Background with needles: 

a genealogy of the seamstress

Voula Papaioannou, Joint needling organized by the Near East Foundation. Athens, 1940© Photographic Archive of Benaki Museum

This was a British Academy funded life-history research project, which traced, collected, archived, analysed and discussed auto/biographical narratives of home-based dressmakers and women working in the garment industry. The project spanned a range of geographies, histories and disciplinary fields and focused on the force of narratives in illuminating interrelations between women’s labour and its memory, personal, domestic and public spaces, migration histories, political activism, adult education and women workers' forceful intervention in the cultural and intellectual life of the twentieth centurvy. 3 monographs and several articles and book chapters have emerged from this project, which has initiated my on-going interest in feminist labour history and the gendered memory of work.

Many thanks to the British Academy for funding archival research for this project

Archival Research

The project has involved research in the following Archives:


The New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. Manuscripts and Archives Division. Rose Pesotta papers

The New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. Manuscripts and Archives Division. Fannia M. Cohn papers.

The Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner, Labor Archives, Collection TAM/18, Rose Schneiderman papers.

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Pauline Newman papers, MC324; M-44. (SL/PNP)

Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass. Italian Immigrant Women in New York City’s Garment Industry, Oral Histories, 1976-1978, S


Archives Nationales de France /Fonds Fourier et Considerant/10 AS 42/T-Z/Dossier 8/Lettres de Désirée Véret, veuve Gay. 

Bibliothèque Historique de la ville de ParisArchives Marie-Louise Bouglé 

Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF), Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal/Fonds Enfantin ou Fonds Saint-Simonien

Bibliothèque de l’Hôtel de Ville (BHdV)

Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand (BMD)



2017, Women workers' education, Life Narratives and Politics: Geographies, Histories, Pedagogies.

Journal Articles

Book chapters

Keynote addresses and invited talks

Challenging the bifurcation of nature: women workers' education through process philosophy. Keynote address for the International Standing Conference for the History of Education (ISCHE), Humboldt University, Berlin, August 29-September 1, 2018. 

Feeling the world: romantic socialisms and feminist politics. Keynote address for the BSA Auto/biography Christmas Conference, December 8, 2017.

‘Sewing, fighting and writing: women workers’ contribution to the political and cultural formations of modernity’, international panel on ‘Feminist Struggles for Scholarly Work in Academic Institutions’, organized by the Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies, Johannes Kepler Universität Linz and the Gender Studies Association, Austria, May 20, 2021, on-line.

‘Home-based work without home: forced displacement, unfree labour and radical hope’, contribution to the joint plenary session of the working groups Free/Unfree Labour and Feminist Labour History. 3rd European Labour History Network Conference, Amsterdam, September 19-21, 2019.

Politiques culturelles et relations de genre dans le mouvement ouvrier: approches auto / biographiques dans un domaine interdisciplinaire in the session, 'Le récit biographique : une illusion?' for the colloque 'Une société d’individus, c’est-à-dire?', Symposium celebrating the 20 years of the CERLIS, on 16-17-18 January 2019. Amphitheatre Durkheim Sorbonne Université Paris Descartes Université Sorbonne Paris Cité Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3 Cnrs

'Home-based work: genealogies and assemblages', invited paper at the International Conference on  Long time perspectives on home-based industrial work, Stockholm, Swedish Labour Movement Archives and Library, May 22-24, 2018.

'The adventure of Women Workers' Education'. Centre for Women’s History in Education, University of Winchester, January 25th, 2017.

‘Aesthetics and Politics in women workers’ education’. Plymouth Centre of Education Research, University of Plymouth, February 19, 2014.

Gendering the memory of work’.  Invited lecture/workshop  at the ESRC funded National Centre for Research Methods, Phase III Node, Narratives of Varied Everyday Lives and Linked Approaches (NOVELLA), Institute of Education, March 8, 2013. 

‘Narratives, Imagination, Politics: Writing the Memory of Work’, research seminar at Malmo University, Sweden, May 8, 2012.

Conference papers

(2019) Working women on the move: genealogies of gendered migrant labour , in New perspectives in feminist labour history: work and activism, University of Bologna, January 17-18, 2019.

(2017) Considering the home/work continuum. European Labour History Network Conference, Paris, November 2-4, 2017.

(2017) Epistolarity and the singular you: gendered politics and labour histories. Giving Life to Politics: The Work of Adriana Cavarero, University of Brighton, June 19-21, 2017.

(2016) Writing the memory of work: aesthetics, politics and the archive. International Conference,  Quand les femmes s’écrivent dans le monde : autobiographie féminine et souci du monde/ women’s autobiographies and relationship to the world, University of Paris Ouest Nanterre, 14-15 October 2016.

(2016) Situated Memories: neo-materialist insights in the gendered memory of work. 7th Annual Conference on the New Materialisms: Performing Situated Knowledges, Space, Time, Vulnerability. Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland, 21-23 September, 2016.

(2015) œuvre à faire : materialising feminist utopias. In New Materialist Politics and Economies ofKnowledge, Sister-Sixth Conference on the New Materialisms. University of Maribor, Slovenia, 2-4 October 2015.

(2015) 'Lunch Hour in New York or Narrative Phenomena in the Archive Paper presented as part of the symposium, Radical Futures Entangled Mundanity: Matter and Meaning in Education Research Practices. 10th International Gender and Education Association Conference on ‘Feminism, Power and Pedagogy’, Roehampton University, June 24-26.

(2015) Reassembling Documents of Life in the Archive. International Auto/Biography Association (IABA/Europe) Conference, Dialogical Dimensions in Narrating Lives and Life Writing. Centre for Atlantic Studies, CEHA, Funchal Madeira, 27-29 May 2015.

(2014) ‘Gendering the history of the labour movement: The importance of internationalization’ as part of the panel ‘Labour History, the colonial condition and gender’. Fourth European Congress on World and Global History, Ecole Normal Supérieure, Paris, September 4-7, 2014.

Educational Resources on-line