Barbara Caine

barbara-caine-03Educated at the University of Sydney (BA), Sussex University (MA) and Monash University (PhD), she was Professor of History at Monash University from 1995 to 2010. In 2007 she was awarded an ARC Professorial Fellowship for a large project entitled ‘History and the individual life: Autobiography, Biography and the history of the Self in the British World c1750-1980’. She was elected FAHA (1995), FASSA (2007), is a Fellow of the British Royal Historical Society and became a member of the Order of Australia in 2014. She has been Head of the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry at the University of Sydney since 2011 and is now Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Science .

Research interests:

Caine researches and writes in the fields of nineteenth-century studies, women’s history and biography and life-writing. Several of her earlier publications arose directly out of an intimate connection between her research and teaching, and centred on questions of gender and sexuality within a late modern European framework. She now investigates questions about autobiography and biography and, theorising history more broadly, about the many different ways to approach questions about the individual life within history. Details of her many publications (including refereed journal articles, book chapters and contributions to reference works) may be found at Various interviews can be found online through the ABC RN homepage including (2011, on biography and history) and (2014, on the history of friendship). See also (Music, sound and video).

Publications (1995-2010):

Authored books:

English Feminism, 1780-1980 (1997); Bombay to Bloomsbury: a Biography of the Strachey family. (2005); Biography and History (2010).

Co-authored books:

Gendering European History: 1780-1920 (2000) (with Glenda Sluga)

Edited books:

Companion to Women’s Historical Writing (2005) (with M. Spongberg and A. Curthoys); Friendship: A History (2009)

Edited journals:

Women’s Writing (2002) (‘La Bella Liberta: Women and the flight to Italy’); Literature and History 17.1 (2008) (‘Friendship’)

Co-edited books

Transitions: New Australian Feminisms (1995) (with Rosemary Pringle); Australian Feminism: A Companion (1998) (General Editor; with Moira Gatens, Emma Grahame, Jan Larbalestier, Sophie Watson, Elizabeth Webby)

Selected Monographs:

Bombay to Bloomsbury: a Biography of the Strachey family (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), xvii, 488 pp.; Biography and History (Gordonsville: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), vii, 152pp.

Of the four books under discussion here, Caine’s collective biography of the Strachey family was the most widely reviewed, in the mainstream press as well as in the scholarly journals, perhaps endorsing Leonard Woolf’s oft-quoted opinion that this was ‘much the most remarkable family I have ever known’ (Caine, p. 11). Caine started to write about the Strachey women, but realised that she needed to include the men as well ‘as the story began to intersect with the histories of feminism, imperialism, and British intellectual life’ (Tusan 2006, 281). Nonetheless, the experience of the Strachey women remains firmly at the centre of her narrative, and to good effect: ‘By highlighting the feminist accomplishments of the family and interweaving the lives of these two brothers with their parents and siblings, Caine cumulatively builds up the sense of the Strachey family as a fascinating cultural phenomenon’ (Das 2007, 453).

The book focuses on two generations of the Strachey family. It begins in Calcutta with the marriage of Richard Strachey and Jane Grant, twenty years his junior. Between 1859 and 1887 the couple produced thirteen children of whom ten survived. Several of these went on to achieve some distinction: Pernel as principal of Newnham College, James for translating Freud into English, Lytton as a member of the Bloomsbury set, author of Eminent Victorians, apostle of modernism and satirical commentator on his age. Nearly thirty years separated the eldest Strachey child from the youngest and their life experience extended from 1859 (Elinor’s birth) to 1968 (Pippa’s death). ‘During that time each Strachey was obliged to come to terms with a series of epoch-making events, from the end of empire to the trouncing of fascism … Their different responses to these events … form a kind of ground plan for 100 years of British cultural experience’ (Hughes 2005, 13).

