Mariam Zarif is a doctoral candidate in English, nineteenth-century Literature, and Journalism at King’s College London. Her work focuses on New Woman fiction by male writers and the intersections between gender, sexuality and authorial disguise in the fin-di-siècle. She is also the Chief Editor of The Still Point Journal, which is a literary journal for Arts and Humanities researchers in London.
“The stimulating one-day conference, hosted at the Senate House Library marked the end of Punch’s 175th anniversary year. Centering on the theme of gender, sexuality, and journalism in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, this conference explored the representations of women in Punch and its female contributors. Incorporating two panels, two keynotes and a roundtable discussion, provided a wide experience of scholarship and reflected diversity in disciplines. The program began with an archive session at the Durning-Lawrence Library room, in which various copies of the magazines were set out for the conference attendees. This handling session was an opportunity to closely examine Punch and its cartoons on 19th and 20th century political and social history. The interdisciplinary nature of Victorian studies and journalism brought together scholars and researchers from different fields.
The panellists provided an academic and researched-focused insightful perspective around the conference theme. These papers constructed an intriguing narrative about the representations of women and the developing concepts of femininity and sexuality, from the political woman to the ‘Girl of the Period’. Likewise, the keynote speakers; Dr Rebecca Mitchell and Professor Mark Llewellyn gave thought-provoking papers around the idea of Punch’s depiction of women’s clothing and evolving fashions, and the context of gender politics in Punch. Throughout the day it was observed that despite the misogyny typified by Punch, the magazine’s cartoons provided an insight into the gender-political debate.
Developing the conference’s themes further, including the changing views of femininity, the contributions of women in journalism in the nineteenth century, the debates around women’s sexuality and challenges, the roundtable session explored a number of interesting questions and suggested that more attention could be paid to the contributions of female journalists in Punch. Professor Laurel Brake led the discussion on interdisciplinarity as a value source of research depth. She focused most especially on women contributors and how they fitted within the magazine and Punch’s brotherhood. A lively exchange of ideas followed in the wine reception, which was hosted by Gale Cengage. The online archive of Punch—Punch Historical Archive 1841–1992— is available via Gale Cengage. It is a rich source for researching and is available for scholars, students and general researchers.
What the conference illustrated, therefore, was the variety of approaches that the speakers introduced and the multitude of ways in which Punch’s representation of women further elicits a revision of nineteenth-century women journalists. Further, it highlighted the difficulties of reclaiming a bibliographical study of Punch’s female contributors. The conference has not only contributed to the ongoing studies on popular print culture, but has also initiated a thought-provoking model for further research.
Reflecting after the conference, the exchange of ideas has opened a space for consideration of women and Punch, a topic that is under-researched. The varied approaches by the panellists have certainly provoked an interest in more research around this topic. We still have work to do, of course: we need to record and catalogue the contributions of women in the magazines like Punch, and bring together the nineteenth and early twentieth-century women journalists. Organising this conference was remarkable and a fruitful experience, and I feel that this was an opportunity to initiate and inspire research and interrogation of women journalists and using Punch as case study.”
Here’s what our fantastic attendees thought of the event:
— Punch Cartoon Books (@PunchBooks) November 3, 2017
— Flore (@FemLitCake) November 2, 2017