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Women's history is the study of the role that women have played in history and the methods required to do so. It includes the study of the history of the growth of woman's rights throughout recorded history, personal achievement over a period of time, the examination of individual and groups of women of historical significance, and the effect that historical events have had on women. Inherent in the study of women's history is the belief that more traditional recordings of history have minimized or ignored the contributions of women to different fields and the effect that historical events had on women as a whole; in this respect, women's history is often a form of historical revisionism, seeking to challenge or expand the traditional historical consensus.
The main centers of scholarship have been the United States and Britain, where second-wave feminist historians, influenced by the new approaches promoted by social history, led the way. As activists in women's liberation, discussing and analyzing the oppression and inequalities they experienced as women, they believed it imperative to learn about the lives of their fore mothers—and found very little scholarship in print. History was written mainly by men and about men's activities in the public sphere especially in Africa—war, politics, diplomacy and administration. Women are usually excluded and, when mentioned, are usually portrayed in sex-stereotypical roles such as wives, mothers, daughters, and mistresses. The study of history is value-laden in regard to what is considered historically "worthy." Other aspects of this area of study is the differences in women's lives caused by race, economic status, social status, and various other aspects of society.
Changes came in the 19th and 20th centuries; for example, for women, the right to equal pay is now enshrined in law. Women traditionally ran the household, bore and reared the children, were nurses, mothers, wives, neighbours, friends, and teachers. During periods of war, women were drafted into the labor market to undertake work that had been traditionally restricted to men. Following the wars, they invariably lost their jobs in industry and had to return to domestic and service roles.
The history of Scottish women in the late 19th century and early 20th century was not fully developed as a field of study until the 1980s. In addition, most work on women before 1700 has been published since 1980. Several studies have taken a biographical approach, but other work has drawn on the insights from research elsewhere to examine such issues as work, family, religion, crime, and images of women. Scholars are also uncovering women's voices in their letters, memoirs, poetry, and court records. Because of the late development of the field, much recent work has been recuperative, but increasingly the insights of gender history, both in other countries and in Scottish history after 1700, are being used to frame the questions that are asked. Future work should contribute both to a reinterpretation of the current narratives of Scottish history and also to a deepening of the complexity of the history of women in late medieval and early modern Britain and Europe.
In Ireland studies of women, and gender relationships more generally, had been rare before 1990; they now are commonplace with some 3000 books and articles in print.
French historians have taken a unique approach: there has been an extensive scholarship in women's and gender history despite the lack of women's and gender study programs or departments at the university level. But approaches used by other academics in the research of broadly based social histories have been applied to the field of women's history as well. The high level of research and publication in women's and gender history is due to the high interest within French society. The structural discrimination in academia against the subject of gender history in France is changing due to the increase in international studies following the formation of the European Union, and more French scholars seeking appointments outside Europe.
Before the 19th century, young women lived under the economic and disciplinary authority of their fathers until they married and passed under the control of their husbands. In order to secure a satisfactory marriage, a woman needed to bring a substantial dowry. In the wealthier families, daughters received their dowry from their families, whereas the poorer women needed to work in order to save their wages so as to improve their chances to wed. Under the German laws, women had property rights over their dowries and inheritances, a valuable benefit as high mortality rates resulted in successive marriages. Before 1789, the majority of women lived confined to society's private sphere, the home.
The Age of Reason did not bring much more for women: men, including Enlightenment aficionados, believed that women were naturally destined to be principally wives and mothers. Within the educated classes, there was the belief that women needed to be sufficiently educated to be intelligent and agreeable interlocutors to their husbands. However, the lower-class women were expected to be economically productive in order to help their husbands make ends meet.
In the newly founded German State (1871), women of all social classes were politically and socially disenfranchised. The code of social respectability confined upper class and bourgeois women to their homes. They were considered socially and economically inferior to their husbands. The unmarried women were ridiculed, and the ones who wanted to avoid social descent could work as unpaid housekeepers living with relatives; the ablest could work as governesses or they could become nuns.
