In their contributions to this AHR Forum, Joanne M. Ferraro, Emma Griffin, and Rebecca Jinks explore intimate and affective aspects of women’s lives in three European settings over two centuries, taking on the formidable task of investigating the thoughts and emotions of subjects who themselves are no longer alive and left no archival traces of their own. The articles range in geographic area—from Britain to Venice to Armenia—and in topical focus—from labor and commerce to emotions and families to nation-building and humanitarianism. They also range methodologically, drawing on autobiographies, semi-judicial cases, and relief workers’ reports. Ultimately, though, the authors are left attempting to discern the voices of refugees, sex workers, and working-class mothers through the mediations of reformers, notaries, and the women’s own children.1 All three of these essays continue a return to materiality, not in the sense of the neo-materialist critique of anthropocentrism, but rather in the sense of highlighting actions, experiences, and structures more than discursive, cultural, or symbolic aspects of human experience. None of the authors ignores these latter elements, but they all understand such factors as inextricable from more quotidian considerations such as violence, budgets, commercial relations, and labor conditions. The articles in this forum demonstrate the imbrication of intimate worlds of domesticity and affect with more public realms such as tribunals, neighborhoods, and civil-society organizations. Notably, although men hover in the background of these histories, women dominate the action. Madams and female sex workers overshadow pimps and johns; motherhood eclipses fatherhood; and female relief workers play more central roles than the men to whom they report. Even amid these contexts often seen as self-consciously modernizing, we see the ways in which domestic arrangements shaped commercial practices and nation-building strategies. The public and private realms are, like gender difference, always recursive and relational, always contingent and contested.2 Joanne Ferraro draws on the eighteenth-century records of the Bestemmia—“a secular tribunal charged with eradicating moral turpitude” in early modern Venice—as well as an anonymous account of nineteenth-century Venetian prostitution to explore the ambiguous role of sex work in the local and household economies. Notably, quite a few women (and men) viewed sex work and procurement of sex workers as a means of sustaining households rather than as antithetical to motherhood and household formation. It was, as Ferraro demonstrates, “part of urban society and family life.” While sex work surely was not most women’s first choice among survival strategies, Ferraro makes it clear that it also was not their last. By shifting our perspective from that of secular or religious authorities to the “ground-up economics” of those who viewed sex work as, on balance, the most appealing among a constrained set of alternatives, Ferraro refocuses from the moral and public-health concerns that preoccupied authorities to the economic and familial anxieties of those involved in the trade. In so doing, she also turns our attention from the coherent, stable household imagined by authorities to the fragmented, mobile, porous, provisional households in which most people actually lived. As a result, she shows us the ways in which sex work was, in practice if not in law, deeply embedded in household and local economies and social practices.3 Sex work, Ferraro argues, was “essentially indoor family labor” available to Venetians fallen on hard times. Early modern Venice was especially, although certainly not uniquely, conducive to the integration of sex work into the social fabric. Particularly as sex work moved out of designated and controlled zones, it became “widely dispersed, not just in public places but also in domestic and matrimonial spheres, where [sex workers] used their bodies as a marketable household good.”4 As a result of the changed social geography, those engaging in the trade became less likely to identify themselves principally as sex workers; rather, “[t]heir identities derived from their social relationships as tenants, consumers, mothers, and neighbors.” Historians have frequently identified port cities, with their diverse, transient populations and their constant influx of both providers and customers, as hospitable sites for sex work.5 As Ferraro notes, “In this historically commercial city, the complex integration of sex as a commodity into the socioeconomic framework became more critical than how it was morally perceived by the dominant culture.” Venice thus offered what Ferraro describes as a “cultural economy” that encouraged commodification and commercialization.6 However intolerant the Bestemmia may have been toward sex work, as