Wednesday, 25 July 2012

LGBTI ALMS 2012 conference

I'm really excited to be giving a paper at the LGBTI ALMS (Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections) conference in Amsterday on the 3rd of August. A brief abstract of what I will be talking about can be found on the conference blog here.

The full programme can be found here. It's a jam-packed conference with a real range of interesting speakers.

It's going to be a great opportunity to discuss my research at such an early stage with so many experts in the field, and a great chance to see Amsterdam as I've never been before! I will report back on the blog when I return.

Monday, 9 July 2012

the women's library

As part of the ARLIS (Art Library Society) conference that I mention here, two staff members from the Women’s Library, currently part of London Metropolitan University, spoke about two recent projects relating to sport (the theme of the conference was Olympic-based).
Cycling to Suffrage: The Bicycle and Women's Rights, 1890-1914
·         Briony Benge Abbot, Curator of Special Collections told us about the current exhibition of called Cycling to Suffrage: The Bicycle and Women's Rights, 1890-1914 which runs until 8 September 2012.
·         The Women’s Library was founded in 1926 after the suffragette movement. She gave a brief history of the library, which can be found here.
·         The main users are researchers, academics, students and family historians.
·         The library has two exhibition spaces, and aims to show four exhibitions a year. Themes covered in the past have included; prostitution, craft, make-up and work.
·         The current exhibition looks at the gender politics of cycling in Edwardian and Victorian Britain, a mode of transport that was considered masculine, unsafe and uncivilised for a woman.
·         The cycle became a symbol of the New Woman, but was also used as a negative symbol against the women’s movement.
·         The exhibition raises questions about class, “rational dress”, how the bicycle supported the suffrage movement, ie: how it was used in parades, cycling scouts canvassing and handing out leaflets, and its use in pilgrimages and marches.
·         The research carried out for the exhibition unearthed material that was previously unknown about, such as a radical book about women cyclists, which championed healthy lifestyles and showed women how to fix bikes.
·         The bicycle was also seen by some to represent a more militant wave of the suffragette movement, following activist activities it was used to get away at high speed, some women were accused of making bombs with bicycle parts, complaints were made about tyre tracks on golf greens etc.
·         This is the first time this subject has been looked at in any detail, and it has provided new perspectives to parts of the collections and has prompted the rewrite of some catalogue entries.
·         The outcomes have included talks and the exhibition has enhanced knowledge of the collection. It has also attracted new audiences, including lots of cyclist groups, who discuss how cycling is still a gendered issue. Only 29% of cyclists in London are women, and the death rate from accidents is highly disproportionate.
·         More about the exhibition here. I visited it briefly the other day, and it’s really illuminating and worth a visit.
 Sporting Sisters: stories of Muslim women in sport
·         Tracey Weller Learning Coordinator, whom I had already had the pleasure of meeting to interview for my dissertation, told us about some of the outreach they did at the Women’s Library, specifically about the Muslim women in sport project.
·         This was a community-led research project, originally with 12 or 13 young Muslim women looking at Muslim women’s participation from 1948 to the present day. By the end of the project, there were four women taking part, this reduction in numbers is fairly standard in community outreach work.
·         The project was funded primarily by HLF, followed by contributions from ESRC and the People’s Record.
·         The participants were given an introduction to the Women’s Library, and had a workshop about using a research library. They received training around oral histories and interviewing techniques, and film-making skills.
·         The collection of material relating to Muslim women in sport was quite patchy in the late 18th and early 19th century, but there was more relevant stuff from more contemporary times.
·         Issues raised involved class, ethnicity, over-representation of materials related to rowing and hockey, clothing- especially for Muslim sportswomen.
·         They discovered that Muslim women were amongst the most enthusiastic in women’s boxing.
·         The last Olympic sports to exclude men are rhythmic gymnastics and synchronised swimming.
·         They filmed and edited their own short film about their research, which can be found here.
·         The outcomes of the project were: the participants acquired new skills, such as research skills and filming skills. The film preserves their research and became part of the collection, they have helped to highlight a hidden voice and have raised the profile of Muslim women’s participation in sports. The project has also enhanced the knowledge of the Women’s Library staff of their collections.
Recently the Women’s Library have announced that there are seven bidders for alternative ownership, which I’m sure you will have heard about, there is a shortlist of seven, and I’m selfishly hoping it will stay in London, and particularly keeping my fingers crossed for Senate House as it would be a brilliant edition to the already blooming University of London (again, obvious bias on my part).

Monday, 2 July 2012

a warm Wellcome

The reason I include the Wellcome Library on this blog is because of the frieze in the main reading room, which reminded me of the timeline by Sara Fanelli at the Tate Modern that gives an alternative and expanded version of the story of contemporary art. Postmodern and feminist approaches demand a complete disruption/revision of existing canons, which are made by and for men. Feminism rejects hierarchy and canonicity, so the Tate are really bold in having this displayed there (although it's undermined by the reliance on white males for their big shows). The Wellcome library seemed to share this vision of extending a view of history, this time, medical history.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London
Interior of the Wellcome Library.
 The Wellcome Library’s art deco reading room, formerly the original museum for Henry Wellcome’s unique collection, has a frieze around it containing names, thought in the 1960s to be the most important figures in medicine. The library serves to fill the gaps between those names, the lesser known doctors, nurses, surgeons, other medical practitioners, patients and theorists. Contrary to many misconceptions, the collection held is very much alive and glowing with a wealth of diverse material (2.5 million items!), spanning themes as broad as; food, ethics, sexuality, medicine in the media, foreign language material, alchemy, botany, witchcraft and the occult and much more. There are twelve books about Napoleon’s various alleged maladies (including scabies), a huge variety of periodicals and primary source medical textbooks from 1850 onwards and vast numbers of paintings, drawings and prints. The library is open to anyone, and there is only one category of membership. The main readership is students (of both medicine and art/art history), people in the field of medicine, and family historians who can look up family members who were patients, or doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners. The library has its own in-house conservation team where most of its conservation takes place, an in-house photography team for digitisation (a current digitisation project looking at the history of genetics is currently underway) and a Rare Materials Room for consulting the more fragile and rare material, the oldest of which is a prescription from Egypt dated 11BC. The Research and Engagement Officer Ross MacFarlane told us about the Wellcome’s online presence, including the blog, Wellcome Images, a widely used free resource, the video tutorials for library users, and Wellcome Film. The Wellcome Library is incredibly lucky as it is privately owned and very wealthy. The majority of the Wellcome Trust’s budget goes towards funding medical research, but there is still a generous amount left to continue to acquire material and to move ahead with ongoing digitisation projects.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London
Lady Strachan and Lady Warwick making love in a park, while their husbands look on with disapproval. Coloured etching, ca. 1820.