In deze rubriek brengt Historica een onderzoeker voor het voetlicht die vanuit haar of zijn discipline reflecteert op de (mogelijke) meerwaarde om te werken vanuit een genderperspectief. Op die manier willen Historica en de VVG actief het wetenschappelijke én publieke debat rond genderonderzoek stimuleren.

In het juni-nummer 2013 van Historica komt Catherine Hall (1941) aan het woord.

Catherine Hall (1946) is Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History at University College London (UCL). Co-authoring with Leonore Davidoff, Catherine Hall wrote the influential work Family Fortunes. Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850. First published in 1987, the book reshaped perceptions of middle-class society and gender relations. Moving away from the idea of 'separate spheres', 'which confined women to the private sphere of domesticity, while positioning men within the public sphere of power', Hall and Davidoff freed family history from the realm of the strictly private and repositioned it as one of the driving forces behind history's great transformations. Although Catherine Hall's earlier work has mainly focused on gender and class history, her research since the 1990s attempts to re-think the relationship between Britain and its empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As such, she is the Principal Investigator of a current UCL History project investigating the structures and legacies of British-Caribbean slave-ownership in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and she has recently published the book Macaulay and Son: Architects of Imperial Britain (2012).

Joan Scott (1941) was the keynote speaker at the Conference ‘Uitsluitend emancipatie’ in de Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam in October last year. She spoke about the historical concept of emancipation. This was an opportunity for Historica to speak with her about gender history and feminism. Joan Scott is well-known as one of the founders of gender history. With her article ‘Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis’, published in 1986, she challenged the foundations of historical practice. In recent books she focused on the relationship between gender and politics. Joan Scott is professor at the School of Social Science in the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.
Esmeralda Tijhoff en Greetje Bijl

Marjolein Van Bavel interviewde haar.

Looking back to when Family Fortunes was first published twenty-six years ago, what do you think was the book's main contribution to Social and Cultural History?

I think the crucial thing about that book was the way in which it put gender in the mainstream and argued that using the analytic of class was not enough and that, as we put it, class was gendered and gender was classed. And I still think that. I still think Family Fortunes is a very good book (laughs). I haven't lost faith in it. Through working on those family papers, we just demonstrated so systematically the ways in which this worked in that period. And of course, there are lots of things the book did not do, but I think in that central insistence on the axes of gender being a key axis of social organisation, that was what mattered about it.

Why do you think that this book in particular became so influential in gender history?

I think partially because it was the first scholarly, empirically based study, demonstrating those connections, as it came pretty early on in the development of gender history. And I think secondly, because it dealt with many different levels, so it wasn't just about how people think, it was also about everyday practices, through the strategy of using case studies, family histories and detailed family papers and the material on the public sphere and so on and so forth. The weakness was that we covered so much, but the strength was that at the beginning of work of that kind we were demonstrating the possibilities. That if you looked at what was going on in churches and chapels, if you looked at what was going on in relation to homes and gardens, if you looked at the ways in which women supplied capital and labour for family businesses, if you looked at prescriptive literature and all these other levels of social and cultural life, and political life to a certain extent, I think that gave Family Fortunes a kind of weight that people could mine for so many kinds of topics. I don't think that the major findings of the book have really been overturned. They have been critiqued, but I have gone on working on the nineteenth century and I still think that many of those arguments hold.

Where was Family Fortunes lacking?

The book obviously didn't think, at all, about race and nation, which was what I later went on to think about. As soon as the book was finished, things had moved politically and the whole question of race had come much more to the surface of British society and I myself was much more involved in thinking about it. And thus, turning to that, made me see the striking absences in the book. Reworking the material, now thinking about it through the lens of race, ethnicity and nation, rather than through the lens of gender and class, just made me realise how much more complicated it all was and how race and ethnicity are both also crucial axes in social organisation and political organisation. So I'd say that was a central absence, and so was politics. Family Fortunes was designed in the late 1970s and written mostly in the first half of the 1980s. So, you know, preoccupations change, and hopefully one changes with them.

Would you say this was a change mainly within the field of academics or were your personal interests also shifting?

It is always both. I'd say that all my work has been driven personally and politically, both with a small p and with a large P. I'm a very committed historian and I don't believe in historical objectivity. I do believe in exploring topics with as open a mind as possible. But I do not believe it is possible to write objective history. Our own minds, our imaginations, our own ways of thinking always enter into how we frame a project, how we read the documents that we are reading and how we interpret them. And I do not think that is wrong. I just think that is how it is. Writing history is an interpretative practice.

