Sensory Experience and ‘Modern Women’ in Paris and St Petersburg, 1900-1913
Supervisors: Professor Julia Mannherz and Professor Christina de Bellaigue
My doctoral research explores the sensory world of femininity in the early twentieth century, through the experiences and perceptions of women living in Paris and St Petersburg between 1900 and 1913. The recent sensory turn in historical scholarship has seldom addressed gender as a determinant of sensory experience. I contend that, like many other aspects of modernity, sensory experience was gendered: although contemporaries were equipped with the same ‘perceptive apparatus’ and occupied shared public spaces, a woman’s sensory world still differed markedly from that of a man, not least because her means of interpreting and assigning meaning to her experience was framed by expectations of femininity.
My thesis considers the role of gender in shaping women’s sensory experience, encompassing diverse examples of consumer culture, technological innovation, artistic encounters, and the management of women’s bodies to illustrate the ways in which sensation inflected their lives. I am interested in how they felt the first time they danced without a corset, their reaction to using an electric hairdryer, which perfumes or scents they considered most appropriate or alluring for their person, and whether they preferred live opera to a gramophone recording. The underlying principle of my research is that women’s sensory experience is important and worthy of historical attention. At a time when the ‘Women Question’ was at the forefront of public debates across Europe, approaching the early twentieth century through the lens of sensory history opens up new ways to explore questions of subjectivity, identity, and embodied experience.
More broadly, my research interests include women’s history; the sensory and spatial turns; histories of the body, sexuality, and emotions; material culture; music and dance. I hold a BA/BMus conjoint degree in History and Classical Performance, a BA(Hons) in History, and an MA in History, all from the University of Auckland in Aotearoa New Zealand. Following the completion of my Master’s thesis, I spent three months as a graduate associate at the European University at St Petersburg, Russia. My research at Oxford is supported by a Clarendon Fund Scholarship, in partnership with a Women in the Humanities Award.