Thursday, 13 December 2012

Help me identify the location of this picture

I was having a meeting with my supervisor Pam Meecham yesterday and we were talking about collectors and collecting and got onto discussing photographs and someone who collected discarded and ripped up photos.

I then showed her the picture here, which I picked up from an old suitcase in a vintage shop in Brick Lane a few years ago and for some reason carry with me at all times. I like it because its a bit strange and really bleak and also begs a lot of questions. Pam said that she thought there was enough information in the picture to at least determine where it had been taken, so I thought I would throw it open to the Internet to see if anyone could spot any clues as to where it might be.

Pam thought, as I had initially, that it might be the Lake District, I had also wondered if it might be in Scotland somewhere. Pam pointed out that wherever it was, it was probably not far from a road or a residential area, as the subject has two sticks, and probably wouldn't have been able to manage a long trek or a hike to get there.

Any thoughts? I'd love to find out more about it!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Journal of Education in Museums

The newest issue of JEM has just come out (No. 33) and its about advocacy, and contains an article by yours truly, in which I make the case for including queer narratives in museums & heritage sites and addressing LGBT audiences.

There are also articles about building relationships with museums and universities, how to evidence the impact of heritage institutions and arguing the value of cultural learning. There is also a summary of the GEM conference from earlier this year.

The front cover of the journal includes one of Paul Harfleet's Pansy pictures, which I mention in my article, I've written briefly about that project on this blog already.

Curran, S (2012). 'The museum through queer eyes', JEM, no.33.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Book recommendation

Just a quick book recommendation:

Fellow, W. (2004) A Passion to Preserve: gay men as keepers of culture. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.

It's a really interesting read, perhaps a bit reductive and stereotyped at times, but it's basically a collection of case studies about collectors/preservationists who are gay men. He identifies patterns in the attributes his subjects possess, namely; gender atypicality, domophilia, romanticism, aestheticism, and connection-and-continuity-mindedness, all of which he explores at some length.

Definitely recommended (though to be read with a pinch of salt at times!)

Friday, 16 November 2012

LGBT History Month pre-launch at Bletchley Park

Yesterday I joined Jan Pimblett and others from the London Metropolitan Archives at the LGBT History Month pre-launch event at Bletchley Park. We peopled a stall during the day, and then attended the evening programme of events.

Speakers for the evening included Nigel Tart, who spoke about using LGBT themes in Maths lessons, Elly Barnes (No.1 on the IoS Pink List 2011!) who gave an empowering talk about making schools LGBT friendly and Kirsty Horrocks, a prison officer and member of GALIPS (Gays and Lesbians in the Prison Service), Norwich Pride Choir provided some beautiful entertainment, (including interpretations of coming out stories written in 140 characters!) and ended with a stirring speech by the nephew of Alan Turing, Sir John Dermot Turing.

It was a great day, and aside from the enjoyment and community that LGBT History Month provides, a key theme was that primarily, thanks to LGBT History Month, and Schools Out and some of the fantastic pioneers and activists that were present, young lives are being saved.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Help with research needed!

HELP NEEDED WITH RESEARCH: Hello friends. If you identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer, and collect something (stamps, coins, magazines, jewellery etc. anything!) please take the time to fill out this form to help with my PhD research. There is more information if you follow the link. If not, please share to spread the word, I will be forever grateful!

Thanks to all who have taken part so far. This survey will be running until Friday 23rd November.

THIS SURVEY IS NOW CLOSED - huge thanks to everyone who took part. I will share the results, so keep your eyes on the blog!

Thank you!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

LGBTQ History conference: LGBTQ Narrators and Oral Histories

I attended the What is LGBT(Q) History and Where do we stand? conference at Queen Mary, University of London on Wednesday 7th-Thursday 8th September. I decided to do a few blog posts, just to make it more digestible, and because my notetaking tends to be a bit scatter-brained and excessive.

My first question before even getting there was why the Q for Queer was in brackets...

Rather than going through each of the papers, I'm just going to pick out some of the points I found most interesting.

