In Conversation with Roberta Johnson and Silvia Bermudez

Silvia Bermudez and Roberta Johnson are the editors of A New History of Iberian Feminisms

Interviewer: Tell us more about what inspired both of you to start this project?

Silvia and Roberta: Neither of us was encouraged to study literature by our families, as they were more practically minded. Fortunately, we persisted and eventually, after studying and publishing mostly on canonical male writers, we in our separate areas of specialization (Silvia in poetry; Roberta in the novel) came to write on female authors. We have known each other for many years and through our mutual participation in the University of California Iberian Studies Working Group hit upon the idea of co-editing a volume on feminism in the Iberian Peninsula that included Portugal and considered the major linguistic territories of Spain--Castile, the Basque Provinces, Catalonia, and Galicia.

I: When did you start work on it?

S&R: Thinking about the project began in 2012 when the first UC Iberian Working Group meeting took place at UC, Davis, and continued at the second meeting at UCSB in 2013. By the third meeting at UC, Davis, Silvia had agreed to co-edit, and we set about finding scholars to write on different periods and territories. We ended up with a fabulous team of dedicated and knowledgeable scholars from the US, England, Spain, Portugal, and New Zealand. These scholars were enthusiastic about the project and were instrumental in moving it forward. It was a real sisterhood of scholars that brought the book to fruition.

I: What do you find most interesting about your area of research?

S&R: We are fascinated by the stories of women who in other periods when independence for women was not taken for granted managed to live full creative lives despite the many obstacles they faced, especially in conservative, Catholic countries like Spain and Portugal. The differences in women's experiences in Spain and Portugal was also a revelation. We have been able to travel through time and space and "converse" with extraordinary writers from other periods and places.

I: What do you wish other people knew about your area of research?

S&R: We think feminist scholars of other national entities--the US, Britain, France, Italy, or Germany--would find Spanish feminism significantly different from that of the countries they study, and we hope they will want to include Spain in their courses and research now that in this book they have the tools to do so. We are passionate about our subject and are anxious to share our work with students, fellow scholars, and the general public.

I: What’s the most surprising thing you discovered during the course of your research?

S&R: We were struck by the importance of class issues inherent in the many ideological disagreements among Iberian feminist positions, and we were especially surprised to learn how well organized Basque feminists are and how cohesive and well developed their feminist research is.

I: What did you learn from writing your book?

S&R: We learned many details about feminism in other periods and all areas of the Iberian Peninsula that we did not know before, especially women writing feminist essays in the eighteenth century. Contrary to erroneous assumptions, women throughout the Spanish territories and Portugal were committed from early on to equal rights and advancing women's participation in the public sphere.

I: What do you like to read for pleasure? What are you currently reading?

S&R: Silvia reads mystery/detective novels and biographies and is currently reading Leonardo Da Vinci and The Silent Wife. Roberta reads current fiction and non-fiction in Spanish and English. Right now she is reading Fire and Fury and Sapiens.

I: If you weren’t working in academia, what would you be doing instead?

S&R: Silvia would be a tour guide, and Roberta would run a horse stables or ranch.

Silvia Bermúdez is a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Roberta Johnson is professor emerita of Spanish at the University of Kansas and adjunct professor of Spanish at the University of Kansas.