Talkin’ ‘bout that Representation

A guest post by placement student Jack Barnett.  Jack is working at PHM and the Working Class Movement Library on our Voting for Change project.

In 1969 the Representation of the People Act ensured that the right to vote was extended to 18 year olds and over, three years after it appeared on the Labour Party general election manifesto. The manifesto pledged that the enfranchisement of those between 18 and 21 would “add a necessary political dimension to the increasingly important economic and social position of young people”. But what suddenly prompted this increase in status for young people? What concerned the youth of the time? And was providing the vote going to help?

 
In the swinging sixties youth culture was at the forefront of fashion, music and film. At this point you can barely find documentaries about the sixties that don’t reference The Beatles, Twiggy, The Who or Vietnam Protests. It’s clear that the sixties was the era of the youth. This was the first generation that had little memory of the Second World War and the first generation that were able to spend their money without being limited by rationing. This culture, fused with a ‘baby boom’ ensured that out of the ashes of the war a new identity could be formed.

The doubling of Universities allowed a section of the youth to engage with the issue of rights and political causes further. For instance some helped organise protests against a proposed involvement in the Vietnam War. 18 year olds could join the army and fight, but had no representation in parliament so they could not express their views on a conflict they might be involved in. Some protested the lack of student representation in Universities. If they were part of this organisation after all, they should be able to represent themselves.

Outside of Universities the increased provision of apprenticeships helped spur political activism further. Protests were organised to highlight the pay inequalities for different age groups. In many apprenticeships it was possible to have the right to perform all the tasks a 21 year old could, but with a fraction of the wages. This lack of distinction in rights was reflected further in wider society with 18 year olds having much of the same rights as 21 year olds.

There was a clear disenfranchisement with the establishment, but most matters were met begrudgingly. Most election addresses that mentioned the youth only discussed providing them with ‘youth facilities’. Such vague language merely reflects the perception that the older generation were out of touch.Party Time

This is why you might expect that the Representation of the People Act of 1969 to be warmly greeted by the baby boomers. A victory for the uncouth youth over the stiff collared old men. But historically it’s one of the forgotten voting reforms. For the youth of the era, it was an establishment form of change. Why should they need the vote if they can change things through action? Why would the establishment suddenly care about youth representation? The reduction in voting age could easily be conceived as a cynical ploy by the Labour party to prop up their votes, a form of appeasement to distract from real issues about youth culture.

These points are still relevant today. If we fast-forward to the year 2016, the debate about lowering the voting age further is on the rise. The involvement of 16 year olds in the referendum about Scottish Independence was considered a success and the growth of a different youth identity during the ‘war on terror’ era could provide the youth of today with a unique perspective compared to their peers. But I would strongly urge those debating votes at 16 to not forget the Representation of the People Act. By looking at the forgotten act, it may provide answers as how to get representation and to what extent representation will help youth matters.

 

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Design a Banknote

The next instalment of artist Pui Lee’s blog series about our summer Family Friendly workshops that link to our Show Me the Money exhibition

In week 4 of my Creative Currency Casino! project, families visited the Design a Banknote workshop at the Learning Studio in the People’s History Museum for my latest art workshop as part of the summer drop-in pARTicipate programme!

Design a Banknote! 19.08.15 @ People's History Museum (20)Today’s activity was inspired by an artwork in the coinciding Show Me the Money exhibition called The Robin Currency™ (2008-2014) where the artist Robin Bhattacharya created his own currency based on a prime number system meaning that each coin and banknote is entirely unique.  When the participants arrived, I sent them on a marvellous-money-mission to explore the exhibition to find and count as many banknotes as they could throughout the gallery space. This could be in object format or in terms of visual representation. There was certainly plenty to see and discover including a one hundred trillion dollar banknote! They were then asked to find The Robin Currency™ banknote and to create a sketch of this, along with any shapes and patterns they saw recurring throughout the show. The families also had an opportunity to take a photo or two at the face-in-the-hole board in the exhibition, where anyone can be the new face of a larger-than-life banknote!