You can find out more about the conference here:

The first panel was about LGBTQ Narrators and Oral History(/ies)

Jane Traies, a PhD candidate from the University of Sussex spoke about her work with older lesbians and oral history. She said that older lesbians are overlooked in both academia and in popular culture, and the older queer generation is particularly hard to access. She managed to survey around 400 lesbians aged between 60 and 90, and then followed up with 50 indepth life story interviews. She referred to older queer people as "the closeted generation" which was a turn of phrase I like. Oral histories with older people, specifically marginalised people, is about restoring the historical record, and not only treating them as museum pieces with an interesting past, but capturing their experiences of today, the present. One of the questions asked was "do you consider yourself a feminist?", a staggering 80% said yes, which is much higher than any other statistics for 3rd age populations, is it because they are older? is it because they are women? is it because they are lesbians? these are ideas she needs to unpack.Many of the younger women she interviewed (around their 60s) were young during the second wave feminist movement and thus may see feminism and lesbianism as inextricably linked. Those who formed their lesbian identities before the 1960s were less likelyto consider themselves feminists, she also found that those from working class backgrounds were also more likely to consider themselves feminists. Of the non-identifying-feminists, the adoption of butch/femme and mirrored heteronormal roles were more common. Jane's research has confirmed for her that personal histories and identities and socio-political histories are linked and often in conflict. She also said it was important to disaggragate the LGBTQ acronym, but also to knit it back up again.

Of LGBTQ history, she said it was still troublesome to the academy, as it erodes traditional boundaries of histories and is interdisciplinary, and that LGBT histories are a political act and activism. She also identified that LGBTQ history is almost always researched by LGBTQ people, thus bias is unavoidable, and there are some academics that still believe that history can and should be completely unbiased.

She spoke of her methodology, which as an early stage researcher, was of great interest to me. She said that she feels she has a responsibility to the community that she is studying, and has been careful to include them at all stages and has co-produced their life histories and allowed them to choose their own psuedonyms and has consulted them with the transcripts. She also seeks feedback for her research with non-academic LGBT people, which she says is good practice for eliminating academic jargon.

More about her fascinating research can be found here:
Elizabeth Young (Uni of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada) and Alva Traebert (Uni of Edinburgh) were both looking at place in their research, Elizabeth at the 'Bible Belt' of Canada, Lethbridge, and Alva in Scotland from 1980-2000. Ideas that cropped up included; the importance of geography on shaping and informing sexual identities, how this geographic influence impacts oral methodology, the importance of preserving voices, issues of labelling and terminology (which was a theme that cropped up throughout the day and a particular anxiety in my research), the importance of being reflexive researchers who are mindful of ourselves and our own influence and interpretations of the stories that are told.

Alva was looking at AIDs/HIV and how young queer people in Scotland would have educated themselves during the AIDs/HIV crisis without the internet or access to formal education on the subject due to Section 2A (Scotland's version of Section 28 which was repealed three years before the rest of the UK repealed Section 28), the absence of women in queer AIDs/HIV research, apart from as care-givers, how the "scene venues" as viewed by mainstream society are mainly very gendered places (ie: gay bars, parks etc.), the importance of acknowledging the tensions within the community and who polices the boundaries of community membership, the difficulties some lesbians find in being part of the lesbian community due to their femininity (which some of my friends have experienced first hand). She spoke of how she was using queer as an umbrella term for all LGBT people and their allies (which is what I plan to do in my research), but is mindful that it's not a widely embraced term. She sees her role as not giving voices to queer people, but as facilitating queer people to find their own.

She finished by saying that being a queer researcher, working on a queer research project in a traditional university is still a challenge (I have recently faced a sea of blank faces when describing my research to some fellow PhD students at a university that is primarily education and social sciences) and that we need to start thinking about what it means to be a queer researcher.

Some good points cropped up in the Q & A which followed:

-"community" should perhaps be viewed as what we are not, rather than what we are.
- there is a queer generational gap, older queers believe firmly in identity politics (and therefore labels) whereas younger people are more inclined to think of identity as fluid. Jane said that she felt the LGBTQ were not great at intergenerational relationships.
- when doing oral histories, there is no truth. You get the stories that people want to/are prepared to tell and you become the co-producer and the storytelling becomes a conversation.

I'll do a follow up blog post with more from the conference soon.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill

There are two potential strands of LGBT interest that could be developed at Strawberry Hill, taking advantage of the lightness and the weight that this audience group can be approached with.

The LGBT and queer heritage of the house is intangible; the challenge is to bring this heritage to the surface. The National Trust, for example, is slowly beginning to embrace more daring ventures to include this audience group, with recent developments at Nyman’s House, where an artist and curator was invited to perform interventions to uncover the story of a gay former resident, and the ‘Soho Stories’ smartphone app, which is a guided audio tour around the popular LGBT-friendly streets of Soho, London.

