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14 posts categorized "Modern history"

08 March 2021

"Just Leave Me Alone": responses to Unfinished Business

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A guest post on International Women's Day by Rebecca Riddleston and Georgia Olive

In December 2020 Rebecca Riddleston and Georgia Olive, Customer Service Apprentices in the British Library’s Learning team, visited the exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s RightsGrounded in their own personal experiences as young women, here they reflect on their responses to the exhibition and some of the objects that particularly resonated with them.

During their apprenticeship, Rebecca and Georgia learnt more about the audiences we work with in the Learning team, gained new experiences, knowledge, and skills such as web editing, and provided invaluable support for a range of events and projects for school learners, teachers, families and young people, such as our National Library of Miniature Books.

 

Please note that this post contains some discussion of abortion and sexual violence.

Rebecca writes…

I felt a particular affinity with Gloria Steinem’s statement ‘The truth will set you free but first it will piss you off’ whilst walking through the Unfinished Business exhibition. A sentiment that I not only felt in the exhibition space, but one that I have felt many times whilst navigating through life as a young woman.

This exhibition evokes pride, solidarity and anger, but the main emotion that hit me was exhaustion. As we got further and further in, the main phrase that came to mind was ‘just leave me alone’. It may not be a particularly profound sentiment, but many of the exhibition objects reminded me of just how many times I've been driven to exhaustion just by simply having to exist as a girl and woman. Why does that person care what I’m wearing? Why won’t that man leave me be? Why is it that seemingly every choice I make, is one that’s inherently based in my gender?

A few items particularly stood out to me as being exemplary of my feminine fatigue, namely the No More Page 3 t-shirt and the Consent Zine.

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No More Page Three campaign t-shirt, worn by Dr Caroline Lucas MP at a debate on media sexism in 2013. © Parliamentary Recording Unit

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Caro Berry of Pretty in Punk, ‘Towards a Pro-Consent Revolution’. London, 2013. © Caro Berry

I remember my first time seeing a Page 3 spread was when I was barely pubescent and I found some copies of The Sun in my friend’s bathroom. It was one of those things that I knew existed but had been so normalised that I hadn’t really processed how it affected me and the way I perceived myself. As puberty started I knew that I was already being seen as a sexual object, but at that point I had absolutely no idea what the male gaze was.

If only I’d been to an exhibition like this at that age, I would’ve spotted the Laura Mulvey quote nestled in the corner that reads, ‘in a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female’. Maybe then I would’ve been able to look at the women on Page 3 (who couldn’t look back at me) and not project my own internalised male gaze through them and back onto myself, but instead thought: why the hell am I looking at softporn whilst on the loo?

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Laura Mulvey quotation as it appears in the book that accompanies the exhibition, edited by Polly Russell and Margaretta Jolly.

 

Georgia writes…

Initially I found myself frustrated and very much overwhelmed, looking up and around at all of the injustices on display in the Unfinished Business exhibition. Questions spun around in my head, many reoccurring ones such as ‘why?’ and ‘wait, what?’. In the section on ‘Autonomy’, I spotted a question that I thought at first glance seemed easily answered. ‘Do you have control over your body?’ was written on a panel at the beginning of the exhibition.

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Panel introducing the sub-section on 'Autonomy' in the 'Body' section of the exhibition.

I stood and thought about this for a moment, as if someone was interrogating me directly. Yes, I have control over my body. I decide when I am hungry, so I eat. I can wave my hand, and I can close my eyes. It is such a simple question, yet it runs deep enough to send me spiralling. The answer became abundantly clear to me as I explored the exhibition in more detail.

Being in this environment brought up a lot of personal experiences for me. It made me feel an overwhelming resentment toward the men who feel it is ok to comment on a woman’s body, or even touch it, unprompted. Instances like this made me very aware of the lack of control I have over my own body, from the way it is perceived to the way it is treated. The one sure answer I had to this question was that I wasn’t alone in feeling this way.

In the exhibition I was inspired to read about the work a wonderful charity called BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) has done to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. The abortion debate is a topic that never fails to get me worked up. It is an opinion that I’ve never been able to comprehend properly, that a woman should not get a say in whether or not she should grow a human inside her stomach, and give birth to it.

This constriction of women’s rights to their own anatomy of course extends further into their private lives. I was utterly perplexed to find out that in the UK marital rape was not even an established crime until 1991, just 30 years ago. It is unfathomable to me, that many of the people I work with, and a lot of my family, grew up in a society where a man could rape his own wife and face no consequences. To me, that sounds medieval.