Design a Banknote! 19.08.15 @ People's History Museum (15)After this, it was back to the Learning Studio and everyone set to work on designing their very own giant currency banknote, which celebrates who they are as individuals and what matters to them. First of all, we looked at the design elements of a typical banknote and I also showed an example of one that I made earlier. I then introduced and demonstrated monoprinting, which is such a fun and creative process, so everyone got a little messy and tried out various techniques to create some really cool prints! Hand-made drawings and collaged elements were then added to the prints to personalise and complete the designs. Participants were then able to exchange their new currency with a special 28PUI currency banknote of mine to take home with them as a special memento of the day. All the hand-made banknotes collected in will soon be put up on display at the museum for all to see! Great stuff! 🙂

20150812_151720Don’t forget to add to my All the Money in the World (2015) installation in the Show Me the Money gallery space if you haven’t already done so yet! You can do this any day of the week, not just on Wednesday! Your responses might consist of a single word, a few sentences or even a really, really, long list! You may even want to illustrate your responses too! It’s all acceptable and can be anonymous too!  …So, what would YOU do if you had all the money in the world? Submit your answers now and get involved! 😀

Tomorrow’s drop-in will be long-awaited The Creative Currency Casino finale event, where you can try your luck on exciting games of chance to win some fabulous prizes! (Note to previous workshop attendees: – don’t forget to bring your “Creative Credit Card Vouchers” to redeem your free turns too!) 😀

…See you all then on Wednesday 26 August 2015, 1.00pm-3.00pm! 😀

POLLfest – our politics festival to celebrate Parliament Week 2014

After the success of POLLfest last year, we wanted to make POLLfest 2 bigger and better! We teamed up with some fantastic partners to deliver a week of events for Parliament Week 2014 to celebrate democracy at the home of ideas worth fighting for.

14 November 2014, Democratic Dialogue @ People's History Museum (10)We kicked off on Friday 14 November with Democratic Dialogue: How young people would like to communicate with Parliament.  We worked with the brilliant Democratic Society and welcomed over 60 young people, 3 MPs, 2 MEPs and 6 democratic experts to the museum. They sat down and discussed 4 topics that had been pre-selected by the young people: How do young people and politicians view one another?; E-petitions; Political and Democratic Education; and votes at 16. The very intense discussions threw up some really interesting points and we’re busy collating all the feedback. We’ll create a list of ways that will help improve the relationship between young people, politicians and parliament and publish it here.

 

17 November 2014, The Power of Parliament schools workshop @ People's History Museum (50)On Monday 17 November we welcomed pupils from Queensgate Primary, Brimrod Primary School and Roundthorn Primary Academy to The Power of Parliament. Wendy Lavin from Parliament’s Education Service gave a brilliant interactive Introduction to Parliament Talk (fact of the day: Michael Jackson wanted to buy the Queen’s gold throne in the House of Lords). The pupils then took part in three workshops –exploring our galleries to find out about the history of democracy, debating House of Commons-style and doing some creative consultation for our forthcoming Election! exhibition. The groups clearly had a great time making politicians!

On Wednesday 19 November Gary Hart from the Parliamentary Outreach Team came to do a free workshop for adults and young people to explain how to Get Involved with Parliament. We learned how the House of Commons and the House of Lords work, and ways that you can help to influence policy, such as contacting your MP or submitting evidence to a select committee. A personal highlight was getting 10/10 in the Parliament quiz – working at the PHM definitely pays off sometimes!

We wrapped up the week with a Pecha Kucha night on the theme of Politics and the North. Five brilliant speakers each had 20 slides (with only 20 seconds for each slide) to whizz us through their specialist subjects:

 

We’d like to thank everybody who got involved in POLLfest including:

  • Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central
  • John Leech, MP for Manchester Withington
  • Mike Kane, MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East
  • Julie Ward, MEP for North West England
  • Afzal Khan, MEP for North West England
  • Helen Milner, CEO Tinder Foundation & Member of the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy
  • Rachael Farrington, Creator of votingcounts.org.uk
  • Rachel Gibson, Manchester University
  • Charlotte Mulcare, Democratic Society
  • Oliver Sidorczuk, Policy Coordinator, Bite the Ballot
  • Harriet Andrews, Uprising
  • Manchester Enterprise Academy
  • Mount St Joseph Business & Ent College
  • National Children’s Bureau
  • St Paul’s Catholic High School
  • Upton Hall School
  • William Hulme’s Grammar School
  • Starting Point Community Learning Partnership
  • Reclaim
  • Wendy Lavin, Parliament’s Education Service
  • Queensgate Primary
  • Brimrod Primary School
  • Roundthorn Primary Academy
  • Gary Hart, Parlimentary Outreach Service
  • Pecha Kucha Manchester and all the speakers

PHM summer holiday fun!

