Group for Education in Museums Conference 2012

GEM Conference 2012
Making the Case: the value of heritage education
4-6 September 2012, Exeter

‘This year’s GEM conference focuses on making a compelling case for heritage education in these challenging times – one that stands up to rigorous scrutiny – by helping heritage management and education professionals explore, identify and articulate the unique value of heritage education, and the positive impacts it has on a wide variety of audiences.’

On Thursday 6th September, I will be running a breakout session. The theme of the day is ‘How to make the case’ and my session is called ‘Making our cultural practice more genuinely inclusive: queer and feminist approaches‘.

You can see the full programme here. UPDATED 17th August 2012
Booking forms and more information can be found here.

LGBTI ALMS Conference 2012, Amsterdam

From 1-3 August, the fourth LGBTI Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections conference took place at the Amsterdam Public Library, home to IHLIA (international gay/lesbian library, archive, information and documentation centre about homosexuality and sexual diversity).




This was my first ever visit to Amsterdam, and I was bowled over by how queer-friendly it is, the Central Station walls were adorned with huge posters about Pride and almost every canal bridge was lined with Pride flags. London could learn an awful lot from Amsterdam.



The conference took place in the most beautiful public library I have ever seen. Perhaps the difference between Amsterdam and the UK was most stark because of this, public libraries here are often quite grim, and certainly don’t have the money to do anything about it, but this library was huge, clean, stylish, modern and the restaurant on the 7th floor resembled the food hall in Selfridges- but nicer. There was a piano on the ground floor, which seasoned pianists were encouraged to play (with light fingers) and the result was surprisingly unintrusive and only added to the ambience. Jan Pimblett (from London Metropolitan Archives) described the library as ‘John Lewis for the brain’ which I thought was quite apt.

A great feature was on the sixth floor, home of IHLIA, these pink shelves, or ‘Rose Kast’ represent a project by IHLIA to advocate for a pink collection (LGBT books and films) in every Public Library in the Netherlands.

 

The format of the conference was quite intense, with four keynotes each of the three days and then several ten minute papers followed by breakout sessions to discuss issues raised further. This was a very democratic way of allowing as many speakers to present as possible, and also to allow everyone to hear all of the speakers.
I’m not going to report on all of the papers, as most of them are available on the conference blog , but I will highlight a few of them that stood out for me.

IHLIA, as a collection, was reconstructed following world war two, the original was half self-destroyed and the rest was seized by the Germans. The collection now recieves 300,000 Euros subsidy per year by the Dutch government, and aims to give a face to the emancipation of gay people.

E. G. Crichton, Artist-in-Residence at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco shared with us some of the work she had done with the archive collection, and looking at ways art practice and creativity can play a role in archives, how memories can be made tangible. She spoke of a particularly interesting project where she paired living LGBT people with people whose collections lived at the GLBT Historical society and asked them to interpret the material, she also produced portraits where images of the living and the dead were seen together. See more about her work here.

Pawel Leszkowicz spoke of his work curating Ars Homoerotica at the National Museum of Poland, I have heard him speak before at the Tate Modern, I won’t say much now, I will dedicate a future  blog post to his work, but you can read his paper here.

James Miller and David DeAngelis spoke about their work with the Pride Library, and the Closet Library collection. Based in Western University in Canada, the Pride Library occupies a dedicated space in the main library. The Closet Library is a collection of gay pulp fiction, found in the basement of a collector whose family did not want his identity to be known, hence the name of the collection. The Library students at the University help with scanning covers and cataloguing the material, more can be found here. PhD student Danielle Cooper has done some really interesting research about the Pride Library as Place for queer people, her full thesis can be found here.

Independent scholar Agnieszka Weseli, who specialises in the history of sexuality, women and queer history, spoke of archives as a tool of social change, and where non-heteronormatives fit into history. She said that history gives the possibility of rebellion, and that famous people are often outed as part of the discourse of patriotism, “deviants” who don’t fit squarely with general impressions of sexuality and gender, might be overlooked in this. She is working with a grassroots organisation in Poland, and I look forward to the prospect of collaborating with her in the future.

Angela Brinskele and Jamey Fitzpatrick are doing great work with the Mazer Lesbian Archives at UCLA, they are both so positive and full of innovative ideas for sharing the work they do, by engaging with social networking/media, oral histories and by creating their own merchandise to promote the archives. Their papers are here and here, I hope to get the chance to visit the Mazer archives some time.

