The Berkshire Conference of Women Historians comes to Canada for the first time from May 22-25, 2014.
Spend a few minutes talking with Professor Franca Iacovetta and it’s easy to hear the excitement brewing for the 2014 Berkshire Conference of Women Historians taking place in Toronto this May.
It’s the first time this prestigious conference has been held outside the United States, providing Canadians with an exceptional opportunity to meet with leading women’s history scholars from around the world.
“I hope people go to the preliminary program and actually just type in your favorite historian and see if she shows up because chances are she will be there,” Iacovetta excitedly explains.
The Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, founded in 1930, began as a retreat for women historians into the Berkshire Mountains in New England. The group steadily grew and in 1973 a larger “Big Berks” conference was officially launched, the same one that is coming to Toronto this year.
The larger conference was a product of the 1960s and 1970s and focused on the actual history of women. Iacovetta describes how the original founder’s goal was to bring the topic “right to the academy to study, do research and publish about women’s history. . . For them it was really important to not simply meet as a group of historians who happened to be women, but also to work on establishing and expanding this new field of women’s history.”
The theme for the 2014 conference is Histories on the Edge and has a distinct international focus, bringing together historians from around the world. Workshops and sessions have been carefully constructed to create global conversations with multiple perspectives from around the world.
The organizing committee also brought a particularly Canadian perspective to women’s history. “It was an opportunity for Canadians to shape this Berks in a way they have never done before,” explains Iacovetta, “and for us to choose themes that reflected what we were really interested in and what we thought really resonated with Canadians.”
“This is a way of saying Canadian scholars, including those who study the history of Canada like myself, also have global networks and research that resonates with others.”
Likewise it was extremely important for Iacovetta that the conference showcased not only Toronto and the exceptional cultural resources within the city like the Textile Museum of Canada, the Gardener Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum, but also research being done across Canada.
Unlike many academic conferences, there is also a strong elementary and high school teaching component. A full day for teachers has been organized on to help teachers learn both about women’s history and the history of women in education.
“It’s going to be a mix of historical research being done on teachers and schooling, but also very pedagogy oriented programming, and addressing broader issues about teaching women’s history, teaching gender history, teaching sexuality history in the classroom.”
New approaches to teaching women’s history will be explored, including a project from Bishop Strachan School in Toronto that looks at the history of nurses during wartime.
“They have this fantastic archive and they have all these records, and this was for them this was such a meaningful way of teaching about wars, literally through he graduates of their school.”
“The experience of the Berks stays with you,” recalls Iacovetta, “in a personal way the Berks has been really meaningful to me in my career and I think it can be to lots of other people.”
For the full conference program visit berks2014.com.