FF Cafe basketThe summer holidays are here and to celebrate we have a brilliant family friendly basket in The Left Bank cafe bar.

Filled to the brim with exciting things including copies of our museum book Mr Ordinary’s Prize, bee finger puppets, colouring sheets, crayons, jigsaws, and game sheets!

Also on at the museum this summer is a free Stag & Lion treasure hunt, free family explorer bee bags and free craft table.

We also have story sessions and pARTicipate art sessions for a small donation. These events are bookable via Eventbrite. See our what’s on for details.

With free museum entry and free picnic spaces there is no excuse not to come along and join in the PHM summer family fun!

 

What if… banners were never used as part of campaigns and demonstrations?

On Thursday 15 May, the PHM will explore alternative histories for Museums at Night. Join our hypothetical tour guides as they weave tall tales and ask you to imagine infinite possibilities of what might have been.  In a series of blog posts before the event we’ll be featuring questions so you can swot up on your hypothetical history and add your own alternatives.  On the night we’ll subvert our timeline with your suggestions. In this blog, our Director, Katy Archer asks What if… banners were never used as part of campaigns and demonstrations?

Liverpool Tinplate Workers' bannerOur museum is full of fantastic, beautiful and colourful banners. From the Liverpool Tinplate Workers banner from 1821 through to the Mansfield Labour Party Women’s Section in 1988, we are very proud and privileged to be the custodians of such an essential part of the history of the development of democracy in our country.

As the ‘home of ideas worth fighting for’ we showcase a wide range of campaigns from a wide range of organisations and groups who have fought for a cause… and who have all used banners as an effective tool and technique in their campaigns.

Our banners to me are works of art, they are full of meaning and messages. They show how people came together united by a common cause – and were, and still are, objects of great pride.

When you see each of our banners on display individually or collectively, they are not easily forgotten. They provide a lasting legacy (through the work of our amazing conservation team!) of the ideas that people have fought for… equality, democracy, peace, reform, co-operation and many more.

Banners on a marchAnd they’re still current and contemporary too – look at any images of footage of recent protests and marches and you’ll see great numbers of banners still being used today.

Brixton Bomb banner by Ed HallAnd they are still being made today as well – our recent exhibition with Ed Hall displaying the work of a contemporary banner maker still using the traditional tool and technique to give voice to current campaigns.

  • But what if… banners had never been part of the campaigning tradition?
  • Or what if… the tradition died out years ago to be replaced by digital alternatives with no ‘real’ substance?
  • What if… none of the banners in our collection had survived to be seen by our visitors today?
  • How would we know and see what people have fought for and still fight for today?
  • How would people today be connected to past campaigns in a way that creates such an emotional response? And which moves people to fight for something that they believe in today?
  • What else would have had such dramatic impact?
    • Mascots? Cheerleaders? Dancing Elephants?

Add your answers below and come along to our Museums at Night: What if…? event on Thursday 15 May, 5.00pm – 8.00pm to see our beautiful banners for yourself and have your say about what if… they never existed!?

 

Contemporary Collecting – learning from others

One of the joys of working on the Play Your Part project is the opportunity to go out and learn from inspirational colleagues across the country.  We’re currently starting to think about the contemporary collecting strand of the project and I wanted to find out more about two similar projects that are collecting activist heritage.

Preserving Protest at Bishopsgate Institute in London aims to capture the digital archives and websites of contemporary campaigning organisations.  Library and Archives Manager Stefan Dickers explained how at Bishopsgate they’ve identified a collecting niche of contemporary material.  He’s found that organisations and individuals feel more comfortable donating material to an independent institution and he’s actively gone out and approached some of the many community groups around London.  Initially there wasn’t a concerted plan and the collecting policy has evolved.  They’ve focused on London-centric organisations and have stressed that it doesn’t have to be about the ‘big people’, ordinary people’s campaigns are just as important and they have an openness to everything.