indicated by the gruesome punishments the tribunal meted out, this local cultural economy of bustling commerce and demographic mobility fostered a climate in which local residents demonstrated far greater ambivalence. Property owners, including members of the nobility, either knowingly or unwittingly profited by having sex workers as tenants. Tavern owners and innkeepers found that sex workers could draw customers to their establishments. Even municipal authorities allowed discreet forms of sexual commerce, understanding that it could drive up the tax revenues that filled municipal coffers. The scolette that housed young sex workers arriving in Venice served both a social and a commercial purpose, acting, Ferraro explains, as a “countercultural network of entrepreneurial women.” These alternative household formations—deriving their name from the confraternities, or scuole, and modeling themselves after asylums—reconstituted a family structure for sex workers and their children mimetic of more conventional domestic arrangements. Although readers may argue with the degree of “agency” and “independence from patriarchal control” exercised within limited possibilities, Ferraro points to the options that women passed over in favor of the scolette—in particular, confinement in convents or asylums. Certainly both sex workers and procurers took significant risks to ply their trade. If a jealous business owner or a pious neighbor reported them to the Bestemmia, they would often flee Venice to avoid punishments that included imprisonment and disfigurement. Indeed, since the failure to report such activities could also be grounds for punishment, it is notable that the Bestemmia was not more successful in stamping out the sex trade. If Ferraro stresses the ways in which sex work was consonant with motherhood and domesticity in early modern Venice, Emma Griffin clearly is not convinced that the same holds for Victorian Britain. She follows the lead of historians such as William Reddy and Barbara Rosenwein—particularly Reddy’s concept of “emotional regimes”—to consider the historical contingency of mother-child relationships.7 She explores the question of whether the material conditions of working-class life, such as “[h]unger, tiredness, cold, physical discomfort, lack of privacy, and lack of peace and quiet,” ultimately “affect[ed] the ability of a woman to mother her children.” She concludes that if the accounts she assessed in writing this article “are anywhere close to lived experience, large numbers of working-class children were at risk of emotional or material neglect.” This important research comes with daunting methodological obstacles, not least of which is how to evaluate motherhood and maternal love. If historians rely on a Potter Stewart-esque “I know it when I see it” understanding, then we risk eliding the specificities of a deeply contingent social and cultural practice. Among the many contributions of the affective turn in historical studies is the recognition that experiences and expressions of feelings such as love, pain, longing, and triumph vary considerably across different social and cultural contexts. As Nora Jaffray points out in her study of cultural and medical practices surrounding reproduction in Mexico in the late colonial and early national period, “Ideas about the nurturing bonds and natural tenderness that we now so strongly associate with motherhood are notable in colonial documentation only in their absence.”8 Seeking to push the field beyond its conventional, largely source-driven focus on elite and middle-class histories of emotions, Griffin draws on research she conducted for her recent study of the Industrial Revolution, examining 411 working-class autobiographies to explore the emotional history of motherhood.9 The methodological challenges go beyond what we would normally associate with memoirs as sources—the problems of memory, context, and selection bias, for example—since Griffin examines the memories of children writing decades after the fact to understand the interior lives of their mothers. Complicating matters further, in the intervening years between when these authors would have had these childhood experiences and when they would have penned their autobiographies, Freudian psychoanalysis had seeped into British popular culture, radically reshaping ideas about motherhood and childhood.10 More conspicuously, a host of technological changes—perhaps most notably widespread access to radio and popular movies, but also increased access to communications and travel—transformed shared ideas about affect.11 In other words, the experiences themselves and the recounting of those experiences arguably took place within quite distinct emotional regimes. Indeed, several authors even put the word “love” in quotation marks, indicating their own perception of this changing