A significant number of middle-class families became impoverished between 1871 and 1890 as the pace of industrial growth was uncertain, and women had to earn money in secret by sewing or embroidery to contribute to the family income. In 1865, the Allgemeiner Deutscher Frauenverein (ADF) was founded as an umbrella organization for women's associations, demanding rights to education, employment, and political participation. Three decades later, the Bund Deutscher Frauenverbände (BDF) replaced ADF and excluded from membership the proletarian movement that was part of the earlier group. The two movements had differing views concerning women's place in society, and accordingly, they also had different agendas. The bourgeois movement made important contributions to the access of women to education and employment (mainly office-based and teaching). The proletarian movement, on the other hand, developed as a branch of the Social Democratic Party. As factory jobs became available for women, they campaigned for equal pay and equal treatment. In 1908 German women won the right to join political parties, and in 1918 they were finally granted the right to vote. The emancipation of women in Germany was to be challenged in following years.
Historians have paid special attention to the efforts by Nazi Germany to reverse the political and social gains that women made before 1933, especially in the relatively liberal Weimar Republic. The role of women in Nazi Germany changed according to circumstances. Theoretically, the Nazis believed that women must be subservient to men, avoid careers, devote themselves to childbearing and child-rearing, and be helpmates to the traditional dominant fathers in the traditional family. But, before 1933, women played important roles in the Nazi organization and were allowed some autonomy to mobilize other women. After Hitler came to power in 1933, the activist women were replaced by bureaucratic women, who emphasized feminine virtues, marriage, and childbirth.
As Germany prepared for war, large numbers of women were incorporated into the public sector and, with the need for full mobilization of factories by 1943, all women were required to register with the employment office. Hundreds of thousands of women served in the military as nurses and support personnel, and another hundred thousand served in the Luftwaffe, especially helping to operate the anti-aircraft systems. Women's wages remained unequal and women were denied positions of leadership or control.
More than two million women were murdered in the Holocaust. The Nazi ideology viewed women generally as agents of fertility. Accordingly, it identified the Jewish woman as an element to be exterminated to prevent the rise of future generations. For these reasons, the Nazis treated women as prime targets for annihilation in the Holocaust.
Interest in the study of women's history in Eastern Europe has been delayed. Representative is Hungary, where the historiography has been explored by Petö and Szapor (2007). Academia resisted incorporating this specialized field of history, primarily because of the political atmosphere and a lack of institutional support. Before 1945, historiography dealt chiefly with nationalist themes that supported the anti-democratic political agenda of the state. After 1945, academia reflected a Soviet model. Instead of providing an atmosphere in which women could be the subjects of history, this era ignored the role of the women's rights movement in the early 20th century. The collapse of Communism in 1989 was followed by a decade of promising developments in which biographies of prominent Hungarian women were published, and important moments of women's political and cultural history were the subjects of research. However, the quality of this scholarship was uneven and failed to take advantage of the methodological advances in research in the West. In addition, institutional resistance continued, as evidenced by the lack of undergraduate or graduate programs dedicated to women's and gender history at Hungarian universities.
Women's history in Russia started to become important in the Czarist era, and concern was shown in the consciousness and writing of Alexander Pushkin. During the Soviet Era, feminism was developed along with ideals of equality, but in practice and in domestic arrangements, men often dominate.
By the 1990s new periodicals, especially Casus and Odysseus: Dialogue with Time, Adam and Eve stimulated women's history and, more recently, gender history. Using the concept of gender has shifted the focus from women to socially and culturally constructed notions of sexual difference. It has led to deeper debates on historiography and holds a promise of stimulating the development of a new "general" history able to integrate personal, local, social, and cultural history.
Published work generally deals with women as visible participants in the revolution, employment as vehicles for women's liberation, Confucianism and the cultural concept of family as sources of women's oppression. While rural marriage rituals, such as bride price and dowry, have remained the same in form, their function has changed. This reflects the decline of the extended family and the growth in women's agency in the marriage transaction. In recent scholarship in China, the concept of gender has yielded a bounty of new knowledge in English- and Chinese-language writings.
Zhongguo fu nü sheng Huo shi (simplified Chinese: 中国妇女生活史; traditional Chinese: 中國婦女生活史; pinyin: Zhōngguó Fùnǚ Shēnghuó Shǐ; literally: "Chinese Women's Life History") is a historical book written by Chen Dongyuan in 1928 and published by The Commercial Press in 1937. The book, the first to give a systematic introduction to women's history in China, has strongly influenced further research in this field.
