By Eleanor Dickens, Curator, Politics and Public Life at the British Library
In 2020, the British Library opened the major exhibition: ‘Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights’, exploring women’s rights and gender equality in the UK. To coincide with the opening the library also launched a collection on the web archive collection under the same title.
Today, activism and politics often thrive in online spaces and this web archive collection was designed to highlight this. It sought to recognise the surge of activism around women’s rights issues that has emerged online - whereby it has become a tool for marginalised voices to unite and be amplified.
The core aim of the collection was to capture websites that reflect the activism around women’s rights online. From the beginning we also recognised that the scope for this collection was difficult to define and that sites relevant to this collection would come from many areas and would not focus solely on feminism, gender and women’s studies but also subjects such as family history, society and culture and welfare for example.
The aim for the collection was to use the knowledge of the curatorial team working on the exhibition and for them to suggest and forward pages as they worked. We also hoped to use community engagement to think with users about the online spaces they used and engaged with and where their activism and feminism manifested.
We wanted to capture around 100 websites or individual web pages but knew, just like in the physical exhibition, that this collection would only ever be a glimpse at a subject that is amorphous, huge and deeply personal to each user.
Online activism is by its very nature, fast moving and deeply personal. A collection brought together by someone else can only ever be a general snapshot. One hundred web collections of one hundred pages curated by a hundred different feminists would still not convey a complete image of contemporary online feminism. This was a reality of the web collection but it was one we knew going into it and could try our best to balance.
Looking at the collection as a whole it is also noticeable that many sites captured are for resources, charities and centres working in all areas of women’s rights rather than a reflection of activism or radical discourse. This is not a bad thing. However, it shows the difficulty in capturing activism online. This also happened because while trying to maintain balance in a limited collection it was problematic to capture too many personal twitter accounts or websites - these could easily number in their thousands – but through limiting them, you end up with largely the websites of institutions or organisations that can feel less dynamic.
Despite these difficulties we ended up with an exciting collection of archived websites, reflecting a moment of contemporary feminism and hopefully a resource that can be used in many ways.
The UK Web Archive also has two complimentary web archive collections both the Gender Equality and Women’s Issues collections reflect a lot of the themes captured in the Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights collection.
The Gender Equality collection is still active and seeking nominations. You can nominate more content to this collection by following the Save a UK Website tab on our website: www.webarchive.org.uk/nominate
The Women’s Issues collection was a collaboration with the Women's Library at LSE from 2005 to 2013. This collection is a representation of some of the issues facing women during that time period.
Readers will also be interested in the Political Action & Communication collection. This collection tries to capture a snapshot of various types of activism from across the UK and there is an overlap with the Gender Equality collection.