Childhood in the memoirs of Russian female historians of the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries

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The present paper studies ego-documents of Russian female historians written in the second half of the 19th and the early 20th centuries, with a focus on the works of N.I. Gagen-Thorn, E.V. Gutnova, M.M. Levis, V.N. Kharuzina, S.V. Zhitomirskaya, E.N. Shchepkina, and N.D. Flittner. How do these authors, in their childhood descriptions, discuss their professional choices? By producing ego-documents, the female historians wanted to preserve their memory of childhood events in the form of a new historical source. In so doing they followed the principles that they also adhered to when wri- ting historical essays. At the same time their texts are very subjective: each reflects the respective researcher's personal experiences. Each text is unique, and there are few overlaps with the memoirs of other female historians of their time, or with those of younger colleagues. In many ways, the women were influenced by authors of the Russian memoirist tradition; they often adhered to self-censorship (even when there was no clear ideological pressure from society). As a result, the narrative about childhood turned into a narrative about the prerequisites for the self-identification of women as scientists. Memories became a form of self-representation, and this conditioned the selective nature of childhood narratives; later success in the profession was projected back onto childhood memories. The childhood narratives of Russian female historians differ from texts of their male colleagues: women preferred to describe their impressions with references to material artifacts and to everyday rituals, writing carefully about their emotional experiences. One of the most important subjects in these women’s memoirs and diaries was when they for the first time experienced the gender conflict in their lives: when they understood that their scholarly ambition runs against the common attitudes about gender attitudes that they had internalized in early childhood.

About the authors

Olga I. Sekenova

The Institute of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Author for correspondence.

PhD student

119334, Moscow, Leninsky Avenue, 32а


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