Simona Feci, Professor of Medieval and Modern Legal History at the Law Department, University of Palermo
About the Author
Simona Feci (Roma, 1966) is Professor of Medieval and Modern Legal History at the Law Department in University of Palermo. She is a member of Società italiana delle storiche (Association of Italian Women Historians) and former president (2016-2020).
She studied History and graduated in Arts and Sciences at the University of Rome. Afterwards she got her PhD in ‘Family and Gender History’ at the University of Naples L’Orientale with a dissertation on women’s capability to act in Medieval and Early Modern Italy (published as Pesci fuor d’acqua. Donne a Roma in età moderna: diritti e patrimoni, Viella, Roma 2004). She has published mainly on the topics of Women Legal History in Early Modern Italy; History of Family; History of Justice and Judicial System and Social History (http://www.unipa.it/persone/docenti/f/simona.feci). Her current research projects focus on life, career and culture of criminal judges in Baroque Rome and Papal State, violence against women in history, women property rights in Italian past times, the tribunal of Roman Rota and the administration of justice in international contexts.
The Italian Society of Women Historians (www.societadellestoriche.it) was founded in 1989 and was born of the women’s movement. It’s stated aim is ‘to enhance women’s subjectivity and the women’s presence within history; to provide tools and new categories of interpretation, with particular reference to the gender perspective’; to ‘renew the area of research and of teaching and to promote the dissemination of the scientific and cultural heritage produced by women historians, in order to change the current and unilateral transmission of knowledge by contributing to the construction of a culture that intersects equality and difference’ (art. 2 of the Statute).
Based on our experience as women, historians, feminists and members of an association that over the years has allowed us to work and reflect together, we propose the following considerations.
Women’s and Gender History: An Inclusive Perspective
Women’s and gender history (as well as the history of non-Western peoples) was born in the attempt to include the voices, the experiences and the subjectivities of those who have traditionally remained on the margins in the official historical narrative. This work makes it possible to re-define and imagine new categories and words that can give citizenship in history to their paths, and to deconstruct the universal subject (male, white, and Western), who had previously inhabited the official History. This implies a radical commitment, which is further renewed in an emergency context like the one we currently face, where new risks of exclusion, discrimination, and violence intersect and affect those subjects who were already marginalized in new ways.
‘Starting from oneself’ is one of the founding principles of the feminist approach. This does not depend on a form of narcissistic egocentricity, but is part of an intellectual honesty, it is a form of transparency about one’s motivations and of clarity about one’s positioning. The ability to be explicit with oneself and with others concerning one’s own point of view and motivations, permits the scholar to identify and practice an access to reality that is different from the pretension of absolute objectivity. At the same time, ‘starting from oneself’ allows one to avoid absolute relativism, the impossibility of any truth, and the evaporation of reality itself. ‘Starting from oneself’ makes it possible to reach a truth that is partial and situated, but still nevertheless true.
Situated but solid thought can therefore not only enhance subjectivity but can also lead to reflection on the notion and the experiences of ‘diversity’ in itself. In fact, Otherness/es are not hierarchized — as is shown by the necessity of identifying how marginalities are produced in different historical contexts and whom they affect, as well as what conditions derive from the relationships with power and interests, and the representations and prohibitions imposed by various dominant ideological positions.
History and the Humanities: Tools and Approaches to Read the Present and to Address the Knot between Power, Information and Narration
Women’s and gender history can contribute to a form of historiographical practice that seems to us more necessary today than ever:
- History and the Humanities are indispensable for a systemic and in-depth look at the
They can teach how to connect events and phenomena, they can train the mind to consider the multiple causes of a problem, and thus they can contribute to the erosion of the mechanism of the scapegoat, which has become increasingly popular in politics and within the current public debate around the world.
- History and the Humanities can strengthen the ability to relate the self to one’s context,
and to relativize the distances between different cultures by emphasizing the recurrences
that occur in the human experience over time. They are therefore essential for
creating social ties and for establishing relationships between different worlds and cultures.
- History and the Humanities are able to disrupt the fragmentation of time (which has been
created for the production and the exchange of goods with the aim of producing an incessant productivity). This mode of temporality is useful for the survival of a system of power, and of concentration of wealth, rather than for the collective well-being. The time of the Humanities is a time that is often slow. It is the time of reflection and self-reflection, of the growth of awareness, and while it does not erase mercantile time, it tempers its most pernicious effects.
- History and the Humanities can enhance divergent and creative thinking. Our future
cannot be left only to the applied sciences and methodologies of technological reproducibility, but rather needs divergent and plural perspectives, and requires education for cooperation and peace.
- As a specific discipline, history trains its students to deconstruct information. It is an exercise in philology and criticism: criticism of the master narratives — beyond the ability of the strongest to accredit its own — and criticism of sources. This competence is becoming even more necessary today when the world of mass media and social media produces and vomits growing masses of fake news.
- Finally, we cannot give up the very meaning of history. We live in a society flattened on a
frenetic present and frightened by the future; a society which pays little attention to the past and has little ability for reasoning in historical terms; a society which is unable to see the present as a result of past events, and the future as a consequence of the choices that are made in the present. Stimulating such capacities means creating citizens who are more aware, with positive effects in the medium and long-term in terms of the potential to plan policies.
Stimulating the possibility of reasoning in historical terms by connecting the past, the present and the future means to restore to politics the capacity to breathe, and to defuse the vicious cycle where time ends up flattening into a single short present, discouraging the large, medium- to long-term investment projects that are necessary if we want to save the planet and humanity.
Ultimately, the attention that should be paid to temporal and historical contexts, together with a gender perspective, makes history — as the discipline that we practice — a necessary knowledge that is key to understanding the current phenomena. It is also a key for the future for younger generations, to whom we want to deliver a more responsible, inclusive, and just present and future in line with European policy and alongside vital international institutions, starting with Agenda 2030.
Rome, the 19th July 2020
The Board of Società italiana delle storiche: Simona Feci (President), Raffaella Sarti (Vice- President), Marina D’Amelia, Marina Garbellotti, Adelisa Malena, Tiziana Noce, Alessandra Pescarolo, Paola Stelliferi, Stefania Voli.