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Banner on loan from Southall Black Sisters: ‘Women march against male violence’, designed by Shakila Taranum Maan, 1986 

While this information made me feel shocked and completely disgusted, it oddly gave me a sense of optimism for the strides that could be made in my own lifetime. Surrounded by the work of activists, I could see how change happens. No, I do not have complete control over my own body. But I am working on it, and I will get there.

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Find out more about apprenticeships at the British Library

 

Our public spaces are closed for the moment. In the meantime, you can visit our website Women’s Rights which highlights the powerful and vital stories of feminist activism and agitation in the UK. The website invites visitors to explore the complex history of women’s rights through the voices of our contributors, and through the lens of the rich collections – from photographs, printed material, audio recordings and videos – held at the British Library.  You can also find themed podcasts, recordings of events related to the exhibition, and recordings of events held by partner libraries in the Living Knowledge Network.  

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A selection of placards displayed in the Unfinished Business exhibition.

 

 

16 December 2020

Digitised Spare Rib resource

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As many of you know, back in 2015 the British Library, working closely with partners at Jisc’s Journal Archives platform and with copyright holders, digitised and made freely available the entire run of Spare Rib magazines. We are delighted that this resource, documenting a vibrant and important period of women’s activism in the UK, has been so well used by researchers and those interested in the Women’s Liberation Movement.

It is therefore with considerable regret that we are confirming that the resource, as a result of the UK leaving the European Union, will no longer be available following the end of the transition period. The decision to close down the Spare Rib resource once the UK leaves the EU was made on the basis of the copyright status of the digitised magazine, which relies heavily on the EU orphan works directive. For a more detailed account of the reasons behind the suspension please see the British Library’s blog from February 2019.

For researchers working on Spare Rib, the full run of the hardcopy magazine remains available via the British Library’s Reading Rooms in London and at Boston Spa. Furthermore, the curated Spare Rib website, with contextual essays and digital images of selected magazine content, will remain available. This has recently been updated to include an interactive research map which plots feminist activity in the UK between 1972 – 1993 based on analysis of Spare Rib letters and listings. Please see this recent blog post for more information about the map and the Business of Women’s Words research project which created it with the British Library.

While we recognise that the suspension of the digitised Spare Rib resource is a loss, we hope these other resources go some way to compensate. We will continue to liaise with the relevant Government departments to seek ways that the regulations could be updated to enable scholarship and research through an Orphan Works exception, so that this resource and others like it, can be made available in the future.

30 October 2020

New Spare Rib map resource: putting women's activism on the map

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Written by The Business of Women's Words team.

Think 1970s UK feminism was a purely metropolitan affair? Ever wondered whether the Women’s Liberation Movement stretched beyond the boundaries of big cities? The new digital map resource at the British Library might have some surprising answers.

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Spare Rib cover, Nov 1976, Issue 52 © Michael Ann Mullen

 The Spare Rib map is the first digital resource to visualise the networks and activities of the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) across the UK and Ireland. It has been created by the Business of Women’s Words project, a research partnership between the British Library and the Universities of Sussex and Cambridge funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Its data is drawn from Spare Rib  (1972-1993)the iconic feminist magazine digitised by the British Library. Based on a sample (around 30%) of Spare Rib’s listings, adverts and letters pages, the map represents a slice of the intense feminist activity that flowered during the magazine’s twenty-year run. What it shows is that the WLM was a truly national movement, with datapoints ranging from the Western Isles of Scotland to Leiston in Suffolk, and from Derry in Ireland to Falmouth in Cornwall.

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Snapshot of the Spare Rib map from 1983

The map sheds new light on the structure of the WLM and illuminates its regional centres and hubs, as well as a wider web of more isolated feminist activity. Lancaster, for example, was a regional hub that hosted a number of feminist publications, women’s counselling services, a lesbian helpline and took part in the Feminist Book Fortnight; and Bangor in Wales offered an array of feminist groups, businesses selling feminist postcards, jewellery and shoes, and alternative communal accommodation. The map’s colour-coded categories and symbols visualise the sheer diversity of activities and goods generated by the WLM, from political demonstrations to carpentry workshops to co-operatively produced clothing.

Although the WLM is often thought of as outside capitalist transactions of buying and selling, the map makes clear that Spare Rib, and the movement more broadly, was a site of exchange – personal, ideological, but also commercial. Businesses, from dating agencies to therapists to bookshops and publishers, were a key part of the feminist community and helped to advance the reach of the movement. The extraordinary number of women-only or lesbian B&Bs advertised in Spare Rib in the 1980s, for instance, demonstrate how women-run businesses extended the movement into some of the most rural parts of the UK, from the Lake District to the Isle of Arran, and from Piltown in Ireland to Yelverton in Devon. By drawing on letters as well as listings and adverts sent into Spare Rib, the map visualises not only the nationwide distribution of feminist events, commodities and services, but a network of (often critical) consumers and activists. It charts change over time, revealing the changing priorities and infrastructure of the movement, from consciousness raising groups to women’s centres, feminist businesses and women’s studies courses.