Has personal experience influenced your research interests, or how did you become interested in the topics you have studied throughout your academic career?

In the early 1970s, at the time of the development of the women's movement, I was teaching women's history, as we called it then, to adults. And there were no books or articles. It is extraordinary, the way in which the field has grown. And then in the 1980s, I was involved in a lot of political discussions, again in the women's movement, around questions of race and the absence of race in white feminist thought. That was part of what drove me to start doing work on the Caribbean. But also, it was my own family and my children being half Jamaican and knowing Jamaica and getting interested in Jamaica and thinking: this is a very interesting place, why don't I know more about it? So it's been an incredible pleasure, actually, to learn about another place, having started off as a British historian and being very fascinated by my own society, but then coming to think about it from the perspective of other places. This gives you a different take on things.

Do you think personal experience has a fruitful role to play within academic History?

If I take the example of my most recent book about Macaulay, one thing that was really fascinating was working on the life and work of a historian and thinking about myself writing about him and thinking about using my mind to analyse what I thought was the relationship between his personal life and his writing. And of course thinking: okay, so what's the relationship between my personal life and my writing? It was a voyage of discovery about myself as well as about him, to try and understand him in that way and a kind of increasing understanding of myself. I mean, why do some people like doing history and writing history? What is it? What are you looking for? Why does it feed you and why is it creative for you in the ways that it is? It is making sense of oneself in the world, of where you have come from and the choices you have made. I think all that is part of doing historical work and obviously people do that in different ways. I don't think I could ever have written about Jamaica in the ways that I did if I hadn't known it through family as well as through reading missionary reports, newspapers, diaries and all that. I think knowing places, spending time, being in the places that you work on, looking at them, trying to put yourself into them, is very important.

Family Fortunes is a seminal text in gender history. However, the term 'gender' is absent in the title of the book. Was this a conscious choice?

When the book was published in 1987, gender was still not in common currency as a term. Joan Scott's classic article (Gender. A Useful Category of Historical Analysis, 1986) came out much the same time that Family Fortunes came out. We were looking for a title that would invite people, and I think if we had called it Gender and Class in Birmingham and East Anglia, for example, it wouldn't have been very catchy (laughs). So I think I have always wanted titles that I thought people could remember, something that catches an idea that connects into the book but that is also memorable in some way. But I also think that it was not in the title because we didn't just want historians of women to read it and we really wanted just historians, i.e. all those historians, men mainly, that were working on class, to read it. We really had hopes that they would grasp it, but we were a bit ambitious. It has taken a very long time (laughs) and there are still many people who are not interested in that way of thinking.

Why is that do you think?

Initially, there was huge resistance to the whole idea of women's history and gender history. And later people just thought they could avoid it, that somebody else could do it. And I think what we hoped in the eighties was that thinking through gender as well as thinking through class would become the mainstream. And clearly, now, many people, probably mostly younger men who are historians, are prepared to think like that. But there are still a lot of historians working who pay absolutely no attention to questions of gender and never mind race! To move out of your familiar groves is very uncomfortable for some people and, likewise, to think that history is a subject that should be thought about politically. Of course, everyone thinks about it politically, but whether they admit that is what they are doing is another matter. We have seen it so much in relation to the re-writings of imperial history that have been at the centre of my work for the last 15 years or so. There has been huge hostility from sort of old style imperial historians who are just really angry at people doing things differently. And I think that was also the case in relation to gender in the earlier period.

That makes one think about the implications of your work, about what it is actually doing and why is it so aggravating to some.

Yes, well of course it is also aggravating because it stirs people up personally, it's not just a matter of scholarship. It definitely is disturbing.

Could it be a strategically smart move to render the concept of gender implicit in historical work, for example by omitting it from titles?

I think what we have to hope for is that it just becomes sort of automatic. That questions relating to women and men become simply part of the way in which people approach every kind of topic. The world is full of half women and half men. It's just so obvious once you do things like that. Things have shifted obviously. Things have shifted a lot, but they haven't shifted enough.

You have repeatedly been described as a feminist historian. Was this a title attributed to you by others or do you yourself identify as such? If so, why?

