Prolific Roehampton academic unearths women’s lost voices and lives

  • Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Dr Suzannah Lipscomb has shed light on what life was like for ordinary women in early modern France.

Dr Lipscomb has unearthed the testimonies of, and stories about the lives of, ordinary women using consistory (church court) records from 1560 to 1615 from the Languedoc region of southern France.

As the illiteracy rate was so high, there are no diaries or letters and the history of ordinary women has largely been lost. Dr Lipscomb's work with these records reveals the behaviour, attitudes, thoughts, feelings, motivations, values and strategies of these women, and draws conclusions on how they understood their lives, how they talked and thought about events, and what they did when things went wrong.

Dr Lipscomb humanises the contents of the court records, and exposes how, in an intensely patriarchal culture, women were inadvertently empowered by a system that placed upholding religious values ahead of gender hierarchy.

Whilst some of these documents have been studied a handful of times before, Dr Lipscomb is the first to use them to explore the outlook and experiences of ordinary women in early modern Languedoc.

Dr Lipscomb says ‘It's important to learn lean about the lives of these ordinary women, and hear their voices. Ordinary women's voices must be searched for in vain in parish registers, notarial and judicial courts, and tax rolls, and such sources are too formulaic to allow much insight into the behaviour and mentalities of ordinary women. These records allow us to access the realities of society, family and culture’

Professor Donald MacRaild, Head of the Department of Humanities says ‘this research is important social history, uncovering the lives of a group of people previously unknown with rich stories to offer, contributing greatly to our understanding of society, and very much reflects Roehampton's inclusive ethos’.

To find out more, read Dr Lipscomb's feature article for the TLS (5 December 2017) 
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