This weekend I participated in the International Conference on ‘Women and the Canon’, celebrated at Christ Church College, University of Oxford. This event brought together scholars doing research into women and the canon in different periods and from a variety of perspectives, such as literature, theatre, art, music, philosophy, religion, and education.
In addition to twelve cross-disciplinary sessions, the conference included two keynote lectures by Elena Lombardi and Suzanne Aspden (Oxford), respectively; the presentation of the artwork ‘Society sees not: The obscurity of female artists in Modernism, the flourishing factors of femininity in contemporary art in Iran’ by Sara Masinaei, artist and researcher; a concert including the world premiere of a choral piece by Helen MacKinnon; and a round table. This consisted of the presentation of the project ‘Women’s literary culture and the medieval canon’ by Diane Watt (Surrey), in terms of methodologies, theoretical framework, and outputs; her introduction was followed by four cases in point presented by some of the members of the project. Among them, the contribution of Christiania Whitehead (Warwick), entitled ‘Female vernacular singing in the Hymns of St Godric’, was particularly interesting to me., and brought to mind Helen Deeming’s 2005 article on ‘The Songs of St Godric: A Neglected Context’, which examines the earliest songs in the English language to survive with musical notation. In her keynote lecture, entitled ‘Envoicing the canon’, musicologist Suzanne Aspden analysed descriptions of the (‘sweet’) voices of woman singers in the context of eighteenth-century opera in Britain, including texts by Charles Burney and John Hawkins among other examples. This lecture drew my attention to Aspden’s monograph The Rival Sirens: Performance and Identity on Handel’s Operatic Stage (Cambridge, 2013).
The topics chosen in order to structure the sessions—methodologies, anthologies, genres, race, and processes of inclusion and exclusion, among others—attracted together papers from different disciplines in each panel, which was quite stimulating. Music had a presence in several sessions, such as the one on women as collaborators, which included a paper by Kirstie Hewlett (Universitaät für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Vienna) on the marital collaboration between Heinrich and Jeanette Schenker. At the panel on uncanonical genres, Marian Wilson Kimber (Iowa) talked about the ‘musical reading’, a musical genre particularly related to American female composers in the first half of the twentieth century, while the session on the reconsideration of the canon included a paper by J.P.E. Harper-Scott (Royal Holloway, University of London) on ‘Identity, postmodernity, and the rehabilitation of the musical canon’. My own paper, ‘Behind the canon: Women and musical practices in early modern Spain’, related to my current research as part of the Marie Curie Project, was part of the session ‘Revisiting our methodologies’, together with the contribution of Nuppu Koivisto (Helsinki), who talked about historiographical issues concerning women as orchestral musicians in nineteenth-century Finland.
Thanks to Adele Bardazzi, David Bowe, Natalya Din-Kariuki, and Julia Caterina Hartley for their warm welcome and for organising such an inspiring conference.