Tag Archives: Archive

Alison Bartlett – Researching the International Feminist Peace Movement

We asked Alison Bartlett, currently a visiting scholar at the University of Bristol from the University of Western Australia, to write about her experiences researching in the FAS.

In the spirit of Greenham activism, she ‘widened the (feminist archive) web’ to collections relating to the feminist peace movement in Australia.

Enjoy!

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As an Australian researcher interested in feminist cultural histories, the Feminist Archives South is one of the main reasons I applied for a Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor position at Bristol University. My research into the 1980s women’s peace movement and especially the two women’s peace camps held ­in Australia has always been in relation to Greenham Common women’s peace camp. The opportunity to sift through the rich archives of this iconic feminist event is a rare treat.

At the same time, I’ve been reading Kate Eichhorn’s book The Archival Turn in Feminism: Outrage in Order (2013) which proposes that the growing interest by feminists to delve into archives is to make sense of the ‘legacies, epistemes, and traumas pressing down on the present’. Eichhorn argues that neoliberalism of the late twentieth century has not only individualized our capacities as subjects but eroded our sense of collective agency, something that archives like the Feminist Archive South restores. Rather than understanding archives as nostalgia for the past, she claims archives reorient our understanding of the past and therefore enable us to reimagine our present.

Triangular shawl with different coloured webs sewn together

Shawl collectively made by women at Greenham Common

The boxes of material on Greenham Common are full of letters, flyers, newspaper clippings, court documents, photographs, stickers, postcards, and even a multicoloured spiderweb shawl and a piece of the green military fence tied with webs of string. I read with astonishment that some Greenham women took US President Ronald Reagan to court in New York over the deployment of nuclear missiles onto English common land. And the letters sent to women arrested and sent to Holloways prison are particularly poignant.

The ferocity of their belief in the necessity to stop escalating military interventions and nuclear arms is inspiring, and it’s easy to see how it motivated a worldwide movement of women protesting war and militarization. Together with the women’s movement, the women’s peace movement formed a significant set of arguments about the continuum of male violence, and women’s agency to imagine other ways of living, loving, and doing civilian politics.

My research into the 1980s women’s peace camps in Australia indicates that they were a direct response to what was happening in Berkshire. They were conceived as support actions but also to bring attention to the particularities of the US military in Australia. The first camp was held in central Australia outside the US military base at Pine Gap in December 1983, coinciding with the day the Cruise Missiles arrived at Greenham. The second camp was held a year later in 1984 at Cockburn Sound on the west coast near Fremantle, a major port into which US naval vessels docked and sailors took their rest and recreation.

Unlike at Greenham Common, an umbrella organization was formed specifically to coordinate the peace camps in Australia, bringing together a coalition of women’s organisations, peace, and anti-nuclear groups. The archives are largely filed under the name of the group: Women For Survival. There are substantial collections at the Jessie Street National Women’s Library in Sydney, and the University of Melbourne Archives in Melbourne which holds the Victorian Women’s Liberation and Lesbian Feminist Archives. But almost every State Library and many university libraries around Australia also hold some material. The Murdoch University Special Collections in Perth holds material in the Gay and Lesbian Archives of Western Australia (GALAWA) collection; and in Adelaide the State Library of South Australia now holds some of the dispersed resources from the Adelaide Women’s Liberation Archive; the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne; and the Fryer Library at the University of Queensland in Brisbane hold material. There are some badges displayed at the Museum of Australian Democracy in Canberra where you can also hear questions in Parliament being played on rotation, and there’s a student film made at the Pine Gap camp available at the National Film, Television and Radio School online. The Northern Territory Archives Service in Alice Springs has a great collection of oral history interviews.

bath women's peace group

There was a traffic of ideas, people, rituals, telegrams, letters, songs, and even parts of the military mesh fences between Greenham and the Australian peace camps. There are traces of this in the Australian archives and in the Feminist Archives South. Zohl de Ishtar stands out as a regular writer for the Greenham Newsletter, campaigning relentlessly to raise the profile of colonized and militarized Pacific nations, especially those used as nuclear testing sites from the 1950s. But it’s the thousands and thousands of women who went to Greenham for a day or a week or a year who register the impact of collective action, and whose traces in the archives demonstrate the mass attraction of arguments for de-militarisation amidst the threat of nuclear war during the Cold War period. I can’t imagine how 30 000 turned up on December 12, 1982 to hold hands around the entire 9 mile perimeter of the US Air Base at Greenham to ‘embrace the base’.

