THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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62 posts categorized "Politics and Government"

03 September 2018

Learning from the Past: our new course for curious researchers starts today

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Our free online course starts today. Learning from the Past is  for anyone interested in studying the past, what historians do, and why and how research on the past matters for understanding the world today. The course runs for 3 weeks, and is the second course produced by the University of Nottingham in partnership with the British Library.

Over three weeks, this course will introduce the ways in which historians conduct research, and the materials that are used to understand the past. Throughout the course, examples from across the Library’s varied collections are examined by curators and researchers. The course will also do two other important things. First, it will show the challenges that historians face in understanding and decoding the records of the past: books, archives, photographs, maps, recorded sound and digital records. Second, it will discuss how a study of the past helps us contextualise the issues of today. For example, we cannot fully understand the radical shift in our impact on the environment without knowing how societies in the past used natural resources.

The origins for this course come from our earlier work on the course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life – which sought to explain how contemporary political research provides insight into the values and philosophies that lie at the heart of international debates, co-operation and conflict. We also sought to show how education, and in this case online learning platforms, can be used as a space where people with different ideas and opinions can communicate with each other, understand those differences and also see where there are points of agreement.

The response from learners to this course was incredible. Over the weeks, we saw conversations emerge between participants from around the world on “big political issues” but also in the more personal sphere: the gardens in their towns, food that reminded them of home, and the books and photographs that they always carry with them. We also saw that learners were enthusiastic to follow the debates that drew on current research, and followed links to academic texts where we made them available.

So, we wanted to produce a course that supported this desire for access to the ‘cutting edge’ of historical research, but also took the time to describe the practicalities of research. How do you decide what questions you are going to ask in your research? How can you find the materials that will help you to answer those questions? And how will you avoid the pitfalls of taking the records of the past at face value? Learning from the Past brings together researchers from the University of Nottingham and University of Birmingham, as well as curators from the British Library. Over the 3 weeks of the course, we will look at the materials and methods that researchers employ.

The first day of a new course is always exciting. I've been following our first steps for learners to introduce themselves and their research interests. There's lots of interest in family history and local history, but also other topics such as history of science or a general interest in how researchers work and analyse evidence. A lot of learners want to know more about how to use libraries and archives, and are interested in the practical elements of the course. 

A big topic for our first week is on the significance of language, and language change, in communicating ideas and values. I'm currently enjoying the discussion thread on 'what three words would you use to introduce yourself to a visitor from Mars'?   

If you’re interested in how historians work, thinking about starting your own research project, want inspiration for your existing work, or want to know why history matters today, join in the discussion at Learning from the Past: A guide for the curious Researcher. No need to worry if you're reading this after 3rd September - you can join any time before the course ends on 23rd September.  

22 June 2018

‘The people we are writing for are the people we are fighting for’: Sivanandan as radical pamphleteer.

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For more than forty years A. Sivanandan was at the forefront of debates on anti-racism and politics in Britain. Born in Jaffna in 1923 and educated in Colombo, he came to Britain in 1958, leaving the anti-Tamil riots in colonial Ceylon (renamed Sri Lanka in 1972) and walking into the anti-black riots in Notting Hill. He was to become one of the most important and influential black anti-racist thinker-activists in the UK.  His aphorisms, from ‘we are here because you were there’ to ‘poverty is the new Black’ - are known more widely than his name.  Sivanandan was librarian and then director of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) from 1973-2013, one of the founding editors of Race & Class, an activist and author of prize-winning fiction and non-fiction. He died in January this year, aged 94, and this coming weekend a memorial event in London will celebrate his life and work. 

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Several of Sivanandan’s writings are available on the website of the Institute of Race Relations, as is a full bibliography of his work, and five articles from Race & Class are free to download as the Sivanandan collection.  Collections of his articles are available in print, most notably Catching history on the wing: race, culture, globalisation (Pluto Press, 2008).  You can read about his life in more detail in an account on Sage’s Social Science Space by  Michael Todd  or in Gary Younge’s obituary in The Guardian  .

