When Does the Genius do the Chores? Knowledge, Auto/Biography and Gender

Im/possible Careers. Gendered Perspectives on Scholarly Personae around 1900





scholarly persona, gender, domestic work, intellectuals


In German-speaking countries as elsewhere, women, especially from the middle classes, demanded entry into the male-dominated academic world with growing vehemence around 1900. This essay focuses on the constellations and dynamics that prompted the reframing of the social field of knowledge production. Taking the case of the women’s rights activist and writer Käthe Schirmacher, who publicly campaigned for women’s access to higher education, I explore the motivations, social transformations and socially available life plans behind her path. To this end, I draw on the concept of the scholarly persona as a mediating instance between individual aspirations and social relations and examine its potential for a gender-sensitive intellectual history. Here I argue that a differentiated analysis of knowledge production in the sciences and the humanities is only possible if non-institutional and, therefore, less obvious gender regimes are also addressed. The institutional and private arrangements that enable academics, intellectuals, and also artists to concentrate on their work play an essential part in their production of knowledge and artistic work. Therefore, the key argument of this paper is that questions about gender-specific (as well as class-specific) life plans in various creative social fields can only be examined in a differentiated way if this support is systematically included in research on the scholarly, intellectual, or artistic persona.

Author Biography

Johanna Gehmacher, University of Vienna

Prof. Johanna Gehmacher teaches history at the Institute for Contemporary History at the University of Vienna. During the academic year 2018/19 she was Gerda Henkel Guest Professor at the Department for International History at the London School of Economics. In winter 2021/22, she was a Fernand Braudel Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence. She has published widely in the fields of gender history and contemporary history as well as on biographical methods. Among her recent publications is a comprehensive biography of Käthe Schirmacher published together with Elisa Heinrich and Corinna Oesch. (http://www.boehlau-verlag.com/download/164990/978-3-205-20721-4_OpenAccess.pdf)





When Does the Genius do the Chores? Knowledge, Auto/Biography and Gender