The first strand is around the idea of social justice. Richard Sandell and others have looked with some depth at the potential museums, galleries and country houses have in reaching out to marginalised or “difficult-to-reach” groups. The Museums Association are currently looking at the idea of the ‘just’ museum, considering social justice at the very core of all institutions do. They are also looking ahead to ‘the museum in 2020’ and at how museum professionals can strive to reach the goal of being inclusive by that time.

There is great value in Strawberry Hill House as place, or as a safe space. In my MA dissertation I looked at how women’s collections in archives can be used for outreach and education and found, through looking at other institutions, particularly at the Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths, that the library is valued as a space for women, with many groups using it as a base for discussion, workshops and debate. Strawberry Hill could become such a space for LGBT groups. It could be the venue for conferences looking at Horace Walpole’s sexuality (on which George Haggerty, Timothy Mowl and others have written about), queer identity in the 18th century, the queer gothic and queer aesthetic. It could also play home to LGBT books clubs, discussion groups and study days looking at, for example, the potentially homoerotic content of Walpole’s correspondence. Strawberry Hill could celebrate LGBT Pride over summer, sending a strong message that this is an audience group worthy of acknowledging and worthy of celebrating.

While we cannot assume to know of Walpole’s sexuality, his life and his home unpack and undo notions of heteronormativity and resist normative sexual values, this discussion is one that is worth exploring further.

The second strand is a lighter one, and would explore the kitsch and the camp that is abundant at Strawberry Hill House. Kensington Palace has begun to embrace a more kitsch line of interpretation to complement its kitsch aesthetic, evident in the recent Enchanted Palace exhibition. The theatrical and performative nature of the décor would lend itself to hosting gay youth groups and gay drama performances, as well as short running exhibitions examining the gay themes that currently reside only subliminally in the house. The empty and unfurnished rooms could be interpreted by queer contemporary artists, and the bold and unusual lighting created by the gothic windows and stained glass mean that it would require little to transform the rooms into breathtaking gallery spaces. There is also scope for a queer artist in residence, to help facilitate LGBT community groups (and others) to explore these themes for themselves. Similarly, these themes and ideas could be exploited with fashion and design students, who could look at masculinities, men and fashion and interior design.
The financial implications of welcoming and embracing an LGBT audience go way beyond the entry charge that new LGBT visitors would bring with them. If an LGBT audience sees that their narratives are valued by Strawberry Hill, the number of Civil Partnerships that the House currently caters for could increase considerably.

For those concerned with the idea that these proposals include the “outing” of Horace Walpole, this is not the case. It is instead a matter of interrogating undercurrent themes and using them to inform a new kind of conversation. Queering a space can be a retrospective form of interpreting that opens up innovative discourses and a reassessment of how inclusive Strawberry House can become.

The pictures were taken by me (with the help of the Instagram app).

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Women's Library update

Just flagging up some articles about recent developments in the ongoing Women's Library saga.

LSE have been named as the new custodian of the WL.

This article is telling as they refer to the Library as "collections" as opposed to just a Library. This is far from an ideal solution, and it would be interesting to know what the other bidders were proposing.

This is the Guardian piece about the "saviour" of the WL by LSE.

And here is a dissatisfied retort, which captures the voices of many.

It's good to see that London Met will continue to fight for this, but I fear it may be fruitless.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

"not meeting the needs of the space" or censorship?

Just a very quick post today, it's my last day of working at the IOE Library, my PhD starts officially next week - it's all very exciting!

I thought I would just flag up this article on the Huffington Post Gay Voices site (which is well worth following, it's great for LGBT news- specifically in the US).

Jeff Larson's 'Men In Living Rooms' Photography Exhibition Pulled From LGBT Stonewall Museum

I suppose I should also prefix this with a "NSFW" (not safe for work) though I don't think it's in any way inappropriate. It's a particularly interesting article in light of what I said about the Hunterian Museum in my last blog post.

I'll post some thoughts about this when I have more time.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Comment books and penises at the Hunterian

I can't believe it's taken me three years to get around to visiting the fantastic Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, which is only about 15 minutes away from the Institute.

For those of you who aren't familiar, the museum very much takes a cabinet-of-curiosities approach and contains hundreds and hundreds of specimen jars containing animal and human parts, including a wide array of diseased innards, human skulls, and perhaps most shockingly, several preserved foetuses. Not only is it fascinating in content, but the Hunterian also offers a commentary of sorts about the changing nature of museums as well.