I definitely identify myself in that way. And it was a very positive choice. My whole thinking was transformed by becoming a feminist and being involved in the women's movement in Britain from the late 1960s onwards. It gave me a way of thinking about the world, but it also gave me an identity and a community which was tremendously important and has carried on to be very important. The group of women that I have worked with for many years has provided a kind of home, an intellectual home, and very deep friendships. I think I have just been so fortunate to be part of that cohort. We had to work really hard. In the initial period we were outside the universities, we had absolutely no institutional base and it was a long struggle to be accepted, in so far as we are accepted today, within the mainstream of historical work. So, definitely I identify in that way (laughs). I'm very grateful for that identity.

How do you think becoming involved in feminism influenced your pathway as an academic historian?

I think it just completely changed it. I had started doing historical research as a postgraduate student and around that same time I got involved in the women's movement and I had a baby, which also completely changed my ways of thinking and my life. So these things all came together and then I just thought: I want to know about women\'d5s history. I found myself at home with a baby and I didn\'d5t have any friends who had babies, they were all students. It was a very peculiar situation to be in, very hard, isolated, and I started wanting to know about the history of housewives and what it meant to be a housewife. So that\'d5s where I began. And then that just grew from there and completely changed the work that I was doing. I was working on the medieval aristocracy. Although I was really fascinated by medieval history I stopped doing that and I decided that I wanted to be a modern historian. I wanted to do something that was of direct relevance to me and to the women who I knew, and our lives and why we were in the situation we were in. What was this? What were we to call it? Domestic ideology? And what might that be? The process of working that out and then thinking about the historical roots of particular ways of thinking about the relationships between men and women etc. It really just grew out of all those preoccupations.

Did you feel influenced by this ideal of domesticity?

Well, I was. I was supposedly a full time graduate student, but actually I was a mother, running a house and with a husband who went to work. I started reading the work that had come out of the States, the very first kind of feminist texts, going back to works such as that by Betty Friedan. This was about exploring the self and exploring myself and the group of friends around me, about how we found ourselves in this situation. Who were we? What did it mean to be a wife and mother? Thinking about that identity of housewife, which is not an easy identity to occupy.

Did you come to look differently at your own identity by writing Family Fortunes?

I think for both Leonore and myself, the fact that we chose to work on families in the way we did was connected to the fact that we were ourselves embedded in webs of family. Obviously I think we were very right that family was at the heart of economic organisation and the current work that I'm now doing proves that systematically. But we were both puzzled in our different ways - she's fourteen years older than me - about being married to academics, about what place there is for you, about what our proper responsibilities were as parents, how legitimate it was to pursue our own independent careers; all those questions. I didn't know it at that time, but looking back I am quite sure that one of the reasons why it worked well for us to work together was because we were both preoccupied with a lot of the same questions for ourselves as well as about the period we were exploring and the families we were looking at.

Family Fortunes seems to make the claim of doing general history instead of women's history. Is this important to you?

Absolutely. I think gender is about the relationships between men and women. Although I think that women's historians do fantastic work and it is very important that people go on doing it, I am actually fascinated by how men have exercised the power that they have. And really, my work has, for a long time now, been more preoccupied with forms of masculinity and its relation to power. I haven't worked to nearly the same extent on women, but not because I do not think that is important, but because of the particular things I want to explore. And because the main actors, historically, have gone on being men, unfortunately (laughs). Which is not to say that women don't have historical agency, because of course they do, but not of the same kinds as men.

Does your current work similarly aim to do general history of the British empire instead of e.g. the history of slavery? Why?

Because I think one of the things I have been most preoccupied with, from the beginning really, is trying to contribute to the rethinking of British history, to define British history differently, to ensure that British history would be understood as something that includes questions of gender, that includes questions of race and that includes questions of empire. Seeing myself still very much as a British historian, seeing the society I live in and that the students I teach are the people who are going to go out and teach other people, I want to think that at the end of my work, some contribution will have been made to shifting the ground of how British history is being defined. And I think that you cannot seriously think about modern British history without thinking about the empire, or rather, if you do, it is a very narrow definition of what you are doing. So my current project of rewriting British history - which is a collective project - is a very important one to me.

When you compare your earlier work focusing on the history of class and gender with your current work investigating British colonial history, does your approach differ significantly or are certain tools from a gendered historical approach transferable to your current work?

