An amateur’s trip to the archives (Part 1)

A guest post by Lu Tolu. Lu is one of 11 community curators working with the People’s History Museum on our new exhibition on the fight for LGBT+ rights.

Call log books

Before starting this project, the first and only time I visited an archive was in Malta with my grandfather, more than 10 years ago. I remember the archive as very imposing with dusty paper catalogues, and large bound volumes carted around on trolleys in spacious halls. With only that memory to go off I felt like quite an impostor when I visited the archives at the Bishopsgate Institute. Could I belong in such a space?

So I apologised profusely as I introduced myself to the archive staff; I really didn’t want them to think that I knew what I was doing. Luckily they were all extremely helpful and ready to answer all my questions. Before starting I had to fill in a straightforward two page registration form and pop my things into a locker. Then they asked me whether I was looking for anything in particular. I was dreading that question. How could I know what I was looking for until I found it? I mumbled “I’m, ehm…, interested in the Stonewall archives”. Apparently that was a sensible answer. I was therefore shown to the digital catalogues where I could refine my search for specific files or boxes. With reference numbers in hand I then submitted requests to the staff so that they could bring out the boxes for me to explore.

I took a highly random approach, selecting three boxes that seemed interesting. Once I settled down with the documents I immediately lost all fears of not belonging as I became fully engrossed in what I was reading. One box led to another and rather unexpectedly, after three and a half hours, I had explored stories around a similar theme (actions against corporations) and also came across a potential object for the exhibition. Reliable sources have informed me that not all trips to an archive are as successful as that. So I am really glad I had such an enjoyable first experience, and hope it will be repeated!

Some tips based on my experience at Bishopsgate:

  • Look up the archive’s catalogues online before you visit so you have a starting point for the day. But know that some of the archive’s records may not yet be digitally catalogued. Also check out the archive’s policies, some archives (like Bishopsgate) don’t require booking or prior registration but other (larger ones) might!
  • Do speak with the archive staff. If they work there they love what they do, so they would be willing to talk about it! That’s how I found out about some of the more interesting material that the Bishopsgate Institute had in their collections.
  • Don’t worry if you’re not sure what you’ll find in a box or file. Requesting a box but returning it after 5 minutes carries no shame.
  • Be open to the paths that the boxes may take you down.
  • Do take a note pad, camera and a pencil with you. Though do ask about photograph policy before taking any photos.
  • Finally, if you are visiting Bishopsgate archives check out their Lesbian and Gay Switchboard boxes. They have some fascinating log books of the calls the Switchboard received over the years. The first three log books from 1975 are amazing.

Continue reading: Come back for Part 2 where Lu describes what they found out on their visit

Political Leadership After Brexit – Have Your Say

A guest blog by Mark Krantz

29 April & Fri 27 May 2016, Have Your Say! @ People's History Museum

With Teresa May now Prime Minister, and Jeremy Corbyn facing a leadership challenge …

It’s Time For You To Have Your Say!

‘A week is a long time in politics’ said Harold Wilson.

In the ‘weeks’ since the Brexit vote, politics in Britain has seen much turmoil and change. Teresa May has become the new leader of the Conservative Party. We now have a new Prime Minister. Jeremy Corbyn contests an election for the leadership of the Labour Party. What will be the outcome? After an audio visual update on the current situation from tutor Mark Krantz, we will have a discussion in which you can have your say on what is happening in the political parties today.

We will also look at relevant material from the museum’s collections, including the Labour Pains: Intra-Party Tensions and Divisions, from Cole to Corbyn exhibition that is on show at the museum Mon 25 July – Thurs 1 September. This exhibition has been created with the University of Sheffield to examine past and present tensions within the Labour Party.

Join us to Have Your Say on Political Leadership After Brexit at PHM this Friday 29 July 1.00pm -3.00pm, booking required through Eventbrite: http://haveyoursayjuly.eventbrite.co.uk

**Please note– we will take a summer break from our monthly Have Your Say events in August and they will return in September, moving to the last Thursday of the month. The autumn dates will be Thurs 29 September, Thurs 27 October and Thurs 24 November. Topics for these dates are yet to be decided.

 

Who are your LGBT+ activist heroes and heroines?

A guest blog by Community Curator, Jenny White

Picture blog post 1

I’m one of 11 volunteer Community Curators helping to create a fabulous new exhibition at People’s History Museum exploring the fight for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* people. Never Going Underground will run from February to August 2017 alongside a programme of workshops, talks and family friendly events.

  • What is ‘LGBT+ activism’?
  • Who are your LGBT+ activist heroes and heroines?
  • Who are the people and organisations which have helped shaped LGBT+ equality?
  • What are the events which marked a turning point in the fight for LGBT+ rights?
  • What are the current issues still to fight for – how far do we still have to go?

We’ve been pondering these questions and more as we start planning for the exhibition. We’d love your input and ideas and we’ll be delivering a number of community workshops over the next few months to help shape the exhibition contents.

The scope of the Never Going Underground exhibition is huge, and it’s great to be involved in this project to tell this remarkable story.

LGBT+ rights have come a long way in a relatively short time. We’ve gone from Radclyffe Hall’s plea for acceptance of ‘inverts’ in her 1928 novel The Well of Loneliness, to Prince William offering a royal seal of approval to LGBT people on the cover of this month’s Attitude magazine; from lesbians denied custody of their children to full adoption rights; from police arrests for cottaging and raids on gay book stores to two policemen proposing to their partners during the 2016 London Pride parade.

The fight for LGBT+ rights has included political goals – changing laws and policies – as well as cultural goals – challenging society’s views on LGBT+ people and gaining wider community acceptance. Activism has taken many forms: from the direct action of the Gay Liberation Front and Outrage!, to the lobbying tactics of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and Stonewall, to Boy George’s No Clause 28 single and Gay Sweatshop Theatre Company shows.

There’s also inter-LGBT+ community activism – there are issues with racism, transphobia, different approaches to what Pride events should be about.

Then there are so many issues still to be tackled: marriage equality in Northern Ireland; recognition of non-binary people; self-declaration of gender; and the 75+ countries which currently outlaw homosexuality to name but a few.

Picture 2 blog post 1

We’d love to hear any suggestions on what we should include in the exhibition. Also if you have banners, badges, papers stories relating to the fight for LGBT+ equality that you would be willing to share, then please do get in touch by emailing nevergoingunderground@phm.org.uk For twitter users our project hashtag is #NGU2017