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Studies in Energy Transitions: Considering Women as Energy Agents 

Thu, March 15, 8:30 to 10:00am, Riverside Convention Center, MR 7

Session Submission Type: Panel


Environmental historians have made a strong case that energy plays a vital role in mediating the relationship between people and the environment in which they live. With some important exceptions, most energy history has provided rich studies of men’s inventions, men’s labour, and men’s planning and development of systems for financing, selling, running, repairing, and maintaining the new networks of power, particularly electricity, oil and gas. Though worthy topics, these have not left much room for understanding the relationships that women have had with their environments through the energy that they produced, processed and consumed to support themselves and (typically) their families, nor the profound transformations in women’s lives that accompanied changing energy use in the home. The papers in this panel employ gender as a category of analysis, foregrounding the role of women as significant energy actors in the energy transitions that transformed not only the home, but society more broadly.
The first two papers in our panel focus on women’s active roles in lighting transitions within English homes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, emphasizing the importance of class, culture and local environments in assessing both the causes and the effects of women’s lighting decisions. The third paper examines fear as a factor in Canadian women’s decisions about whether or not to accept various new energy carriers into their homes to provide light and heat. The panel as a whole documents women’s agency in the rapid and varied energy transitions within the home, and assesses the significance of women’s decisions within energy history more broadly.

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