SFA – Moving Forward for the Summer

by Annie Wainwright

It seems an apt time to provide on this blog some updates on SFA’s activities and progress as we move into the summer months of the year. There’s a wealth of good news to share!

SFA has submitted an entry for the Women’s History Network Community History Prize written by our hardworking members Hattie Foreman, Emma Nagouse, and Rosa Sadler. Looking forward to the result of the prize is sure to be an exciting time for us! We have had a presence at events such as the Heritage Festival in Ecclesall (where we gained some great public-generated additions to our Archive on the time of ‘I’m a feminist because…’) and attended Verse Matters’ powerful Migration Matters event. We have seen the launch of the Shiloh Project on religion and rape culture, and continued to conduct our Oral History interviews whilst gaining new members of the collective.

The best news, of course (no, I’m not possibly biased at all…) is that myself and Hattie, the Intern Project Assistants, have both been granted bursaries by the University of Sheffield’s AHEAD scheme to continue working with SFA over the summer!

This means we’ll be able to work on and deliver outcomes for the project such as: researching further Oral History interviewees, updating the website and blog (well, like I’m doing now!), continuing to grow our social media presence, looking into further funding applications and a potential crowdfunding campaign, updating the Sheffield Feminist History timeline and carrying out and transcribing more interviews, alongside potentially creating a portable exhibition on our work and Sheffield women’s history for schools or libraries! It’s all incredibly exciting stuff, and I know we both can’t wait to get stuck in!

Watch this space for further updates as we move forward!

Annie, Project Assistant

My Work With The Sheffield Feminist Archive: The Importance Of Recording Feminist Oral Histories

(Originally posted to the History Matters blog on May 25th.)

Three years ago when my parents were sorting through my grandmother’s things, they came across a file. When they opened it they thought, “Hattie studies English Literature; I wonder what she’d make of this”. And into my arms fell a lifetime of poetry and testimony from a shy and very modest woman. A woman who I came to realise I never really knew.

Three years later, I found myself sat across from local Sheffield poet Rachel Bower, conducting an oral history interview for the Sheffield Feminist Archive. Rachel told me:

“I’m trying to find out about women poets and women editors and writers and intellectuals in Leeds and Nigeria during the 50s and 60s… it was harder for women to publish then, but also [there is little to] reflect the fact that they were doing it… So, um, I think it’s really important that we start standing up and telling our stories and pushing against that feeling of ‘oooh, I don’t think that my story is worth telling’”.

When I think about my grandmother’s words in an unopened box in a cupboard at home, never spoken and never shared, my belief in the importance of recording feminist oral histories is made even stronger.

Oral history is about recording memories and experiences, this is why it is a fantastic way of capturing personal stories which are often silenced in dominant narratives of the past. In feminist terms, it is about digging our heels in when the approved femininity of socialised modesty rears its head, and fighting the compulsion that induces us to be so self-critical that we silence ourselves, putting our words into boxes that we keep in a cupboard at home.

Telling my grandmother’s story is how I came to undertake a work placement for the Sheffield Feminist Archive (SFA). The SFA is a grassroots volunteer-led (and expressly political) history project which recognises the importance of recording women’s histories. This is done by encouraging donations of physical artefacts and documents to a collection housed as Sheffield Archives, as well as creating content by carrying out oral history interviews. The SFA are speaking to people of all ages, genders and ethnicities in an attempt to capture Sheffield’s history of women’s liberation.

This is not merely in an effort to compete with the grand andocentric narrative; it also validates the experiences of the small people like my grandmother and I, by giving us the opportunity to say, “I was there. I bore witness. I have something to say”. And even if our own histories don’t get recorded, we can still hear them in the narratives and cadences of the self-identifying female voices that did – just as I heard my grandmother’s story in Rachel Bower’s testimony.

As many women share common experiences, it can be very powerful to share these experiences out loud. Kristina Minster said “[w]omen speaking together encounter one another for the purpose of searching for and collaboratively constructing both personal and female cultural identity”; this was something I witnessed at the SFA project update meeting to celebrate Women’s History Month.

As we played snippets from our oral history interviews, I saw heads nodding in understanding, and knowing smiles from women in the audience who could clearly identify with the experiences of the women they were listening to. In these moments we see part of ourselves, but we also see the patriarchal meta-narratives that have influenced that piece of us, and by exposing this we can resist it. This is why I believe that recording feminist oral histories is not only historically important, but a powerful and empowering form of activism and resistance.

Thanks for reading,
Hattie (intern)

References:

Kristina Minster, ‘A Feminist Frame for the Oral History Interview’ in Women’s Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History, ed. Sherna Berger Gluck and Daphne Patai (London: Routledge, 1991) pp.27-42 (p.34).

Launch of The Shiloh Project – 8th May

This evening the universities of Sheffield, Leeds and Auckland officially launched The Shiloh Project. The project will predominantly examine the ways in which the Bible has informed contemporary rape culture. This continues to be a distressingly relevant topic, as Professor Johanna Stiebert lamented: “we’re not getting anywhere with rape culture”. As part of the opening statements this sentiment seemingly coloured the tone of the evening and as I negotiated my way around the room it was obvious people were hungry for change and they want it now.