The book sheds a light on Chinese women's life ranging from ancient times (prior to Zhou Dynasty) to the Republic of China. In the book, sections are separated based on dynasties in China. Sections are divided into segments to introduce different themes, such as marriage, feudal ethical codes, education for women, virtues, positions, the concept of chastity, foot-binding and women's rights movement in modern China. Inspired by the anti-traditional thoughts in New Culture Movement, the author devoted much effort to disclosing and denouncing the unfairness and suppression in culture, institutions, and life that victimize women in China. According to the book, women's conditions are slightly improved until modern China. in the Preface of the book, the author writes: since women in China are always subject to abuse, the history of women is, naturally the history of abuse of women in China. The author revealed the motivation: the book intends to explain how the principle of women being inferior to men evolves; how the abuse to women is intensified over time; and how the misery on women's back experience the history change. The author wants to promote women's liberation by revealing the political and social suppression of women.
Mann (2009) explores how Chinese biographers have depicted women over two millennia (221 BCE to 1911), especially during the Han dynasty. Zhang Xuecheng, Sima Qian, and Zhang Huiyan and other writers often study women of the governing class, and their representation in domestic scenes of death in the narratives and in the role of martyrs.
The historiography of women in the history of Tibet confronts the suppression of women's histories in the social narratives of an exiled community. McGranahan (2010) examines the role of women in the 20th century, especially during the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet. She studies women in the Tibetan resistance army, the subordination of women in a Buddhist society, and the persistent concept of menstrual blood as a contaminating agent. 1998
Japanese women's history was marginal to historical scholarship until the late 20th century. The subject hardly existed before 1945, and, even after that date, many academic historians were reluctant to accept women's history as a part of Japanese history. The social and political climate of the 1980s in particular, favorable in many ways to women, gave opportunities for Japanese women's historiography and also brought the subject fuller academic recognition. Exciting and innovative research on Japanese women's history began in the 1980s. Much of this has been conducted not only by academic women's historians, but also by freelance writers, journalists, and amateur historians; that is, by people who have been less restricted by traditional historical methods and expectations. The study of Japanese women's history has become accepted as part of the traditional topics.
A pioneering study was Patricia Grimshaw, Women's Suffrage in New Zealand (1972), explaining how that remote colony became the first country in the world to give women the vote. Women's history as an academic discipline emerged in the mid-1970s, typified by Miriam Dixson, The Real Matilda: Woman and Identity in Australia, 1788 to the Present (1976). The first studies were compensatory, filling in the vacuum where women had been left out. In common with developments in the United States and Britain, there was a movement toward gender studies, with a field dominated by feminists.
Other important topics include demography and family history. Of recent importance are studies of the role of women on the homefront, and in military service, during world wars. See Australian women in World War I and Australian women in World War II.
Numerous short studies have appeared for women's history in African nations.  Several surveys have appeared that put the sub-Sahara Africa in the context of women's history.
Scholars have turned their imagination to innovative sources for the history of African women, such as songs from Malawi, weaving techniques in Sokoto, and historical linguistics.
Apart from individual women, working largely on their own, the first organized systematic efforts to develop women's history came from the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in the early 20th century. It coordinated efforts across the South to tell the story of the women on the Confederate home front, while the male historians spent their time with battles and generals. The women emphasized female activism, initiative, and leadership. They reported that when all the men left for war, the women took command, found ersatz and substitute foods, rediscovered their old traditional skills with the spinning wheel when factory cloth became unavailable, and ran all the farm or plantation operations. They faced danger without having menfolk in the traditional role of their protectors. Historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall argue that the UDC was a powerful promoter of women's history:
UDC leaders were determined to assert women's cultural authority over virtually every representation of the region's past. This they did by lobbying for state archives and museums, national historic sites, and historic highways; compiling genealogies; interviewing former soldiers; writing history textbooks; and erecting monuments, which now moved triumphantly from cemeteries into town centers. More than half a century before women's history and public history emerged as fields of inquiry and action, the UDC, with other women's associations, strove to etch women's accomplishments into the historical record and to take history to the people, from the nursery and the fireside to the schoolhouse and the public square.
