Women and the Canon

‘Women and the Canon’
Christ Church, University of Oxford
22-23 January 2016

This conference seeks to problematize received notions of canonicity, and therefore of artistic and intellectual authority, by approaching them through their relationship to gender. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the canon as ‘the list of works considered to be permanently established as being of the highest quality’. We are seeking to hold an interdisciplinary debate in which ‘work’ includes all forms of artistic and intellectual endeavour. We invite proposals for 20-minute papers on any aspect of this topic. Submissions from postgraduate and early career researchers are warmly encouraged. Papers may address, but are in no way limited to, the following sub-topics:

  • Why and how were some women canonized rather than others? (e.g: Sappho, Christine de Pisan)
  • What was the relationship of their work with that of their male contemporaries?
  • The creation of an alternative canon: is there a ‘female canon’ (e.g: undergraduate electives on ‘Women Writers’)? And how does it interact with the ‘dominant’ canon?
  • Have some female creators or thinkers escaped our attention because they were not expressing themselves in an officially recognized medium? (e.g: was the Bayeux Tapestry woven by women?)
  • Is the canon created by men for men?
  • What are the institutions (educational, legal or other) that uphold the canon? To what degree are they inclusive/exclusive? (e.g: accessibility of fine arts schools to women historically)
  • How does the question of gender, canonicity and structures of inclusion and exclusion intersect with issues of race, nationality, class, disability, and/or sexuality and the canon? Which authors from demographics conventionally excluded from the canon (for instance, black women, colonized women, poor women, disabled women, queer women) have begun to feature in alternative canons, and why? (How) do these alternative canons articulate an emancipatory feminism?
  • Canons of femininity: is there an accepted definition of what is considered feminine or womanly?
  • The idea of negative femininity, as in the joining together of negative dialectics and feminism (e.g. work by Drucilla Cornell and Seyla Benhabib)
  • Women as audience, critics, editors or assistants to male thinkers or creators: what is the boundary between passivity and agency? (e.g: Simone de Beauvoir’s relationship with Sartre’s work; the new documentary film Written by Mrs Bach; art collectors the Cone sisters)

Confirmed keynote speakers:

Doctor Elena Lombardi, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford

Professor Suzanne Aspden, Faculty of Music, University of Oxford

Confirmed respondent:

Professor Ankhi Mukherjee, Faculty of English, University of Oxford

Please send an abstract of 250 words with a brief biography by 15th September to the following email address: womencanonconference@gmail.com.

The organisers

Adele Bardazzi, David Bowe, Natalya Din-Kariuki, Julia Hartley

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