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Fully searchable by category, year, keyword and geographical location, the Spare Rib map is a rich interactive resource which opens up new avenues of research for historians of UK and Irish women’s movements across two decades of intense activism.

28 April 2020

Finding Emmeline Pankhurst

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In this blog post, Katrina Georgiades, in our Government and Official Publications team, explores our collections of Electoral Registers to find information relating to a key figure in the fight for women's right to vote.

image of title page for Electoral Register for Aldersgate Within and Without

The modern UK electoral register is published on an annual basis and provides a list of all those eligible to vote in local government and parliamentary elections. As the British Library is home to an extensive collection of registers (as well as the nation’s only complete collection of electoral registers from 1947 onwards) our holdings provide a unique starting point for anyone looking to discover more about how the democratic process has evolved over time and adapted to changes in the cultural and political climate. Inspired by the preparations for our exhibition on women’s rights activism “Unfinished Business “ I decided to learn more about how the registers can be used to demonstrate the changes in women’s rights through the knowledge they preserve about individuals and their private histories. My goal was to trace the whereabouts of one of the most famous women’s activists of all time: Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU).

The first standardized form of electoral registration in the UK was introduced with the Reform Act of 1832. Its introduction in effect conferred the right to vote upon those whose name was included within its pages, explicitly barring all women from electing members of parliament (see Johnston, 21). From 1903 onwards Emmeline Pankhurst and her fellow campaigners in the WSPU fought for the parliamentary franchise to be extended to women. It wasn’t however until the Representation of the People Act in 1918 that the parliamentary franchise was granted to (some) women over the age of 30 and the names of women began to appear on the registers as evidence of their right to vote for MPs.

Electoral registers are arranged by polling district and published separately for individual parliamentary constituencies. Entries for voters are recorded in order of address. During the First World War Ms Pankhurst established a nursery and adoption home for orphaned children near her house at 50 Clarendon Road, Holland Park. 50 Clarendon Road remained Ms Pankhurst’s dwelling until 1919 when she departed for Canada. My search therefore began with a hunt for her address. Parliamentary constituencies are by no means static and are continuously updated to include changing areas and demographics. During Ms Pankhurst’s period of residence 50 Clarendon Road in fact straddled the division between two constituencies that now no longer exist: the boroughs of North Kensington and South Kensington in London - neither register is included in the British Library’s holdings.

After the war Ms Pankhurst undertook a significant amount of travelling, lecturing and touring within the USA and Canada. Upon her return to England in 1926 she moved in with her sister Ada Goulden Bach at 2 Elsham Road Kensington. At this point she began campaigning on behalf of the Conservative party for the constituency of Whitechapel and St George’s in Stepney (again no longer in existence). By 1927 she and her sister were living at 35 Gloucester, Pimlico and by March 1928 she had moved to lodgings within her prospective constituency at 9 High Street Wapping. Sadly her health failed her before she could face the electorate and she moved to a nursing home in Hampstead less than three months later. Despite being present in the ladies’ gallery at its second reading, (see Purvis, 348) she did not live to witness the 1928 Reform Act (which granted the franchise to both sexes on an equal basis) become law later that year.

Given the substantial amount of relocating that Ms Pankhurst undertook during this time I imagined that finding a record for her in any of the registers during this period would prove a challenge. Luckily the library holds a substantial collection of electoral registers on microfilm and I was able to locate a copy of the 1928 register for Whitechapel & St. George’s Stepney Division. Instead of Emmeline Pankhurst I found entries for a Mr and Mrs Chipperfield. A letter written by Ms Pankhurst to one Esther Greg helped to explain my discovery: ‘You will be amused at my quarters over a hairdressers shop. His wife is my landlady and their name is Chipperfield. It sounds like Dickens. They are a nice couple and are good Conservatives …’ (Pankhurst quoted in Purvis p.350).

Beyond preserving print copies, the Library is actively involved in digitising its holdings of Electoral Registers, many of which are now accessible through databases such as FindmyPast. The database (which is accessible in the Library reading rooms) did not however return any results and it became necessary to expand the search beyond our collection. On the morning of the 10th March I took a trip to the London Metropolitan Archives. On their premises I was able to access digitized records from a 1918 register. Under the entry for 50 Clarendon Road, Holland Park I finally found what I had been searching for: evidence of Ms Pankhurst’s right to exercise the democratic privilege the suffragettes had campaigned so long for.