Gabriel Khan from GALA in South Africa, presented a fascinating talk about the role of the archive as a vessel for memory, I was particularly interested in this as there were many echoes with my own research for my MA dissertation about women’s archive collections. He said that a community archive should be necessarily politicised, and that the archive is a place for unpacking and repackaging memory, where the archivist must be facilitator for this. He also said that memories can’t always be captured and instead are experiential, memories and stories can be (and should be) channeled into something positive that helps a community.

Topher Campbell spoke about Rukus! which I was already aware of, he spoke with great passion about an incredibly radical collection, that benefited from being run by himself as an entertainer, and Ajamu X a photographer. I hope to be able to engage with this great collection during my research.

Richard Parkinson from the British Museum was another highlight, but I will write a dedicated blog post about his phenomenal work in the future. It was a real pleasure to meet Richard, and to share ideas in our joint break-out session.

Jan Pimblett, an archives outreach pioneer (and friend) from London Metropolitan Archives spoke passionately about the LGBT History Club at the LMA, I will be posting more about upcoming events on this blog soon.

Suzie Day, a Library school student from Western Australia gave some tips about making school and public libraries more inviting to the LGBTI community even when there is no extra funding available. Many of her ideas were very simple, but would never have occurred to me, she stressed that libraries can provide a service that others can’t and used her personal experiences to demonstrate this. Things as simple as having LGBTI related posters and community publications in the library, taking part in Pride and engaging with social networks, would make these environments safer, and more inclusive spaces for queer youngsters. The paper can be found here.

My paper was well recieved, and it was a pleasure to present it to so many experts in the field. It will be available online shortly, I will post on the blog when it is available to be read. As thanks to all of the speakers, IHLIA gave us a pair of same-sex porceline figurines, it’s a contemporary twist on the classic Delft blue kissing boy and girl doll, such a great souvenir to take home with me!

Brief update about LGBTI ALMS conference and useful links page

I returned from the LGBTI ALMS 2012 conference in Amsterdam this morning, what a beautiful city, and what an empowering and inspirational conference. The range of speakers was vast, and the experiences and stories shared, invaluable. I look forward to writing a more in depth report once I have uploaded the photos I took while I was there. In the mean time, many of the papers are available to be read on the conference blog, mine will be on there shortly.

I decided that a good way to keep track of many of the great work going on in the UK and beyond was to begin compiling a list of links to various websites, you can find the beginnings of this to the right under ‘Useful links index‘, this is very much a work in progress, and so far just contains links relating to the LGBTI ALMS conference, there will be more to come more widely, but I will pick away at it as and when I can, I hope eventually the page itself will become a valuable resource that I hope to keep up to date. Needless to say, I will tidy up the page a bit when I get the chance as well. Any suggestions for pages I could add to it will be gratefully received.

I hope to post something more comprehensive about the conference on Monday, but until then, the warmest thanks to the organisers and hosts at IHLIA and I hope the conference is the start of a great worldwide collaborative family working diligently towards a brighter future for the histories of LGBTI communities.

LGBTI ALMS 2012 conference

I’m really excited to be giving a paper at the LGBTI ALMS (Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections) conference in Amsterday on the 3rd of August. A brief abstract of what I will be talking about can be found on the conference blog here.

The full programme can be found here. It’s a jam-packed conference with a real range of interesting speakers.

It’s going to be a great opportunity to discuss my research at such an early stage with so many experts in the field, and a great chance to see Amsterdam as I’ve never been before! I will report back on the blog when I return.

the women’s library

As part of the ARLIS (Art Library Society) conference that I mention here, two staff members from the Women’s Library, currently part of London Metropolitan University, spoke about two recent projects relating to sport (the theme of the conference was Olympic-based).

