#MemberMonday: Erica Munkwitz

Erica and Sam
Erica Munkwitz

American University (Washington, DC)
PhD, British History, American University (2014)
MA, European History, American University (2008)
BA, History, Sweet Briar College (2002)
BA, English/Creative Writing, Sweet Briar College (2002)

What got you in to history? horse history?
   I have ridden and trained in nearly all disciplines (hunter-jumper, equitation, cross-country, dressage, Western pleasure, Western reining and games, endurance, and yes, side-saddle), but I didn’t link my sporting interests with my academic research until my second year of grad school. I had initially applied to American University to study German-Russian relations after the Second World War, but the disastrous state of the necessary microfilm sources at the National Archives dictated that I quickly find another topic. In a very lucky break, we had just finished reading Linda Colley’s Britons in our European colloquium. She asserted that fox-hunting had been “confined almost exclusively to men,” concluding “in short, the invention of fox-hunting can be seen, as it was seen at the time, as another expression of the new, patriotic patrician machismo…” That line changed the course of my research and my life. Given this martial and masculine representation, what opportunities did women have to join in such sports during the long nineteenth century? How did they justify their involvement to partake in equestrianism before they took up other – arguably, more “feminine” and less demanding – sports like tennis and golf? How were traditional ideals of femininity and domesticity revolutionized by doing so, both in Britain and throughout the British Empire? What were the repercussions of their increased participation on women’s rights and personal emancipation before the First World War? These are the questions I worked to answer in my dissertation entitled “‘Straight Ahead and Over Everything’: Women and Equestrian Sports in Britain, 1772-1956.”

Who is your favorite historical horse?
   All the horses I’ve ridden, and all the ones I haven’t! I also love Whistlejacket, Joey and Topthorn from War Horse, and in film – Cisco (Dances with Wolves) and Denny (The Man from Snowy River).

What are you working on now?
   My book proposal is under consideration now and I hope to have exciting news soon. The book project, entitled “Riding to Freedom: Women, Horse Sports, and Liberation in Britain, 1772-1928,” is devoted to understanding how British women’s involvement in sidesaddle riding, fox-hunting, and polo during the nineteenth century transcended gender and class boundaries and enabled women to attain social equality well before they achieved political equality via the vote in 1918. By riding astride rather than sidesaddle by the late nineteenth century, I argue that female equestrians in Britain and the Empire revolutionized ideals of femininity well before bicyclists, suffragettes, and war workers, and also well before women in other European countries such as France and Germany. Stay tuned!

Anything else you’d like to add?
   See more about my academic journey in this article: “Horse-Sense and Sensibility,” in  The International Journal of the History of Sport’s special issue on “Aspiration and Reflection: Sport Historians on Sport History.” 

Erica and Perseus
Perseus, Household Cavalry Drum Horse

   I will be presenting “Patrons of Pegasus: Women as Equestrian Entrepreneurs, 1880-1930,” at the Equine Cultures in Transition conference at Leeds Beckett University, June 19–21 2018.

   I will also be presenting “‘Four Things Greater Than All Things Are:’ Women, Horses and Power in History” at the EHC inaugural conference in December 2018.

Contact me on Twitter @EricaMunkwitz

 

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