Prof. Penny Summerfield

Self and Society on the Home Front: Exploring Women's Diaries of the Second World War

Diaries are wonderful sources for exploring past societies. Not only are they social and cultural documents, but they breach the boundary between public and private, enabling us to access the subjectivity, emotions and unconscious desires of people in the past. These themes are explored in this talk through examples of British women’s diaries of the Second World War.


Penny Summerfield is a Professor Emerita of Modern History at University of Manchester where she served as Head of the School of History and Classics and Head of the School of Arts, Histories and Cultures (2003-6).
She worked at Lancaster University from 1978 to 2000 where she was Professor of Women's History. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Science and was Chair of the Social History Society between 2008 and 2011.

Her work has explored themes primarily in relation to women’s experiences of the Second World War in Britain. Her work has examined the pull of contrasting cultural imaginaries of women at war – either active and embracing a patriotic wartime role or traditionally feminine, providing a stoic domestic comfort during times of hardship – on the memory stories of women who lived through the war years. More broadly she works on theories and methodologies of oral history and the formation of gender identity, with her current research projects on ‘Personal Testimony and Historical Research’ and ‘The Second World War in British Popular Memory’.

Her most recent book is Histories of the Self: Personal Narratives and Historical Practice (Routledge 2019). Previous books include Contesting Home Defence: Men, Women and the Home Guard in Britain in the Second World War, completed in conjunction with Corinna Peniston-Bird and published by Manchester University Press in 2007.  She has published extensively, including  Feminism and Autobiography: Texts, Theories, Methods (2000), Reconstructing Women's Wartime Lives: Discourse and Subjectivity in Oral Histories of the Second World War (1998), and Women, Power and Resistance, an introduction to Women's Studies (1996) as well as many scholarly articles.