emotional landscape. Griffin tackles the challenge of accessing the most intimate feelings of people no longer alive, evaluating maternal affect through mothers’ actions and utterances recounted in the memoirs. In her search for less mediated sources than prescriptive literature and popular culture, she sees these autobiographies as “the only place where working-class people themselves routinely articulated their values about family values.” It would be interesting to supplement these accounts with reports from reformers, social welfare workers, court cases, and police records.12 As Griffin traces the changing descriptions in her sources from those that link motherhood with household labor in the late nineteenth century to those that link it to emotional labor by the early twentieth century, the methodological challenges become more daunting. Arguably historians find it even more difficult than these women’s children did to determine where housework leaves off and emotional work begins. While mothers may have operated in an emotional regime that expressed affective attachment through reproductive labor, Griffin argues that for their children—the authors of these autobiographies—“cultural configurations of motherhood that emphasized material rather than emotional care helped to foster mothering styles in which maternal love was difficult for children to discern.” As a result, the young George Acorn, for example, longed for his mother to supplement her “quite, quite heroic” efforts to meet her children’s physical needs with “some spiritual sympathy, some ray of tender love.” All this endless housework was directed, to a significant degree, to an audience of neighbors, visitors, and passersby to establish a family’s respectability, which was important not only to the mother’s reputation but also to the life opportunities available to her children.13 Griffin gets into difficult territory in trying to measure maternal love, highlighting a persistent tension between her recognition that historians of emotions endeavor to “discuss historical difference without passing moral judgement” and her own evident revulsion at some of the parenting practices she encountered in her research. Her narrators—the adults who as children endured corporal punishment—can convey only their recollections and not the mothers’ motives. Mothers who resorted to physical punishments out of a desire to protect their children’s safety or respectability appear the same as those who lashed out due to impatience or intoxication. Despite her attention to the historical contingencies of emotions, Griffin draws the line at showing leniency toward such behavior. “To suggest that incidents such as these are ‘mundane’ and can be straightforwardly accommodated within the framework of loving parents,” she insists, “is a shameful misreading of the evidence.”14 One mother’s decision to tie a string around her son’s waist and leash him to the bed to prevent him from approaching the fire while she was away at work was, Griffin concludes, “clearly far from ideal as a parenting strategy.” And, unlike Ferraro’s guarded admiration for the ways that girls’ bodies were seen as “a marketable household good,” Griffin laments those instances where mothers and daughters turned to sex work for survival. While Ferraro explores the relationship between domestic and commercial relations, and Griffin considers the relationship between domestic and emotional relations, Rebecca Jinks investigates the connections between domesticity and state formation. Jinks deftly reads an array of visual and textual sources to examine missionaries’ efforts to restore young Armenian women and girls to Armenian communities after the displacements of the genocide. Many of these young women bore conspicuous facial tattoos that marked them as having been “absorbed” into families of non-Christians—a fact that many relief workers apparently found too distressing even to mention in their reports. In the minds of some, these markers of “defilement” by non-Christian men rendered the women irrecoverable; they focused their energies on abducted children, who might be more easily accepted back into Armenian families. Jinks situates these efforts amid the transition taking place during the interwar period, from missionary work to more “modern” humanitarian efforts, but highlights the ways in which relief workers on-site shaped this conceptualization of modernity. As she points out, the humanitarians’ emphasis on nation-building presaged present-day debates about which refugees might be allowed membership within a national community. While Jinks’s sources do not allow access to the perspectives of the Armenian women themselves, she borrows methodologies developed by the subaltern studies school and historians of empire to offer critical readings of sources produced by relief workers