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Engaging women’s history through textiles : enhancing curricula with narratives of historical memory Wheeler, Eileen Margaret

Abstract

In this interpretive study I bring aspects of women's history into sharper focus by examining the close historical relationship with textiles that has featured in the lives of many women. By engaging the manifestations of this relationship, the creative work or the associated stories of selected women, I demonstrate that 'textile narratives' are historical sources that together with the study of objects provide more delineation of women's lives in a historical frame that can enhance the teaching of women's history. Many facets of history now more fully reflect the lives of women yet a fuller delineation is needed. Textiles are meaning-laden objects that are under-appreciated and under-utilized in the teaching of history. Literature is lacking that specifically addresses how textiles and the stories associated with them can be used as sources to augment the teaching of history, particularly women's history. Through a methodology that draws on the conceptual framework of memory study, examples, including one from suffrage history, demonstrate the analysis of textiles as historical sources. Three narratives that reflect women's negotiation of historical circumstance are examined in detail through their textiles, objects of memory and stories. Through a qualitative analysis of elements that emerge from the oral history and material culture of women's lives, agency is identified as a core attribute in their individual selection and articulation of memory in textiles. A n analysis of the narratives demonstrates the value of textiles as a means to shed light on marginalized histories. A theoretical grounding with reference to practice demonstrates how textiles are used as a means to communicate knowledge, history and identity and how these might be adapted to enrich curricula that strives to integrate women's history, gather new knowledge through narratives of memory and hear more women's voices. Through the appealing story form, these humanizing narratives and their analysis provide a model to gather details of women's lives for a more nuanced history. I suggest ways to integrate this knowledge into an inclusive democratic model of curricula through interdisciplinary approaches that can engage students and simultaneously centre more history on women ameliorating their marginalization.

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