Who would you to add to our database?
Two months ago, at the 2018 ESPRit Conference in Paris, I attended a workshop on Women’s Periodicals coordinated by Catherine Clay (Nottingham Trent University). One of the questions I was asked during the discussion concerned the database our team has been updating for the past three years: Who do we include in the database? The easiest answer is of course: women editors. But what are the specific requirements for women editors, especially when considering the wide geographic and temporal scope of our project? In other words: Who qualifies as a woman editor? Does one have to perform a certain female identity to become a woman editor? Or is our selection process based on specific editorial practices? And are these practices then in some way gendered?
The complexity of these questions can be demonstrated if we take the German-language press as an example and ask ourselves: Which of the following four editors should make it into our database?
The first possibility is Johann Christoph Gottsched (1710-1760). Although biologically not a woman, he did publish the first women’s periodical in Germany, called Die Vernünftige Tadlerinnen (1725-1726). Gottsched strategically uses the Greek muses Phyllis, Calliste and Iris, to act as personal commentators and guiding voices in the periodical. The second option is Louise Adelgunde Victorie Gottsched (1713-1762). She helped her husband with the publication of Neuer Büchersaal (1745-1750), and for the second edition of Die Tadlerinnen (1738) for which she wrote numerous articles. While she is traditionally seen as die Gehülfin or assistant of Gottsched, recent scholarship has argued that her editorial involvement was far more significant than originally thought. Pinpointing her specific editorial involvement, however, proves hard to do. The third woman editor on the list is Ernestine Hofmann (1752-1789), who published Für Hamburgs Töchter (1779). Anonymously, she refers to herself as a wise and old Ratgeber und Frauenfreund (advisor and women’s friend). By doing so, she performs a male identity while addressing a female readership. At the same time, Charlotte Henriette von Hezel edited Wochenblatt fürs schöne Geschlecht (1779) in Ilmenau. This was the first periodical to be published without making use of a male pseudonym, although von Hezel indicates her gender and not her name, referring to herself as Verfasserin des Wochenblatts (the female “author” of a weekly).
Eventually, and maybe surprisingly, we included all four persons in our database. Regardless of the nature of their involvement, the gender of their readership or their social and political impact, Louise Gottsched, Ernestine Hoffmann and Charlotte von Hezel all qualify because they are 1) women and 2) they engage in editorial practices. The choice for Johann Gottsched, however, needs some further explaining and requires us to look at the basic research question of the entire project. Firstly, our project defines “female editorship” as a practice or a set of practices which are performed on the periodical page. Regardless of the biological identity of the editors, their performed identity is what shapes their position in the public sphere. Secondly, our database aims to enable the visualisation and analysis of a network of women editors. By adopting this networked perspective, we can redefine the way we look at editorship specifically. We usually think of editorship as a concept of authority, tied to an institution or on a person and not as the editorial decisions and strategies of one single woman editor. Instead, we focus on the network of women editors, texts, contexts and other people, mostly, but not solely, other women editors.
Our database, then, does not only include these three women, but also all relevant actors in the social networks surrounding them, including Johann Gottsched as a male editor whose involvement helps us to understand Louise Gottsched’s editorial practices. Our database thankfully requires us to specify the nature of these connections in the designated comment box. This blog entry then, is a call for complexity, inclusiveness and the importance to think beyond preconceived categories. In this respect, the database hopes to accommodate many different research questions for the future.
Charlotte D’Eer, 05/09/2018
Krull, Edith: Das Wirken der Frau im frühen Deutschen Zeitschriftenwesen. Rudolf Lorentz Verlag, 1939.
Weckel, Ulrike: Zwischen Häuslichkeit und Öffentlichkeit: die ersten deutschen Frauenzeitschriften im späten 18. Jahrhundert und ihr Publikum. Niemeyer, 1998.