Cycling to Suffrage: The Bicycle and Women’s Rights, 1890-1914
·         Briony Benge Abbot, Curator of Special Collections told us about the current exhibition of called Cycling to Suffrage: The Bicycle and Women’s Rights, 1890-1914 which runs until 8 September 2012.
·         The Women’s Library was founded in 1926 after the suffragette movement. She gave a brief history of the library, which can be found here.
·         The main users are researchers, academics, students and family historians.
·         The library has two exhibition spaces, and aims to show four exhibitions a year. Themes covered in the past have included; prostitution, craft, make-up and work.
·         The current exhibition looks at the gender politics of cycling in Edwardian and Victorian Britain, a mode of transport that was considered masculine, unsafe and uncivilised for a woman.
·         The cycle became a symbol of the New Woman, but was also used as a negative symbol against the women’s movement.
·         The exhibition raises questions about class, “rational dress”, how the bicycle supported the suffrage movement, ie: how it was used in parades, cycling scouts canvassing and handing out leaflets, and its use in pilgrimages and marches.
·         The research carried out for the exhibition unearthed material that was previously unknown about, such as a radical book about women cyclists, which championed healthy lifestyles and showed women how to fix bikes.
·         The bicycle was also seen by some to represent a more militant wave of the suffragette movement, following activist activities it was used to get away at high speed, some women were accused of making bombs with bicycle parts, complaints were made about tyre tracks on golf greens etc.
·         This is the first time this subject has been looked at in any detail, and it has provided new perspectives to parts of the collections and has prompted the rewrite of some catalogue entries.
·         The outcomes have included talks and the exhibition has enhanced knowledge of the collection. It has also attracted new audiences, including lots of cyclist groups, who discuss how cycling is still a gendered issue. Only 29% of cyclists in London are women, and the death rate from accidents is highly disproportionate.
·         More about the exhibition here. I visited it briefly the other day, and it’s really illuminating and worth a visit.
 Sporting Sisters: stories of Muslim women in sport
·         Tracey Weller Learning Coordinator, whom I had already had the pleasure of meeting to interview for my dissertation, told us about some of the outreach they did at the Women’s Library, specifically about the Muslim women in sport project.
·         This was a community-led research project, originally with 12 or 13 young Muslim women looking at Muslim women’s participation from 1948 to the present day. By the end of the project, there were four women taking part, this reduction in numbers is fairly standard in community outreach work.
·         The project was funded primarily by HLF, followed by contributions from ESRC and the People’s Record.
·         The participants were given an introduction to the Women’s Library, and had a workshop about using a research library. They received training around oral histories and interviewing techniques, and film-making skills.
·         The collection of material relating to Muslim women in sport was quite patchy in the late 18th and early 19th century, but there was more relevant stuff from more contemporary times.
·         Issues raised involved class, ethnicity, over-representation of materials related to rowing and hockey, clothing- especially for Muslim sportswomen.
·         They discovered that Muslim women were amongst the most enthusiastic in women’s boxing.
·         The last Olympic sports to exclude men are rhythmic gymnastics and synchronised swimming.
·         They filmed and edited their own short film about their research, which can be found here.
·         The outcomes of the project were: the participants acquired new skills, such as research skills and filming skills. The film preserves their research and became part of the collection, they have helped to highlight a hidden voice and have raised the profile of Muslim women’s participation in sports. The project has also enhanced the knowledge of the Women’s Library staff of their collections.
Recently the Women’s Library have announced that there are seven bidders for alternative ownership, which I’m sure you will have heard about, there is a shortlist of seven, and I’m selfishly hoping it will stay in London, and particularly keeping my fingers crossed for Senate House as it would be a brilliant edition to the already blooming University of London (again, obvious bias on my part).

a warm Wellcome



The reason I include the Wellcome Library on this blog is because of the frieze in the main reading room, which reminded me of the timeline by Sara Fanelli at the Tate Modern that gives an alternative and expanded version of the story of contemporary art. Postmodern and feminist approaches demand a complete disruption/revision of existing canons, which are made by and for men. Feminism rejects hierarchy and canonicity, so the Tate are really bold in having this displayed there (although it’s undermined by the reliance on white males for their big shows). The Wellcome library seemed to share this vision of extending a view of history, this time, medical history.



Credit: Wellcome Library, London
Interior of the Wellcome Library.
 The Wellcome Library’s art deco reading room, formerly the original museum for Henry Wellcome’s unique collection, has a frieze around it containing names, thought in the 1960s to be the most important figures in medicine. The library serves to fill the gaps between those names, the lesser known doctors, nurses, surgeons, other medical practitioners, patients and theorists. Contrary to many misconceptions, the collection held is very much alive and glowing with a wealth of diverse material (2.5 million items!), spanning themes as broad as; food, ethics, sexuality, medicine in the media, foreign language material, alchemy, botany, witchcraft and the occult and much more. There are twelve books about Napoleon’s various alleged maladies (including scabies), a huge variety of periodicals and primary source medical textbooks from 1850 onwards and vast numbers of paintings, drawings and prints. The library is open to anyone, and there is only one category of membership. The main readership is students (of both medicine and art/art history), people in the field of medicine, and family historians who can look up family members who were patients, or doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners. The library has its own in-house conservation team where most of its conservation takes place, an in-house photography team for digitisation (a current digitisation project looking at the history of genetics is currently underway) and a Rare Materials Room for consulting the more fragile and rare material, the oldest of which is a prescription from Egypt dated 11BC. The Research and Engagement Officer Ross MacFarlane told us about the Wellcome’s online presence, including the blog, Wellcome Images, a widely used free resource, the video tutorials for library users, and Wellcome Film. The Wellcome Library is incredibly lucky as it is privately owned and very wealthy. The majority of the Wellcome Trust’s budget goes towards funding medical research, but there is still a generous amount left to continue to acquire material and to move ahead with ongoing digitisation projects.




