Women and Museums, 1850–1914

Modernity and the Gendering of Knowledge

Author: Kate Hill

This book examines the roles and activities of women in British museums between 1850 and 1914. It shows women were active as employees, volunteers, donors, visitors, and patrons of museums, and examines the ways in which the growth of archaeology and anthropology in museums affected women, as well as their role in museums inspired by John Ruskin. It argues that to recover the extent of women’s agency in museums, we need to think of museums as distributed networks of people and objects; activities and objects outside as well as inside the museum institution worked to create knowledge and subjectivity. Such an approach reveals the rich new ways in which museums were developed by women, who brought new types of object such as social historical artefacts, and new ways of valuing and communicating those objects, as well as new concerns with community engagement and outreach. Yet the book also outlines the limits of women’s museum roles, showing how they were unable to have much influence over large, national museums, and colonised instead small, regional museums, especially those situated in slum areas. Nevertheless, it argues that women and museums between them formulated a distinctive arena for the understanding of modernity, in contrast to many other manifestations of modernity, and that museums and women helped to make each other modern.

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‘Engaging wide-ranging methodologies, the book offers a generous intellectual platform from which future studies might launch, addressing as it does the interrelationships between, for example, women and modernity, modernity and museums, women and dichotomies of public and private, and museums and dichotomies of public and private. This is a deeply engaging and a deeply rewarding book.'
Museum Worlds: Advances in Research
March 2020

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