The gender questions are absolutely central to my current work too and, interestingly, take me back to some of the preoccupations in Family Fortunes. Because one of the things we discovered and that we did not expect, is that there are a large number of women slave-owners. Both in the Caribbean and in Britain there were women who owned enslaved people, often women, and who lived off the proceeds of renting these enslaved people out. In the database about the slave-owners ( that we created of all the slave-owners who received compensation at the time of abolition, over forty percent were women. This was a real surprise because slave-ownership has always been thought of in terms of men, but there are actually lots of small-scale women slave-owners. For the most part, these women did not own the large estates or did not manage the huge plantations, but they might have owned, for example, five domestic slaves who they rented out. A lot of them were situated in the urban Caribbean, in Kingston in Jamaica or Bridgetown in Barbados. So, that's one way of going back to the centrality of women to capital formation. We are putting women back into the history of those people who benefited significantly from the fruits of slavery and slave-ownership. But also we are underlining, all the time, the centrality of family, inheritance and marriage patterns to capital formation. One of the big changes with this current project is that it is a collaborative one in which a lot of people are engaged including an economic historian. Consequently, we treat all those questions of the importance of women to the transmission of capital through marriage and inheritance, women as providing the social networks through which businesses are organised and the importance of women as the reproducers of class, literally as the women who bear children and make the inheritance possible, in a much more systematic way than we did in Family Fortunes. And we are finding these mechanisms everywhere. I now think of family as one of the forms of the cement of empire, these networks of families, which cross the empire, people in the Caribbean, people in India, people here in Britain, people in Canada, sending younger sons to here, there and everywhere, developing these networks, nephews, uncles. It is extraordinary. So this is a real important angle of the work. We knew that family was central to the development of industrial capitalism in the early nineteenth century but we did not quite know how central.

Hence, you see a common interest in your work on gender and class history and your work on colonialism?

Yes. And I think, in a way, the book on Macaulay was also very important in this because that made me do work on political history. You know, high politics, Westminster Parliament, the House of Commons, which none of the earlier work that I had done was about. So it feels as if my work has come together as history. It is not just social history or just cultural history or just political history. It is History. Which is how it should be. The way in which history as a discipline has come to be so subdivided has not been helpful. Obviously you need expertise, but you also need to think holistically. Just as there is something wrong with doctors who only think about one part of the body and cannot think holistically, so there is something wrong with historians who only think about culture, or only think about gender, or only think about race, or only think about politics. Because, actually, we live the connections. We live through the connections. So there is something very satisfying in coming to that.

There seems to be a thread in your work, i.e. an interest in the construction of identities which suited gender and/or racial agendas. Your work seems to be inspired by a strong interest in topics related to justice and equality, both in the sphere of sexism and racism. Consequently, what do you think is the importance of history to the present?

I think it is so important because the past lives on in the present and the past is a way of trying to understand the present. What we are looking at in terms of the legacies of slavery and slave-ownership is the ways in which ideas about race and racial hierarchies are constructed. Looking at the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there are terrible continuities. We try to understand those and the ways in which the past lives on in the present. For all the changes that we have seen and the multicultural world in which we live, inequality is still increasing all the time and questions of race and immigration are absolutely bubbling away right across Europe, never mind anywhere else in the world. This research is addressing the problems of today through giving the past its own time but also seeing the ways in which it informs the present.

Which brings me to my last question. How do you perceive the relationship between academics and activism?

Well, there isn't a close enough one. I made the decision, quite a long time ago, to think about my educational work as the contribution that I can make, as a form of activism. I know it is not the same as many other kinds of activism, but it has an important part to play. And one of the aspects of the current project that we are working on is that we are building many connections outside of academia, relying on many people outside of academia to contribute to our project. It is a genuinely public collaborative project, which is terribly important. There is a fascination in the world out there with questions of family history and identity. Genealogy is an unbelievably popular subject, I think, because people feel that it is very hard to be rooted in this contemporary world. And on the very simplest level, that is what people are looking for, ways of connecting themselves to the world they live in and having some sense of a past and its relation to the present. Our collaboration with African Caribbean families who are doing work on their family history, who are trying to make sense of what slavery meant and what it still means in the present, how it still informs the lives people live in this society, never mind in the Caribbean, I think that is the form of activism that I can contribute to. 

Marjolein Van Bavel