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Routledge History Author of the Month March 2011: Karen Offen

Independent scholar Karen Offen has published numerous books and articles worldwide. She is the editor of Globalizing Feminisms 1789 -1945, described by June Purvis as 'a landmark book. Informative, stimulating and challenging, it reveals how the history of feminisms worldwide is integral to modernity.'

Historian Karen Offen (Ph.D., Stanford University) is affiliated with the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Stanford University, in California (USA). Her publishing interests span Western thought and politics with reference to family, gender, and the relative status of women in state formation; women’s history; comparative history; national, regional and global histories of feminisms; and the sexual politics of knowledge, particularly in the writing of history. Insofar as women constitute over half of humanity, and the relation of women and men lies at the core of sociopolitical organization in every human society, Karen considers the history of feminisms to be women’s political and intellectual history, intrinsic to our understanding of – and testing the development of – the theory and practice of freedom, justice, democracy, nation-building, and human rights.

Karen’s transnational perspective on the past accelerated when in 1987 she became a co-founder and secretary treasurer of the International Federation for Research in Women's History (IFRWH). From 1987 through 1990 she also represented the United States to the International Committee on the Historical Sciences (CISH/ICHS), as chair of the Committee on International Historical Activities for the American Historical Association (AHA); she now serves on the CISH/ICHS Bureau (Executive Board). Karen has also participated in public history projects. For eleven years she served on the Board of Directors for the now-virtual, pathbreaking International Museum of Women (IMOW, San Francisco), where she chaired the Exhibition and Programs Committee and spearheaded the development of concept and interpretative content with global, historical depth. Her women’s history “blog” “Clio Talks Back” is online at .

Noticing the need (in the 1970s) for teaching materials in continental European women’s history, Karen first began to collect and translate documents. She co-edited three interpretative documentary volumes: Victorian Women: A Documentary Account of Women's Lives in Nineteenth Century England, France, and the United States (1981), and (with Susan Groag Bell) the two volume Women, the Family, and Freedom: The Debate in Documents, 1750 1950 (1983). Her first monograph, Paul de Cassagnac and the Authoritarian Tradition in Nineteenth Century France (1991), helped her to learn how to read earlier histories of France against the grain – an essential skill for researching and writing women’s history and for developing a gendered analysis. She then co edited (with Ruth Roach Pierson and Jane Rendall) the 1991 IFRWH volume, Writing Women's History: International Perspectives, which includes contributions from five continents. Karen’s latest monograph is European Feminisms, 1700 1950: A Political History (2000), which encompasses over twenty countries.

Karen’s association with Routledge began with her contribution to the landmark collection, Maternity & Gender Policies: Women and the Rise of the European Welfare States 1880s-1950s, edited by colleagues Gisela Bock & Pat Thane (1991). Globalizing Feminisms 1789-1945 (in the series Rewriting History, ed. Jack Censer, Routledge, 2010) is the culmination of Karen’s commitment to craft a cohesive collection of path-breaking scholarly essays that provides a teachable comparative history of feminisms for a period that can no longer be summed up as “first wave.” The landmark essays included in this book are clustered around four important themes – “Opening Out National Histories of Feminisms”; “Rethinking Feminist Action in Religious and Denominational Contexts”; “Birthing International Feminist Initiatives in an Age of Nationalisms and Imperialisms” ; and “Reconceptualizing Historical Knowledge through Feminist Historical Perspectives” – forming an interpretative whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Karen argues that “The chronology alone is worth the price of the book.”

Globalizing Feminisms 1789 -1945 benefits from the contributions of internationally renowned and pioneering scholars; Nancy Hewitt; Anne Summers; Sandra Stanley Holton; Barbara Molony; Florence Rochefort; Inger Hammar; Padma Anagol; Patricia Grimshaw; Jacqueline R. DeVries; Leila J. Rupp; Susan Zimmerman; Ellen L. Fleischmann; Francesca Miller; Ellen Carol DuBois; Angela Woollacott; Ann Taylor Allen; Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild; Louise Edwards; Marilyn J. Boxer; Karen Offen.

Karen has presented invited lectures and keynote addresses throughout Europe, North America, Latin America, and Australasia. Widely published in scholarly reviews in many languages (including French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portguese, Serbo-Croatian, Russian, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Japanese), her recent articles address issues in the comparative histories of feminisms. Her in-depth review-essays tracing the historiography of French women’s history and assessing European women’s history textbooks have appeared in French Historical Studies (1990, 2003) and the Journal of Women’s History (2010). A one-time Fulbright scholar in France, she has also held research fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). In 2004 her alma mater, the University of Idaho, awarded her an honorary doctorate in humane letters. She is currently completing a major study of the “woman question” debates in France, 16th-20th centuries. For additional information, see her website

Karen has enjoyed what she considers the best of all possible teaching opportunities, providing select groups of graduate students and college teachers with information and materials they want to incorporate in their teaching and research but don’t have time to develop on their own. At Stanford University she has directed four interdisciplinary NEH Summer Seminars for College Teachers on the “Woman Question,” (organized around the clusters of original historical texts she and her colleagues have collected and translated over the years), and in 2002 she co-directed a fifth NEH Seminar on “Motherhood and the Nation-State.”. Karen has also taught master classes at the Central European University in Budapest and at the University of Konstanz.

A note from the author:

“I have derived immense pleasure from editing interpretative collections such as Globalizing Feminisms, 1789-1945 as well as from assembling and translating documents from the extraordinary debates on the woman question in Europe The freedom I have enjoyed from the constraints of academic promotion and tenure committee requirements has freed me to engage in extremely ambitious historical projects that fill a need, both for students and professors, and for the general public, especially today’s young people. In the course of my work, the women’s history colleagues I have met all over the world have become friends and collaborators; without their help I could never have succeeded in undertaking such daunting comparative and global projects.”

In her Introduction to Globalizing Feminisms, 1789-1945, Karen writes: “This collection is intended to assist not only in stimulating further inquiry but also to “de-block” memory. For in fact, the knowledge of feminism’s history during its period of globalizing is a precious legacy to younger generations – especially to today’s young people who presume to take women’s emancipation entirely for granted and resist the label ‘feminist’ – until they encounter obstacles that block their paths to self-realization. ‘Amazing!’ they will say, as many of us once said, ‘Why didn’t I learn about that in school?’ This question is one we should all be asking, and insisting on answers.”

The importance of Globalizing Feminisms, 1789-1945 has been underscored by Kathryn Kish Sklar, professor of history at SUNY-Binghamton and editor of the vast online project, Women and Social Movements International: “This book is itself an historic turning point. It marks the maturity of women’s history as a field of study internationally and it opens up future research agendas in the global history of feminisms. This book will be cherished and it will change the way we do women’s history.”

Related Products

  1. Globalizing Feminisms, 1789- 1945

    Edited by Karen Offen

    Series: Rewriting Histories

    This definitive Reader presents a coherent, comprehensive, comparative, and much-needed collective history of women’s activism throughout the world. Including key pieces on the history of feminism from an international group of scholars, the book charts feminists’ attempts to restore a balance...

    Published December 10th 2009 by Routledge