Thirty-First Annual British Women Writers Conference

The organizers of the 2023 BWWC invite papers and panel proposals interpreting the theme of ‘Liberties’ in global and transatlantic British women’s writing from the long eighteenth century to the present. We ask participants to consider ‘liberties’ not only as a political abstraction but also as part of material and experiential subjectivity. Interpreted broadly, liberties include (but are not limited to) legal rights and freedoms, liberty of the person and bodily autonomy, liberties of creative and artistic expression, liberty of profession and vocation, freedom of movement both physical and social, and self-determination in the private and public spheres. How far did these liberties extend to women at different historical moments? Were liberties granted by the state and other institutions or taken despite them? How were they imagined and realized differently by women across categories of race, class, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, age, ability? We invite presenters to contextualize ‘liberties’ in terms of both its capacities and practices as well as its limits and exclusions.

British history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries poses conflicting and contradictory narratives of liberty. The abolition of the slave trade did not end indentured labor in the colonies. The expansion of the franchise through legislation did not extend the vote to women and the poor. Free trade and market liberalism increased Britain’s wealth but also aggravated socioeconomic inequalities. The rhetorics of emancipation at home contrasted with the realities of imperial rule abroad. How can we make sense of these partial and conditional liberties using literary history? Whose liberty is centered in literary, historical, and political narratives? How is liberty represented in women’s writing — as aspiration, transgression, fantasy, lack? We welcome scholarship that puts the construct of liberty under critical scrutiny and interrogates its relationship to ongoing and incomplete struggles for liberation. We also welcome presentations and panel proposals on pedagogy. How can we draw connections in our teaching between literary history and the liberationist movements of the present? Short talks on pedagogical methodology, classroom practices, use of digital and other media tools, or collective and community-facing projects are highly encouraged.

Possible topics for papers and panels include:

Political liberties

Women and nationhood, women’s civic participation, women and human rights, anti-slavery and abolition, empire and anti-colonialism, suffrage and women’s liberation

Social liberties

Women’s education, women’s work and the professions, women travelers and migration, women’s associations and societies, liberty and domesticity

Liberties of the body

Reproductive liberties, sex and sexuality, desire and consent, queer bodies, women’s physical cultures, women and disability

Liberties of expression

Gender and performance, women’s self-fashioning, women’s art and aesthetics, women and publicity, women and print culture, women’s intellectual histories

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