Report – ‘Reading the Colonial Girl’

Report [October 2016] – ‘Reading the Colonial Girl: The Transnational Feminine Ideal in Canadian, Australian and New Zealand Print Culture, 1840-1940’


Presented by Dr Michelle Smith (Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellow, Deakin University)


The ‘Reading the Colonial Girl’ seminar was hosted jointly by the Feminist Research Network and the Colonial and Settler Studies Network and was well-attended by staff from Schools across the Faculty.


After leading a fabulous workshop on pitching feminism for the media without compromising academic or feminist integrity, Michelle Smith resorted to a more traditional form of disseminating academic research when she presented a fascinating paper that was drawn from her ARC Postdoctoral Fellowship – ‘From Colonial to Modern: Transnational Girlhood in Australian, Canadian and New Zealand Print Cultures, 1840-1940’ – that she undertook with Prof. Clare Bradford and Dr Kristine Moruzi.


Michelle argued that the most insightful way to understand what kind of beliefs a culture holds about its women is to examine the expectations and ideals it professes for the next generation. Girls, she asserted, are a locus for a culture’s hopes and fears for the future. There is significant literature on constructing the 19th century English girl. However, as Michelle outlined, there is not a lot of scholarship existing on how this model of femininity was circulated to girl readers around the British Empire.


She used the talk to conclude that a transnational girl subject emerged from white settler colonies like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand that demonstrated their imperial connections to England, while also redefining them. In effect, an imagined community’ of empire girlhood emerged from girls’ print culture.


However, Michelle also used the seminar to look at the ways in which race complicated literary attempts to fashion transnational and national femininities by analysing Aboriginal, Maori, and First Nations femininities that were often problematically incorporated into girls’ print culture. She explored how indigenous femininities were categorised differently from those of non-indigenous girls in fiction.


In what was a jam-packed one day visit to UOW, Michelle managed to provide fascinating insights into feminist research via traditional and non-traditional platforms!


Sharon Crozier-De Rosa


NB: Dr Michelle Smith is an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellow, Deakin University (‘Beautiful Girls: Consumer Culture in British Literature and Magazines, 1850-1914’). In 2013, she completed an ARC Postdoctoral Fellowship (‘From Colonial to Modern: Transnational Girlhood in Australian, Canadian and New Zealand Print Cultures, 1840-1940’ with Prof. Clare Bradford and Dr Kristine Moruzi). She has published: Empire in British Girls’ Literature and Culture: Imperial Girls, 1880-1915 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) (winner of 2012 European Society for the Study of English’s Book Award); with Kristine Moruzi, she is editor of Colonial Girlhood in Literature, Culture and History, 1840-1950 (2014) and a six-volume anthology of girls’ school stories for Routledge’s ‘History of Feminism’ series, Girls’ School Stories, 1749-1929 (2013). She has written articles about topics including feminism, literature and popular culture for The Age, Washington Post, New Statesman, The Drum, and and is the literature columnist for The Conversation. She maintains a blog at:

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