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herstoria

HerStoria is a new quarterly magazine, launched in Liverpool this February.  Its byline is ‘history that puts women in their place’. Women’s role in history has sometimes been overlooked, though the same could also be said for other groups such as the working class and non-whites. Focussing on their stories helps us to understand the past as experienced by society at large, and not only through the narrow perspective of ruling elites.

The current edition features a female football fan on its cover, and includes both famous names like Sylvia Pankhurst and Jane Austen, as well as lesser-known figures like Jane Nassau Senior, a former opera singer and pre-Raphaelite model who became a leading social reformer.  Another article revealed the hostility experienced by early women doctors. There are detailed book and web reviews, event listings, and an illustrated ‘Suffrage tour’ of Huddersfield.

My favourite piece was ‘Harlots, Whores and Witches’, in which Deborah Lea examines the pattern of witchcraft accusations in early modern England. Steering clear of the ‘epidemic’ trials which were actually quite rare, Lea turns her attention to slander cases brought by women in the ecclesiastical courts. She relates the label of ‘witch’ to other tensions, including attacks on sexual propriety. It should be added, however, that many accused witches were elderly, impoverished widows whose constant begging annoyed their neighbours.

I also enjoyed Louise Hume’s profile of Caroline of Brunswick, the spirited wife of King George IV. As a resident of Brighton, where George once lived as Prince Regent, I was interested to learn more about the woman whose name has been given to many local streets and even a pub. It seems that she was more than a match for her feckless husband.

HerStoria’s tone is neither academic or too populist, but somewhere inbetween. It will be useful to students of history and feminism as a starting-point for research, and entertaining to more general readers, male and female, who can explore the personalities and happenings of our collective past. Individual copies and subscriptions can currently be obtained online, but I do hope it will soon be stocked in newsagents and bookshops as well.

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