Eichhorn argues that archives themselves are forms of activism, as are archivists. The Feminist Archives South certainly demonstrate the value of feminist archives, and remind us of the possibilities for changing our worlds through collective action.

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We welcome all our readers to write about their experiences researching in the Feminist Archive South. It helps us to understand how people engage with our collections, and communicate our holdings to wider audiences.

If you have a FAS story you want to share with readers of this blog, please send it to us (no more than 1000 words).

 Many thanks to Alison for taking time to write up her visit!

Volunteer opportunities in the Feminist Archive South

The Feminist Archive South holds 160 metres (plus) of inspirational materials. Unfortunately we have not yet had a chance to transfer all of our paper catalogues and lists on to our online archive catalogue.

We need some kind volunteers to help with typing up word lists, access databases, and other random listings, which can converted into one catalogue, so people both in Bristol and elsewhere, can easily evaluate what is in the archive, and order up resources to use. At the moment, a significant amount of our lists are on paper alone.

Ensuring the archive is catalogued really helps researchers, and members of feminist communities, discover the Feminist Archive South’s contents. It also helps to preserve material in the long run (because of less handling and we are able to access materials from store in a more precise way).

Bear in mind everything won’t be catalogued at the end of this project, but if you would like to get involved it would really help us.

We envisage people will be taking printed or photocopied lists and typing them up and converting them into another format.  It can be done in Special Collections, or we can supply copies of lists for you to work on at home. We will provide a template for you to fill, which should be easy to use and follow.

You don’t have to have any prior experience of archive work, just be keen to learn about feminist histories and have a good eye for detail.

Do get in touch and we are happy to discuss this further.

There is no deadline, as we envisage this kind of support will be ongoing for the immediate future.

News from the archive

University of Bristol Special Collections archivist, Feminist Archive South trustee and all round goodie Hannah Lowery offers this communication:

‘Although the blog has been quiet recently and there are less researchers using FAS at the moment, today we hosted a workshop with Maud Perrier and 16 of her University of Bristol postgraduates.

Although the Special Collections Reading Room was rather chilly, there was a real buzz with discussions of Greenham Common, Carole Harwood, Wages for Housework, and other topics.

Maud and I commented on how cold it must have been living at Greenham Common, and on how dedicated the women must have been.

DM1981 129 1 2 060

Although the majority of the Feminist Archive South is held off site in the University of Bristol Library Research Reserve, it is available for use.

Use the catalogue to get an idea of the holdings and get in touch to see if we can help with your research.’

What are you waiting for? Our amazing collection awaits you….

FAS Collection

 

Women’s Radio Workshop – Women and Music

We are slowly migrating our audio cassette-based collections to digital files and we thought we’d share some of the fruits of our labour here.

The Women’s Radio Workshop programme ‘Women and Music’ provides a rare and unique insight into women’s liberation music making.

Women and Music Front women and music back

The programme features ‘seven women who play and write music’ including Rosemary Schonfeld, Jana Runnalls (Ova), Andrea Webb, Janie Webb, Judya Manthis (sp?), Lawrie Strike, Louise Marsden, Rosie Fisher and Sarah Gillam.

For more background on music making and the WLM visit the online Women’s Liberation Music Archive, in particular read the introduction to the Sisters in Song book. The physical WLMA has been deposited in the FAS and is in the process of being catalogued – check back soon for updates on this!

For now, enjoy!

Sheba Press & worries about link rot

If you have encountered link rot on the internet, where links break or click through to the ‘file not found page,’ you will know how vulnerable web-based archives can be.

So when conducting research about Sheba Feminist Press, who published the important Black British feminist text Charting the Journey in 1988 and many others, it was a relief to find some information about them.

A book laid on a desk at a diagonal angle

What was slightly disconcerting was the nature of the web page, which appeared graphically old and was hosted by a US university site. It wasn’t being actively maintained and was the kind of link, you suspect, that would soon disappear.

In short, this is the rationale for reproducing the text below in its entirety from that web page in case it breaks, or vanishes.

For further information, the Women’s Library in London was donated records from Sheba Press (1980-1994) in 1995, but it remains uncatalogued and unaccessible to researchers.

Now there’s a funding bid that needs to happen!

