The Production of Historical Feminisms, Part One: Historical Awareness and Political Activism

In the early 1970s, a slim pink book designated as the first issue in a series titled Frauen(raub)druck (Women’s (Bootleg) Print) became a best-seller in the burgeoning women’s movement in German-speaking countries. To categorise the influential publication is, however, a challenging task for more than one reason. Bearing two titles but no year of publication, the book lacks unambiguous and comprehensive bibliographic information.1 Also, the editors remained anonymous, and beyond a connection with the West Berlin Women’s Centre (Frauenzentrum Berlin), it is difficult to ascertain their place in the feminist milieus of the 1970s. But importantly, by linking the movement with two distinct historical and political contexts (early twentieth-century German research on gender roles in ancient societies and 1960s US-American radical feminism), the book raises questions about how to conceptualise historical awareness in 1970s feminism. To better understand the specific relationship between past, present and future the editors imagined, we have to go back to the critical feminist thinking on the production of historical feminisms that has developed since the 1990s.

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  1. For more information on the publication and its historical context, see Johanna Gehmacher, ‘Macht/Lust – Übersetzung und fragmentierte Traditionsbildung als Strategien zur Mobilisierung eines radikalen Feminismus’, in Angelika Schaser et al. (eds.), Erinnern, vergessen, umdeuten? Europäische Frauenbewegungen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt, 2019), 95–123. []

Britten’s Virtual Mystery

In 1964 the first of composer Benjamin Britten and writer William Plomer’s ‘Church Parables’—Curlew River—was premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival in St. Bartholomew’s Church in Orford. Britten had been working on the project off and on with his librettist Plomer following Britten’s encounter with Noh theatre during a visit to Japan in 1955. Though the initial intention was simply to set the famous Noh play Sumidagawa to music, it was decided in 1959 that, given that the work was to be premiered in St. Bartholomew’s, it should be ‘a Christian work’ and set in medieval England in the form of a mystery play.1

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  1. Letter to Plomer, 15 April 1959, quoted in: Mervyn Cooke, Britten and the Far East: Asian Influences in the Music of Benjamin Britten (Woodbridge, 1998), 142–143. ‘Christian’ underline in original. []