Caine’s fourteen chapters combine a chronological with a thematic approach through which she demonstrates how the lives of the individual members of this large and loquacious family (as well as some of their noteworthy in-laws) were shaped and affected by larger historical events. ‘Caine’s attempt to fuse history and biography, the world of the public and the private past, works wonderfully’ (Hughes 2005, 13). She addresses particlar themes, such as the changing place of men and women in the family and the impact of gender and modernity. Her expertise in the history of modern English feminism is well evidenced: ‘[She] offers an insightful analysis of the careers (both paid and unpaid) pursued by the Strachey daughters as well as sons’ wives; moreover she charts how the family’s strong commitment to women’s rights developed’ (Buettner 2006, 257). The result was generally well-received: described as a ‘richly textured biography’ (Tusan 2006, 281), ‘a fascinating example of how family history can be used to trace cultural change’ (Smith 2006, 1079), ‘scrupulously researched and immensely readable’ (Das 2007, 451). ‘Finally, Caine’s selection of photographs reveals the Strachey’s individual personalities as well as their dependence on one another’ (Taddeo 2006, 460).

Biography and History, Caine’s brief comprehensive examination of the relationship between biography and history, is part of a series offering students introductions to theories of history. Over the six chapters of the book, Caine describes changes in biography from a focus on public lives to a consideration of private relations and the inner life of the biographical subject. ‘Her treatment focuses primarily on developments since the seventeenth century and on biographers writing in western languages. Within those limits, she deftly sketches the changing attitudes of historians toward biography, the development of the genre itself, the theoretical debates about the relationship between biography and autobiography, and the changing approaches biographers have employed to reconstruct their subjects’ lives’ (Popkin 2011, 330).

Chapter Three describes the various forms of collective of group biography, a genre she herself explored in her biography of the Strachey family, while the final three chapters address the application of different theoretical approaches in more recent biographical work, including the impact of feminism. ‘Barbara Caine’s admirably clear and concise book is both a stimulating analysis of the relationship between biography, on the one hand, and history and autobiography, on the other, and a manifesto for the importance of the in dividual life history as a genre’ (Popkin 2011, 329).


Bombay to Bloomsbury: The Guardian [London (UK)] (19 February 2005), 13 (Kathryn Hughes); London Review of Books 27/5 (3 March 2005), 12−13 (Rosemary Hill); Irish Times [Dublin] (5 March 2005), 11 (Robert O’Byrne); The Independent [London (UK)] (11 March 2005), 25 (Peter Parker); TLS 5339 (29 July 2005), 22 (Sarah Curtis); Victorian Studies 48/1(Autumn 2005), 195−7 (Philippa Levine); Cambridge Quarterly 34/4 (2005), 392−7 (Trev Broughton); Australasian Victorian Studies Journal 11 (2005), 170−3 (Kay Ferres); Choice 43/6 (February 2006), 1079 (H. L. Smith); The American Historical Review 111/1 (February 2006), 257−8 (Elizabeth Buettner); Journal of British Studies 45/2 (April 2006), 459−61 (Julie Anne Taddeo); European Legacy 11/5 (August 2006), 589−90 (Peter Stansky); Journal of Interdisciplinary History 37/2 (Autumn 2006), 281−3 (Michelle E. Tusan); History Workshop Journal 64 (Autumn 2007), 445−54 (Santanu Das); The International History Review 30/1 (March 2008): 143−4 (Paul Addison).

Biography and History: Choice 48/7 (March 2011), 1350 (K. Gedge); Biography 34/2 (Spring 2011), 329−31 (Jeremy D. Popkin).

English Feminism, 1780-1980 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), xvii, 336 pp.; Gendering European History: 1780-1920 (London, New York: Leicester University Press 2000) (with Glenda Sluga), 203pp.

Completed in the early months of her appointment at Monash, Caine’s English Feminism grew out of Caine’s long experience of teaching women’s history at the University of Sydney (where she established the first Women’s Studies Centre in Australia), and began as a series of lectures and seminar courses. In the preface to the book, Caine dates her interest in the history of feminism to the early 1970s when, as a postgraduate student in Britain, ‘the advent of the women’s liberation movement made me aware of the complete neglect of women in my own historical training and research’ (p. vii). Her teaching made her further aware of the absence, in an otherwise rich literature of ‘wonderful, specific, and detailed studies dealing with particular periods or problems or issues in the history of feminism’, of works which explore this history over an extended period or across different periods.