I visited the temporary exhibition, which is about the anatomy of an athlete to tie in with London 2012, and aside from an interesting model of a paralympian wearing running blades, I found the actual exhibition pretty unremarkable. There was a comments book, which I had a flick through. The people who had written in the books were largely responding to the permanent displays and were fairly unanimously positive, they also seemed to be mainly written by children. One particular comment stood out to me, initially because it made me laugh:

I couldn't get a great picture (there was a tour group right behind me and there was no photography allowed so it was a bit stealthy/rushed), but it says 'the penises were disgusting' followed by what appears to be a name crossed out. Initially I didn't think much about this, but on my way home it got me thinking. While I agreed they were fairly disgusting, they were no more so than the specimens of diseased teeth, or tumorous organs or the vast hernia collection. The penises were also far from the most alarming exhibits, the foetuses and the child's face with smallpox were far more controversial and potentially distressing.

So, perhaps I'm reading too deeply into this, but who is likely to have singled out the penises as the most offensive exhibits? I'd like to surmise that it was a stuffy and prudish conservative with nothing better to do, but it's far more likely to have been penned by a child, probably on a school trip, and- let's face it- probably a boy.

I'm really interested in the issues around displaying the nude in art galleries especially where it concerns children, I find it strange that children aren't shielded from classical nude paintings and statues but that parents (and Daily Mail readers) are funny when it comes to their child being confronted with contemporary nudes. I'd never thought about the ethics and potential controversies of showing actual physical genitalia in specimen jars without including age warning signs. I suppose it's a similar sort of thing with the classical paintings. When vaginas, breasts and penises are displayed as scientific, labelled specimens they become just artefacts, detached from anything human, detached from anything sexual. But if a photographic exhibition including nudity were shown, the gallery or museum would have to be extremely careful about informing parents of young children about the content in advance.

Personally, (and I'm sure some will be horrified at the thought of this), I think children should be exposed to naked imagery in art and in science from a young age. I imagine the main cause of the comment above was shame. From a young age, being sheltered from anything remotely sexual or to do with sexuality makes us feel that the nude body, and genitalia are something to be hidden, or to be ashamed of. It's common sense that this promotion of embarrassment and shame is destructive, and only serves to perpetuate the intensely poor self-body-images that almost everyone these days seems to have. If a young boy, out of curiosity, spends a long time staring at a row of jars containing penises, even if they are detached from a human and severely deformed, perhaps he feels the only way he can explain this is with disgust, because God forbid someone should find this interesting, like I did. And even I to some extent felt a bit of shame looking at them, even though I didn't spend any longer looking at them than I did at the foetuses or the disemboweled lizards or the cat with rickets, but because I too am a product of the cloud of shame that hangs over our sexual organs. It's something that really desperately needs to be challenged.

Aside from my ponderings about the nature of a (potentially meaningless) comment in a comment book, I thought I'd recommend comment books as a great source for research to Museum Studies students, they're a great way of seeing what the people who matter think works/doesn't work. And, as above, a throwaway comment can make you laugh, and make you think more widely around an issue.

Yesterday I visited the Superhuman exhibition at the Wellcome, it seemed smaller than their usual exhibitions, but aside from the brevity it is, as always, well worth checking out, though it ends in mid October, so get there soon. One thing I found funny; there were a group of disinterested looking school students there, aged maybe 16 or so, and I overheard several of them saying things such as 'Have you chosen what you're going to research?', 'I can't find anything I want to research', 'Stop messing about, I need to find something to research!' and so on, which struck me as the worst possible way to get a school group to engage with an exhibition: 'go in there and find something to research', I imagine that laziness will have come from the teachers, rather than the museum staff. Another hint for Museum Studies students- eavesdrop on other museum visitors, nosiness is an endlessly fascinating resource- use it wisely!

LGBTQ and Friends at the Institute of Education

A small group of LGBTQ staff and students from the Institute of Education (IOE) met in July 2012 and decided to set up a LBGTQ and Friends Network. When I started here three years ago as a Library Assistant I was stunned that there was no LGBT group at all, and after various failed attempts to get something off the ground we have finally managed with the help of the new Equalities Manager Ammara Khan.

Initially we will be a signposting service and a social network. We figured it was best to merge staff and students together, since the IOE is mainly a research university, the lines between the two are often blurred anyway and with few undergraduates it would be difficult to get a student-only group off the ground.

We are currently developing some basic webpages to announce our presence, we have been included in the new staff handbook and have an official email address, and I have been responsible for setting up a twitter feed @IOELGBTQ.

It's really great to see so much progress in such a short space of time, and along with the Race Equality Network, we are contributing to the Institute's equality agenda and making sure that everyone is represented.