Sivanandan’s response to his arrival at the time of the anti-black riots of 1958 was to abandon his original aim of seeking well-paid employment and a comfortable life.  In an interview he said,

“I knew then I was black. I could no longer stand on the sidelines: race was a problem that affected me directly. I had no excuse to go into banking or anything else that I was fitted up to do … I had to find a way of making some sort of contribution to the improvement of society.  I wanted time to read and reflect and to become active. … So I started off as a tea-boy in a public library in Middlesex.  And I went on to do my library exams by attending evening classes.  From tea-boy I became branch manager of that particular library and then finally I went to be librarian at the Institute of Race Relations in 1964.”  (The heart is where the battle is: an interview with A Sivanandan, Race & Class, 59 issue: 4, pages: 3-14.)

In his early work Sivanandan put together bibliographies of materials in the Institute of Race Relations library about African, Asian and Caribbean migration to Britain, to help build an area of study and draw out materials for activism. This remains an important area of work for contemporary librarians and archivists. Most of Sivanandan’s political writing was first published as articles in Race & Class, the journal of the Institute of Race Relations, which continues today as an academic journal published by Sage:

 

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Importantly too, his articles were reproduced as pamphlets, so that they could be achieve wider distribution among the community activists Sivanandan and others at the IRR worked with, including Newham Monitoring Project and the Southall Monitoring Group.  The British Library holds some of these pamphlets, allowing researchers to see not only the words on the page, but also to see how Siva’s arguments were taken out beyond an academic context.  The pamphlets pictured below show their prices, ranging from 30p to £1.00.   Materials from the IRR Library are now housed at Warwick University as part of their Ethnicity and Migration Collections.    The range of publications can also be viewed in a video on YouTube recounting the First Fifty Years of the IRR's history

 

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Some of the pamphlet versions of Sivanandan's articles held by the British Library.

Sivanandan published articles in a range of activist magazines, for example CARF (Campaign against racism and fascism.) The article below shows the evolution of Sivanandan’s concerns from racism and imperialism to globalisation and its impact on refugees and migrants.  In his foreword to Catching history on the wing  Colin Prescod writes that, through his coinage of the term xeno-racism, Sivanandan aimed to show that, “Europe’s formidable hostility to the impoverished migrant workers on which so much of its basic prosperity depends is not just some nice people’s social phobia about foreigners, but a system of belief and practice aimed at locking down, and locking in, the needy and the desperate.” (p. x)    

 

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Beyond his political writing Sivanandan also reached an audience through his fictional writing.  In 1997 he published When Memory Dies. The novel traces three generations of a family torn by Sri Lanka’s history of colonialism and ethnic strife. It was awarded the Sagittarius Prize (given by the Society of Authors for a first novel by an author over the age of sixty) and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in the category of Best First Book for Europe and South Asia.  Where the Dance Is, a collection of short stories, was published in 2000.

Perhaps the most innovative means of taking his ideas out to a new audience was his collaboration with Asian Dub Foundation on the track Colour Line which features on their album Community Music  (2000). 

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The British Library holds an oral history interview conducted by Louise Brodie for National Life Stories in 2010 with A Sivanandan.  Available on the Library’s Sound Cloud the interview is in ten parts and sheds a fascinating light on the life experiences, relationships and events that shaped Sivanandan’s writing.   This long and detailed interview provides a resource for anyone researching the complex evolution of anti-racist or activist politics in Britain. Many others played important roles in challenging racism and building activism, but Colin Prescod writes, “For those who recall the first half of the 1980s as a watershed in Black British politics, Sivanandan was father, elder to them all.” (Catching history on the wing, p. viii)

Selected works by A Sivanandan:

Race and Resistance: the IRR story, London: Race Today Publications, March 1975

A Different Hunger: writings on black resistance, London: Pluto Press, 1982

Communities of Resistance: writings on black struggles for socialism, London: Verso, 1990

When Memory Dies(a novel), London: Arcadia, 1997

Where the Dance Is(short stories), London: Arcadia, 2000

Catching history on the wing: Race, Culture and Globalisation, 2008 (Pluto Press).