Credit: Wellcome Library, London
Lady Strachan and Lady Warwick making love in a park, while their husbands look on with disapproval. Coloured etching, ca. 1820.



pride in our past plymouth

On Wednesday 27th of June I attended the Community Archives and Heritage Group conference at UCL, which was a varied and interesting event, that gave me lots to think about for my dissertation.
During the conference, there was an awards ceremony, and each of the winners presented a short presentation about the work they do. The winner of the Inspiration award was ‘Pride in our Past’.
The Plymouth Pride Forum embarked on this project to give a voice to an overlooked community in Plymouth, one that as well as being overlooked, was thought to be wrong, and shaded in secrecy and shame. They collected oral histories, and physical artefacts and formed the Plymouth LGBT Archive. They received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to put on one exhibition.


Image courtesy of Pride in Our Past
 
When the Hello Sailor! exhibition in Liverpool was in the planning stages, in spite of its rich naval history, no one came forward to tell their story, Plymouth apparently being more closeted than most UK cities. Collecting the oral histories got off to a rocky start.  One elderly woman spoke to one of the archivists and said “oh no dear, we don’t do any of that here”, but eventually voices- young and old- came forward. Age Concern also formed an LGBT group at the same time. The archivists were touched when an elderly gay woman said that she didn’t think anyone would ever want to hear her story in her lifetime.
Once the project got into full swing, an LGBT youth group Out Youth created art work to accompany the exhibition, one teen, on seeing his work in print in a magazine, said he felt like he was making history.
The project has brought together a community that had previously been living alongside each other in silence. For the participants it became about taking pride in who they are, and taking ownership of their LGBT identity. This was particularly moving for the older generations, one couple who had been together for 50 years loaned a painting of them together to the exhibition, marking a public recognition of their long-term commitment to each other. most of the material shown and created will become a permanent part of the collection.
Pride in our Past was obviously a worthy winner of the Inspiration award, and have formed a great model by which other regional archives could follow. Hopefully as time goes by, these narratives can be integrated throughout all parts of the archive collections, as the LGBT identity of people does not exist in isolation, but is a vital part of all aspects of community life.
You can find more about the archive collection here.
And more about the Pride in our Past project here.
The video of the presentation can be found here.
The other award winners can be found here.

upcoming discussion at the London Metropolitan Archives

I’ll start with a plug:
LGBT HISTORY CLUB
Wednesday 4 July   6pm-7.30pm  FREE drop-in event
London Metropolitan Archives, 40, Northampton Road, London, EC1R 0HB
On Wednesday 4th July Sean Curran will be presenting some interesting ideas around his current research and opening up a discussion with members of LGBT History Club.
Sean has  been awarded a PhD studentship by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) due to start in October and would like to take the opportunity to discuss the nature of his proposed research with a range of people interested in the  field of queering museum and archive practice.
Some areas for discussion:
  • Should interpretation in museums and archives be weighted towards a celebration of a shared queer identity to promote a sense of belonging and community amongst a diverse and varied audience?
  • What broader steps towards inclusion can be made beyond interpretations focusing on difference?
  • How can museums and archives become platforms for identity-forming, both for individuals and communities?
The facebook event can be found here.
We look forward to seeing you.
Sean

new beginnings

A recent conference of the Art Libraries Society inspired me to think more seriously about my online presence and how important it can be, not only in networking, but also in sharing research and ideas and broadening conversations into wider realms that might otherwise be missed.
I’m due to start my PhD in October, but I’m already beginning to think about my future research and as I attend lots of events related to it, I thought it seemed a shame to hide away all of my thoughts on a folder on my computer that only I see. I’m currently working on my MA dissertation, which is looking at how women’s collections in archives can be used as educational resources, which is a nice stepping stone towards my PhD.
I hope, if nothing else, this blog will inspire you to think more widely about heritage, and the heritage sector, and about inclusion, diversity and queer/feminist thinking.
Sean