Historical Perspectives

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Research Axis: Historical Perspectives

This research axis will intersect with each of the other four. Researchers in different disciplines at McGill (history, philosophy, anthropology, architecture, art history) approach questions concerning women, gender and sexuality from a historical perspective. Among the questions they address are: How has the status of women changed over time and why? How have “women”, gender and sexuality been conceived of in the past? How have social bodies been organized along gendered lines at diverse levels, ranging from the macro-level of the nation and the global economic system, to the micro level of the family and the household? How does studying the history of masculinity change our view of the past and the present? How have workforces been organized along gendered lines in the past? What is the historical relationship between gender and poverty? How has sexuality changed over time? The themes below provide particularly rich possibilities for research synergies.

Working Groups

The history of family and the household: Key themes include ways of thinking about women in the household; debates about the organization of the household; public/ private divisions; economics of the household; changing conceptions of the family; legal approaches to the family; the gendered organization of household space. A particular strength of this field is its focus on private experience and the opportunity to think about the interaction between the private and the public. We also envisage a history of motherhood working group.

Historical representations of gender and sexuality: This theme will look at changing views of gender and gender identity, including masculinity, over time in diverse social contexts. It will consider historical uses of ideas of the nation and other collectivities as gendered; this theme is also important in thinking about how views of the gender organization and status of women of other societies and different ethnicities have been deployed historically. Related topics include the history of philosophy and political thought; historical memory; the history of queer identities; the intersection of ideas about sexuality and ideas about “race”.

Gender and work: This sub-theme will consider work in a broadly defined sense. Potential topics include the organization of the workforce; the global economy and the migration of women; the history of prostitution; sexuality and slavery; women’s work and industrialization. This sub-theme will also enable us to draw out historical legacies for the present, in a diverse range of societies, with important implications for development issues, among others.

The politics of gender and the gender of politics: This subfield will consider politics in the broadest terms. What counts as the political? How, in comparative perspective, has gender operated in the political sphere? How and when have women been defined as “citizens” and from what aspects of citizenship have they been excluded? Possible issues that might be taken up by workgroups in different years could include feminism as a political movement; struggles over the emancipation of women; legal change in relation to social change; gay liberation; Aboriginal politics; relationships between the politics of ethnicity and of gender. A working group associated with the Politics of Gender stream will focus in particular on gender and colonialism. Different regional specialists will consider recent work in this emerging field, opening the door to both regional comparisons and transnational linkages, with attention to the history of globalization.

Gender and religion: A workgroup on religion and gender will draw on the rich resources of the Faculty of Religious Studies as well as the Faculty of Arts. How have ideas of the feminine and the masculine been deployed in a variety of theological contexts? How has the experience of women been different from the experience of men in diverse religious settings (however the concept of “religion” is defined)? What opportunities have been offered for empowerment? How conversely have religious institutions and religious beliefs affected the status of women and the nature of gender roles within diverse societies? How has colonialism deployed religious ideas to attempt to change gender roles?

Faculty who have confirmed interest in joining this axis

Annmarie Adams (Architecture)
Ellen B. Aitken (Religious Studies)
Adelle Blackett (Fac of Law) –
Danielle Bobker (English, Concordia)
Laurel Bossen (Anthropology)
Lara Braitstein (Religious Studies)
Marguerite Deslauriers (Philosophy)
Elizabeth Elbourne (History)
Elsbeth Heaman (History, Institute for the Study of Canada)
Patricia Kirkpatrick (Faculty of Religious Studies)
Roe-Min Kok (Music)
Brian Lewis (History)
Suzanne Morton (History)
Kristin Norget (Anthropology)
Charmaine Nelson (Art History, sabbatical)
Laila Parsons (Islamic Studies and Department of History)
Nancy Partner (History)
Fiona Ritchie (English)
Hasana Sharp (Philosophy)
Eran Shor (Sociology)
Davesh Soneji (Religious Studies)
Narendra Subramanian (Political Science)
Judith Szapor (History)
Andrea Tone (Social Studies of Medicine and Department of History)
James Wallace (PhD Candidate, History)