01 May 2018

Archiving Activism Website

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PhD placement students, Rachel Tavernor and Catherine Oliver, in collaboration with the British Library, are launching a new website. In this post, Rachel discusses her work encountering stories of housing activism in the British Library. Later this year, Catherine will launch a new section of the website on food activism and will discuss a new British Library acquisition of the Richard Ryder archive. We hope this collaborative initiative will grow with new sections added showing the diversity of our British Library Collections.

The brief for my time with the British Library was to investigate 20th and 21st Century anti-poverty activism in the the British Library Collections. In particular, to make connections between archives and to explore the value of the British Library’s holdings as a whole. I am not a historian, nor an archivist, so my approach to working with the collections was informed by my background in the arts, as well as my own involvement with institutional and grassroots activism. Having worked with smaller archives, I was interested in exploring how radical and rebellious voices are preserved in a large scholarly institution. Before working with the British Library, I had wrongly assumed that institutional voices would be the focus of the collections. While these voices are dominant, and at times privileged, the rebels in the archives are also there to encounter.

After a preliminary mapping of the collections and available material (there was lots), I narrowed the focus of my research to housing activism in the UK. Struggles for decent and affordable housing, with secure and fair tenancies, are at the forefront of many anti-poverty movements today. The decline of social housing, rises in private rents and poor living conditions, are a catalyst for many forms of activism (demonstrations, squatting, housing cooperatives and rent strikes).

One of the greatest strengths of researching activism in the British Library Collections is the diverse range of materials, from personal papers to government documents. Housing activism, as with many political struggles, stretches across institutional, community and mediated spaces. The Library’s collections offer ways to explore the everyday experiences of activism, preserved in oral histories, diaries and letters. Alongside examining how campaigns are shaped by, or in reaction to, housing policies. Researchers can trace these differing, and at times contradictory, narratives throughout the collections. By exploring these stories in tandem, the public have the opportunity to listen to these voices, and explore them alongside one another, to weave new histories, and perhaps new stories of housing activism.

While exploring the different collections archived at the British Library, I also conducted a small research project on ways to archive contemporary forms of activism. It was a privilege to conduct this research, which included interviewing archivists at feminist libraries, housing activists and academics that engage with archives of activism. You can read a section of the report on our new website. One of the themes that emerged in these interviews was that archives are a living resource, which can inspire and influence contemporary forms of activism. However, many people may experience different barriers to accessing materials archived at institutions like the British Library. It was these conversations that inspired Sarah, Catherine and I to collaborate on a website that would act as a guide to materials archived at the British Library. We hope that the Archiving Activism website may inspire people to further engage with some of the histories of housing activism, as well as the British Library Collections. If you have an idea for a new section or would like to contribute, please email: research.development@bl.uk.

With thanks to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding my placement at the British Library and to all the copyright holders for granting us permission to publish images of the items archived in the Collections.

03 January 2018

The Persistence of Gender Inequality

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A Summary of the Annual Equality Lecture 2017 by Professor Mary Evans

At the end of October 2017 we hosted our seventh annual Equality Lecture in partnership with the British Sociological Association. We were really delighted that the lecture this year was given by Professor Mary Evans, who has been central to the development of women’s and gender studies in the UK, and a prolific writer and academic on all aspects of gender in society. Her work has covered diverse topics such as love, detective fiction, austerity, autobiography, social class and higher education, Jane Austen, and has examined how social actions and actors are formed and structured within the social world.

Professor Evans drew on her recent book ‘The Persistence of Gender Inequality’ (Polity, 2016) to show how gender inequality is being reproduced in contemporary society, but is taking new forms. She began by making the point that gender as well as race, have been largely ignored in those major recent works (for example, by Thomas Piketty) which seek to address inequality. She argued that the connection between class inequalities, as shaped by gender and race, need to be brought to the fore if we are to understand the forms that unequal social relationships take in the contemporary western world.

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Professor Mary Evans taking audience questions with event chair, Professor John Horne. Photo credit Sam Lane for The British Library Board.

She suggested that in the past forty years particular forms of social change have enlarged and reshaped inequality including:

‘the dissolution of some forms of class boundaries; the creation of a new social contract and with it a new version of the ‘ideal citizen’ and the expectations of women’s appearance and conduct.’