The work of women scholars was ignored by the male-dominated history profession until the 1960s, when the first breakthroughs came. Gerda Lerner in 1963 offered the first regular college course in women's history. The field of women's history exploded dramatically after 1970, along with the growth of the new social history and the acceptance of women into graduate programs in history departments. In 1972, Sarah Lawrence College began offering a Master of Arts Program in Women's History, founded by Gerda Lerner, that was the first American graduate degree in the field. Another important development was to integrate women into the history of race and slavery. A pioneering effort was Deborah Gray White's 'Ar'n't I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South (1985), which helped to open up analysis of race, slavery, abolitionism, and feminism, as well as resistance, power, and activism, and themes of violence, sexualities, and the body. A major trend in recent years has been to emphasize a global perspective. Although the word "women" is the eighth most commonly used word in abstracts of all historical articles in North America, it is only the twenty-third most used word in abstracts of historical articles in other regions. Furthermore, "gender" appears about twice as frequently in American history abstracts compared to abstracts covering the rest of the world.
In recent years, historians of women have reached out to web-oriented students. Examples of these outreach efforts are the websites Women and Social Movements in the United States, maintained by Kathryn Kish Sklar and Thomas Dublin. and Click! The Ongoing Feminist Revolution.
In the Ancien Régime in France, few women held any formal power; some queens did, as did the heads of Catholic convents. In the Enlightenment, the writings of philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau provided a political program for reform of the ancien régime, founded on a reform of domestic mores. Rousseau's conception of the relations between private and public spheres is more unified than that found in modern sociology. Rousseau argued that the domestic role of women is a structural precondition for a "modern" society.
Salic law prohibited women from rule; however, the laws for the case of a regency, when the king was too young to govern by himself, brought the queen into the centre of power. The queen could ensure the passage of power from one king to another—from her late husband to her young son—while simultaneously assuring the continuity of the dynasty.
Educational aspirations were on the rise and were becoming increasingly institutionalized in order to supply the church and state with the functionaries to serve as their future administrators. Girls were schooled too, but not to assume political responsibility. Girls were ineligible for leadership positions and were generally considered to have an inferior intellect to their brothers. France had many small local schools where working-class children - both boys and girls - learned to read, the better "to know, love, and serve God." The sons and daughters of the noble and bourgeois elites were given gender-specific educations: boys were sent to upper school, perhaps a university, while their sisters - if they were lucky enough to leave the house - would be sent to board at a convent with a vague curriculum. The Enlightenment challenged this model, but no real alternative was presented for female education. Only through education at home were knowledgeable women formed, usually to the sole end of dazzling their salons.
Women's rights refers to the social and human rights of women. In the United States, the abolition movements sparked an increased wave of attention to the status of women, but the history of feminism reaches to before the 18th century. (See protofeminism.) The advent of the reformist age during the 19th century meant that those invisible minorities or marginalized majorities were to find a catalyst and a microcosm in such new tendencies of reform. The earliest works on the so-called "woman question" criticized the restrictive role of women, without necessarily claiming that women were disadvantaged or that men were to blame. In Britain, the Feminism movement began in the 19th century and continues in the present day. Simone de Beauvoir wrote a detailed analysis of women's oppression in her 1949 treatise The Second Sex. It became a foundational tract of contemporary feminism. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, feminist movements, such as the one in the United States substantially changed the condition of women in the Western world. One trigger for the revolution was the development of the birth control pill in 1960, which gave women access to easy and reliable contraception in order to conduct family planning.
Women's historians have debated the impact of capitalism on the status of women. Taking a pessimistic side, Alice Clark argued that when capitalism arrived in 17th century England, it made a negative impact on the status of women as they lost much of their economic importance. Clark argues that in the 16th century England, women were engaged in many aspects of industry and agriculture. The home was a central unit of production and women played a vital role in running farms, and in some trades and landed estates. Their useful economic roles gave them a sort of equality with their husbands. However, Clark argues, as capitalism expanded in the 17th century, there was more and more division of labor with the husband taking paid labor jobs outside the home, and the wife reduced to unpaid household work. Middle-class and women were confined to an idle domestic existence, supervising servants; lower-class women were forced to take poorly paid jobs. Capitalism, therefore, had a negative effect on many women. In a more positive interpretation, Ivy Pinchbeck argues that capitalism created the conditions for women's emancipation. Tilly and Scott have to Emphasize the continuity and the status of women, finding three stages in European history. In the preindustrial era, production was mostly for home use and women produce much of the needs of the households. The second stage was the "family wage economy" of early industrialization, the entire family depended on the collective wages of its members, including husband, wife and older children. The third or modern stage is the "family consumer economy," in which the family is the site of consumption, and women are employed in large numbers in retail and clerical jobs to support rising standards of consumption.