References

English Heritage, “PANKHURST, Emmeline (1858-1928) & PANKHURST, Dame Christabel (1880-1958)”, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/. Web. 06 March 2020.

Johnston, Neil, “The History of the Parliamentary Franchise”, https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings, 2013. Web. 29 Feb 2020.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, “Pankhurst [nee Goulden], Emmeline”, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/35376. Web. 28 April 2020.

Purvis, June, Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography, London: Routledge, 2002.

The British Library, Parliamentary Constituencies and their Registers since 1832, 2015. https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/uk-electoral-registers Web. 27 Feb 2020.

09 April 2020

Learning from the Past: A guide for the curious researcher

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Our free online course, Learning from the Past: A guide for the curious researcher, starts on 20 April. The course has been developed in partnership with the University of Nottingham, and is available from FutureLearn.

The course aims to introduce sources used by researchers, with an emphasis on material that can be discovered and accessed online, and the methods that researchers use to analyse and understand these sources. We are also interested in how an understanding of the past both informs and is influenced by contemporary issues - such as globalisation or climate change. 

Over three weeks, we look at language and history, images and artefacts, and newer types of research resource. Learners can find out about British Library collections and projects, such as:

The course is designed for anyone who has an interest in the past. Our learners include students considering a research project, people who have followed a personal research interest for years, and those getting started on family or local history projects.  

As a taster of the course, you can see Phil Hatfield, Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies, talking about an 18th century map of Canada and the Arctic at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/learning-from-the-past/0/steps/58711 

21 October 2019

Spare Rib archive - possible suspension of access UPDATE

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Update (26th January, 2020): Further to our previous updates, the Government has committed to delivering the EU Withdrawal Agreement by 31 January 2020, after which the transition period will apply. The Spare Rib digital archive is expected to remain available until the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. Further details will follow as these are confirmed. Original text of post as follows:

In February 2019 the British Library determined that if the UK leaves the European Union (EU) without a deal it will be necessary to remove from access the full run of digitised Spare Rib magazines hosted on the Jisc Journals platform. If the UK were to exit the EU on 31 October without a deal, therefore, the Spare Rib digital resource will no longer be available as of this date. Should a Withdrawal Agreement be finalised before that date, the resource will remain available until at least the end of the transition period.

The decision to close down the Spare Rib resource once the UK has left the EU was made on the basis of the copyright status of the digitised magazine, which relies heavily on EU orphan works directive. This directive allows in-copyright material held by cultural institutions to be made available where rights holders cannot, after due diligence searches, be identified. Spare Rib was published between 1972 and 1993 and as a consequence its content is still in copyright.

When we digitised the magazine the Library sought the permission of rights-holders for their work to feature in the online archive. We successfully obtained permission from 1080 contributors. Around 57% of the magazine however – some 11,000 articles and images from 2,700 contributors – benefits from EU orphan works protection. Should the UK leave the EU this legal exception will no longer apply and we have therefore taken the decision that the resource will need to be closed.

The closure of the Spare Rib digital resource will be felt by the many students, researchers and activists who use it and for this we apologise. As some compensation we can confirm that the British Library Spare Rib site, with contextual essays and selected magazine content will remain accessible.

For additional background and context about the Spare Rib digital archive and its potential suspension please see the British Library’s blog from February 2019.

09 October 2019

The 2019 Annual Equality Lecture: Jack Halberstam

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We are delighted that Jack Halberstam, Professor of Gender Studies and English at Columbia University, will deliver the Ninth Annual Equality Lecture in collaboration with the British Library and the British Sociological Association. This will take place on Friday 1 November 2019, 19.00-20.30, in the British Library Knowledge Centre Auditorium.

Professor Halberstam will provide a very timely consideration of the history of Trans* communities, and examine their association with political goals and a quest for recognition. They will also offer up new and different aesthetic avenues to Trans* lives and images, and be signing copies of their latest book Trans*: a Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability (2018).

In this book, Halberstam explains the inclusion of the asterisk at the end of the word ‘Trans’ as moving the idea of transition resulting in a final form, an ultimate destination and beyond established configuration of desire and identity. The asterisk, they argue, stops any sense of knowing the meaning of any given gender varying form, and gives Trans* people authorship and authority of their own categories.

