10 women writing history in 2021

2021 was a terrific year for history books written by women.

Some of the many brilliant reads include an incisive look at the ongoing colonial violence experienced by First Nations people, a humorous look at advice to women over the ages, a history of the piano, an exploration of racism in the Jazz Age in Australia, and an in-depth exploration of the female body in art. Read on to discover some brilliant history titles of 2021…


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Another Day in the Colony by Chelsea Watego

A ground-breaking work - and a call to arms - that exposes the ongoing colonial violence experienced by First Nations people. In this collection of deeply insightful and powerful essays, Chelsea Watego examines the ongoing and daily racism faced by First Nations peoples in so-called Australia. Rather than offer yet another account of ‘the Aboriginal problem’, she theorises a strategy for living in a social world that has only ever imagined Indigenous peoples as destined to die out.

Drawing on her own experiences and observations of the operations of the colony, she exposes the lies that colonisers tell about Indigenous people. In refusing such stories, Chelsea tells her own- fierce, personal, sometimes funny, sometimes anguished. She speaks not of fighting back but of standing her ground against colonialism in academia, in court, and in media.


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Vandemonians by Janet McCalman

It was meant to be ‘Victoria the Free’, uncontaminated by the Convict Stain. Yet they came in their tens of thousands as soon as they were cut free or able to bolt. More than half of all those transported to Van Diemen’s Land as convicts would one day settle or spend time in Victoria. There they were demonised as Vandemonians. Some could never go straight; a few were the luckiest of gold diggers; a handful founded families with distinguished descendants. Most slipped into obscurity.

As Janet McCalman examines this transported population of men, women and children, we can see them not just as prisoners, but as children, young people, workers, mothers, fathers and colonists.

This rich study of the lives of unwilling colonisers is an original and confronting new history of our convict past-the repressed history of colonial Victoria.


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Twelve Caesars: Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern by Mary Beard

In this book, Mary Beard tells the story of how for more than two millennia portraits of the rich, powerful, and famous in the western world have been shaped by the image of Roman emperors, especially the “Twelve Caesars,” from the ruthless Julius Caesar to the fly-torturing Domitian. Twelve Caesars asks why these murderous autocrats have loomed so large in art from antiquity and the Renaissance to today, when hapless leaders are still caricatured as Neros fiddling while Rome burns.

From Beard’s reconstruction of Titian’s extraordinary lost Room of the Emperors to her reinterpretation of Henry VIII’s famous Caesarian tapestries, Twelve Caesars includes fascinating detective work and offers a gripping story of some of the most challenging and disturbing portraits of power ever created.


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Lies, Damned, Lies by Claire G. Coleman

A deeply personal exploration of Australia’s colonisation past, present and future by one of Australia’s finest contemporary authors.

In Lies, Damned Lies acclaimed author Claire G. Coleman, a proud Noongar woman, takes the reader on a journey through the past, present and future of Australia, lensed through her own experience. Beautifully written, this literary work blends the personal with the political, offering readers an insight into the stark reality of the ongoing trauma of Australia’s violent colonisation.

Colonisation in Australia is not over. Colonisation is a process, not an event - and the after-effects will continue while there are still people to remember.


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The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore

Elizabeth Packard was an ordinary Victorian housewife and mother of six. That was, until the first Woman’s Rights Convention was held in 1848, inspiring Elizabeth and many other women to dream of greater freedoms. She began voicing her opinions on politics and religion - opinions that her husband did not share. Incensed and deeply threatened by her growing independence, he had her declared ‘slightly insane’ and committed to an asylum.

Inside the Illinois State Hospital, Elizabeth found many other perfectly lucid women who, like her, had been betrayed by their husbands and incarcerated for daring to have a voice. Elizabeth embarked on a ceaseless quest for justice. It not only challenged the medical science of the day and saved untold others from suffering her fate, it led to a giant leap forward in human rights globally.


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You’re Doing it Wrong by Kaz Cooke

A fresh, funny and furious look at the terrible advice women have been told for centuries. Stroll with bestselling author Kaz Cooke through instructions on how to day-drink, wear a dress made of arsenic, pretend you’re an idiot, have sex with a billionaire biker, curtsey, get properly harassed at work, exercise your nose, oppress other women and frighten your uterus.

Using hundreds of amazing photos and illustrations, and the experiences of generations of women in her own family, You’re Doing It Wrong shows how advice has been a weapon against us - and how by recognising it, we can ignore it. And totally cheer up.


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Harlem Nights by Deirdre O'Connell

The 1920s were a time of wonder and flux, when Australians sensed a world growing smaller, turning faster - and, for some, skittering off balance. African-American jazz represented the type of modernism that cosmopolitan Australians craved - and the champions of White Australia feared.

Enter Sonny Clay’s Colored Idea. Snuck in under the wire by an astute promoter, the Harlem-style revue broke from the usual blackface minstrel fare, delivering sophisticated, liberating rhythms. The story of their Australian tour is a tale of conspiracy - a secret plan to kick out and keep out ‘undesirable’ expressions of modernism, music and race.

From the wild jazz clubs of Prohibition-era LA to Indigenous women discovering a new world of black resistance, this anatomy of a scandal-fuelled frame-up brings into focus a vibrant cast of characters from Australia’s Jazz Age.


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Women in the Picture by Catherine McCormack

Plunging into the realms of art history, popular visual culture and advertising, McCormack opens our eyes to how archetypal depictions of women - as mothers, daughters, Venuses, whores or ‘nasty women’ - have encouraged us to objectify and subjugate, and to normalise violence towards them.

Taking in classic works of art by the likes of Titian and Picasso, as well as contemporary representations of women in everything from Hollywood films to perfume advertisements to censored Instagram images, we’ll reconsider the context in which images of women have been produced, displayed and reproduced - and the appeal to ‘beauty’ that has stopped us from seeing the misogyny of some of the world’s ‘greatest’ artists and public figures.


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Doing Feminism by Anne Marsh

Doing Feminism represents over 220 artists and groups with 370 colour illustrations punctuated by extracts from artists' statements, curatorial writing and critique. Tracking networks of art practice, exhibitions, protest and critical thought over several generations, Marsh demonstrates the innovation and power of women’s art and the ways in which it has influenced and changed the contemporary art landscape in Australia and internationally. The images and texts are curated by decade and contextualised to provide a broad analysis of art and feminist criticism since the late 1960s.

This extraordinary work presents one of the most comprehensive collections of material ever compiled on women and the arts in Australia. It will become essential reading for years to come.


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The Piano: A History in 100 Pieces by Susan Tomes

Charting the development of the piano from the late eighteenth century to the present day, pianist and writer Susan Tomes takes the reader with her on a personal journey through 100 pieces including solo works, chamber music, concertos, and jazz. Her choices include composers such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Gershwin, and Philip Glass.

Looking at this history from a modern performer’s perspective, she acknowledges neglected women composers and players including Fanny Mendelssohn, Maria Szymanowska, Clara Schumann, and Amy Beach.

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Another Day in the Colony

Another Day in the Colony

Chelsea Watego

$29.99Buy now

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