“Throughout my lifetime I’ve been intensely upset seeing particular genres of fiction  use rape as a plot device, as a motivator of female agency […] Everyone on social media is screaming ‘this is wrong!’. This project adds more voices to that argument” – Robyn Orfitelli

“Today was insightful and evoking. We must work to say to people – rape culture and gender inequality are real, this is not a perfect world. It’s great to hear the academics are doing more” – Sipho Dube

“The sad thing about second wave feminism – all we achieved we lost. We need that movement again” – Professor Cheryl Exum

“We’re ready for this project” – Pete David

“It’s the most intellectually stimulated I’ve been in a long time” – Georgie Beardmore

“I’m angry that we’re still having to have these conversations and I’m angry people are still suffering and still victims of sexual violence. We cannot talk in hushed whispers any longer. We must fight and challenge sexism for a more equal and inclusive society” – Lu Skerratt

The people of Sheffield have spoken. I for one look forward to seeing how the archive and the project can collaborate to liberate testimony and inform a conversation that evidently needs to be had – now.

https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/siibs/sresearch/the-shiloh-project

Thanks for reading,
Hattie

Interview with Rachel Bower – 5th May

Today I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing local poet, feminist and person of interest, Rachel Bower. It was a real privilege to listen to Rachel, whose multitudinous accomplishments as a poet, mother, academic and activist (the list could go on…) are varied, impressive and more than a little kick-ass. The points she raised on the importance of intersectional activism in an increasingly divisive world were imbued with a decided sense of hope, and interviewing Rachel was an uplifting experience in itself. When at times there was a strong sense of mutuality and common experience this felt like an achievement to me. That the nodding heads and knowing smiles we share when women impart their testimony is a positive engagement with something bigger than ourselves. The project provides something which can validate our own testimony without minimising it to the trivial or omitting it entirely – as happens so often when women have chosen to speak. As my first interview it really confirmed for me the importance of the archive and recording the marginalised voices of women in history – for them, but also for ourselves.

If you’d like to know more about Rachel (and you should) then take a look at her website (https://rachelbowerwrites.wordpress.com) where some of her poetry is available to read. Rachel speaks of the process of re-humanising some of the issues she observes in the world, and one can read this in her poetry – she can make the seemingly historically or geographically distant feel very present and personal.

Rachel is also the founder of the intersectional feminist arts collective Verse Matters which “provides a supportive space for poetry, spoken word, storytelling, music and comedy, showcasing the work of talented people in a friendly, safe environment” at Sheffield’s Moor Theatre Deli (https://versematters.wordpress.com/). If you haven’t already attended one of their events then I highly recommend it. You WILL laugh and you WILL cry.

Thanks for reading!
Hattie (intern)

Sheffield Archives visit – 1st April

By: Annie, SFA Intern

Today some of our group of organisers took a trip down to Sheffield Archives to deposit more collected materials, and take a look at some of the materials already in the Sheffield Feminist Archive collection. We were inspired by the wealth and breadth of women’s liberation  and feminist materials, from Sheffield women’s zines and newsletters from the 70s-90s to documents relating to suffragette Adela Pankhurst’s house in Broomhill, to Wildcat Cards’ collection of political and artistic postcards produced in Sheffield! So much of the material is as biting and relevant today as it was in its time, with articles on abortion rights, Reclaim the Night, refugee crises… An incredible and important look back on and contextualisation of feminist material production in the recent and not-so-recent past.

 

Sheffield Feminist Archive Update Event, 30th March – Sharing our progress and success!

By: Annie, SFA intern

On the 30th of March we were privileged to have new faces and old join us for an update on the progress and activity of the Sheffield Feminist Archive project, at the Quaker Meeting House in Sheffield. Alongside updates from our interns on their roles and development, we presented previews of our Oral History interviews which garnered a great response in the room – everyone listened with rapt attention, laughs, nodding of heads and agreement as we heard the testimony of some incredible Sheffield women on topics such as sexism in the workplace, coming out stories, activism, development of their feminist thinking and more. As interviewee Chrissie Stansfield of the Sheffield Film Co-Op rounded it off with, “when women come together we can do extraordinary things”! We also got to hear from Salomée Béranger of feminist arts collective Verse Matters and Lu Skerratt of Sheffield’s #EndPeriodPoverty campaign update us on their projects and how they fit in and collaborate with SFA. All topped off with cake, tea, discussions, writing on our suggestion posters and some feminist solidarity! An incredible evening and a great success.

Reminder: Sheffield Feminist Archive Meet Event – Thursday 30th March, Quaker Meeting House

https://www.facebook.com/events/406295486415670/

(Taken from Facebook event) Come along for a catch-up this women’s history month! We’ll be updating you on the project and what we’ve done so far, including: relaunching the website, our history month twitter campaign, our shiny-new student interns and plenty more.

We’ll be playing snippets of completed oral history interviews to satisfy the curious, and introducing project members and the aforementioned lovely interns to one and all.

We also look forward to the opportunity of picking your brains for ideas on the future of the archive. See you then over tea, coffee and nibbles!

ARCHIVE DONATIONS – if you have anything you would like to donate to the archive (small items relating to Sheffield’s feminist history – leaflets, flyers, photographs etc) please do bring them along!)

This is an accessible venue and all genders are welcome.

We will also have a collection of sanitary products for girls from low-income backgrounds in the local community.