Evans described these latter two changes as constituting a form of ‘aspirational coercion’ which has a particular effect on four central forms of inequality between men and women, which are:

‘inequalities of income, public power, responsibility for care and; forms and means of representation, all of which are experienced in different ways according to difference in class and race.’

The notion of who counts as ‘middle-class’ and assumptions about middle-class personhood and values in contemporary neoliberal western societies such as the UK, were shown by Evans to be important to her idea of ‘aspirational coercion’.

On the one hand traditional markers of ‘middle-classness’ are increasingly uncertain; on the other, the middle-class to whom politicians often refer could be more accurately described as the ‘upper middle-class’.

Evans argued that in the UK, it is in fact, upper middle-class white men who remain dominant in elite professions, ‘high’ culture and politics. Yet, it is this particular version of elite autonomy, financial reward and social mastery that have become central to the notion of the ideal contemporary citizen whom she named: ‘the master of the universe’.

‘Being a commander of men has always dominated the aspirations of the ruling class but what interests me here is that we get to the point here where it intersects with gender in the way in which this idea of the powerful autonomous individual, replete with choice and agency has now become generalised as a human ideal.’

Evans suggested that very few people, men or women, of any race, ever get to occupy the position of ‘master of the universe’ but that this fantasy has a very real impact on the way in which people, and especially women, are recognised and ascribed social value. As paid work becomes the ‘gold standard’ as part of the fantasy status of ‘autonomous subject’, the unpaid work of caring for others, which remains overwhelmingly work done by women, becomes value-less:

‘The ‘master of the universe’ […] the specialist, the highly skilled, is essentially […] care-less. So with ‘success’ goes distance from care: a social association which establishes a connection between high achievement and being care-less, and being a low achiever and doing care.’

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Audience questions at the Equality Lecture. Photo credit Sam Lane for The British Library Board.

The second issue of ‘aspirational coercion’ is around consumption as a route to, and marker of, female emancipation. The inability to participate in social expectations around consumption become a marker of lacking, and therefore source of personal shame, such that for women living in poverty, consumption has done very little to narrow class difference or experience. At the same time, consumption is a site for control and coercion around the shape and appearance of the female body. In this, the standards about the appearance of the female body are presented in ways which are connected to an ideal about an autonomous, emancipated, culturally hegemonic female subject. An ideal subject very far removed from the reality of most women’s lives, both in the west and in developing nations.

Professor Evans finished her lecture with a reminder of the need to think about gender and social inequality together, to enable us to understand what is being called the ‘new form of capitalism’. The idea of ‘aspirational coercion’ is important to understanding the relationship between individuals and capitalism which shape who is able to participate as an autonomous subject. And autonomy remains largely determined by new forms of this interplay between class, gender and race.

Further information;

Watch a video of Mary’s lecture here.

Listen to a podcast of Mary's lecture here.

Read a short piece by Mary on her lecture here

08 November 2017

The Power of Documentary: John Pilger at the British Library 9- 10 December

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The British Library will be holding a 2-day documentary festival over the weekend Saturday- Sunday 9- 10th December, to celebrate the career of John Pilger, along with other documentaries chosen as fine examples of the craft. The festival will include screenings of films from across his career, John Pilger will speak on the Power of the Documentary (Saturday) and will be in conversation on Sunday afternoon. A full programme can be found here.

The screening celebrates the acquisition by the Library of a digital archive of Pilger’s journalism – covering print, film and radio broadcasts over six decades. The archive, produced by Florian Zollmann from John Pilger’s personal collection, brings together for the first time nearly 1,500 news reports, films and radio broadcasts.  This includes articles from the Daily Mirror, Guardian, New Statesman, BBC Radio, and 60 films. His latest, prescient documentary, The Coming War on China, is his 60th film. 

