mijzelfThis week is my very first week as a Phd student on the project “Agents of Change: Women Editors and Socio-Cultural Transformation in Europe, 1710-1920”. In order to celebrate this historic moment, I am writing this short introduction on myself, my achievements as a young researcher and my future aspirations regarding this project.

Undoubtedly, gender studies is my main personal and scholarly interest. Especially the influence of women editors within different social, discursive and cultural contexts drew me to this particular project. Five years ago, I started at Ghent University as a fresh bachelor student with a keen interest in English and German literature. In 2014, I obtained my first master’s degree in Literary Studies at Ghent University focusing on German women authors after 1945, and more specifically on gendering of emotions in Christa Wolf’s Kassandra and Medea. A year later, I obtained a second master’s degree in Comparative Modern Literature, which allowed me to focus on American as well as German women authors. I finished my thesis on “Gendering von Angst und Glücksgefühlen in Sylvia Plaths The Bell Jar, Unica Zürns Der Mann im Jasmin und Christa Wolfs Leibhaftig” which focused primarily on the social world of female authors and their ambition to provoke a change in the stereotypical representation of women protagonists.

In my last master year, I had the opportunity to complete an academic internship at the German Literature Section at UGent in which I partook in the everyday workings of the research team. This included attending and participating in the weekly staff meetings, as well as presenting and discussing research projects. This internship gave me a full insight in life as a doctoral researcher (including numerous coffee breaks) and motivated me to enthusiastically pursue an academic career in literary studies.

This week then, my own project as part of the WeChangEd team is off to an exciting start. For the next four years, I will work on German-language periodicals specifically. Along with our other team members, I will investigate the impact of their women editors on public debate and the transnational exchange of their ideas through periodicals. My focus will be on processes of social, political and cultural change in general. It will be a challenge to try and grasp these changes and analyze the dynamics between the expression of ideas and opinions and the (often clashing) societal possibilities for women especially. I will draw upon the cultural developments of German-language countries throughout the centuries and their transnational and intellectual resonance throughout Europe.

Going back in time, the Briefkultur and Salonkultur in 18th and 19th century Europe and more specifically in Germany and Austria created a cultural backdrop which enabled a network for European women to influence social and cultural life. In the Germany of the 18th and 19th century domestic life was a crucial topic in periodicals at the time. Das bürgerliche Familienideal was a central theme in the wide range of Frauenzeitungen (women’s papers). One of the pioneers in the field was Sophie von La Roche, following Charlotte von Hezel as one of the first women editors in Germany. Later Louise Otto Petersen published Frauen-Zeitung in 1848, advocating women’s rights even before the first feminist revolution had its full impact.[1]

Especially because women rights have had such a large resonance within periodicals, I recently focused more on Austrian editors. With a German speaking population, the country was greatly influenced by German periodicals, but as part of Austria-Hungary, it partook in discussions involving Hungarian women’s rights as well. Austria housed one of the most significant women’s organizations in Europe of the late 18th and early 19th century, The AÖFV (Allgemeiner Österreichischer Frauenvereiningung) which created an opportunity to influence the lives of women, not only in Vienna, but throughout Europe.[2] The President of the Association, Auguste Fickert (1855-1910), together with Marie Lang (1858-1934) and Rosa Mayreder (1858-1938) published Dokumente der Frauen, which had a large impact on women’s rights especially. Dokumente der Frauen (1899-1902) published literary reviews, essays on art and poetry and literary excerpts, therefore providing a forum for political, social and cultural discussions among the circles of the educated classes. They promoted social change (e.g. pamphlets regarding prostitution) as well as cultural change (e.g. publishing lesser known women authors such as Therese Huber or Marie von Erben-Eschenbach).

The exciting part of this project for me, will be to have a closer look at the dialogue between and beyond different periodicals. Dokumente der Frauen for example published translations of other periodicals which disseminated the ideas of other women editors and functioned as inspiration for own articles and reviews. Thus, they did not passively publish translations, but engaged in the active exchange of ideas and created room for dialogue within the periodical. Marie Lang  attended the International Abolitionist Congress in London, while Mayreder had the opportunity to advocate for women’s rights in Berlin. They published excerpts from Helen Blackburn and Antoinette MacKenzie’s Englishwoman’s Review (1866-1910) and Clara Zetkin’s die Gleichheit (1890-1925) in Dokumente der Frauen. Conversely, Dokumente der Frauen caught the attention of the British Press, with the 11 December 1883 issue of the London Evening Standard for example reporting on a talk on prostitution by Auguste Fickert, and referencing Dokumente der Frauen.

With this little peek into the beginnings of my research, I am positive that there’s an exciting four years ahead of me. Los geht’s!

Charlotte D’Eer

03/02/2016

[1] Ulricke Weckel.: Zwischen Häuslichkeit und Öffentlichkeit. Die ersten deutschen Frauenzeitschriften im späten 18. Jahrhundert und ihr Publikum. Tübingen: Max Miemeyer Verlag 1998.

[2] Harriette Anderson: Utopian Feminism. Women’s Movements in fin-de-siècle Vienna. New Haven: Yale University Press 1992.