Feel free to follow us on twitter, particularly if you are a London based student, but everyone is welcome! I also recommend to students from other institutions to look at what is offered for LGBTQ students and staff, and to look at how you can contribute, or if there isn't anything offered, how you can help to develop something.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Free LGBT films at the British Museum

This saturday (22nd September), there will be four FREE showings of LGBT films at the British Museum.

11.00–12.30 Queen of the gypsies: a Portrait of Carmen Amaya
Biopic of the great flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya.
81 mins, 2004, Cert E

13.15–14.40 Shinjuku Boys
Set in a Tokyo nightclub where the hosts are women who live as men.
Followed by a Q&A with director Kim Longinotto
53 mins, 1996, Cert E

14.45–16.25 Call me Kuchu
The story of activist David Kato’s fight against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
87 mins, 2012, Cert E

16.30–18.00 The Angelic Conversation
Judi Dench recites the Shakespeare sonnets that were written to a man, as two men explore their own desires.
78 mins, 1985, Cert E

They are all free, but booking is recommended. For more information and to book go here.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Making the case: the value of heritage education

On Thursday 6th September I attended the last day of the GEM (Group for Education in Museums) conference at the Xfi Centre at the University of Exeter. The theme of the conference was Making the case: the value of heritage education and day three was about HOW to make the case. Exeter was quite unlike I'd imagined it to be, very sparse and sleepy (and extremely hilly!).

The day began with a keynote address from Sandra Stancliffe from English Heritage, who looked at the fragile and often difficult to negotiate relationship between schools and museums. She claimed that over the years, education hadn't really changed that much (not sure how much I agree with that!) and that education and heritage run parallel with each other, only occasionally intercepting, the question she tried to answer was how to improve that interface. She said that museums and heritage sites need to move away from providing an 'Argos catalogue' of educational sessions towards more bespoke and tailored services, which isn't to say that every class from every school need be catered to individually. Museums need to make the case for being involved in the co-production of local area-based curricula, an example she used was a school not using a nearby (and free!) Norman Castle because they "weren't doing the Normans", Sandra's advice: "Do the Normans then!" The National Curriculum tried to move away from thinking in terms of block subjects towards more interdisciplinary fluidity. Chris Watkins of the IOE (my own haunt) uses a Turkey metaphor, apparently after being locked in a shed for a long time, once released, the Turkeys will not necessarily run straight out. Is Michael Gove's enforced "freedom" for teachers a good thing? Will some run and others stay? Schools, for many heritage sites, can make the most long term impact, and the relationships need to be nurtured and mutual.

Sue Wilkinson, a museums and heritage consultant then spoke about bids, in a talk called Building and Advocating a successful case for heritage. While I'm not currently involved in making bids (thankfully, it sounds like a minefield!) there were still some points I found interesting that I have stored for future reference, she said that many unsuccessful projects are clearly written around a bid, where really the bid needs to come from the project. Bidders need to prove a need for their project, show awareness and understanding of the local, regional and national context, show evidence of their track record and make sure that their proposed project is rooted in partnerships (with schools, other heritage sites, local communities etc.) She concluded by saying that the four Ps to remember when preparing a bid, are Project, Partnerships, Process and Presentation.

The next part of the morning was split into three optional breakout sessions, which all included a practical element. One of these was my breakout session called Making our cultural practice more genuinely inclusive: queer and feminist approaches. I split the session into two, looking first at abstract ideas of queer (ie: queering the canon, I made reference to the timeline at the Tate Modern and the frieze at the Wellcome) and then a critical look at some examples of including LGBT narratives, including the British Museum, the Maritime Museum in Liverpool, Birmingham Art Gallery and many others. For the practical session, I returned to a more abstract version of queer and asked the delegates to think about how they could use the site of Gibside Hall in education. Gibside Hall was once the property of Mary Eleanor Bowes (1749-1800), known widely as the 'unhappy countess' was once the richest and most sought after heiress in England. Her tumultuous marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney is well documented, but the National Trust, who have owned Gibside since 1965 fail to acknowledge the less salubrious elements of her life, including her three self-administered abortions and her interest to a feminist audience due to her education and her attitudes to sex, marriage and children. The activity was an informal discussion and a sharing exercise, some of the ideas that came up were about looking at recruiting artists as 'problem solvers', creating projections onto the ruined site, using drama and hot seating, incorporating contemporary voices, drawing upon her royal links, and using her as a focal point for asking questions about abortion, which removes it from visitors having to reflect personally about what is still a very divisive and controversial subject. An interesting point made was that in interpreting the site, we must be wary not to allow her to become defined by her abortions. I then showed the group my own interpretation of the site, which can be found here. I will probably blog about my Gibside Hall project at greater length in the near future. I hope that this session proved as a useful introduction to queer and feminist approaches and helped the museum professionals present to think differently about the narratives that are absent in their own institution. I'm really grateful for all of the interesting contributions in the session.