Throughout his career, John has demonstrated the power and significance of investigative journalism in uncovering stories of peoples who have been ignored by the mainstream media or left otherwise without voice. His ground-breaking work in Cambodia revealed the devastation caused by the Khmer Rouge, and his film Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia (1979) has subsequently been described as one of the 10 most influential documentaries of the 20th century. His later film, Stealing a Nation (2004), revealed the plight of the Chagos people, who were expelled from their homes in the 1960s and 1970s on idyllic islands in the Indian Ocean to make way for a military base.

John Pilger’s work is well-known for reporting on conflict, the human and civil rights abuses that result from conflict and the propaganda used to justify and prolong such abuses. His first film, The Quiet Mutiny (1970), interviewed young American soldiers in Vietnam, uncovering confusion and resistance to the war amongst conscripts and breaking the story of American troop insurrections in Vietnam.

Other work has placed a fresh focus on everyday subjects. His film, Burp! Pepsi v Coke in the Ice Cold War (1984) was an early example of investigative film-making that used originality and wit to examine the power of multinational corporations.

John Pilger’s work also sounds a warning of the threats to independent investigative journalism. The War You Don’t See (2011) recounts the history of embedded journalism in conflict and asks us to question the reporting of conflicts in the 21st century.

All these films will be shown at the British Library for the festival, The Power of Documentary, celebrating the career of John Pilger and emphasising the continued significance of independent investigative journalism.

07 June 2017

Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life

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Our free online course, Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life starts next Monday, 12th June.

Learners have already started introducing themselves on the welcome page for the course. So far, we've had comments from learners in Ukraine, Germany and Costa Rica, as well as from the UK, USA and Canada. Our group of learners includes students, teachers, journalists and others working in fields such as Human Rights and Communications and Marketing. Political views and past experience vary - a common link is an interest in understanding more about communication and current affairs, and the ways in which values are influenced and formed.

The course has been developed by the British Library, in partnership with the Centre for the Study of Political Ideologies at the University of Nottingham and hosted by FutureLearn. Lead Educators are Maiken Umbach, Mat Humphrey, Sascha Auerbach and Ian Cooke.

The course is run as a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), which gives us the opportunity to draw on the experiences of our learners, and this is an important element. The steps in each week give insight to current academic research, from across disciplines in the humanties and social sciences. In addition, learners are asked how the concepts discussed relate to their personal experience and everyday lives - we are interested in the ways that ideologies are expressed and reinforced in situations that we may not normally think of as "political". Each week, we ask learners to share images that they associate with the themes being discussed: freedom, justice, community, nationhood and consumerism. You can see some of those images on our Flikr group.

An important element of the course is that it explores the differences in the political beliefs that we hold, and also highlights areas of common ground; for instance in the value that we place on freedom and on community. Already, learners have started talking about the ways in which people react to news or opinions that challenge their political views. A strength of this course is that it provides a forum in which we can talk critically about important political questions in a group where we don't share the same the political views.

Registration for our course is open now, and you can join at: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/propaganda. Our learners include "avid MOOcers" and those coming to FutureLearn for the first time. No prior knowledge or training is required - just an interest in the way that political ideologies are formed and expressed.

03 June 2017

What can the Archived Web tell us about politics and society in the 21st century?

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Visualisation of links between websites from the UK crawled during 1996, generated by Rainer Simon

On Wednesday 14th June, we'll be discussing the potential of the archived web in understanding contemporary society and politics.

Our event is chaired by Eliane Glaser, author of Get Real: How to see through the Hype, Spin and Lies of Modern Life, and features contributions from Andy Jackson (British Library), Jefferson Bailey (Internet Archive), Jane Winters (University of London) and Valérie Schafer (French National Centre for Scientific Research).

The first web archive, the Internet Archive, began in 1996. Since then, many university and national libraries around the world have started web archiving initiatives. The British Library began in 2004, and, since 2013 has collected an annual snapshot of all UK web sites. As such, there are very rich collections built up around the world that have documented political and social movements both at international and local levels. For example, the Library of Congress has led collections on the Arab Spring, and the UK Web Archive has collections on past General Elections.

As libraries have gained more experience with building collections of the archived web, so researchers and other users of web archives have developed new methodologies and tools for analysing the collections. As advances are made, so new challenges arise and are identified. The web itself is changing, with one of the biggest challenges for archiving being the use of social media - generating huge amounts of data, but often being highly time dependent and reliant on specific software and hardware to interpret.

