Women and the History of International Thought


Centre member Katharina Rietzler introduces her new research project, Women and the History of International Thought, and provides details of postdoctoral and PhD opportunities attached to the project

Did few, if any, historical women think very deeply about international relations? If we believe textbooks, surveys and anthologies, women in the past seem to have had little to say about international affairs. Yet, historians of internationalism have known for some time that women cared deeply, and thought deeply, about international relations, whether as diplomats, political activists, international civil servants, NGO workers or scholars.

Merze Tate

Women were keen observers of the central dynamics of the first truly ‘global’ international order emerging in the nineteenth century. They were central to emerging liberal, socialist and pan-Africanist internationalist discourses, even if their substantial intellectual contributions have often been obscured. The use of the term ‘international thought’ itself can be traced to the publication of The Growth of International Thought (1929) by the Australian classicist Florence Melian Stawell. Women were among the first cohorts of scholars appointed to International Relations departments at universities and women wrote some of the first international relations survey texts for the new subject. The studied contrast between the presence of historical women and their absence in the relevant intellectual and disciplinary histories suggests that it is high time to set out what a systematic history of women’s international thought should look like.

This is what the four-year research project Women and the History of International Thought, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and and led by Patricia Owens, Katharina Rietzler, and Kimberley Hutchings, will do. Starting in July 2018, the project aims to systematically recover and evaluate the international thought of women both inside and outside academe during the early to mid-twentieth-century. We will locate academic women researching international relations in Anglo-American centres of IR; analyse the intellectual contributions of women thinker-practitioners in non-academic locations to challenge existing standards of inclusion; and examine the writings of already canonical women that have so far been marginalised in histories of international thought. Given the influence of European traditions on the largely Anglo-American discipline of International Relations and the simultaneous neglect of black intellectuals we include European and diaspora women such as Simone de Beauvoir, Anna Julia Cooper, Rosa Luxemburg, Bertha von Suttner, Eslanda Robeson, and Simone Weil.

Recovering and evaluating women’s international thought means taking on several challenges: researching a large number of subjects who often left little trace in the historical record, determining what constitutes international thought, and what constitutes ‘women’. Therefore, the project is collaborative, multidisciplinary and multi-methodological, bringing together expertise from History, IR, and feminist Political Theory.

Together we aim to create resources that will benefit future generations of scholars. These resources will include an anthology of women’s writing, an interdisciplinary edited volume, and an oral history archive. In 2021, we will curate a Public Exhibition of original documents and photographs, a video wall and audio recordings, gathered through the project and from the LSE Women’s Library collection.

We are currently looking for enthusiastic early career scholars to join our team at the University of Sussex, either as a four-year PhD or as a two-year postdoctoral researcher. For more information about the project, please contact Professor Patricia Owens or Dr Katharina Rietzler.