One question comes up again and again as we’re populating our database: how do we define Europe? Although it’s a crucial question relevant far beyond the scope of this project, I did not give it much thought when I first submitted my proposal to the ERC in 2013. As one reviewer rightly pointed out, I had assumed “Europe” to mean “Western Europe.” As a Western European citizen, I had taken something for granted which, especially in the context of a European funding scheme, should never be taken for granted. For the 2014 round, I defined Europe in a much broader, historical sense of the word, including Eastern Europe and the western parts of Russia. Still, it’s a working definition, and one that we’ve challenged many times since.

While developing the data model for our database, we decided to describe periodicals in terms of their place and language of publication because, at least in the past three centuries, cities and languages have tended to be more stable than countries. Using GeoNames, we can safely situate both Anne-Marie Sterckx’s French evening newspaper L’Étoile de Bruxelles (ca. 1797) and Maria De Boeck’s De arbeidster (1919-25), a Dutch-language periodical for women workers, in Brussels without having to elaborate on Belgium’s complicated political history.

The Indian Ladies’ Magazine (Madras, 1901–1938), edited by Kamala Satthianadhan; De Echo (Yogyakarta, 1899-1905), edited by Mrs Samwel-Schoolmeester

But what with the numerous women who edited European-language periodicals in a colonial context, in India for instance, or the Dutch East Indies? So far we have not included any of them, because (we keep telling ourselves) of the huge amount of work that remains to be done for Europe itself. But what exactly do we mean by “Europe itself”? Turkey, for instance, “through the Ottoman Empire, has a shared history with the South Eastern European peninsula,” as the Biographical Dictionary of Women’s Movements and Feminisms in Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe points out, and through the struggle for women’s rights it is also closely connected to Western European history. Feminist magazines played a crucial role in establishing and these connections.[1]

Kadınlar Dünyası (1913-1921)

Kadınlar Dünyası (1913-1921)

Kadınlar Dünyası (Women’s World; 1913-21) was among the most radical. Founded by the Ottoman Association for the Defense of Women’s Rights, it was published, edited, written and composited by women, providing female employment much like the English Woman’s Journal (1858-64) and the Victoria Press in Britain half a century earlier. Besides employment, higher education for women was a key demand. To support its argument, the magazine looked beyond the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire: “We want women departments at the university. Is there no one in the nations and in the government who has a guilty conscience because we haven’t been given this right? Is there nobody who is afraid of the curses of the following generation? Muslim girls and women in Russia have entered all branches of the university and they are very successful. What’s the difference between them and us? They are Muslims, we are Muslims. They are human beings, we are, too.”[2]

So far we have not included any colonial publications in our database and covered only small patches of the Ottoman Empire. It’s a decision motivated by feasibility; yet, for a project that examines socio-cultural change, it would make perfect sense to study European women striving to make a difference in all parts of the world, and to keep redefining the geographical scope of the project as we add more names and titles to the database.

Marianne Van Remoortel

(29/03/2016)

[1] Francisca de Haan, Krassimira Daskalova and Anna Loutfi, eds., A Biographical Dictionary of Women’s Movements and Feminisms. Central, Eastern, and South Eastern Europe, 19th and 20th Centuries (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2006), p. 5.
[2] Quoted in “Women’s University and the Magazine Kadınlar Dünyası, p. 4.