that “open up these contradictory histories of rescue, rejection, and sometimes inclusion” of tattooed women.15 In particular, she shows how photographic and documentary representations of these women “whose troublesome history was indelibly written on their faces” depicted them as permanently excluded from the Armenian community. Associated with criminals, savages, and slaves, the tattoos “delineated the rescued women as an outcast group,” quite literally branding them as unfit for membership in the reconstructed Armenian nation.16 Deemed sexually impure and culturally suspect, tattooed women seemed, to most relief workers, beyond redemption. Missionaries and relief workers portrayed these women in texts and images primarily for an audience of funders and supporters, and they were at pains to show that their efforts would yield a modern and productive Armenian nation. Adjudicating which women were “recuperable” for the nation, rather than simply eligible for rehabilitation as individuals, hinged on whether relief workers and missionaries could imagine them incorporated into what they understood as normative, modern, Christian domestic arrangements. Young Armenian women were “rescued” from Arab households and brought to rescue homes or the League of Nations Reception House, where they were trained in domestic arts as well as activities such as sewing and Armenian embroidery, by which they might support themselves should they be rehabilitated but not recuperated. Jinks recounts that missionaries sought to “replace ‘primitive’ housekeeping and medicine with ‘modern’ methods, in the hope that women would then exercise a ‘civilizing influence’ within the domestic sphere.” One missionary, Elizabeth Webb, lamented that some of the rescued girls could “probably never have homes of their own” and should be taught trades to support themselves but could not be recuperated for the Armenian nation-building project. Taken together, Ferraro’s, Griffin’s, and Jinks’s essays deepen our understanding not only of the imbrication of public and private realms but also of how particular domestic formations inform the historical specificities of commercial practices, nation-building, and class identification. Although the three cases here all center on European contexts of self-conscious modernization, the authors’ findings offer lessons for historians of other times and places.17 The official responses to sex work differed markedly, of course, in Mexico’s Jacobin post-revolutionary government and Venice’s Bestemmia.18 The imaginary of the selfless, nurturing mother serves a different purpose in social movements such as the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo or the political struggles in twentieth-century Chile than in the recollections of the British working class.19 For a quarter-century, historians have explored the ways in which anxieties over sexuality and racial mixture have shaped practices of colonialism and state formation.20 The articles here adopt different methodological approaches to famously difficult subjects of intimacy and affect and demonstrate how both normative imaginaries of domesticity and lived domestic arrangements interact with historical processes both inside and outside the home. Not all of these approaches will transfer readily to other contexts. Memoirs are rare in cultures dominated by orality rather than literacy; many tribunals allow only fleeting glimpses of popular actors, if that; and missionary expeditions do not always generate a rich archive. Still, the articles in this forum show that explorations of intimate experiences can alter histories of more public expressions of politics, economies, and societies. Jocelyn Olcott is Associate Professor of History and of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Duke University. She is the author of Revolutionary Women in Postrevolutionary Mexico (Duke University Press 2005) and International Women’s Year: The Greatest Consciousness-Raising Event in History (Oxford University Press, 2017) and co-editor, with Mary Kay Vaughan and Gabriela Cano, of Sex in Revolution: Gender, Politics, and Power in Modern Mexico (Duke University Press, 2006). She is currently working on a book manuscript, “The Revolution’s Revolutionary: Concha Michel and the Mexican Politics of Motherhood” (under contract with Duke University Press). Notes 1Historians have given substantial attention over the past several decades to the power dynamics that inform the production of archives, whether official or personal. Particularly relevant here are Natalie Zemon Davis, Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (Stanford, Calif., 1987); Bonnie G. Smith, The Gender of History: Men, Women, and Historical Practice (Cambridge, Mass., 1998); Carolyn Steedman, Dust: The Archive and Cultural History (New Brunswick, N.J., 2002); Antoinette Burton, Dwelling in the Archive: Women Writing House, Home, and History in Late Colonial India (New York, 2003); and Kathryn Burns, Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru (Durham, N.C., 2010). For a recent and pertinent review of these debates, see the editors’ introductions to a pair of special issues: Daniel Marshall, Kevin P. Murphy, and Zeb Tortorici, “Queering Archives: Historical Unravelings,” Radical History Review, no. 121 (Fall 2014): 1–11, and “Queering Archives: Intimate Tracings,” Radical History Review, no. 122 (May 2015): 1–10. 