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MLitt in Medieval Scottish Studies

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Seminar topics for core course

2 November: Kimm Curran (Medieval and Scottish History, Glasgow)
Stereotypes: women’s history and gender studies

Women and gender Studies in Scotland is a new and exciting concept. Because it is so innovative many historians have not yet considered women and gender studies as a valid means of exploring Scotland’s history. For this seminar on women and gender in Medieval Scottish History a focus of the presentation will be to link similar, but not identical, aspects of social history and discuss the absence of these subjects in works on medieval Scotland. The structure of the seminar will be in two parts:

1) Discussion of women and their absence from Medieval Scottish Historiography; the future of medieval women’s history in Scotland, and how we as historians can address this issue in our own research.
2) Discussion of how we address the issue of gender and its validity as an analytical category; this will focus on a consideration of stereotypes associated with gender, their origins’, and their usefulness in illuminating the lives of medieval men and women.

In many of the secondary sources on medieval Scotland women have been relegated to being only strong-minded queens, witches or mentioned briefly as the marriage partners of great kings and noblemen. Many of us may have heard of St. Margaret and her contribution to the Scottish church, and who could forget that ‘monstrous regiment of women’—Mary of Guise and Mary Queen of Scots! While these women might get more attention (some may think that too much has been written about Mary Queen of Scots already), very little has been written about other women in Medieval Scotland. In this discussion we will explore why this is the case. Is it that there were no women in medieval Scotland worthy of study? (In some cases we are even told that the history of particular medieval women is not possible to construct and therefore not worthy of study. ) Since the majority of Scottish secondary literature contributes to the invisibility of women we are unlikely to be inspired to look for them in the primary sources (e.g. charters). Why do we not know very much about Scottish women before 1800? Is it simply that we have not been taught to look for women or ask particular questions of the sources? To date there has been relatively little written on those women and noteworthy monographs are few and far between. Elizabeth Ewan’s article ‘Women’s history in Scotland: towards an agenda,’ suggests how we might address the issue of studying women in pre-industrial Scotland using particular methods/models used elsewhere. She proposes that it is possible to study medieval Scottish women by using similar models and acknowledging the existence of women in the historical record. She also suggests that we start asking particular questions of the sources to gain a better understanding of medieval and early modern Scottish women.

The appearance of women in the history books, however, whilst long overdue, does not adequately address the issue of gender. Increasingly, attempts are being made to expand the use of gender, both male and female, as an analytical category. Using ‘gender’ in this way has the potential to provide insight into the construction and development of the lives of both men and women in medieval society. Gender, like all other social constructs, is organic in nature, changing over time and dependent on many factors including class, geography, ethnicity, and occupation; indeed these factors are the basis of many ‘stereotypes’ associated with gender. In this part of the discussion we will explore the usefulness of gender as an analytical category and consider some of the ‘stereotypes’ of masculinity and femininity. It is important to establish where these ‘stereotypes’ originate and the extent to which they are representative of the period in question. To what extent are these ‘stereotypes’ created by and dependent on the nature of the sources? We need to address whether or not it is sufficient to consider male or female as binary opposites or in ‘relational constructs’, or if we should instead be exploring the idea of the plurality of both masculinities and femininities.

Women and gender history is still in its nascent stages. This is not, however, due to a lack of interest in the subject but rather because the development of this type of history has come fairly late to Scotland in comparison with other Western countries. The reasons for this are complex. However, this allows us to use the groundwork that has been laid elsewhere so that we can explore issues about women and gender and provide new and insightful viewpoints on Scotland’s past. It is important to recognize that there is work being done on medieval and early modern social history in Scotland but the work and recognition of this work has yet to make an impact on mainstream historical writing.

Reading: general

Gilchrist, Roberta. Gender and Archaeology: Contesting the Past. Routledge Press, New York: 1999.
Jenkins, Keith. Re-thinking History. Routledge Press, New York: 1991.
Walker-Bynum, Caroline. ‘Did the 12th Century Discover the Individual?’ in Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages. University of California Press, Berkeley (1982): 82-106.
Brotherstone, Terry , et al. Gendering Scottish History: An International Approach, The Mackie Occasional Colloquia Series, No.1, Cruthnie Press, Glasgow: 1999.
Scott, Joan. ‘Gender: a useful category of historical analysis’, American Historical Review, 91 (1986): 153-75.

Reading: Women’s History

Ewan, Elizabeth. ‘Women’s History in Scotland: Towards and Agenda,’ Innes Review 46 (1995) 155-64.
Ewan, Elizabeth ‘A Realm of One’s Own? The place of medieval and early modern women in Scottish History.’ In Gendering Scottish History. Eds. T. Brotherstone & O. Walsh. (Glasgow 1999), 19-36.
See also by E. Ewan: (contains a bibliography of source on Scottish Women, medieval to Modern)
Kelly, Joan. Women History & Theory. University of Chicago Press, Chicago: 1984.
Meikle, Maureen. ‘The World of Women: Recent Medieval and Early Modern Publications,’ Innes Review 45 (1994), 71-77.
Meikle, Maureen & Elizabeth Ewan, eds. ‘Introduction,’ Women in Scotland c.1100-c.1750. (Edinburgh 1999).

Reading: Gender History

Aird, W.M., ‘Frustrated Masculinity: the Relationship between William the Conqueror and his Eldest Son,’ in D.M. Hadley ed. Masculinity in Medieval Europe. Longman: New York (1999): 39-55.
Bennett, M. ‘Military Masculinity in England and Northern France c.1050 – c.1225,’ in D.M.Hadley, ed. Masculinity in Medieval Europe, Longman: New York (1999): 71-88.
Clover, Carol J. ‘Regardless of Sex: Men, Women and Power in Early Northern Europe,’ in Nancy Partner, ed. Studying Medieval Women, The Medieval Academy of America: Cambridge, Massachusetts (1993): 143 –169.
Frantzen, Allen. ‘When Women Aren’t Enough,’ in Nancy Partner, ed. Studying Medieval Women, The Medieval Academy of America: Cambridge, Massachusetts (1993): 61-85.
Hadley, D.M. ed. Masculinity in Medieval Europe. Longman, New York: 1999. (esp. introduction)
Partner, Nancy. ‘No Sex, No Gender’ in Nancy Partner ed. Studying Medieval Women, The Medieval Academy of America Cambridge, Massachusetts (1993):117 – 142.

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Schedule of seminar topics for core course in semester 1