In the afternoon I attended two workshops, the first was The case for support - how museums can help vulnerable young people by Jo Ward, the newly appointed deputy director for GEM. Working with young people is something I haven't looked into much (partially due to my fear of children), but Jo identified a group that I had never really considered, which were those vulnerable children in the transitionary period between primary and second school. She spoke about many ways that museums and heritage sites can support them during this potentially difficult time. She spoke about transition summer schools, and showed us some animations that children attending had made, she said that animation making was a great way of empowering and involving young people, as it is easy to do, and everyone can have a role, she recommended it as a great tool for learning new skills. She also mentioned the arts award, and how schools sometimes embed it into the curriculum, it requires self-directed learning and builds skills and is a well recognised award, and apparently an awful lot of fun to be involved with. The key is knowing what support schools need and being able to offer it.

The next workshop was about Sustainable online learning programmes by Samantha Elliott from Bolton Library & Museum Service. Samantha showed us some of the great online tools that had been developed in partnership with d2 Digital, specifically around the World War II and the Egyptian collections. I particularly liked the World War II scrap book, which made use of oral histories and is an engaging visual way of bringing the collections to a virtual audience. They can also use the scrapbook template for future interpretation of other collections.

This was a great networking opportunity and my first event as a member of GEM. It was a real honour to be asked to deliver a breakout session and was my first time of presenting my research so far to a non-LGBT audience. I look forward to continuing to share and learn from the experts in GEM. Look out for my write-up in the next volume of the JEM. (The pictures are from my breakout session and are featured here with kind permission of Susannah Stevenson from GEM)

Monday, 10 September 2012

The Pansy Project

Just a quickie today. I'm forever banging on about the Pansy Project to whoever will listen, as I think it's one of the most subtle and innovative ways of recording an otherwise difficult to capture intangible part of our queer heritage. I mentioned the project during my GEM breakout session, which I will be blogging about shortly.

Paul Harfleet is an artist who plants pansies at the sites of homophobic abuse. Using his own experiences of homophobia in Manchester, Harfleet has managed to create something beautiful out of something very ugly. He photographs the pansies and names them after the abuse that was used. "Titles like "Let's kill the Bati-Man!" and "Fucking Faggot!" reveal a frequent reality of gay experience which often goes unreported to authorities and by the media. This simple action operates as a gesture of quiet resistance, some pansies flourish and others wilt in urban hedgerows."

For me this is a brave and peaceful form of activism, with a really beautiful output. You can find out more about the project here. You can also follow Paul on twitter here.

The first image is "Die Queer! Die Queer! Die Queer! Die Queer! Wyatt Close, Birmingham, For Ben Whitehouse, the second is "Queer Fucker!" Tottenham Court Road, London, both used here by kind permission of the artist.

Friday, 7 September 2012

The legacy of London 2012

It was with a groan of despair when I found out that the new minister for Culture, women and equality was this woman:

It is she that is responsible for the legacy of London 2012, which no doubt she will do a dreadful job of. However, the preservation of this summer of sporting activity perhaps will manage without her, as it has provided its own glorious legacy that will outlive Maria Miller and the dreadful coalition government.

I am surprised that I've taken to the London 2012 games so much, I am quite emphatically not a sporting fan, I get really uneasy about the notion of 'patriotism' (which is often only one step removed from racism), and the fact that the London transport system comes to a screeching halt if there are leaves on the track was leading me to expect a summer of pure misery.

The thing I wasn't expecting is that the Olympics and Paralympics aren't really about sport, and aren't really about borders and flags, they're about people; individuals and collectively. They're about people from all over the world cheering for the winners and losers, regardless of which colours they were wearing, they're about celebrating human spirit and endeavour, and most importantly they were about having a bloody good time.

I worried that my enthusiasm for the Paralympics wouldn't be as great as for the Olympics, because of the gap between them, but if anything I have enjoyed them more. Channel 4's coverage has been brilliant (aside from the incessant adverts), and has focused on human spirit in a non-sentimental and non-patronising way. I love that so many of the presenters have disabilities, and really hope that this will continue post-Paralympics.

The Olympics and Paralympics have also been a great platform for women, a huge reason why I find sport so difficult to digest normally is because women's sport is so often considered secondary. Women such as Jessica Ennis, Ellie Simmonds and Nicola Adams have been some of the most celebrated athletes in the games, with no inference that their achievements are any less than those of their male team-mates.

