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Claire Jones, editor of HerStoria

HerStoria magazine started up in 2009 and soon got impressive reviews, including being named to the top ten list of new magazines from Library Journal.  “History that puts woman in her place” is the tagline for HerStoria, which provides a feminine slant on history and offers a wide variety of articles and features dealing with women’s history from ancient times to the present.

We interviewed HerStoria’s editor, Dr. Claire Jones, by email:

1. You began publishing Herstoria in 2009. Can you tell us about how the process of developing this magazine from the idea stage to getting your first issue published?

Before launching HerStoria I had been researching and teaching women’s and gender history (I gained my doctorate in this subject in 2005) and co-editing an academic journal. However I was increasingly frustrated that all the exciting research going on in this area was rarely making its way beyond academia into popular history magazines (or indeed into the classroom). The idea was, simply, that there must be room for a publication that provided a different kind of history – women’s history. And so HerStoria was born.

It was a steep learning curve getting the magazine established! Even the name took a while to decide upon, and for a few months we thought we were about to launch ‘Women and History’; after that we investigated styles of magazine in an attempt to come up with a really attractive, distinctive design. This was a long process and we did not really find our distinctive style until issue 3.

The website, www.herstoria.com, was another vital part of the launch process. This is not only our shop window for subscribers, but it also contains a ‘Discover’ web with essays on issues and biographies which is building up into an authoritative, mini-encyclopaedia of women’s history. All entries are written by university academics or published history authors.

Most important, of course, were the articles to appear in our launch issue. I was lucky to know many academics researching women’s history and was shameless in asking them to write for me. Our first issue included a mix of articles including the history of women pirates and women’s love lives in ancient Greece, to the significance of girls’ school stories and Bess of Hardwick, plus book reviews, interviews, listings and so on.

We launched HerStoria just as the financial crisis hit – so getting funding was impossible. We had to use savings and any income we could find to get going, and everyone on the magazine (except contributors) are working for free, fired by a passion to get women’s history to a wider audience. There has been little money for marketing or advertising alas, so we are so pleased that HerStoria is growing via favourable reviews and word of mouth. In April we learned that Library Journal in the States included us in their ‘best ten magazines of 2009’.

2. Your website notes that “HerStoria magazine aims to be the place to go for a feminine slant on history.” Can you tell us why you think there is a need for a feminine perspective on history and how this factors in the kind of authors and articles you include?

As mentioned, women’s history only occasionally makes it into mainstream magazines, which is why HerStoria is needed. Of course, History Today, the BBC History Magazine and other journals (including the growing band of family history magazines) are wonderful publications producing authoritative history. However, the former at least tend to view history from mostly the traditional ‘male’ standpoint; HerStoria provides a complement to this and is the only (as far as we know) specialist women’s history magazine for a popular audience.

Why does history need a feminine slant? Well, history is an amazingly varied subject, but this often does not get across (which may be one of the reasons why it is losing popularity in schools). If there is ‘traditional’ history I guess it is political, military and economic history, and the history of empire, familiar from the classroom. This has typically been taught from a male viewpoint, with the addition of ‘special women’ such as Queens, Boudica or the suffragettes. Yet look at history from the women’s view and, like a kaleidoscope, everything changes. Women’s history disorganises the given historical canon, so much so that even accepted historical periods and categories can come into question. Pioneering women’s historian Joan Kelly once famously asked ‘Did women have a renaissance?’ Arguably, no …. and the history of democracy would look very different if told from the perspective of women. This is not to challenge the validity of ‘traditional’ history, just to point out how partial it is. To present history from just the women’s angle would be as skewed as presenting it only from the vantage point of men.

The articles and authors featured in HerStoria are chosen to convey the exciting breadth of women’s history. Although we include biographic articles, our aim is to look at context and issues and to relate to the wider situation and experiences of women at any particular time. We also like to make our history relevant to today; we have carried, for example, articles on women historians in the media, on why femininity and science has such a difficult relationship, from the 16th century to 2010, and the history of women and Christianity and what this tells us about modern wrangling over female priests.

We especially like to include quirky, unexpected history, often found in our regular features ‘Women’s history walk’ and ‘Curator’s choice’.

3. What can readers expect in terms of content related to the Middle Ages? (Perhaps you could tell us about some of the medieval articles that have already been published).

So much more research is being done into the lives of medieval women, and they are not quite as anonymous as they were even ten years ago. Our current issue, Summer 2010, in particular has a medieval theme. It includes a 3-part article on the backgrounds and experiences of women in England’s medieval monasteries, an in-depth look at a 12th-century female scribe who had mastered ‘secret writing’ (thought usually the preserve of men) and an interview with Sarah Dunant about researching her Renaissance fiction. We have more medieval-focused articles planned for future issues, including one on medieval healers and ‘cunning folk’.

4. Can you also tell us about any future plans you have with HerStoria and how you might continue to build on its success so far?

We have just made available to a digital edition of HerStoria to subscribers with www.exacteditions.com and have launched into independent shops with our current Summer issue. We have, so far, published six women’s history walks around various UK cities and have as many more in preparation; one idea is to publish these as an HerStoria book in due course. However our main aim now is to keep on getting leading historians of women’s history to share their research with us, to produce really entertaining and authoritative history, and to earn ourselves more readers!

We thank Dr. Jones for answering our questions

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