Sites and agents of feminist memory: a citizen science project
Summary of the research project
On April 24th 2018, following a two-year campaign spearheaded by the British feminist author, journalist and activist, Caroline Criado-Perez, the suffragist leader Millicent Garrett Fawcett became the first woman to be honoured with a permanent statue in Parliament Square, one hundred and eighty six years after George Canning, the first of her 11 male predecessors. Two years later, on August 26th 2020 in Central Park, New York, the grassroots organisation Monumental Women celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, with the unveiling of a statue honouring suffrage movement leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth. It was the first statue of real women to be erected in this most prestigious of public spaces.
These spectacular enshrinements of leading suffragists in such quintessential sites of national memory can be read as a form of apotheosis for a process begun by suffrage campaigners themselves to keep the memory of the movement alive in statues and street names, commemorative plaques and memorial monuments, parks and fountains. However, the fact that it took a century for such sites of feminist memory to be erected, not in the periphery, but at the heart of great urban centres is a reminder of the long-standing – and ongoing – resistance to the idea that women are legitimate participants in the political process. Indeed, as the champions for the erection of these statues powerfully argued, a symptom of this resistance is the limited place awarded to the memory of women’s movements, not only in school curricula or national ceremonies but also, and crucially, in our built environment. At stake is the intergenerational transmission of feminist memory, the dissemination of inspiring stories of past activisms and oppressions, which activists use to motivate and mobilise feminist action in the present.
The ambition of Marc Calvini-Lefebvre’s project at the Institute for Advanced Study of Aix-Marseille University (Iméra) is to both contribute to and interrogate this process of transmission of feminist memory by engaging citizens in the production of a digital map of the memorials to the women’s suffrage movement. At its heart are the linked questions of how one acquires and transmits a “feminist cultural memory” and how best to foster, society-wide, a civic culture which actively chooses to remember its feminist past because it actively values women’s empowerment in the present.
A graduate of the Institut d’Études Politiques d’Aix-en-Provence, the London School of Economics and Political Science and Goldsmiths College, University of London, I was recruited in 2011 to the position of Lecturer in 19th century British history in AMU’s Laboratoire d’Études et de Recherche sur le Monde Anglophone (UR 853). Aside from British studies, I teach classes in feminist and gender studies. Since my recruitment, I have sought to contribute to the institutionalisation of gender studies in French academia at both the local (GenderMed) and national (Gender Institute, Paris) levels. My abiding research interests are in feminist ideas, the history of feminism and the mechanisms of (or obstacles to) their transmission to the wider public. My research projects to date have focused on:
- the ideological challenge posed by the Great War to feminist thinking about the relationship between citizenship, gender, war and peace in turn-of-the-century Britain.
- the epistemological challenge that making sense of women’s resistance to feminism poses for the social sciences.
- the memorialisation of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in sites of memory, both literal and non-literal.
The final two projects have been carried out in collaboration with my colleagues in the Women & the F-Word research team and have benefitted from funding awarded by the Aix-Marseille Initiative d’Excellence (A*Midex) (“Pépinière d’Excellence” initiative, 2017). All of my publications can be found on the HAL-SHS open archive by clicking here.