2For a concise summary of the public/private debates that dominated women’s history in the 1990s, see Joan B. Landes, “Further Thoughts on the Public/Private Distinction,” Journal of Women’s History 15, no. 2 (2003): 28–39, responding to a forum in the previous issue. For a more thoroughgoing discussion, see the essays in Joan W. Scott and Debra Keates, eds., Going Public: Feminism and the Shifting Boundaries of the Private Sphere (Urbana, Ill., 2004). These debates emerged partly in response to the impact of the 1989 translation of Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, Mass., 1989; original German ed. 1962). See, for example, Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,” Social Text, no. 25/26 (1990): 56–80. 3Labor historians, in particular, will surely notice a tension within Ferraro’s analytical framework. She cites as important influences both Joan W. Scott’s work on gender and discourse and Bryan D. Palmer’s Descent into Discourse: The Reification of Language and the Writing of Social History (Philadelphia, 1990), which was first and foremost an attack on Scott’s discursive analysis. Although readers will likely agree that the AHR does not need another rehash of these debates, this tension is not addressed at all in the text. 4As many historians have documented, the question of whether governments should regulate, ban, or ignore sex work has vexed secular and religious authorities in widely diverse contexts. See, for example, Joel Best, Controlling Vice: Regulating Brothel Prostitution in St. Paul, 1865–1883 (Columbus, Ohio, 1998); Katherine Elaine Bliss, Compromised Positions: Prostitution, Public Health, and Gender Politics in Revolutionary Mexico City (University Park, Pa., 2001); Philippa Levine, Prostitution, Race, and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire (New York, 2003); Thomas A. J. McGinn, Prostitution, Sexuality, and the Law in Ancient Rome (New York, 2003); Joyce Outshoorn, ed., The Politics of Prostitution: Women’s Movements, Democratic States and the Globalisation of Sex Commerce (Cambridge, 2004); Matthew Harvey Sommer, Sex, Law, and Society in Late Imperial China (Stanford, Calif., 2000). For an extensive review of earlier literature, see Timothy J. Gilfoyle, “Prostitutes in History: From Parables of Pornography to Metaphors of Modernity,” American Historical Review 104, no. 1 (February 1999): 117–141. 5The literature on sex work in port cities is vast. For a particularly apropos recent example, see Marion Pluskota, Prostitution and Social Control in Eighteenth-Century Ports (London, 2016). 6It is important to note here that Ferraro is not using the term “cultural economy” in the way that has anchored debates in urban studies and human geography as an index of the impact of “cultural” activities on economic well-being—although such an approach clearly would apply in early modern Venice. For broad reviews of this literature, see Allen J. Scott, The Cultural Economy of Cities: Essays on the Geography of Image-Producing Industries (London, 2000); Thomas A. Hutton, Cities and the Cultural Economy (New York, 2016). She refers instead to the ways in which cultural specificities inform practices such as commercialization and commodification. 7On “emotional regimes,” see William M. Reddy, The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions (Cambridge, 2001). See also Barbara Rosenwein, “Worrying about Emotions in History,” American Historical Review 107, no. 3 (June 2002): 821–845; Susan J. Matt and Peter N. Stearns, eds., Doing Emotions History (Champaign, Ill., 2013); Michael Roper, “Slipping out of View: Subjectivity and Emotion in Gender History,” History Workshop Journal, no. 59 (Spring 2005): 57–72. It is important to note that although Griffin addresses the field as a whole, there are important conceptual debates within her article, as Matt and Stearns map out in their opening chapters. 8Nora E. Jaffray, Reproduction and Its Discontents in Mexico: Childbirth and Contraception from 1750 to 1905 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2016), 212. 9Emma Griffin, Liberty’s Dawn: A People’s History of the Industrial Revolution (New Haven, Conn., 2013). For a particularly deft methodological exploration of autobiography as a historical source, see Daniel James, Doña María’s Story: Life History, Memory, and Political Identity (Durham, N.C., 2000). 