Women’s Citizenship Education and Voting as Knowledge Practices

What does citizenship entail? For many it is not just a passive right but rather comprises a more fragile set of practices, duties, and beliefs that need to be reworked and reaffirmed along the way. It might be useful to think of “citizenship” as a container for a wide variety of ascribed meanings in time. A century ago, when World War I came to an end, many Western nations re-evaluated what it meant to be a citizen, who was entitled to become one, which rights it entailed, and what one needed to know in order to act properly. For the protagonists of suffrage movements, full citizenship could only be realized through the attainment of civil rights and participation in the formal political process, most notably voting. The ability and desire to do that required knowledge.

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Knowledge and Citizenship

Caryn McTighe Musil at the Association of American Colleges and Universities has written a short programatic article on what the humanities can offer in current disputes over immigration in the United States. Her recommendation that curricula “include a focus on citizenship” suggests one way in which education and knowledge can figure into social, cultural, and political developments in societies with significant levels of immigration.[1] Many of us take citizenship for granted, having, for example, the good fortune to know precious little about statelessness.[2] Musil’s present-oriented intervention is interesting for the history of knowledge because her recommendations for curricular and other forms of public engagement with these issues suggest a possible historical research agenda too, one that extends well beyond the United States.[3]

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Poster from 1919 encouraging immigrants to naturalize.
Source: Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/95507947/

  1. Caryn McTighe Musil, “Clashes Over Citizenship: Lady Liberty, Under Construction or On the Run?,” Diversity and Democracy 20, no. 1 (Winter 2017),
  2. On statelessness in twentieth century, see Miriam Rürup, “Lives in Limbo: Statelessness after Two World Wars,” Bulletin of the GHI 49 (Fall 2011): 113–34,
  3. An example from Germany: Simone Lässig, “History, Memory, and Symbolic Boundaries in the Federal Republic of Germany: Migrants and Migration in School History Textbooks,” in Migration, Memory, and Diversity: Germany from 1945 to the Present, edited by Cornelia Wilhelm (New York: Berghahn Books, 2016), chap. 5.
Suggested Citation: Mark R. Stoneman, “Knowledge and Citizenship,” History of Knowledge, March 10, 2017, https://historyofknowledge.net/2017/03/10/knowledge-and-citizenship/.