University of Portsmouth's History Blog

Women’s Community Activism Project

Work has begun at the University of Portsmouth on ‘Women’s Community Activism in Portsmouth – The Hidden Heritage of a Naval Town”, a project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. This interdisciplinary project is led by Sue Bruley of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and Laurel Forster of the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries.  Dr Anna Cole is the Project Co-ordinator and Sue Turner the Project Administrator.  Sue is an alumni of the University of Portsmouth and worked for Portsmouth Television in the early 2000s. She is founder and CEO of Elephant in Scarlet, a CIC specialising in video production, based in Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard. Dr Anna Cole specializes in oral and archival histories of race, gender and sexuality and has worked both in the academic and not-for-profit, community sector. She worked at the University of London, Goldsmith’s College as Research Co-ordinator of a large AHRC-Getty funded international, interdisciplinary project on embodied exchange in Oceania, as Prime-Minister’s Research Fellow at the Museum for Australian Democracy, Canberra and is Regional Lead for an innovative not-for-profit campaigning organisation Hand in Hand Parenting.  Anna Cole writes here on the Women’s Community Activism Project and its upcoming launch day.

We live in a new era of political activism. Snapchat, Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms magnify the reach of local campaigns in ways that were inconceivable before the birth of the internet.  The Arab Spring of 2011, and recent online campaigns such as #Metoo and Time’s Up are testimony to this new era – an era of ‘ipad activists’ of ‘clicktivists’ or ‘slack-tivists’ as Craftivist Collective founder, Sarah Corbett, dubs them.  In these new times pertinent questions can be asked about the efficacy and longevity of political campaigns for a just society.  What motivates activists in the face of monumental challenges to keep going and to imagine a better future regardless of the platforms available to them?  What campaigns and approaches lead to lasting change? How do local campaigns reflect and refract larger national issues and activism?

Thousands of women and men gather at Trafalgar Square for a rally after marching globally through central London, to promote women’s and human rights a day after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump on Saturday January 21, 2017


We are wanting to speak to, record and learn both from women activists who acted locally, thought globally, and made positive change happen. We want to speak to those who worked tirelessly lobbying for equal pay and for maternity and paternity provision.  We want to learn from those who dreamt of a better future for their children, and worked against racism and sexism in schools. We want to record those who fought for affordable childcare and those who were victorious in the introduction of better workplace conditions in the 1960s and ‘70s.  We want to speak to women who juggled the demands of families and children with paid employment, and women who broke new ground in the Wrens. The story of the Portsmouth branch of the international Women’s Liberation Movement will be central, but it is only one of many strands in a wider, un-documented movement for local women’s rights and equality in Portsmouth. The struggle of women against sexual-harassment in the workplace and domestic violence at home and their campaigns for better housing will be an important part of this new history.

The aim of the project is to not only record a new and often invisible story of women in a traditionally naval town, but to train and support groups of local volunteers in oral history, video making, curatorial design and web content. There are opportunities for students of social and cultural history, gender politics, marketing and media available now to get involved and gain valuable work-experience and skills while being part of an exciting historic project with contemporary links. This an ambitious, year-long project, with outcomes that include 50 oral history interviews and transcriptions, 6 groups of volunteers working on website content, video stories based on first person testimony, a learning pack for schools, a ‘Memory Day’ to engage with local girls as they grow up, a touring mobile exhibition, a project booklet, and finally two public lectures in 2019.  Get involved now and take your place in making history.

For more information and to get involved come along to our launch day on Saturday October 20th, at the University of Portsmouth Library, Seminar Room 2,  from 10am until 3.30pm.  You can join us for lunch and an oral history training session, or drop-in as you can.  The day is free but registration is essential:

Contact Anna Cole or Sue Turner to register: anna.cole@port.ac.uk or susan.turner@port.ac.uk

Phone: 02392 846 121 or 02392 846 156

Facebook: Women’s Community Activism in Portsmouth

Website: www.womenscommunityactivism.port.ac.uk

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