Trip to the Sheffield Archive

On Saturday 17th March, in the midst of heavy snow and fierce winds, we managed to find a haven of comfort in the Sheffield Archives, pouring over the feminist collections already stored there.

Among the many remarkable artefacts we inspected, there were a few which really captured our imaginations, including old editions of the ‘Sheffield Women’s Newsletter’ from the 1970s, ‘Wildcat’ artworks produced ‘for women by women’, articles documenting the struggle for liberation throughout Sheffield’s history, and some oral history interviews from local residents.

These interviews I found to be particularly thought-provoking as they encouraged me to realise how important it is to document and protect the stories of “ordinary” people who make up this city’s wonderful history.

I think what struck me most about the materials we studied, beyond how funny, brave and mischievous women can be in the face of such adversity, was how relevant all their content still is today. Many of the articles, essays, and ephemera which concern women’s fight for liberation and equality would not look out of place in a publication released in 2018.

There is much to be found in the Sheffield Feminist Archive’s quirky and exciting collection which deserves celebration and much which requires serious thought, but the chance to confront these rare and exceptional materials in person was a truly fantastic way to spend a snow day.

by Cora James

 

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Fighting Talk Exhibition Visit

This evening Cora and I attended our first SheFest event of the week, the Fighting Talk exhibition at 35 Chapel Walk.

Just to give a little context on the exhibition …

‘Fighting Talk responds to the centenary of some women gaining the right to vote with a 21st century perspective. By drawing attention to contemporary protest, the exhibition will draw attention to inequalities that still need to be overcome world wide. In 2018, what are we fighting for?’

The premise of the exhibition is similar to the Sheffield Feminist Archive’s own agenda in creating a centenary event based on ‘Looking Back to Look Forward’, so it was good to gather some creative inspiration!

First up, a talk by Davin Watne and Dawn Woolley on that complex ever changing word, feminism. They introduced the concept of ‘Freedomination’ which explores the problematic relationship between liberation and objectification that contemporary consumer culture produces. One of their memorable examples was the Dove ad campaigns. An underlying narrative around good health through beauty is reproduced as a consequence of ads like these.

“The freedom to consume has become a pervasive form of oppression.”

Their words had a transformative effect; brands that I had considered as representative of liberated women were scrutinised, their use of feminism as a marketing tool was exposed.  The talk then took an interesting turn as the speakers’ voices crossed over one another. They literally became voices fighting to be heard. And so, as I stood listening to these speakers, no longer aware of the detail of their words, all that remained was the fact that they were exercising their freedom of speech. It became about form rather than content. The form: a manifestation of fighting talk.

We also took some time looking at the various exhibits.

From left to right: First row Holly Searle, This Women’s Work; Sarah Pennington, as part of Revolution in a Teacup; Holly Searle, Little Red Riding Hood’s Revenge; Pilar Morales Caamano, Migrant Women are Pro Choice My Body My Choice. Second row Linda Pearl Izan, What does a WOMAN have to do to be BELIEVED?’; Holly Rozier, Susan; Leticia Diogo, Women rights. Third row Liticia Diogo, Womens rights; Hard Stop (David Watne and Dawn Woolley), Freedomination Soapbox Protest Performance.

 

All in all a successful evening and we even managed to grab something to take away as a potential addition for the archive. One SheFest event done. Three to go!

If you’re interested in visiting the exhibition, admission is free and it is accessible 11am-4pm daily before 15th March.

Opportunity for Oral History interviews in Sheffield and South Yorkshire

A student researcher has gotten in touch with us regarding some research she’s doing on the industrial past and protest in Sheffield and South Yorkshire – see Emma’s information and call for participants pasted below:

 

“** Sheffield Women’s History Project**
Did you participate in South Yorkshire’s industrial past? Were you involved in political action or protest in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s? Did the decline of industry in South Yorkshire affect your life in a significant way? Would you like to take part in an oral history interview?
My name is Emma Partridge and I’m a third year History student at the University of Glasgow. I’m currently conducting research about the impact of de-industrialisation on women in Sheffield and South Yorkshire for my undergraduate dissertation.
I’m interested in speaking to women in Sheffield and South Yorkshire about their experience of industrial decline in the city. My research will focus on the role of women in political action against factory closure and its impact on their lives and aspirations.
You do not need to have been directly involved in industry or in political action – I am interested in the memories of South Yorkshire’s women about social and political processes, changes that occurred in the city, and how women value these changes.
If you are interested in participating in my research, or have any questions about the work please contact me at: 2075139P@student.gla.ac.uk.
I look forward to hearing your stories!”

 

If you’re interested in getting involved with Emma’s project please contact her at the email address she provides!

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)