Posted on 03 March 2020
Professor Sluga will split her time between the Department of History and Civilization and the Robert Schuman Centre. Her work focuses on the intersecting challenges of economics, the environment, and Europe, bridging the gap between social scientists and historians.
The Australian-Slovenian historian discusses re-writing women into history, and research from the periphery.
Professor Glenda Sluga
The 'bad' girls in the footnotes
They say the devil is in the details. However, for historian Glenda Sluga, it’s women who are lurking in the details. Often relegated to the footnotes of history, women have long played a hidden role in the shaping of national politics and international relations. Professor Glenda Sluga is on a mission to set the record straight.
As she launches her new project on twentieth century economic thinking, she is determined to write women back into the history of economics and power. ‘The point is to explore the difference women made and the different perspectives they brought,’ she explains. Her work relies heavily on international archives, personal letters and oral histories. However, her most powerful tool is re-examining previously read archival and published material. There, hidden in plain sight, are some of the century’s most forgotten characters.
Despite not being considered as legitimate degree holders, in the 20th century organisations such as the International Labour Organization, which accompanied the League of Nations and the United Nations systems, employed women with backgrounds in economics.
Dismissed by their peers in the 20th century, they were later dismissed by male historians.
That is only one of Professor Sluga’s interests. Her work also tracks further back, to the missing role of women in the invention of international politics. Perhaps no character is more emblematic than turn of the 19th century aristocrat Madame Germaine de Staël, who Professor Sluga describes as being ‘regarded as one of the great powers of Europe, alongside Britain and Russia’. A prominent figure in the fight against Napoleon, Madame de Staël’s liberal agenda set out a clear path for post-Napoleonic cosmopolitan Europe of nations. Stigmatised for not being born to a noble family, she had less luck posthumously, as male historians ‘tended to ignore her and compartmentalise her as a bit of a whore’.
For Professor Sluga, recovering the reputation of women such as Madame de Staël means making ‘a really valuable contribution to how people think of their past’, showing how women were instrumental in building nation states and shaping international relations.
Professor Sluga’s interest in marginalised voices is not a casual one. Born in Australia, her parents fled Yugoslavia as refugees in the 1950s. When she returned to Europe, she brought along her parents’ ‘frozen in time’ Slovenian dialect, making her stand out when conducting research in Trieste. ‘People were nice,’ she says, but they kept saying: ‘Cosa ne capisci della storia? Sei Australiana!’ [What do you know about history? You’re Australian!]. However, coming from both the formerly colonised Australia and the oft-conquered Slovenia prompted a deeper reflection: ‘You are always a periphery actor and I think it is very clear that you do not accept the conventional view very easily, you see things that other people can’t see.’
Just like being a woman often means you see the women others cannot see.