As with any large and complex collection, context remains an important consideration. Web archive collections are informed by curatorial or academic judgement on what might be the most significant websites, and may not reflect the most popular sites at a time. When it comes to reporting current events, social media and the web can be portrayed as more "democratic" and open to wider participation than more traditional news media. However, communication on the web includes rumour, satire and misdirection, alongside eyewitness reports and a whole range of data sources and types. Technology to archive the web lags behind the technology to create web sites, so some elements of a web page may be missed by web archiving tools. Additionally, web archiving at a national level often takes place within a legal framework that restricts collecting within national borders. The omissions of web archives can be a useful and interesting source for understanding the structure of web, but, as with other forms of analysis, researchers need information on what decisions were made, and under what conditions, a collection was made.

These are some of the issues that we'll be discussing on 14th June. We'd love you to join us and contribute to the debate. More details and booking can be found on our Whats On pages.  

Our panel discussion forms part of the Digital Conversations series and also connects to a week of conferences, hackathons and other events in London that talk about recent advances in web archiving and research on the archived web.You can follow discussions from the conferences on Twitter, using our hashtag #WAweek2017

 

  

01 March 2017

Women’s Marches Echo Suffragette Struggles: Campaigns, Cats and Collections

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By Rachel Tavernor, PhD Researcher, University of Sussex.

On 21 January 2017, millions of people across the world marched for gender, racial and economic equality. The recent Women’s Marches are the latest chapter in a long fight against misogyny and national and international patriarchy. The heritage of these struggles was echoed by the campaigners who dressed as suffragettes, and carried placards that reminded us that these struggles have been fought before:

“I will not go quietly back to the 1950s!”

“My arms are tired from holding this sign since the 1970s”

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Women's March on London, 2017.

Recent events have brought the inequality women experience on a daily basis to the fore. Whilst reflecting on, and reacting to these political changes, I was completing a PhD Placement at the British Library which included researching stories of the suffragette movement. For me, the resistances, rebels and revolutions archived in the Library’s collections became a source of hope. At a time of political uncertainty, my time spent reading suffragette letters, news reports and protest ephemera, were a reminder to me that histories are made by both politicians and protests.

Suffragette Struggles

Suffragettes, like many campaigners, marched to demonstrate the strength of their movement and to pressure the government for political action. The demonstrations were also used as a space to mobilise the public. Many marched with striking and bold banners to communicate their campaign. In June 1908, some 40,000 women marched in London to pressure Herbert Asquith, the Liberal Prime Minister, to support the women’s suffrage bills in parliament. However, Asquith maintained an aggressive anti-suffragist position. The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) retaliated by adopting “more violent, law-breaking deeds” (Purvis 2016). In the following years, the suffragettes’ militant approach was met with police brutality and frequent arrests were made. Yet, the women were not treated as political prisoners, which ensured better conditions and would have acknowledged that their acts were political, but as ordinary criminals. Incarcerated suffragettes surreptitiously produced letters detailing their lives on toilet tissue. In the British Library collections, you can read some of the letters that have been preserved (2 files).

In 1909, imprisoned Marion Dunlop, a member of the WSPU, began a hunger strike with the motto ‘Release or Death’. Several days into her hunger strike, Dunlop was released from prison, as authorities feared that she may die and become a martyr. Many suffragettes went on hunger strike. However, authorities soon decided that imprisoned suffragettes, when necessary, would now be force fed. This was a practice that was previously only used on clinically insane patients in asylums (Williams 2008). Suffragettes’ communicated their accounts of force feeding to the public, which shamed the government. 

“The pain was so horrible I felt as if my nose was being pulled off, and I struggled violently”

Quoted from an account of force feeding (The Suffragette 1913)

On 25 April 1913, the authorities stopped force feeding and introduced the Prisoner’s Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act (commonly known as the Cat and Mouse Act). Once suffragettes reached a level of extreme weakness, they were released from prison, watched by authorities and re-arrested as soon as they had recovered from their hunger strike. The authorities positioned themselves as the watchful cat that was ready to pounce on the suffragette mouse.

