carfwoman.gif (4645 bytes)Women Telling Tales:

Gender and the Public Sphere in North Sea and Atlantic World Ports




Overview and Trajectory of the Project Thread



In the past few decades social and cultural historians of all stripes have been working to unearth the beginnings of informal political activity by seeking the roots of the public sphere. Following in the footsteps of its chief theoretician, Juergen Habermas, they have looked at a wide variety of associational life. From the salons of Paris and the coffeehouses of London to the religious discussion groups and free-time clubs of the 17th-century Dutch Republic to the reshaping of family life in communities across Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries they have sought to discover when and how the public came to have influence within European society. Women's historians too have joined in this endeavor, often concluding that women were excluded from the public sphere.



More recently, however, work in womenís history has found that, in fact, women had important roles across a range of public endeavors from marketplaces to the artisanís shop to the law court and popular politics to name only a few venues.The purpose of this suite of projects is to look at one of the precursors of the Habermas's 18th-century public sphere, the informal public sphere that was thriving in 16-th and especially17th-century Europe and to reconstruct womenís varied impact.I am most interested in understanding how and to what extent women could participate in this informal public sphere and what influence they had in their communities as a result of that participation. As women were most prominent in Europe's maritime communities, I have chosen to focus my attention on ports and the public position of women in their neighorhoods and marts.

Rotterdam Fishmarket, c. 1700, cropped.jpg


I began with a preliminary exploration of the life of Franchyna Woedwaerdt, a woman who ran a printing shop in Rotterdam in the mid-17th century and also had ties to nearby Delft as well as Leiden and northern Germany.This study appeared as an article in The Sixteenth Century Journal.I also complemented this piece with a detailed discussion of womenís roles in the religious politics of 17th-century Scots Rotterdam.



On the strength of these two pieces I decided to embark on a larger consideration of womenís roles in Atlantic world ports involving a transnational collaboration.Together with my colleague Jodi Campbell of Texas Christian University and fourteen other colleagues I developed a collection of essays that came out with Brill in 2012 entitled Women in Port.This volume combined the talents of scholars from Brazil, Britain, Canada, Portugal, Martinique, and the U.S. and provided detailed studies of womenís lives in ports associated with all the major regions of the Atlantic and encompassing all of the major imperial regions of the Atlantic world and some in the Indian Ocean world.This project is building out further with a session at the 2014 Berkshire Conference on Womenís History in Toronto, Canada (May 22-May25) and hopefully a larger workshop or master class devoted to the projectís main themes.To see some of the reactions to Women in Port see the following blogposts by Isaac Land of Indiana State University on the Coastal History Blog: (on the projectís methodological approach) & (on women who kept taverns) this review by Brooke Newman of Virginia Commonwealth University for H-World:








Ultimately it is my intention to explore the biographies and social networks of women in several major North Sea ports to create the basis for a comparative study of women's presence in the informal public sphere of the North Sea zone. The aim here is to push beyond the drawing rooms of Europe's salons and counting houses and shopcounters of the middling sort to reach into the lives of the working poor as well.Stay tuned for further updates!




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