2009

Writing Women Back Into History

At the recent Melbourne Writers Festival one stimulating session drew attention to the problems of giving women their rightful place in history and, although specifically Australian in this case, the problem could apply to any country where the contribution of women has been marginalised.
“Females Exposed – Writing women back into history” was summarised as: “Prostitutes, religious sisters and the women of the Eureka rebellion are just a few examples of females who have been largely omitted from the pages of history. But many of these stories, together with tales of ordinary women, are increasingly coming to light. Hear first hand how historians are exposing females in the annals and writing women back into history.”
Nikki Henningham gave an overview of The Australian Women’s Register which contains an amazing amount of information about the unsung women who built Australia; Jill Barnard described her difficulties in writing the history of a Catholic religious order – not just in dealing with a male-dominated church, but because many nuns are reticent by nature; Rae Frances gave a number of examples of prostitutes and the white slave trade in late 19th/early 20th century; and Clare Wright described how the discovery of a private journal written by Samuel Lazarus, who was present at the Eureka Stockade, has challenged many male historians’ notion that women weren’t involved at this salient point in Australian history as the journal proves that women were injured, even killed, during the battle. (A small number of these women can also be found in Laurel Johnson’s booklet “Women of Eureka”).

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