Research Group Health-, welfare and history of science

How did gender history become science?

September 1, Dunja Blazevic started in a new position as a PhD-student at the Institute for archaeology, history, cultural and religious sciences (AHKR). She studies Scandinavian gender history.

Dunja Blazevic’s research focuses on how Scandinavian gender history developed as a subject in a position between academia and politics from the 1970s up to the present.


Among the questions Blazevic poses are: Is there any differences between the development of Danish, Swedish and Norwegian gender history? What have Scandinavian gender historians thought and think about the relationship between gender history as an academic field and as a part of a larger feminist movement? Are there any differences between the three countries? If there are, what are they? Has the development of gender history been mostly influenced by the wish to establish and position the subject as a part of the larger field of historical research, or has it been more important to place gender history in relation to humanist- and social science research fields which also work with gender theories?


- It is also important to examine how important external influences, such as many gender historians’ belonging to the feminist movement, have been in their choice of what to study and what kind of theories to use in their analysis, says Blazevic.


Inspired by Hulda Garborg

Blazevic became interested in the question of gender history and its relation to feminist politics through her work with her master thesis on Hulda Garborg and Garborgs views on women’s rights and the Norwegian nation.


- I noticed here that much of the space devoted to the 19th century in surveys on Norwegian gender history where used to describe the growing women’s movement as a phenomenon that mostly consisted of politically liberal female activists. I realised then that this portrayal of the early women’s movement is part of the basis for the way we think about women’s rights today, and that often this has become the standard by which we judge other cultures’ and other periods’ views on women, Blazevic explains.


Why is this important to study?


- Gender history is a field where historians have expressed strong wishes that their results should be used as political arguments in debates about what our society is and how it should be. When such wishes form part of a subject’s foundation, it can be wise to consider what kind of arguments gender historians want to make and how their use in the political debates might influence research on gender history. I do not claim that all gender historians in the 1970s, for instance, only researched on women who fitted into 1970s feminist thinking, but their wish to write women into general history often ended up in choosing women who had been the same position as themselves. Sometimes this led to taking for granted that all women were like Nora and wished to be liberated from their doll’s houses, a fact we cannot be sure about. If we transfer this to today’s situation in the West, we may perhaps claim that there is more than one way of thinking about women’s rights and that some of these ways even may be the opposite to what we are used to thinking of as women’s rights.


Double roots?

Blazevic’s hypothesis is that the development of gender history in Scandinavia is shaped by its double roots in the general history field and in 1970s women’s movement. This has created tensions within gender history which each generation of Scandinavian gender historians have had to deal with and find answers to.


- I might conclude that these tensions cannot be solved once and for all, but that they are a fundamental part of the research field. I hope I will find out how you as a gender historian can live with these tensions, both in terms of the theories and the methods that are developed, and how they can be used to push research within the field forward. Some times the most creative place to be in for a research field is the place where you are constantly forced to balance between opposing views.


This is the way she will do her research

Blazevic’s own research will be based on text analysis of the reports published after The Nordic Women’s Historian Meetings from 1983 till the present. She will also interview Norwegian, Danish and Swedish gender historians and ask them about their relationships with the women’s movement and their views on what Scandinavian gender history is and what it should be.


- My first step is to find out who participated in the meetings, who were most active in the discussions and what these historians have written before and after the meetings. Then I will be reading the works of selected historians, and prepare the interviews. Finally, the answers from the interviews will be analysed, Dunja Blazevic says.


Blazevic will be part of the Health, welfare and history of science research group for the next four years.