Welcome to Girl Museum’s interview series, Why We Need Girls’ Studies, for 2024. We have many exciting interviews this year with important scholars in the field to get insights about what we are all doing in this space to further our understanding of girlhood and girls’ experiences.

This month’s interview is with Lois Burke, assistant professor of Critical Heritage, Innovation & Curation at Tilburg University. Burke teaches on the Erasmus Mundus International Masters in Children’s Literature, Media & Cultural Entrepreneurship (CLMCE). Her research is focused on 19th-century girlhood, particularly girls’ writing cultures and she has been published in the journals Life Writing, International Research in Children’s Literature, and the edited volume The Edinburgh History of Children’s Periodicals.

Why do you consider it important to study girlhood?

We can currently see how adolescent girls have a hand in steering and pioneering so much of mainstream culture. They lead language innovation. They ‘rule the internet right now’, according to Michelle Santiago Cortes (2020). I’m convinced that these feats are not exclusive to girls of today. I’m very interested in understanding how girls were creative cultural trailblazers in times prior to living memory. And these feats were always against the odds – always somehow on the fringes of what is celebrated and valued in our culture.

What is the biggest challenge facing girlhood studies? Do you have ideas on how we can address it?

From my experience, one of the biggest challenges in researching children’s history is discoverability. In my current research, I am especially interested in records of girlhood found in collections. When I first started my PhD on nineteenth-century girls’ writing cultures back in 2015, I found it so difficult to locate these artifacts. I often had to email curators and librarians and attempt to explain what I was looking for. One of my wishes is to improve accessibility to such documents through cataloguing, digitising, and collating online resources and bibliographies. This will help with the study of many subjects, but it can particularly aid the already-marginalised study of girlhood.

Girlhood studies is a relatively new field, yet is rapidly changing. What are the biggest opportunities for those interested in studying girlhood?

This answer is related to my previous one – although it can have its frustrations, collections work presents such a rich opportunity to capture understandings of girlhood in a particular time and place. There is so much still to learn! To anyone interested in researching girlhood, I recommend contacting your local librarian or archivist, and asking what collections they have pertaining to girlhood. Keep your eyes peeled for interesting documents or objects in second-hand and antique shops, and on online auctions. I wrote about one of my recent acquisitions for the Society of the History of Childhood and Youth’s new blog, Digital Childhoods.

Finally, please feel free to plug any current projects or publications that you want to highlight. 

My book on girls’ manuscript writing cultures in nineteenth-century Britain is finished and will be published soon. I’m also compiling a collection of essays along with two other editors, Jennifer Duggan and Edel Lamb, on the topic of girls’ textual transformation and adaptation across time and space. Keep your eyes peeled for a related project on display at the Girl Museum later in 2024!

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