Pussycat Power

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Poster, Made by the Women’s Social and Political Union (1914)

In posters, produced by the WSPU, the Cat and Mouse Act (1913) was used to further the suffragettes fight for equality. The poster represented the male Liberal government as a savage cat, which the public needed to ‘keep out’. Suffragettes represented themselves as vulnerable women at the mouth of an aggressive and abusive government. The posters were popular and “[p]art of the reason for the lasting power and fame of the image may be the ways it overturns long-established associations between women and cats” (Amato 2015: 102).

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Anti-Suffragette Postcards (circa 1908)

Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

Prior to the Cat and Mouse Act (1913), postcard publishers that opposed gender equality, represented suffragettes as irrational cats. The gendered representation of cats, and their association to the domestic sphere, was used to “portray suffragettes as silly, infantile, incompetent, and ill-suited to political engagement” (Wrenn 2013). The relative cheapness of the postcard, and the humour used, ensured that the images widely circulated (similar to internet memes).

Humour was also used by the suffragettes to subvert gendered prejudices. Suffragette Annie Kenney recalls that they were taught “always to get the best of a joke, and to join in the laughter with the audience even if the joke was against us” (in Cowman 2007: 278). Campaigners’ ability to deploy humour, to subvert messages and to undermine politicians are tactics that are still used today.

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Top: Dale Cruse, January 21, 2017, Women’s March San Francisco, Creative Commons 2.0

Bottom: January 21, 2017, Women’s March London

The placards, hats and costumes produced for the Women’s Marches show how people can creatively fight prejudices. Like the suffragettes, pussycats prominently featured in the visual representations of the campaign, in response to comments that Donald Trump made about women. Campaigners crafted ‘pussyhats’ and placards to fight back against this dehumanising and sexually oppressive view of women.

Archiving Activism

Unlike large NGO organised demonstrations that distribute branded placards, the Women’s Marches represented a range of grassroots protest voices. In the UK, the Bishopsgate Institute recognised the importance of archiving these placards: “people took to the streets to highlight the particular issues they were passionate about… In years to come, the placards and messages from this March will be essential in understanding the concerns of large sections of the UK population at the beginning of 2017” (Dickers 2017). Not only are the subjects of the placards of interest but also how they are made. The time campaigners spent knitting hats, painting signs and sewing costumes, contribute to understanding the craft of the protest.

The Women’s Marches across the world were primarily organised and promoted online. They were also documented on websites and social networks: on Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and blogs. The way in which activism is organised, and represented, further contribute to understanding the politics and practices of a movement. Civil rights campaigner Angela Davis, in her Women’s March speech in Washington, said “history cannot be deleted like web pages” (Davis 2017). Davis’ speech was a call for people, as agents of history, to resist the Trump administration. For me, it was also a reminder that the preservation of our protests are also vulnerable.

Webpages are constantly changing and can be deleted but they can also be preserved in archives. Since 2013, the British Library archive the entire UK domain every year (websites that end with .uk), which can be accessed via the reading room computers at the Library. The Library also has permission, under the terms of the Non-Print Legal Deposit Regulations (2013), to archive websites published in the UK (which do not end with ‘.uk’, for example, the Women’s March on London website). However, this is a manual process and the UK Web Archive invite YOU to nominate websites that are published in the UK but are not part of the UK domain. In doing so, you can contribute to preserving the webpages that document stories of sisterhood, struggle and solidarity, in the hope that these archives will inspire people who could be part of the next chapter of the movement.

International Women’s Day 2017

On 8 March 2017, the British Library is hosting a conversation on the power and potential of archiving feminist movements with Jill Liddington, Abi Morgan, Heidi Safia Mirza and Deborah Withers. Margaretta Jolly, project director of Sisterhood and After: An Oral History of the Women’s Liberation Movement, will chair this panel of influential feminists as they debate questions of politics, representation and preservation.

The Living Knowledge Network are hosting live-streams of this event at libraries in Middlesbrough and Exeter.

Rebels in the Archives is part of a series of events to celebrate International Women’s Day.