ABOUT SHEBA FEMINIST PRESS

Sheba Feminist Press was established in 1980 — one of a handful of small independent publishers born of the UK women’s movement during the 70s and early 80s. The new feminist presses turned their backs on the high-modernist clique then firmly in control of the British book scene, and looked instead at what that world literally couldn’t see: the writing of women who hadn’t been to Oxford or Cambridge, and who weren’t necessarily white or heterosexual or middle-class, and who didn’t speak with the polished vowels of Bloomsbury. The new writers weren’t seduced by the pastoral English idyll of haywains and cottages and
servile, cap-doffing peasantry. They wrote instead about what it was like to live as an ordinary, non-privileged woman in post-imperial Britain in the second half of the twentieth century. The ordinary, non-privileged women who constituted a large part of the book-buying public found their own lives reflected in
these books, and responded with what can only be called devotion. The phenomenal success of women’s publishing was probably the single biggest factor in the dissemination of feminist ideas to
women in the UK.

Today, mainstream UK publishing has been persuaded of the marketability of women writers. Many large publishers have their “women’s studies” lists, and women novelists (some of them) get
reviewed on the literary pages, just like men. But old predilections die hard — particularly, in Britain, the predilections associated with intellectual and social snobbery: if more women writers are published now than in 1965, it remains true that the majority are white, heterosexual, and middle-class.

Sheba has a mission to challenge this persistent bias. We give priority to the work of women writers who continue to be marginalized. That means more than simply being ready to publish writing by women of colour, or lesbians, or working-class women; it means recognising the multiplicity of voices within these
communities — a multiplicity which is frequently overlooked by a world quick to categorize and dismiss. Sheba has built its reputation around its commitment to diversity, to difference, and to open and critical debate. One of our earliest titles was Feminist Fables — a retelling of myths, from a lesbian-feminist
viewpoint, by an Indian woman, Suniti Namjoshi. Published in 1981, when lesbian-feminists were universally assumed to be white, and Indian women universally assumed to be heterosexual, Feminist Fables called into question this cosy compartmentalization; it can be seen in retrospect as a harbinger of the coming
struggles over difference and diversity, which by the end of the decade had put paid to the myth of a unitary feminist identity.

This commitment to openness and to diversity has made Sheba a key player in the ongoing feminist debates around sexuality. In the Seventies and the early Eighties, many women had a new and pleasurable sense of ownership over their bodies and their sexuality; and this was reflected in the books being published.
For Ourselves (Anja Meulenbelt, 1981) was characteristic: written by a woman, for women to read, it rejected the marriage-guidance approach which had previously dominated the field (“Doctor, my
wife is frigid. Can you help me?”) and acknowledged women’s sexuality as a private source of pleasure and power available to all women. Joanni Blank’s The Playbook for Kids About Sex (first published in the US by Down There Press) adopted a similarly positive attitude; children were encouraged to explore their bodies and to experiment with masturbation, fantasy, and sexual play. These and other Sheba titles contributed to the growing acceptance of women as autonomous sexual agents, rather than eternal objects, and helped to undermine the cultural prescription of what Adrienne Rich described as “compulsory heterosexuality”.

As the old prescriptions crumbled, however, new ones sprang up to replace them. The ideological association of sexuality with patriarchal power, expressed through pornography and rape, made sex seem synonymous with oppression. For women, desire was taboo all over again. In 1988, Sheba challenged this new puritanism by bringing out the UK edition of Joan Nestle’s A Restricted Country (first published in the US by Firebrand). The publication of this collection of essays and stories about lesbian sexuality acted as a catalyst on the simmering dissensions over lesbian sado-masochism, butch-femme relationships, and perverse sexuality, and gave the UK proponents of sexual autonomy an important cultural reference point.

The following year, Sheba built on the success of A Restricted Country, by bringing out Serious Pleasure, a collection of lesbian erotica . Although the controversy over pornography and censorship continues, it is clear from the popularity of Serious Pleasure and its successor, More Serious Pleasure that there is a strong and growing demand from many UK lesbians for well-written, explicit, woman-centred erotic material. (N.B. Serious Pleasure and More Serious Pleasure are published in the US by Cleis Press.)

Today, Sheba continues to prioritize the work of women of colour and lesbians. A number of prominent Black U.S. writers have been published in the UK by Sheba, among them bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Jewelle Gomez. Sheba is now turning its attention to the exciting possibilities opened up by new technology, particularly multimedia and computer-mediated communications. We welcome the
new ease with which we can communicate with other women in countries all over the world; Sheba’s dedication to openness, fluidity, and the absence of boundaries finds a natural home on
the Internet.

Whatever the medium, the message remains the same: feminism, diversity, debate. If you would like to know more about Sheba, please write to us at sheba@dircon.co.uk. We’d like to hear from you, and we promise to answer all messages. Sheba titles are available in the U.S. from Inland Book Co., and in Australia from Bulldog Books.

