This keynote address uses three vignettes from the history of women’s education to discuss the potential of multiple temporalities for historians of education. Helge Jordheim (2014) describes multiple temporalities as messy, moving temporal relations between past, present and future that are plural and distributed across geographical, cultural or historical spaces, with slower, faster, and other rhythms, successions of events and narratives. To analyse the vignettes I draw on a range of writers on time and temporalities.
In the first vignette I use a photograph taken in the school hall at Wycombe High School for Girls in the 1950s and the metronome I used as a child when practising the piano. With this vignette I explore the nature and meaning of multiple temporalities, both linear and indeterminate, and discuss relations between time, space, matter and bodies.
The second vignette moves to the inter-war period and to the Phebe Anna Thorne progressive open-air model school for girls on the Bryn Mawr College campus in the USA. In this vignette I use photographs and documents to focus on multiple temporalities and social and educational change. I explore how temporalities associated with the natural world, as well as durational temporalities and linear temporalities of modernity associated with acceleration, were implicated in fashioning the attentive girl pupil and what newspaper reporting refers to as “Bryn Mawr’s superwomanhood”.
The third vignette moves to the French protectorate of Indochina during the 1930s and to power and multiple temporalities. I discuss the educational work of Suzanne Karpelès, the founding director at Phomn Penh of both the Royal Library the Buddhist Institute. I address regimes of historicity that the French used to provide justifications for colonialism and which constituted a play of power in a reversal of indigenous and Buddhist temporalities. I focus on Karpelès’ account of a pagoda school inspection which worked to synchronised temporalities along linear lines in an intercultural mimesis between Khmer modernists and the French administration in the uneven power relations between coloniser and colonised.
To conclude, I argue that the inclusion of elements of temporal indeterminacy alongside analyses of the “stubborn fact” (Whitehead 1985 , p.129) of time as linear abstraction enables historians of education to point to a future yet to be made, with the potential to enrich accounts of social and educational change.
Joyce Goodman, Temporalities, Trajectories and Histories of (Women’s) Education, Keynote address presented online at the History of Education Society Annual Conference 5 November 2021, organised by the DOMUS research centre at the University of Birmingham
Image: Joyce Goodman, personal archive