International Women’s Day: Spotlight

From the sweeping study of gender in antiquity to the biographies of individual women, we’ve got hundreds of books that we could showcase for International Women’s Day. Instead, we’ve hand-picked a selection that are interesting, informative, and educational in different ways, and which we hope might get you thinking.



A Medieval Woman’s Companion

By Susan Signe Morrison
Oxbow Books | £16.95

9781785700798“What have a deaf nun, the mother of the first baby born to Europeans in North America, and a condemned heretic to do with one another?”

That’s the question posed by this book, which focuses on women from Western Europe between c. 300 and 1500 CE. Short biographies of twenty women explore the experiences, expectations, and their legacies.

“In this rich, information-filled book, Susan Signe Morrison gives women of the Middle Ages their due as explorers, creators, crusaders, sovereigns, physicians, innovators, lovers, matriarchs, poets, troubadours, reformers, and, yes, feminists.” Story Circle Reviews

Removing these women from the invisibility which history and the bias of records has placed them in, A Medieval Woman’s Companion is a fascinating look into some of the early trailblazing women in European history.


Women in Mycenaean Greece

By Barbara A. Olsen
Routledge | £90

9780415725156Studies of women in history can often be difficult. Sources are limited or under-utilised, and more often than not, the study of women becomes a study of a hidden subset of society. But even when the most popular or most visible sources don’t focus on them, women have always been present.

This study of women in Mycenaean Greece examines all the mentions of women and their roles and tasks on the Linear B tablets dating from the 14th and 13th centuries BCE to explore gendered economies, roles and politics in Mycenaean Greece – and manages to extend the framework for the study of women in Greece backward by several hundred years.

Are women in history and archaeology as invisible as we’ve always supposed – or do we just need to look differently?

“This book addresses a great need in the study of women in antiquity.” The Classical Review





Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court: From Brandeis to Kagan

By David G. Dalan
Brandeis University Press | £34.00 | Available to pre-order

9781611682380This might not seem like a natural choice for International Women’s Day, given that of the eight justices of the Supreme Court discussed here, only two are women. But these two women – Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan – are part of a very small selection of women who have served as Supreme Court justices, and who have had a huge influence on American law and politics.

Their backgrounds, lives and experiences are explored in this book, as well as their experiences of antisemitism within the legal system: a reminder that in becoming two of the mere four women who have served as justices of the Supreme Court, they have overcome more than just sexism.

“David Dalin’s Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court is that all-too-rare history that serves up lessons from the past that speak to our moment in time.” Pamela S. Nadell, president of the Association for Jewish Studies

A book with startling relevance to America’s recent political scene, the engaging, throughful, and highly readable exploration of these women’s lives and careers are well-worth a read.


Transgender Voices

By Lori B. Girshick, with foreword from Jamison Green
UPNE | £24.00

158465645XWhat does it mean to be a woman?

Media, and indeed society in general, has tended towards a narrow perspective, and to strongly police the definition of womanhood. In this collection of 150 stories in-depth interviews with transpeople, new perspectives of sex, gender, sexuality and identity are presented in a human, organic way.

“The book’s greatest strength … lies in its extensive quoting of the in-depth interviews with 150 sex- and gender-variant people that formed the basis of Girshick’s research. Their candid and sometimes heart-rending accounts reveal diverse experiences of self-definition and coming out, of evolving relationships and sexual orientations, and of all-too-frequent encounters with discrimination and violence. These stories, and Girshick’s insightful analysis, clearly show how normal and natural gender variance is – and how much harm is caused by cultural assumptions that it is not. Transgender Voices points a way forward toward a more inclusive and liberated world for us all.” Feminist Review





Prudence Crandall’s Legacy: The Fight for Equality in the 1830s, Dred Scott, and Brown v. Board of Education

By Donald E. Williams
Wesleyan University Press | £26.00

9780819576460Prudence Crandall was a schoolteacher raised as a Quaker, and who admitted Sarah Harris, a black woman, as a student to her classroom – causing huge amounts of controversy and backlash, and leading to the first civil rights case in U.S. history.

This fascinating biography is an exploration of the life and legacy of a woman who fought for integration, for equality, and for equal rights, and whose actions had a significant and lasting impact. A dramatic read which touches not only on the history of a remarkable woman, but also illustrates her determination to fight on behalf of other women less privileged than herself.

“In fine fashion, Williams captures Prudence Crandall’s depth of conviction, her humility, and the legacy of freedom for everyone.” Connecticut History Review


Malevolent Muse: The Life of Alma Mahler

By Oliver Hilmes and translated by Donald Arthur
Northeastern University Press | £38.00

9781555537890Alma Mahler was a Viennese-born composer and socialite, mistress to a long succession of brilliant men and wife of three of the best known: composer Gustav Mahler, architect Walter Gropius and writer Franz Werfel.

Alma Mahler’s life has often been reduced to the role of mistress, wife, and the subject of a great deal of gossip – both admiring and otherwise. In Malevolent Muse, a treasure trove of previously unpublished material, much of it in Alma Mahler’s own words, has been used to write a biography which moves beyond her relationships.

“Those seeking gossip will not be disappointed. But neither will those seeking to better understand the much-maligned subject and her relationships with the men in her life…” Choice



Is there a book on women in contemporary history, the ancient world, or biography which you think everyone should be reading this International Women’s Day? Use the comment box below to let us know on facebook, or tweet us your suggestions to @OxbowBooks!