I also love how many holes in our government the games have exposed. The Tories' loathing of our immigration rates have made their support of our GB athletes such as Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis look laughably hypocritical, and George Osborne being booed when giving medals at a Paralympic event was surely a highlight of the London 2012, it's disgraceful to expect that the response would have been any different given the Tories' lack of compassion for people with disabilities.

Perhaps the sour point is that even in something as all-embracing as London 2012, the number of 'out' LGBT athletes is tiny, while the opening Olympic ceremony gave a brief nod to the richness of the LGBT community in the UK, the measly proportion of out athletes simply confirms the inherent homophobia in sport. By my calculations only 0.16% of the near 14,000 athletes competing outwardly identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. This is not enough! Although I will use this opportunity to include a picture of the lovely diver Matthew Mitcham, who embraces his sexuality and is a real stand out in terms of how freely he speaks about it. (the picture is from his facebook fan page)

I have always been annoyed by how much of our newspapers are dominated by sport, but the London 2012 games have shown me that Sport has what I've always believed the Arts to have, which is the potential to empower, inspire and bridge gaps between people. That's not to say my enthusiasm for sport will continue post London 2012- as our football culture in the UK is an embarrassing display of bravado, machismo, misogyny, racism and homophobia.

The games have been a triumph, and I look forward to seeing my home city of London continue to bask in that triumph for many years to come. For all of my initial cynicism, I stand corrected.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Iris Murdoch letters at Kingston University

This is my first attempt at blogging from my iPhone- so apologies if the formatting goes wrong.

The Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies at Kingston University has just acquired 250 letters from Murdoch to Philippa Foot thanks to £107,000 of Heritage Lottery money.

Philippa Foot was one of Murdoch's closest friends. The pair met as students at Oxford. Theirs was a tempestuous relationship, and they were lovers. The collection is a great acquisition for the Centre, thought to be the most extensive authority on Iris Murdoch in the world, and aside from providing an interesting social history of Ireland, holds great significance for researchers looking at same-sex relationships.

My friend Alex is studying literature at Kingston Uni and is a massive Iris Murdoch fan, and queer, so I know she will be eager to get her paws on these letters!

More can be read about it here

and more about the Iris Murdoch collections here

The sixth annual Iris Murdoch conference takes place on the 14-15th September.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Upcoming LGBT History Club events at LMA

London Metropolitan Archives, 40, Northampton Road, London EC1R 0HB (except for 7 November – see below)

Moral Maze
Wednesday 5 September

Documents reflecting moral values and attitudes to behaviour will be available to explore with discussion to follow. From blackmailers and the scrutiny of the Public Morality Council to a recent work on 'Friendship between Gay Men and Heterosexual Women’.

Ajamu Presents…(title TBC)
Wednesday 3 October

As part of Black History Month, photographer and artist Ajamu will present on his work recording Black LGBT people, discuss his forthcoming exhibition, Fierce, at Guildhall Art Gallery and recount his adventures on his 19 day walk from London to Huddersfield to raise funds for the artwork.

The Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive at Bishopsgate Institute
Wednesday 7 November

London Metropolitan Archives is closed for stocktaking and LGBT History Club is on a trip to the Bishopsgate to find out more about LAGNA and its work.
NB MEET AT Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate City of London, EC2M 4QH

Launch of Gateway to Heaven
Wednesday 5 December

Clare Summerskill has gathered memories form older lesbians and gay men and brought them together as a collection of personal histories. Join us for the celebration launch of the book, a chance to talk about the value of personal histories and maybe a pre-holiday visit to the pub afterwards!

Can't wait for these events, a really great range. The LMA LGBT History Club is really kicking off now with a consistent turn out and great content and discussions!

MA finished!

My MA is finished!

My dissertation is entitled 'A feminine touch: seeking an understanding of the potential for using women's archive collections for outreach'. I also submitted a placement report for my time in the IOE Archives working with the NUWT collection. I made a small online exhibition about part of the collection here.

It's been such a great MA (Museums and Galleries in Education at the IOE) and has opened many doors for me (including the PhD). My PhD starts on the 29th September, but before then I have the GEM conference, and a journal article to write- no rest for the wicked.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Brave New World? LMA conference



The Tenth Anniversary London Metropolitan Archives LGBT History and Archives Conference
Saturday February 16th 2013 at Guildhall in the City of London

The LMA are currently planning the Tenth Anniversary LGBT History and Archives Conference which is going to be on February 16th 2013 at Guildhall in the City of London. This is to coincide with Ajamu’s photographic portrait exhibition of young black LGBT artists, trend setters and people of influence called ‘Fierce’ which will be in Guildhall Art Gallery from 1 February to April 14th.

