Mothers of Irish Archaeology?


On Tuesday, 15th February 2022 I will be presenting a short paper (5 minutes!) at an online round table hosted by the Austrian Archaeological Institute. The round table’s theme is “Motherhood in archaeology and matricentric feminism” and it is connected to the project “The value of mothers to society: responses to motherhood and child rearing practices in prehistoric Europe”, an ERC (European Research Council) funded project.

I will be talking about some of the early female pioneers (antiquarians and archaeologists) in Ireland. I was looking at the work of these women as a background to an oral history project about women and Irish archaeology. When the call for contributions came out for the round table I was really struck by the fact that none of the early pioneers in Ireland were mothers. What implications does this have for the historiography of our discipline?

This is a brief abstract for my talk:

Early female pioneers in archaeology helped to create the archaeological record that we study, revise and build on today. Historiographies of women’s contributions can help to illuminate how gender ideology has influenced knowledge formation (see Sorenson 1998). The early female pioneers of archaeology in Ireland include Louisa Beaufort (1781–1863), Margaret Stokes (1832–1900) and Helen Roe (1895–1988), all described as antiquarians. They were followed by Ellen Prendergast (1918–1999) who was described in her obituary as the ‘first woman archaeologist in Ireland’. None of these women married or had children yet they are the ‘mothers’ of our discipline. In this paper I will explore how feminist historiographies can be augmented by viewing the contributions of women through the additional lens of motherhood. These readings can add another dimension to our understanding of the epistemic foundations of our discipline.


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