English Feminism offers a critical narrative of the ideas, beliefs, conceptual struggles and the internal logic of the British feminist movement in Britain over the two centuries from 1780 to 1980, starting with the early writings of Mary Wollstonecroft and extending to the 1970s, ‘when leftist writers attempted to fit women’s liberation movements into the broader context of European socialism’ (Hubbeln 2000, 196). ‘[H]er account locates feminism in a broad historical context that includes the impact on women of demographic, economic, and political change’ (Lake 1999, 505). ‘The argument of the work is twofold, uncovering both feminism’s complexity and development over time, while also emphasizing that it has had a continuous tradition’ (Setch 1999: 232). Broadly syncretic, the book also explicitly synthesizes scholarly debates from the last several decades to demonstrate how historical paradigms of feminism have been transformed through new work in the field, offering a concise summary of some major intellectual trends within modem feminism and contemporary feminist scholarship. Caine has incorporated a mass of secondary material, including literary sources, and added some of her own primary research in the field. The book begins with a chronology of major legislation, institutional changes and public events, into which are situated feminist lives and campaigns and landmark publications (pp. xiii-xvii).

‘Caine also demonstrates the impossibility of accepting simple definitions of feminism, showing how it has meant different things in different times and places. In particular she identifies oscillations between arguments for women’s rights on the basis of complete equality with men, and those based on their differences from men, centred around their capacity for motherhood’ (Setch 1999: 232−3). Reviewers found her cultural and intellectual history approach to be ‘a helpful and productive way of considering the ambivalent stance which has until quite recently marked historical research in this area’ (Holton 1999, 473).

As the title suggests, Gendering European History: 1780−1920 is dedicated to reinterpreting key episodes in European history through the lens of gender analysis. The book began as a course taught by the two authors and is clearly targeted for classroom use. Instead of endnotes, its authors provide lists of references and further reading for each chapter, while a 25-page bibliography draws together an extensive trans-national literature on gender.

The book covers the ‘long’ nineteenth century, from the French Revolution (1789–94) through World War I (1914–18). The authors have organized the six chapters chronologically, featuring specific topics in each time period: ‘Citizenship and Difference: The Age of Revolution,’ ‘Spaces and Places: Changing Patterns of Domesticity and Work,’ ‘Gendering Politics and the Political,’ ‘Sex and Race, Nations and Empires,’ the ‘Fin-de-siècle,’ and ‘War and the New World Order’. Contradictions within women’s position in the gender order during the long nineteenth century provide one of the key themes of this book.

The authors’ objective is not primarily to ‘add’ women to the historical narrative but to examine how changing cultural meanings of masculinity and femininity have informed work, public life, home, politics and citizenship as well as national and individual identity (Zook 2000, 165). They look at specific developments, and ‘trace the particular ways in which key questions about gender were raised in specific national contexts, and how they traversed national boundaries’ (p. 2). ‘They suggest one possible answer to the argument that the “great events” of history were not necessarily the most significant events for women, by demonstrating that in all the great projects of the nineteenth century—the nation, the race, the empire, industrialisation—issues of gender were central’ (Jackson 2000, 130). The book makes ‘a lively and convincing case for its central argument that “culturally mediated conceptions of gender established the frameworks in which modern politics and modern society took shape” (p. 2)’ (Jackson 2000, 131).


English Feminism: Choice35/8 (April 1998): 1439 (J. H. Wiener); Gender and History10/2 (August 1998): 324 (Helen Rogers); Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 30/4 (Winter 1998), 714−5 (Polly Beals); Signs24/2 (January 1999): 504−6 (Marilyn Lake); Annales 54/1 (January 1999): 131−5 (Françoise Basch, in French); The English Historical Review114/455 (February 1999): 232−3 (Eve Setch); Australian Journal of Political Science34/3 (November 1999): 473 (Sandra Holton); Twentieth Century British History10/2 (1999): 247−9 (L. E. Nym Mayhall); Journal of Women’s History11/4 (Winter 2000): 196 (Paul Hubbeln).

Gendering European History: History 28/4 (Summer 2000), 165−6 (Melinda Zook); Journal of Interdisciplinary Gender Studies: JIGS 5/2 (December 2000), 128−31 (Peter Jackson); Historian 65/2 (Winter 2002), 492−3 (Victoria E. Thompson); Journal of Women’s History 22/1 (April 2010), 160−1 (Karen Offen).


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