The 1870 US Census was the first to count "Females engaged in each and every occupation" and provides a snapshot of women's history. It reveals that, contrary to popular myth, not all American women of the Victorian period were "safe" in their middle-class homes or working in sweatshops. Women composed 15% of the total workforce (1.8 million out of 12.5). They made up one-third of factory "operatives," and were concentrated in teaching, as the nation emphasized expanding education; dressmaking, millinery, and tailoring. Two-thirds of teachers were women. They also worked in iron and steel works (495), mines (46), sawmills (35), oil wells and refineries (40), gas works (4), and charcoal kilns (5), and held such surprising jobs as ship rigger (16), teamster (196), turpentine laborer (185), brass founder/worker (102), shingle and lathe maker (84), stock-herder (45), gun and locksmith (33), hunter and trapper (2). There were five lawyers, 24 dentists, and 2,000 doctors.
Marriage ages of women can be used as an indicator of the position of women in society. Women's age at marriage could influence economic development, partly because women marrying at higher ages had more opportunities to acquire human capital. On average, across the world, marriage ages of women have been rising. However, countries such as Mexico, China, Egypt, and Russia have shown a smaller increase in this measure of female empowerment than, for example, Japan.
In the history of sex, the social construction of sexual behavior—its taboos, regulation and social and political effects—has had a profound effect on women in the world since prehistoric times. Absent assured ways of controlling reproduction, women have practiced abortion since ancient times; many societies have also practice infanticide to ensure the survival of older children. Historically, it is unclear how often the ethics of abortion (induced abortion) was discussed in societies. In the latter half of the 20th century, some nations began to legalize abortion. This controversial subject has sparked heated debate and in some cases, violence, as different parts of society have different social and religious ideas about its meaning.
Women have been exposed to various tortuous sexual conditions and have been discriminated against in various fashions in history. In addition to women being sexual victims of troops in warfare, an institutionalized example was the Japanese military enslaving native women and girls as comfort women in military brothels in Japanese-occupied countries during World War II.
The social aspects of clothing have revolved around traditions regarding certain items of clothing intrinsically suited different gender roles. In different periods, both women's and men's fashions have highlighted one area or another of the body for attention. In particular, the wearing of skirts and trousers has given rise to common phrases expressing implied restrictions in use and disapproval of offending behavior. For example, ancient Greeks often considered the wearing of trousers by Persian men as a sign of an effeminate attitude. Women's clothing in Victorian fashion was used as a means of control and admiration. Reactions to the elaborate confections of French fashion led to various calls for reform on the grounds of both beauties (Artistic and Aesthetic dress) and health (dress reform; especially for undergarments and lingerie). Although trousers for women did not become fashionable until the later 20th century, women began wearing men's trousers (suitably altered) for outdoor work a hundred years earlier. In the 1960s, André Courrèges introduced long trousers for women as a fashion item, leading to the era of the pantsuit and designer jeans, and the gradual eroding of the prohibitions against girls and women wearing trousers in schools, the workplace, and fine restaurants. Corsets have long been used for fashion, and body modification, such as waistline reduction. There were, and are, many different styles and types of corsets, varying depending on the intended use, corset maker's style, and the fashions of the era.
The social status of women in the Victoria Era is often seen as an illustration of the striking discrepancy between the nation's power and richness and what many consider its appalling social conditions. Victorian morality was full of contradictions. A plethora of social movements concerned with improving public morals co-existed with a class system that permitted and imposed harsh living conditions for many, such as women. In this period, an outward appearance of dignity and restraint was valued, but the usual "vices" continued, such as prostitution. In the Victorian era, the bathing machine was developed and flourished. It was a device to allow people to wade in the ocean at beaches without violating Victorian notions of modesty about having "limbs" revealed. The bathing machine was part of sea-bathing etiquette that was more rigorously enforced upon women than men.
