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Sophie van den Elzen MA

PhD candidate


Area(s) of interest: Early Modern History, European History, Gender, Memory Studies

Cohort/Start PhD: 2016-2017

“La femme esclave:” Afterlives of Slavery and Abolitionism in Women’s Rights Movements in France, Germany and the Netherlands, 1832-1914

Utrecht University
Promotor(es): Prof. dr. Ann Rigney, Prof. dr. Berteke Waaldijk
Aanstelling: vanaf september 2016

The project examines the ways in which women’s rights discourses in Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth were informed by the cultural memory of the antislavery struggle. Over the course of the long nineteenth century, the model of slavery and abolition was routinely invoked to express injustices suffered by women and mobilize for change, starting in 1832 when Saint-Simonian women in Paris invoked the language of abolitionism to legitimate their campaign for women’s rights, inciting public indignation.
From the “slavery” of married women to the “white slavery” of prostitution, this project seeks to answer the question: How did the cultural memory of the abolitionist movement in the Anglo-American world, carried into Europe by narratives in text and images, inform and help shape the discourse of women’s rights movements in Germany, France and the Netherlands? At the empirical level, the project will provide a new understanding of the international entanglements of social movements over a longer period; theoretically, it will add to our understanding of the transnational dynamics of cultural memory and reception processes by examining the unexpected ‘afterlives’ of the particularly evocative cultural narrative of antislavery as it changes over time and moves across space; methodologically, it seeks to mobilize methods of literary research to better understand discourses of social activism, developing a model for mapping reception through processes of dissemination, translation, and appropriation across borders.