The title, ‘Brave New World?’ provides the opportunity to look at LGBT history / stories and culture in a variety of ways, identifying genuine progress made and considering retrograde steps. There is room for looking to the future and how heritage and cultural activity generated by formal institutions, community groups and individuals might continue to influence and bring about change.

If you would like to contribute to the day in any way through a:
TALK / PRESENTATION – e.g. on a topic, project work, professional practice
DISPLAY OR STALL - promoting / celebrating LGBT history / cultural activity
WORKSHOP/BREAKOUT SESSION – focused on the overarching theme of Brave New World?
Anything else you can think of…

Please email

Deadline for submissions 30 September 2012

The exhibition and the conference should be great, really looking forward to attending this!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

500 Years of Lesbian and Gay Related Material in the British Library

I thought it would be useful (for me) to put some retrospective posts from my personal blog on here, just so that all of my LGBT stuff is in one place, but hopefully they might be of interest to others as well. I'll start with my rather peeved critique of an event held at the British Library on 9th February 2010 called '500 Years of Lesbian and Gay Related Material in the British Library', a talk by Dr Bart Smith hosted by Amy Lame.

Since 2005, LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) History Month has been celebrated each February, and has hosted a modest scatter of events in cultural institutions to mark the occasion. Often these events seem more like a tick-box exercise than a thoughtfully considered celebration.

The British Library held a talk which was advertised as an introduction to and showcase of the wealth of LGBT materials held in its collections. The evening was hosted by well known radio and TV personality and out lesbian Amy Lamé and the presentation was conducted by reference librarian Bart Smith, a minor celebrity in his own right having appeared on University Challenge and Mastermind. He had been given a three month research break to develop a way of making 500 years worth of LGBT material at the library more accessible. His research had clearly been intense and thorough, but the parts of it he decided to share were indulgent and just-for-laughs, resulting in an uncomfortable and offensive camp “show-and-tell”, that was thin on substance but high on innuendos and enforced stereotypes.

The song that played as paying guests entered the lecture theatre was ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man after Midnight)’ by Abba, and among the items highlighted was a great deal of pornographic material, same-sex erotica in fiction and a map of cottaging spots in London. There was no mention of AIDs, little mention of the legalisation of homosexuality or gay rights movements like Stonewall , and not even a reference to Section 28.

If you didn’t go, you didn’t miss much apart from seeing a manuscript where the word “pooff” first appeared and some fairly bland newspaper articles (which are available online anyway and can be accessed through most good universities) the talk should have been about promoting the massive wealth of unique material, giving an overview of the breadth of it and explaining how it can be accessed and used to educate. Instead it was a flamboyant pantomime of cocks and innuendoes.

It was followed by a question and answer session, but me and my friend Jess left during it, as we had already found the evening sufficiently offensive.

While it is difficult to begrudge the British Library’s attempt to highlight the LGBT related items in its collections in the context of LGBT History week, their attempt could hardly be applauded.

Friday, 17 August 2012

WE EXIST! new LGF publication

The Lesbian and Gay Foundation has launched a new publication, which is available online as a PDF entitled WE EXIST! which aims to inform LGBT people how they can get involved in their local community, whether at work, in education, sport, faith, health & wellbeing, housing, policing and politics, and be an ‘LGB Community Champion’.

In their e-newsletter, they say: 'Often the issues that directly affect the lesbian, gay and bisexual community may go unheard or un-addressed, unless there is an active voice around the table that is championing the needs of our community.'

I think this is really interesting, as in order for any community to be heard, it needs champions at the forefront. There really should be an LGBT presence in all of the issues mentioned above, and unless there is, often matters relating specifically to LGBT people become overlooked.

As I'm currently thinking about my presentation at the GEM conference, which looks at 'making the case' my argument is going to move beyond that, and say that the people pushing for LGBT and queer histories to be included in museums and other cultural and heritage sites are more often than not LGBT people, in order for these approaches to be fully adopted in earnest, we need straight allies and champions who believe in a more genuine form of inclusion as well, no community can break barriers in isolation, it needs people from outside of those communities to show an interest and actively support the cause.

It's a great publication, so do check it out. More information about the project can be found here.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

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.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

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!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

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.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

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.

Monday, 9 July 2012

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).