Undergraduate workshops: how to include gender, identity, subjectivity and sexuality in essays

In Michaelmas 2020, the four CGIS undergraduate representatives (Isabel Fleming, Sophie Lewis, Anna Morris, and Sofía Sanabria De Felipe) led two workshops to share ideas on how to include gender, identity, subjectivity, and sexuality in undergraduate essays. Here Sofía Sanabria De Felipe summarises the CGIS undergraduate reps' top tips.

Workshop I: Key Points to Take Away!

  1. Let’s go beyond “week on women”: including gender, identity and subjectivity in our tutorial essays should not be limited to the single week on women some general history courses offer. They should be treated as critical categories of analysis, just like politics, economics and social factors are.
  2. Advantages of including gender in your essays: As a critical category of analysis, thinking about gender in relation to other underlining themes the topic may be concerned with enables a more complex and nuanced argument to be developed. It thus makes your answers more interesting to read, as well as sophisticated and representative of the period’s experience
  3. Primary Sources: Don’t be afraid to chase up those primary sources referenced in your reading lists and secondary sources – they can be loads of fun and give you a nice lead way into trying out your own ways of interpreting sources with gender, identity and subjectivity in mind.
  4. Secondary Sources: Foucault, Laqueur, Butler and Scott have theories about the relationship between gender, sex and society in history. An awareness of what these theories are as well as the benefits and limitations of using them, can be useful when doing some secondary reading that focuses on gender. This is mainly due to the fact that historians may frame their arguments and analysis with these theories in mind. You may also find them useful for your own analysis! There are many videos, crash courses and summaries out there of them – don’t be afraid to check them out!
  5. Practice practice practice: You’re not alone in feeling daunted by this task of including gender, identity and subjectivity in your works. You’ll find most tutors are too. But it is important to give it a shot and keep working on it! The more we do this, the more second nature it will become


Workshop II: Primary Sources and what to do with them

Points to take away:

  1. From data sets, to newsreels, through letters and testimonies. There are so many sources out there. Some forms may be better suited to your projects than others, but it’s good to recognise the variety out there, and the advantages the internet and digital records give us
  2. Keep searching for them: Often, assumptions are made in academic texts about gender, subjectivity and identity as a result of there being a “lack of” sources. However, when scrutinized further, through different interpretative lenses and perseverance, the “lack of sources” situation is revised. This presents us with interesting arguments about the period in question, as well as historiographical methods
  3. Intersectionality: An awareness of how different identities interact with each other within people’s subjectivity and experience, is crucial in the analysis of any source and subsequent development of an argument. Being aware of your own historical positionality is highly important when thinking about your interpretative frameworks and methods. It is far from a one-size-fits-all model, and each source will require a different set of questions to be asked regarding the intersection of identities – nonetheless, it is of the outmost importance that we keep practicing an increased awareness of it, and include it in our arguments as best we can
  4. Dialogue: Tackling primary sources can often feel like a daunting task. Time, word limits, long reading lists… they all add pressure to what should be a fun, stimulating process! Try sitting down and calmly have a “conversation” with your sources; what sort of things are you looking for in them? What do they have to share?
  5. Reactions to sources: Some sources may resonate with us on emotional, sensitive levels. Embrace those emotions as you interpret them! They will present you with interesting angles, ideas, and a thrilling experience. Some sources may look very “scientific” or “mathematical” and scare our humanities brains. Try not to flip through the graphs and tables and give them a shot!! We all know how malleable statistics can be anyway – they may turn out to be just the source you were looking for, and an incredibly valuable piece of evidence!