10Dean Rapp, “The Early Discovery of Freud by the British General Educated Public, 1912–1919,” Social History of Medicine 3, no. 2 (1990): 217–243; Adrian Bingham, Family Newspapers? Sex, Private Life, and the British Popular Press, 1918–1978 (Oxford, 2009); Anne Karpf, “Constructing and Addressing the ‘Ordinary Devoted Mother,’” History Workshop Journal, no. 78 (Autumn 2014): 82–106. 11For a compelling example of how popular culture shaped affective relationships in working-class Mexico, see Mary Kay Vaughan, Portrait of a Young Painter: Pepe Zúñiga and Mexico City’s Rebel Generation (Durham, N.C., 2015). As Vaughan demonstrates, technological changes in communications media had a dramatic impact on how individuals understood affective norms. For an analysis of the relationship between popular culture and prevailing bourgeois conceptions of motherhood, see Rebecca Jo Plant, Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America (Chicago, 2010). 12See, for example, the types of sources cited in Harry Hendrick, Child Welfare: Historical Dimensions, Contemporary Debate (Bristol, 2003); Seth Koven, Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London (Princeton, N.J., 2006); Ellen Ross, Love and Toil: Motherhood in Outcast London, 1870–1918 (New York, 1993). Histories of working-class families and affect in contemporary contexts similarly demonstrate methodologies for using social workers’ accounts in a manner that does not simply replicate their perspective. See, for example, Susan Porter Benson, Household Accounts: Working-Class Family Economies in the Interwar United States (2007; repr., Ithaca, N.Y., 2015); and Ann S. Blum, Domestic Economies: Family, Work, and Welfare in Mexico City, 1884–1943 (Lincoln, Nebr., 2009). 13Beverley Skeggs, Formations of Class and Gender: Becoming Respectable (London, 1997). The connection between cleanliness and respectability is evident well beyond the Victorian British working class. See, for example, Phyllis Palmer, Domesticity and Dirt: Housewives and Domestic Servants in the United States, 1920–1945 (Philadelphia, 1989); Marie Eileen Francois, A Culture of Everyday Credit: Housekeeping, Pawnbroking, and Governance in Mexico City, 1750–1920 (Lincoln, Nebr., 2006). One of the most influential texts in this field, Mary Douglas’s Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London, 1966), draws precisely on the Freudian concepts in circulation during the period under consideration here (especially Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo: Resemblances between the Psychic Lives of Savages and Neurotics, trans. A. A. Brill [New York, 1918; original German ed. 1913]). 14For a more critical take on narratives of maternal violence, see Barbara Barnett, “Toward Authenticity: Using Feminist Theory to Construct Journalistic Narratives of Maternal Violence,” Feminist Media Studies 13, no. 3 (2013): 505–524. For a recent analysis of its cultural specificity, see Alessandro Castellini, Translating Maternal Violence: The Discursive Construction of Maternal Filicide in 1970s Japan (London, 2017). 15See, for example, Ranajit Guha, “The Prose of Counter-Insurgency,” in Guha, ed., Selected Subaltern Studies: Writings on South Asian History and Society, vol. 2 (New Delhi, 1983), 45–85; and Ann Laura Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton, N.J., 2010). 16For a helpful review of the ways gender historians have considered corporeal evidence, particularly following the publication of Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York, 1993), see Kathleen Canning, “The Body as Method? Reflections on the Place of the Body in Gender History,” Gender & History 11, no. 3 (1999): 499–513. 17The European cases must, of course, be seen as particular rather than representative. Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton, N.J., 2000). 18Bliss, Compromised Positions. 19Marguerite Guzman Bouvard, Revolutionizing Motherhood: The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Lanham, Md., 1994); Jadwiga E. Pieper Mooney, The Politics of Motherhood: Maternity and Women’s Rights in Twentieth-Century Chile (Pittsburgh, 2009). For a more broadly comparative study of maternalism in social movements, see Temma Kaplan, Crazy for Democracy: Women in Grassroots Movements (New York, 1997). 20The literature in this area is too large to cite here, but for a particularly astute early review essay, see Luise White, “Sex, Soap, and Colonial Studies,” Journal of British Studies 38, no. 4 (1999): 478–486. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical Association. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The American Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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