The Preserving Protest project specifically looks at collecting digital material, for example photographs and capturing activist websites. Whilst some paper material has been offered as well, the activist archives have been predominantly digital. For example, the Occupy Movement have donated four terabytes of material. At Bishopsgate they are looking at creating an online pool, where groups can drop in digital material and provide metadata about what they are depositing; essentially crowdsourced cataloguing.  Currently, our collections policy doesn’t include the collection of digital material. With organisations and activists increasingly campaigning online, photographs of protests predominantly taken with digital cameras and the decline of print media, this is something that will need to be considered as we think about a contemporary collecting strategy.

Stefan also discussed some of the events and engagement work they have done using their contemporary collection. Trenton Oldfield, the boat race protestor, often uses the library and he has donated his archive, including his wetsuit.  At an event with schoolchildren they used Trenton as a ‘living object’ and the children had to guess who he was, based on ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions.  Another project (with the best project title ever!), The Only Way Is Ethics was a youth-led Heritage Lottery Funded, project in conjunction with Emergency Exit Arts and the Museum of London. It focused on the heritage of democracy and social activism by exploring the ethics of protest, ethical choices (including personal and political responsibilities) and the ethics of museums, archives, curating and record-keeping.

Stories of Activism in Sheffield is a collaboration between local activists and campaigners and academics from the Centre for the Study of Democratic Culture and the Centre for Peace History from the Department of History, University of Sheffield.  Over the course of several years, the project will collect and archive campaign paraphernalia, and perform interviews with activists. Starting in around 1960 and continuing up the present day, the project aims to incorporate a diverse range of people and experiences into the project. I met with Gary Rivett who explained the background and future of the project.

The project idea started in 2011 when they put on a one day event about stories of activism in Sheffield, which was originally intended as a standalone event. They found that activists were interested in having their stories collected and the event provided the initial start for a broader project.  Over the next six months they put together a working group of activists, who met in each others front rooms to plan the next, activist owned, event.  From this, they set up a steering group to identify partners and Gary is just about to submit a HLF bid for the next stage of the project.  It will be a two year project with a BME strand and a women’s strand, bringing together stories to produce outputs such as a book and a play.  The project has a constitution which states that at every stage activists must be involved in developing the project.  They were keen on building up relationships, building trust and learning from activists about Sheffield’s history.

Whilst the project collects oral histories and objects and deposits them in Sheffield Archives and Sheffield Museum, the stories are collected not just to be stored, but to inform people of campaigns and organisations that are now taken for granted. They have disseminated stories of activism to new audiences, by using the stories to develop a city activist walk. They have responded to what the activists wanted in terms of how the stories are used, whilst being open and recognising that all stories may not be used. At the beginning of the project they got funding to do a scoping study and employed a researcher to research activist groups in Sheffield over the past 30-40 years and identify individuals to approach. That researcher is now doing a PhD into activism on behalf of marginalised groups in the 1980s. They have also set up a masters course at the University of Sheffield called stories of activism, which aims to develop research from the stories and objects collected.

Both Stefan and Gary highlighted the importance of building relationships and trust with activists and the fact that activists can be well networked.  Activists are often connected with different groups, and once the word of the project gets out, then more groups are keen to get on board.  For example, Gary explained that it took them nine months to get to a critical mass of activists, and contributions snowballed from there.  General calls for material weren’t that successful, it was only by contacting activists directly, attending meetings and building relationships that the project progressed. They also stressed the need to let groups know that what you are doing is important.

Organisationally, we now have a lot to ponder, especially when setting the parameters of the groups we will approach.  Geographically, it makes sense to focus on Greater Manchester organisations as it will practically be easier to attend meetings and build relationships.  However, as a national museum should we be casting the net wider? We also need to decide on which sort of groups to approach.  Many of the campaigns we cover in the museum are leftwing, so, for balance, should we be collecting rightwing material?  Would collecting material from, for example, the English Defence League appear to legitimise an organisation that on a personal level I find abhorrent, or is it important to preserve this element of history so future generations can have a fuller picture of what life was like at the early stages of the 21st century? We already hold material from the British Union of Fascists in our collection, which we use in our galleries to illustrate the opposition between fascists and communists in 1930s Europe.  We need to consider what visitors of the future may learn from material we collect now and be objective in separating personal beliefs from professional decisions.