21 May 2013

“Fighting Women” during and after the Second World War in Asia and Europe. This is a call for papers for the above conference, to be held on June 12-13, 2014, at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in close cooperation with Kwansei Gakuin University (KGU), Japan.

Conference Aims:

Scarlett O’Hara, the main character in Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind, observes that “War was men’s business, not ladies,” a remark that the male characters consider “evidence of her femininity.” At least with regard to the Second World War, however, nothing can be farther from reality than the notion that war is unbecoming or unnatural to women. In addition to being victims and survivors, women have experienced war as resistance fighters, spies, sympathizers, collaborators, propagandists, paramedics, paramilitaries, soldiers, abetting wives, mothers and girlfriends, civil defense volunteers, and office and factory workers. If some were reluctant to get involved, others eagerly contributed their time and effort, often risking their lives, in support of war, believing that they were duty-bound or that it was in their interest to do so.

During the past decades, scholars have increasingly turned their attention to what women did during the Second World War and how their attitudes, scope of social and economic activity, and social status changed as a result. Concerned with writing women back into history, most studies tended to privilege those narratives in which the personal sacrifices of women played a central role. Preferred themes have been the heroic suffering and selflessness of women, who were generally depicted as passive victims of male violence rather than as purposive agents who tried not only to survive the war but to facilitate it too. Sometimes prioritizing their own families over the fate of their communities or nations, their motives were often denigrated or misunderstood, and many paid the price of shame and opprobrium once the war was over.

This conference seeks to go beyond a dichotomous “passive/pacifist” portrayal of women in the Second World War. We are interested in recovering the history of women who transgressed normative, peacetime gender boundaries by choosing to be masters of their own fate in abetting and perpetrating violence, in collaborating with or resisting aggression, or actively furthering or frustrating the war goals of their own side. We would like to focus on the difference perspective made: did women’s concerns about their own families and households come into conflict with state policies and strategies, and with what consequences? We are also interested in investigating social and cultural reactions to such “activist-fighting” women both during and after the war in art, literature, movies, comic strips, and the mass media. Finally, we aim to examine the actions and image of “strong,” “active,” and/or “violent” women in the various theaters of the Second World War, contrasting European, East Asian, and Southeast Asian cases for greater insights into the relations between gender, culture, and the Second World War.

Keynote Speaker:

We are pleased to announce that Professor Sonya Michel, Professor of History at the University of Maryland, College Park, USA, will deliver the keynote address.

Financial Assistance:

The conference organizers are in the process of applying for funding. When and if it becomes available, it will be allocated on the basis of need to all participants. We intend to defray as much as possible the airfare and accommodation of all paper presenters. However, since funding cannot be confirmed until very late in the process, abstracts are solicited on the understanding that prospective participants are committed to presenting their papers even in the absence of financial assistance from the conference organizer.


The conference coordinators are committed to publishing the conference papers as a refereed book and/or as a special issue in an international refereed journal. Abstracts are solicited on the assumption that the authors agree to participate in the publication projects undertaken by the conference coordinators. Full papers (7,000 words) are due May 15, 2014.

Abstract Submission and Inquiries:

The working language of the conference is English. Please submit a 300-word abstract and a 100-word biographical note to the conference coordinators (NIOD: Eveline Buchheim, Ralf Futselaar; KGU: Timothy Tsu,) at info@niod.knaw.nl and indicating ‘Fighting Women’ as subject matter by September 1, 2013. Authors will be notified by November 1, 2013. Please direct your inquiries to the coordinators at the same e-mail address.