The subject I have chosen for my history project is on Mata Hari; a dancer sentenced to death by the French during WWI for espionage, who later became synonymous with the paradigms of the female spy.
Initially I had only vague ideas about what I was intending to do my project on. Previous to my research on WWI I was not aware of Mata Hari and as I learned more of her I became fascinated by the intrigue surrounding this personality. She emerged as one of the few female personalities of WWI who although did not hold significance to the great war itself, left a lasting impression on society and became the historical foundation to the stereotype of women in espionage; seductive, mysterious and in various examples, illustrated as inferior to men.
I began my preliminary research on this personality by searching various websites and online databases. It seemed that in the brief online biographies I found of her, contemporary sources were content not to define definitely whether Mata Hari was actually guilty of spying for the Germans. Rather, according to Encyclopedia Britannica Online "it was not that she was necessarily a spy, but the perception that her treasonous work hurt France was enough to lead to her demise."
Contemporary popular historian Julie Wheelwright in her acclaimed biography "The Fatal Lover- Mata Hari," first published 1992, emphasizes Mata Hari as a feminine heroine misunderstood in her conservative time who was vilified because of her act of abandoning the stereotype of the domicile housewife to engage in her natural feminine ability to dominate over men through her sexuality. Wheelwright clearly cites primary evidence that Mata Hari was wrongfully accused and convicted not only because of previously mentioned high paranoia and suspicion of France during the war time, but also because of her individuality in breaking the accepted social boundaries for females of the time. After further research into Wheelwright's background, I was confirmed that Wheelwright was a feministic historian, having written other titles such as "Amazons and Military Maids : Women Who Dressed As Men in Pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness" as well as have taught university courses entitled "From Weimar to Wirtschaftswunder: German Women in the 20th Century."
In stark contrast to Wheelwrights' contemporary feministic opinions on Mata Hari, Major Thomas Coulson in his biography "Mata Hari- Courtesan and Spy" first published in 1924 is in complete contempt of Mata Hari's character, describing her as an "evil, calculating seductress, preying on poor unsuspecting military personals to leech from them their country's secrets..." I did further research into the context in which he wrote his biography as well as his obvious military background.
The Red Dancer: The Life and Times of Mata Hari -- by Richard Skinner- was another interesting biography of Mata Hari, published in 2003. Skinner's research is assiduous, encompassing many aspects of European and Asian life....