The Roaring Twenties is a term for society and culture in the 1920s in the Western world. It was a period of sustained economic prosperity with a distinctive cultural edge in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, particularly in major cities.
Women's suffrage came about in many major countries in the 1920s, including United States, Canada, Great Britain. many countries expanded women's voting rights in representative and direct democracies across the world such as the US, Canada, Great Britain and most major European countries in 1917–21, as well as India. This influenced many governments and elections by increasing the number of voters available. Politicians responded by spending more attention on issues of concern to women, especially pacifism, public health, education, and the status of children. On the whole, women voted much like their menfolk, except they were more pacifistic.
The 1920s marked a revolution in fashion. The new woman danced, drank, smoked and voted. She cut her hair short, wore make-up and partied. Sometimes she smoked a cigarette. She was known for being giddy and taking risks; she was a flapper. More women took jobs making them more independent and free. With their desire for freedom and independence came as well change in fashion, welcoming a more comfortable style, where the waistline was just above the hips and loosen, and staying away from the Victorian style with a corset and tight waistline.
With widespread unemployment among men, poverty, and the need to help family members who are in even worse condition, The pressures were heavy on women during the Great Depression across the modern world. A primary role was as a housewife. Without a steady flow of family income, their work became much harder in dealing with food and clothing and medical care. The birthrates fell everywhere, as children were postponed until families could financially support them. The average birthrate for 14 major countries fell 12% from 19.3 births per thousand population in 1930 to 17.0 in 1935. In Canada, half of Roman Catholic women defied Church teachings and used contraception to postpone births.
Among the few women in the labor force, layoffs were less common in the white-collar jobs and they were typically found in light manufacturing work. However, there was a widespread demand to limit families to one paid job, so that wives might lose employment if their husband was employed. Across Britain, there was a tendency for married women to join the labor force, competing for part-time jobs especially.
In rural and small-town areas, women expanded their operation of vegetable gardens to include as much food production as possible. In the United States, agricultural organizations sponsored programs to teach housewives how to optimize their gardens and to raise poultry for meat and eggs. In American cities, African American women quiltmakers enlarged their activities, promote collaboration, and trained neophytes. Quilts were created for practical use from various inexpensive materials and increased social interaction for women and promoted camaraderie and personal fulfillment.
Oral history provides evidence for how housewives in a modern industrial city handled shortages of money and resources. Often they updated strategies their mothers used when they were growing up in poor families. Cheap foods were used, such as soups, beans and noodles. They purchased the cheapest cuts of meat—sometimes even horse meat—and recycled the Sunday roast into sandwiches and soups. They sewed and patched clothing, traded with their neighbors for outgrown items, and made do with colder homes. New furniture and appliances were postponed until better days. Many women also worked outside the home, or took boarders, did laundry for trade or cash, and did sewing for neighbors in exchange for something they could offer. Extended families used mutual aid—extra food, spare rooms, repair-work, cash loans—to help cousins and in-laws.
In Japan, official government policy was deflationary and the opposite of Keynesian spending. Consequently, the government launched a nationwide campaign to induce households to reduce their consumption, focusing attention on spending by housewives.
In Germany, the government tried to reshape private household consumption under the Four-Year Plan of 1936 to achieve German economic self-sufficiency. The Nazi women's organizations, other propaganda agencies and the authorities all attempted to shape such consumption as economic self-sufficiency was needed to prepare for and to sustain the coming war. Using traditional values of thrift and healthy living, the organizations, propaganda agencies and authorities employed slogans that called up traditional values of thrift and healthy living. However, these efforts were only partly successful in changing the behavior of housewives.
The Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Islamic and Christian views about women have varied throughout the last two millennia, evolving along with or counter to the societies in which people have lived. For much of history, the role of women in the life of the church, both local and universal, has been downplayed, overlooked, or simply denied.
The First World War has received the most coverage, with the newest trend being coverage of a wide range of gender issues.
During the twentieth century of total warfare the female half of the population played increasingly large roles as housewives, consumers, mothers, munitions workers, replacements for men in service, nurses, lovers, sex objects and emotional supporters. One result in many countries was women getting the right to vote, including the United States, Canada, Germany, and Russia, among others.
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