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The Legacy of Mata Hari: Women and Transgression




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In October 1917, the woman known throughout the globe as Mata Hari was executed on espionage charges by a firing squad at Vincennes on the outskirts of Paris. Born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in 1876 in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, in 1905 she reinvented herself as the exotic dancer Mata Hari, trading on the fascination with colonial cultures at the fin de siècle. Although history has provided little evidence of her spying, Mata Hari’s French prosecutors condemned her as ‘the greatest female spy the world has ever known’, a vamp, a courtesan and a divorcee who had caused the deaths of 50,000 allied combatants.

On the centenary of her death, this symposium hosted by City, University of London acknowledges Mata Hari's significance as an icon of feminine seduction, political betrayal and female transgression into male spheres of influence. This multi-national, cross-disciplinary event drawing from history, politics, cultural studies, literary journalism, the visual and performing arts, museum studies and feminist studies will bring together biographers, academics and museum curators. Our guest speakers will address the cultural multiplicity of the anxieties about women in the public sphere that Mata Hari symbolised both during the First World War and as enduring concerns. Following the main symposium, this event will feature an illustrated dance performance by cabaret artist Aletia Upstairs.


9:15am: Registration (Northampton Square Main Reception)

10am: Welcome and Introduction - Room B200 (University Building, Northampton Square) Dr Patricia Moran (Head of English, City, University of London)

10.05am: Keynote speaker - Julie Wheelwright (Senior lecturer, City, University of London),  ‘The reinvention of Margaretha G. Zelle as Mata Hari'

10.45am: Break

11am,: Morning session #1

Public Engagement

Hanneke Boonstra, author and blogger for the Frisian Museum, Leeuwarden

‘My Mata Hari: a Dutch view on an international femme fatale’

Tara Finn, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Historians

‘Newspaper Representations of Mata Hari’

Amanda Ohlke, Adult Education Director, International Spy Museum, Washington DC

‘Mata Hari, Spy: The Effect of Her Unique Persona on both Espionage Reality and Legend’

12pm: Break

12.15pm: Morning session #2

The Making of a Mythology and the Uses of Propaganda

Florian Altenhöner, Independent Historian

‘Some Notes on a Spy: Margaretha G. Zelle and German Military Intelligence, 1915-1917’

Mary Craig, Biographer

‘Victim and vamp:  Mata Hari’s role in Great War propaganda’

Sylvie Pomiès-Maréchal, Senior Lecturer at the Ecole Supérieure du Professorat et de l'Education (ESPE) Centre Val de Loire – University of Orléans

‘The Most Remarkable Woman Spy Since Mata Hari? The case of triple agent Mathilde Carré’

1.15pm Break

2pm: Afternoon session #1

Cultural representations of the spy seductress

Bronwen Edwards, PhD student in English Literature at the University of Leicester

‘Sexy Spy’ or chaste war heroine: The only options for women in war?’

Paul Giffard-Foret, Researcher in Anglophone Postcolonial Literatures (Asia/Australia)

‘Mata Hari revisited: identity ‘dislothure’ in the Asian Australian novel’

Minna Vuohelainen, ‘Female spies and resistance workers in the Strand Magazine, 1914-1918’

3pm: Break

3.15pm Afternoon session #2

Women’s resistance in military conflicts

Sarah Lonsdale, senior lecturer, City, University of London

‘Women, war and espionage’

Monica Varese, Independent researcher

‘Inciting Mutiny’ and Other Transgressions: Claude Cahun/Lucy Schwob and Marcel Moore/Suzanne Malherbe in Libby Cone’s War on the Margins

Jan Miklas-Frankowski, assistant professor, Institute of Philosophy, Sociology and Journalism, University of Gdansk

‘Love against the Holocaust. Izolda Regensburg’s transgressions in Hanna Krall’s ‘Chasing the King of Hearts’

4.30pm: Closing remarks

5pm Introduction to dance/performance (Performance Space, College Building)

Anne Decoret-Ahiha, Dance Conservatoire, University of Lyon

‘Mata Hari, a modern Western dance figure?

5.30pm: Reception and performance

Mata Hari performance with cabaret performer Aletia Upstairs, and Gamelan orchestra

Contact:  Julie Wheelwright and  Caroline Sipos

Please note, booking for this event is essential, unfortunately we are unable to permit entry to guests without an advance booking.

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When & where

10.00am - 6.15pmSaturday 28th October 2017

City, University of London Northampton Square London EC1V 0HB United Kingdom