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 Paris , Archives 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

  1. Challenging the Bifurcation of Nature: Women Workers’ Education through Process Philosophy’, in History of Education, 49 (3), 313-326, doi: 10.1080/0046760X.2020.1739758 , 2020
  2. Archives, Genealogies and Narratives in Women Workers’ Education’, in Women’s History Review, 29(3), 396-412, doi: 10.1080/09612025.2019.1611122, 2020.
  3. ‘New Materialisms in the Archive: in the mode of an œuvre à faire. In Mai: Feminism and Visual Culture, 2019.
  4. Rethinking the subject in feminist research: narrative personae and stories of 'the real', Textual Practice, doi: 10.1080/0950236X.2018.1486541 (on line first), 2018.
  5. The joy of learning: Feminist materialist pedagogies and the freedom of education. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 50 (9), 868-877, doi: 10.1080/00131857.2017.13962, 2018.
  6. Reassembling Documents of Life in the Archive. European Journal of Life Writing, [S.l.], v. 6, p. 1-19, apr. 2017, doi:, 2017.
  7. The work of memory: embodiment, materiality and home in Jeanne Bouvier’s autobiographical writing. Women’s History Review, 25(2), 207-226, 2016.
  8. Feeling Narrative in the Archive: the question of serendipity. Qualitative Research, 16(2), 151-166, 2016.
  9. The autobiographical you: letters in the gendered politics of the labour movement. Journal of Gender Studies, 25(3), 269-282, 2016.
  10. Educating the Seamstress: Studying and Writing the Memory of Work', in History of Education, 42(4), 509-527, 2013, e-print, here.
  11. The female self as punctum: Fannia Cohn’s archival technologies of the self in the British Sociological Association Auto/Biography Yearbook, Vol. VII, 2014.
  12. Not everything that the bourgeois world created is bad: aesthetics and politics in women workers’ education’. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 36(3), 424-436, you can listen to the abstract, here.

Book chapters

  1. ‘Women Workers’ Education’, in Fitzgerald Tanya (eds) Handbook of Historical Studies in Education. Springer International Handbooks of Education. Singapore: Springer, 813-829, 2020
  2. ‘Archival Methods in Auto/biographical Research’, in Research Methodologies for Auto/biography Studies, 19-25. New York: Routledge, 2019.
  3. Amor mundi: Romantic socialisms and feminist politics, British Sociological Association: Auto/Biography Yearbook, Vol. XI, 63-76, 2018.

Educational Resources on-line