Academic journal article Hecate

Naming Queensland Women's History: A Bibliographic Essay

Academic journal article Hecate

Naming Queensland Women's History: A Bibliographic Essay

Article excerpt


Bibliographies are rarely the spontaneous productions of scholarly enterprise and disinterested intellectual endeavour. Like explorers(1) records of previously unknown lands, bibliographies are constructed in response to a perceived need for consolidated knowledge about a specified object, an object which is deemed to be sufficiently valuable and worthy of naming to justify the effort involved in mapping its territory. The names, the topographical categories and the absences and presences in the written record may tell us more about the cosmology of the mappers of this new territory than they do about the land itself. The act of naming is in itself an act of appropriation, a political act. Bibliographies, in other words, serve political purposes: they are inevitably implicated in the politics of knowledge.

So why produce a bibliography of Queensland women's history? In 1988 and 1989 I team-taught an Australian Studies course at Griffith University called `Settlement and Society'. The course consisted of two strands, one on Australian history and the other on Queensland history. Until this year, except for some discussion of the sex ratio and the occasional reference to women, what students taking this course learned about the history of Queensland was predominantly confined to labour and race relations, politics, and land use: in fact, about the history of men and their institutions in Queensland.

Given the predominance of themes such as immigration, settlement, community and institution formation, it seemed appropriate both politically and pedagogically to include a topic on `Queensland women's history'. The term `include' is significant here. That women's experiences had to be `included' in a mainstream history course is a strong indicator of the difficulties faced by feminists attempting to intervene in disciplines such as history, which conflate and universalise the experiences of the two sexes under an unacknowledged masculine model of `humanity' which glosses over the specificity of women and erases the disjunctions of sexual difference (see Grosz, 1988 and Allen, 1986). Clearly, a thorough and systematic integration of women into academic discourse is preferable to their occasional inclusion.

But the integration of women and feminist analyses into masculinist forms of knowledge is also problematic. Women and women's issues run the risk of being subsumed under a set of pedagogical rubrics that can do no other than conform to conventionally masculine structures of knowledge. The line between integration and obliteration is so fine that a separate women's studies programme may be a better guarantee of academic integrity. We are fortunate at Griffith in having just such an autonomous women's studies course structure. The strong presence and institutional legitimacy of a discrete women's studies strand provides a safe base and a strong impetus to challenge the phallocentrism of academic knowledges in adjacent teaching areas. The integration of women, gender and feminism into other Griffith courses is a necessary and continuing project which proceeds in tandem with, and is supported by the pursuit of separate academic spaces for the study of women.

This institutional and collegial support within and between Australian studies and women's studies provided an academic environment conducive to feminist intervention. The `Settlement and Society' teaching team agreed to `include' a topic on Queensland women's history, and I subsequently began a search for secondary sources on the history of women in Queensland. My search identified a distinct historiography of Queensland women that has its origins in the early 1970s. However, the bulk of the work has only been published in the last decade, suggesting that the field is still in its formative stages.

It is not coincidental that Queensland women's history's origins and development parallel those of the contemporary women's movement and, more particularly, the growth of feminist scholarship and the teaching of women's studies in Australia. …

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