Sheba Feminist Press is a not-for-profit workers’ co-operative.

Ellen’s Papers available on the Special Collections Catalogue

Yes it is finally here, the moment you have been waiting for!

Ellen Malos’ archives are now searchable on the Special Collections catalogue at the University of Bristol.

They carry the classificatory mark of ‘Ellen Malos Papers, DM2123/8/112-128’ should you wish to find them.

Thanks to Sarah Cuthill, the project archivist, for her fantastic work getting all the papers organised to such a high standard!

 

Final Stop for Ellen’s Archives

The final stage of the Ellen Malos’ Archives project – a trip to Bristol University’s Special Collection store to deposit the catalogued items.

Boxes in the back of a van

Sarah, project archivist, stands in front of archive boxes on a shelf

Sarah stands in front of her handy work

Books on a shelf including titles by Susan Griffin and Janice Raymond

Two shelves of box files

Shelf of box files labelled 'Pat VT West'

A shelf of periodicals Books including Janet Frame and Zoe Fairbairns

Don’t forget, Ellen’s archives are available to consult so do get in touch if you want to see them. As always, you will need to plan your trip in advance to ensure the items you want can be retrieved from store.

Feminist Archive South Workshops in June

June is a busy month for Feminist Archive South workshops. We have three taking place, all of which are happening at MShed in Bristol. They are free to attend, all welcome and there are participation bursaries available if you need expenses covered to come along. Hope to see you there!

Sunday 9th June – 1 to 5pm

Bristol: Voices from the Women’s Liberation Movement facilitated by June Hannam and Kath Holden from the  West of England and South Wales Women’s History Network.

Most women took part in ‘second wave feminism’ at a grass roots, local level. How do we find out why they became involved and what they hoped to achieve? Can we recover their voices and, if we do, how can we interpret them?

This workshop will look at different ways that historians can try to recover women’s voices. The first part will look at documentary evidence, including newsletters, pamphlets and photographs. The second part will focus on oral testimony: participants will be invited to compare  summaries, full transcripts and original recordings of interviews.  The workshop will explore memory and the ways in which participants construct different stories of the movements in which they took part.

June Hannam is an emeritus professor and Kath Holden a visiting research fellow in history at the University of the West of England. They are co-chairs of the West of England and South Wales Women’s History Network. They both have research interests in  gender history. June Hannam specialises in labour and feminist history and Kath Holden in oral history and history of the family.

Recent publications include Katherine Holden: The Shadow of Marriage: Singleness in England, 1914-1960 (2007) and June HannamFeminism (2012).

Tuesday 18th June – 7 to 9.30pm

Film Showings & collective listening to songs by women inspired by anti-nuclear activism followed by discussion.

Carry Greenham Home (1983)

‘Director Beeban Kidron was so committed to making this 1983 film – she was attending the National Film and Television School at the time – that she lived at the site herself for more than seven months.

Shot almost entirely on videoCarry Greenham Home‘s depiction of the women involved in the peace movement contrasts greatly with media portraits of the time, and the subsequent collective memory.

The film gives a fuller picture of what life was like than the fragmented news reports. It covers the processes underlying the women’s decisions, the influence of outside forces, and the verve and style with which they developed their own brand of non-violent direct action.’ Notes by Charlotte Cooper.

Don’t Trust Menwith Balls (1995)  

A film about Menwith Women’s Peace Camp.

Thursday 27th June – 7 to 9.30pm

Archiving contemporary feminist activism with the Bristol Feminist Network.

Feminists and women’s rights activists have often made a strong connection between history and social change. Simply put, when women are written out of the history books, their culture, achievements and lives are seen as less important than men’s. Such a perspective was a motivating force in the creation of the Feminist Archive, and the Women’s (formerly Fawcett) Library in London.

Such facts beg the question: how do we archive the present? How do we ensure that online 21st century feminist activism is documented in a secure way? How do we collect records of a movement as it is happening now, what do we remember, and what do we forget?

As part of the evening we will create a timeline of 21st century Bristol feminist activism, hear from experienced archivists and conduct live oral histories.

Join us for this important conversation! If you want to be part of history, you gotta make it!!

Archive Workshops – Now Full!

Due to a fantastic response to the call for participants for the archivist shadowing workshops, all the places are now full!

Thanks to all who have booked a place and expressed interest – its really encouraging to know that there is an audience and need for these activities, it helps us for future funding bids.

Big apologies though to anyone who has missed out – we promise to run similar programmes in the future.