Engaging the Archive: Women, Gender & Sexuality Networking Event October 2014

On 16 October, archivists, librarians, donors and users of archives gathered in Special Collections at the University of Leeds for an exciting afternoon sharing stories, knowledge, and professional practice about women’s history archives in Leeds. It was exciting to see the interaction between archivists and researchers and groups and individuals who create or are thinking about how best to preserve their organization’s history and archive.

Kitty Ross, social history curator for Leeds City Galleries & Museums opened proceedings by telling us about the fascinating Lenora Cohen suffragette archive held at Abbey House Museum.

Kitty Ross

We saw images of some of the artefacts held in the collection including a gruesome, oversized mock-up of a force feeding tube. Katy Thornton told us about some of the wonderful collections held in the Brotherton’s Special Collections including the LGI midwifery collection and the outstanding cookery collection. Lauren Ryall Stockton from the Thackray Medical Museum told us of the nursing records and surgical records at the Thackray Museum and reflected on how the growth of female curatorial staff has driven efforts to find women’s voices in medical history, a field where official sources are often created by and for men. We also heard from Nicola Kenmir about collections in the West Yorkshire Archive Service and learnt that the first WYAS archivist was a Miss Foster! Nicola was looking for a new volunteer recruit to update the WYAS’s source list on women and she found a University of Leeds student volunteer during the coffee break. We also heard about the Illustrated Archive Project recently held at the M&S Company Archive as well as the extensive collections held at the archive on the social and cultural history of British women.

The second part of the workshop welcomed speakers from community organizations and researchers who work with groups to create new archives. Sue Barnes from Skippko told us about a recent community history project Hats Off! which enabled older peoples groups to share memories and stories about hats, explore Leeds Museums’ clothings and fashion collections and create artworks of their own.

Sue Barnes         hats off richmond hill

Sally Deane told us the history of Women’s Aid, the national charity which has just marked 40 years of campaigning to end violence against women and children. The archive of Women’s Aid held by FAN is currently being processed. Lieran Doherty from Together Women reflected on the challenges but also importance of preserving an archive amidst the diverse projects run by women-only organizations that work with women offenders. Gill Park offered a fascinating account of the history of Pavilion the women’s photography centre founded in 1983 with a view to challenging women’s exclusion within art histories. Naomi Bolser, independent film maker is exploring the history of women’s film making as part of her PhD project in the Institute of Communication Studies.

Fiona Philip shared the latest news from Pararchive Project, the digital platform designed to enable anyone to collect and develop their own online archives while Laura King told us about her new Family Archive project which examines what and how families collect and preserve from their past.

We heard from Jude Wood how to get involved in the exciting LGBT*IQ social history community project that will train volunteers to participate in collecting oral histories and create a museum display about LGBT*IQ history in Leeds.LAG_LGBTIQ Social History Project Flyer docx[1]

In our final session Jalna Hanmer of Feminist Archive North and co-host of the afternoon introduced participants to the history of the Feminist Archive. Established in the Southwest in 1977, the Feminist Archive had homes at the University of Bath, the public library in Bristol and finally its current home at the University of Bristol. However when part of the Feminist Archive was donated the Women’s Studies Unit at Bradford University, the charity Feminist Archive had two locations. Donors helped grow FAN which moved to Leeds Metropolitan University and finally its current location, Special Collections at the University of Leeds in 2001. Finally we heard from Jessica Bull, an undergraduate modern languages student at the University of Leeds who has spent part of her URLS looking at archival material in FAN.

Thinking about archives:

Lieran Doherty, Together Women: “It is important to start archiving our work as an organization”

Kitty Ross is considering adding Women’s History” as a classification to the social history database for Leeds Museums.

Sue Barnes: Skippko, “I have some new ideas percolating…”!

Claire Martin, PhD student in the School of History at Leeds. “Fantastic event…It was great to hear about all these fascinating projects and sources.”

Sabina Peck, PhD student in the School of History at Leeds, “It has made me think about what is…left out of archives, which will hopefully make me think about my own archival research.”

What next?

Women, Gender & Sexuality in Archives Network:

A network for users, creators and donors of archival material about women, gender and sexuality in Leeds is being developed. To find out more e mail k.m.dossett@leeds.ac.uk

Next event:

Conference: “The Future of Women’s Pasts”

Date: Thursday 25 June 2015

Venue: University of Leeds

Keynote speaker: Professor Ann Schofield (Kansas State University);

For more information e mail k.m.dossett@leeds.ac.uk