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Carolyn Steedman’s Landscape for a Good Woman is an exploration of how gendered identities are formed within pre- and post-WWII Britain. Students will already have been introduced to some of the theoretical underpinnings of this approach – the idea that gender is historically and geographically contingent and social constructed – and can read more about them in the further reading by Scott and Morgan. Steedman’s work is also an important example of a feminist history that aims not just to add the experiences of women to a historical tradition that has previously focused only on men, but shows how to do so de-stabilises and sometimes over-turns existing historical narratives more generally. Her book is in part a response to Hoggart’s rather nostalgic work on working-class culture before the impact of mass popular culture, showing how things look rather different when viewed from the perspective of working-class women. It therefore also challenges some prevailing political assumptions (of British social history and elements of the New Left) about consumerism and the transformation of the British working-class after WWII.

 Core Reading:

Carolyn Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman (Virago, 1986)

Seminar Questions:

How and to what extent does Landscape for a Good Woman put into practice some of the key theoretical underpinnings of gender and/or feminist history?

How does a gendered perspective lead Steedman to develop different narratives of British working-class culture in 20th century Britain? Especially vis a vis Hoggart and some of the Thompsonian approaches you have looked at previously?

What does an autobiographical and psychoanalytic lens bring to her history writing? Why might these methodologies be particularly useful to feminist historians?

Does Landscape for a Good Woman still feel structurally and narratively innovative (e.g. different from more traditionally written histories) or have some of Steedman’s innovations now entered more into the mainstream of history writing?

Further Readings:

  • Joan Scott, ‘Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis’, The American Historical Review 91:5 (December 1986), 1053-1075. [Or you could look at another version of this article in her book Gender and the Politics of History].
  • Jean McCrindle and Sheila Rowbotham, Dutiful Daughters: Women Talk about Their Lives (Penguin, 1983).
  • Sonya O.Rose, ‘“Manliness, Virtue, and Self-Respect”: Gender Antagonism and Working-Class Respectability’, in Limited Livelihoods: Gender and Class in 19th Century England (University Of California Press, 1992), 126-153.
  • Sue Morgan, ‘Introduction: Writing Feminist History: Theoretical Debates and Critical Practices’, in Sue Morgan (editor), Feminist History Reader (Routledge, 2006), 1-48 [if you have the time and the inclination Part 1 and Part 2 of this book will also be very useful].
  • Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy (first published 1957 but many re-editions)