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Jack Halberstam, Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability (2018). British Library YC.2018.a.15460

This idea of ambiguity or flexibility in categories does not sit easily within a library and museum context, where material is defined, catalogued and archived for posterity.

Yet, libraries, and the worlds of words they contain, have long been a refuge for people excluded from the normative and major narratives of history and nationhood. Minorities of all types often seek evidence of themselves in the past, buried in the traces left behind. The validation of finding someone like you living and surviving in a different time, who may be long dead, can be transformative.

The exploration of the past for a minority history can be painstaking in terms of time, labour and emotional investment. However, these research journeys and the stories they uncover can have profound implications for the majority, the archive project, and the subscribed historical norms.Libraries do not just keep our stories safe; they are where new stories begin. 

Technology offers new opportunities for communities to find themselves in archival records. The British Library and its partners have digitised over 20 million individual pages of printed news media, and the use of optical character recognition (OCR) enables searches hitherto impossible in the past.

In 2018, the British Library invited Trans activists E-J Scott (Curator of the Museum of Transology), Dr Jay Stewart (Chief Executive of Gendered Intelligence), and Annie Brown (activist, artist and GI youth worker) to consider two articles found in the British Library digital newspaper collections: ‘The woman in man’s attire’ (Tamworth Herald, 1901) and ‘An extraordinary investigation’ (Sussex Advertiser, 1833)

 

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‘The woman in man’s attire: a remarkable marriage story’, Tamworth Herald (1901)

When gender varying individuals approach the binary space of archived and not archived, the past and the present collide and the researcher is subject not only to the temporal nature of our present language around gender, but also the historic lack. In this conversation between Annie Brown, E-J Scott and Dr Jay Stewart, we get a glimpse into the impact that the historical record can have for communities still fighting for representation and inclusion.

Steven Dryden (Sound and Vision Reference Specialist and co-curator of Gay UK: Love, Law, Liberty and LGBTQ Histories)

11 July 2019

What is a Manifesto ... ?

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Gay Liberation Front, Manifesto. London: Gay Liberation Front. 1971

The origins of writing and the reason why we write are central themes around which the Making Your Mark exhibition revolves. Encompassing the act of writing and the mediums used from carvings, scrolls, papyri, typing, print and digital. The exhibition is divided into different chapters, featuring a section on ‘People and Writing’ that considers the methods and purposes of various types of documents which are utilised as tools of power. Publications that reflect this include charters, petitions, pamphlets and treaties. Another such ubiquitous document that is congruous with this section is the manifesto.

A manifesto is a unique way of communicating which addresses an audience and asks them to unite to take action and change something. In this sense, the manifesto is an historical artifact and political tool within the history of radical democracy. The earliest examples can be traced back to Europe of the 16th Century; most famous manifestos include the Declaration of Independence and the Communist Party Manifesto. The concept of a manifesto is a little bit like a pamphlet, which were often homemade and distributed by hand in public places; likewise the manifesto is a public announcement often printed in newspapers or journals.

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Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei, (Manifesto of the Communist Party). London : gedruckt in der Office der 'Bildungs-Gesellschaft für Arbeiter' von J. E. Burghard, [1848] 

There is no definite style or format. What all manifestos share is a call to its reader to unite and join together to make a change. Manifestos are frequently written during unsettled periods, often by small groups of people who want to challenge the status qua. Throughout history the authors vary from political parties, art movements and individuals. Developed as a text, the manifesto fuses art and politics to create a type of modernist literature. Studies of this particular writing form has lead researchers to consider it a genre within its own right.

A manifesto proves that writing is a tool of power and can be used to intervene and demonstrate against dominant systems. The phrasing used is often pleading, attacking, protesting and opposing in tone and declaring the intention of the writer. Any subject, cause or social group can write their own manifesto, but it is always written from an opposing position implying an ‘us’ and ‘them’. The style is often short and repetitive that attempts to get its message across and encourage readers to agree.

The texts broadcast ideals demanding the reader seize the moment to change the future. In this way, the writing is an activist text, inciting readers to take practical action to make decisions for themselves. This articulation must however be recognised by the audience or subject it addresses in order to function.

Where and when and who wrote manifestos are dependent on power struggles and an urge for change. The manifesto can appear under threat in this age of social media where a blue thumb can signify individual consent. Yet the desire to transform injustices and ignorance exists now more than ever. In these unsettled times, there are a lot people who still want to change things. If you were to write your own manifesto, what might it include and why?

This post has been written by Rachel Brett, Reference Specialist for Humanities at the British Library. Rachel frequently delivers discovery sessions on art, fashion and related subjects, and contributes to the Library's Doctoral Open Days