Catherine Morrison, Royal Army Medical Corp Nurse

Archive volunteer, Katy Owen, tells us about a wonderful new donation to the collection.

Recently donated to the GWL Archive  is a collection of items belonging to Catherine Charlotte Robinson Morrison. Catherine Morrison was an Ophthalmic nurse, originally from Dundee who served with the Royal Army Medical Corps in WWII. In 1939, the British Army requisitioned the Cruden Bay Hotel as an army hospital and it was here that Catherine began her service.

Catherine Morrison, Date unknown

 

After leaving Cruden Bay, Catherine continued her service in locations across India, Japan, South Africa, Singapore and Egypt, sailing on ships including HMS Britannia, RMS Queen Mary and HMS Cumberland.       

Royal Army Medical Corp Training Pamphlet, 1943

          

One of the items in the collection is Catherine’s Diary covering 1940 – 1944. The entries are short but include information on where she is travelling, war happenings, colleagues, and letters that she sends and receives from home and makes for very interesting reading.

Catherine Morrrison’s Diary, 1940-1944

Within the collection there are 6 photograph albums and approximately 335 loose photographs. Some of the photographs have brief descriptions of content and a date written on the back. The majority of the photographs lack a description or date, however they are still able to provide us with a fantastic visual narrative on Catherine’s life during her service. From looking at the photographs we can imagine the experiences that she had; the people she met, the attempts at conversations, the smells, the sounds, and of course the fear,  horror and suffering of the patients that she treated. We also gain an insight into the remarkable life that Catherine must have led.

Canteen for I.O.R’s (Indian Other Ranks), Kyota, Japan

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“Three Daughters of Eve” by Elif Shafak

Mother and daughter together in the car, stuck in the thankless traffic of Istanbul, on their way to a dinner party. What appears to be an everyday situation soon turns into a hot pursuit. Peri’s, the mother’s, handbag has been stolen and she follows the thieves to a back alley. Among the many things that fall out of her bag is a Polaroid. It depicts three young women, in their middle a man. A memento from former times.

This is the beginning of a multi-layered, beautifully sketched and precise novel “Three Daughters of Eve“ by Elif Shafak. Throughout the story we get to know Peri’s life, jumping from her years as a child in Istanbul to her time in Oxford as a young woman, to the present situation back in Istanbul. The novel interweaves different threads and the reader is invited to put together all the different parts of the puzzle. By building up the story piece by piece, Elif Shafak creates a story full of different perspectives. As in her previous novels, Elif Shafak succeeds in touching upon difficult topics without losing the depth of her literary style. Questions concerning belief, identity, feminism, truth are skillfully woven into the plot of the novel.

Peri’s parents seem to embody the duality which runs through the whole book. Her mother is a strong, even fierce, believer in the power of God, and her father is a strong defender of secularism and its forms of education. Trying to bridge the divide between her parents, Peri seems to be torn between tradition and modernity, never sure of her own place. Her unbroken desire to face up to her instability and feel a sense of belonging only leads to even more questions that demand answer, more paths that need to be explored. The struggle with an open, multi-faceted definition of identity subtly shapes the plot, not finding the core she so terribly longs for, thinking that it would stabilize her in a world of hidden truths. Painful truths need to be uncovered in order to understand the stories that shape our lives.

In Oxford, conscious of both her solitude and her newly gained freedom, she meets two other young women, Mona and Shirin. The three are called the Believer, Mona, the Sinner, Shirin and the Confused, Peri. All have different views on faith, identity and feminism. They all attend a seminar, led by charismatic Proffessor Azur. It tackles the big issue of God. This course challenges their existing views and leads to very heated discussions and triggering a scandal, that changes everything.

“Three Daughters of Eve” is a compelling novel, full of different angles and surprising revelations. Find out more about the story of Peri and read this novel.

One quote struck me in particular:

“We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” Anais Nin.

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Am I Blue: A Review Taster for Story Café Special: Sister Creatures!

Alice Walker’s 1986 short work Am I Blue is a poignant and thought-provoking story which, at surface level, details a woman’s friendship with a horse she names Blue, while, on a deeper level, follows in the footsteps of Walker’s other works and plays easel to a canvas upon which the author paints a bleak yet principled portrait of society’s problems through the eyes of perhaps two of its most battered victims; the woman and the helpless animal. Here we have the powerful image of a trapped and neglected horse, an image that moves the narrator greatly; an utterly relatable metaphor that has her approaching the increasingly forlorn creature and striking a deep, humane connection with it.

Throughout the text, Walker expertly utilises the increasingly profound relationship between the narrator and Blue to convey a sense of gentleness and a state of kindred serenity between animal and the female being, almost as though theirs is a bond built upon mutual understandings of a neglect and indifference they have both tasted. Through a series of humanizing rendezvous’ between woman and horse, Walker not only cultivates a reader-sympathy borne out of an incredible amount of genuine emoting from Blue, who we explicitly learn can experience happiness and pain and longing, but also expertly crafts a stage where she voices her pro-vegan, anti-cruelty stance with highly persuading language and impact. Through this, Walker once again reinforces her message that while humans have the capacity for great kindness, they also have the capacity for great greed and indifference, a cruelty that not only leads the ‘undesirables’ of their own species into a great suffering, but every other species on the planet, too. Walker goes as far as to draw comparisons to white settlers massacring and dehumanizing Native Americans, the treatment of slaves in pre and post Civil War America and the ongoing treatment of women throughout history and the present. Walker expounds on these incidents, delicately weaving them into the symbolic fabric of the relationship between Blue and the narrator, a relationship that is constructed from the base up to serve as a tangible example of the conceited selfishness and indifferent cruelty of the patriarchy of society endemic world-over.

But, as I’ve hinted above, such incredibly moral and ethical stances are to be expected from Walker, who is a long-time activist for animal rights, as well as women’s rights, and a dedicated vegan. Walker, one of the most acclaimed African American female authors, won the Pulitzer Prize for The Colour Purple, the ground-breaking novel detailing the horrific abuse suffered by Southern black women, which also happens to be a personal favourite of mine. Her work centres around themes of struggle and adversity; focussing on Civil Rights, the treatment and experiences of African Americans both past and present, and also the experiences of women and often, symbolically, animals, as a subjugated and oppressed minority.

This review was intended to serve as a taster for our upcoming Story Café Special: Sister Creatures, coming this Thursday 12th October from 12:30-2:30pm, where where feminist animal studies researcher Rebecca Jones will showcase a range of poetry, short stories and essays by women who have chosen to share their experiences of animals and the natural world through their creative writing, all the while indulging in cakes, snacks and hot tea and coffee to heat up your bones from the increasingly chilly and showery Autumn weather!

This event is women only, 18+ and will cost £2, however we offer subsidised free places for students, people on a low income, unemployed or those in receipt of benefit and Friends of GWL. To book, visit our website or pop into the Library to reserve your spot!

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Digital Book Group: Anuradha Roy Answers Our Questions

Sleeping on Jupiter Book Cover

In August, GWL Digital Book Group read Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy, winner of the 2016 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. It was a stark and unflinching novel by a spellbinding storyteller, about religion, love and violence in the modern world.

Readers pulled together some questions and we put them to Anuradha who kindly agreed to share her thoughts with us.

Was there a reason that you chose to write the novel in English – was it so that you could reach out to Western audiences directly rather than relying on translation? Or for a much simpler reason?

Britain colonized India for over 200 years, and the one good thing we got out of it is that English is as much an Indian language now as any of our other languages. I’ve always written in English, as do many other Indian writers. It is the language of the elite here, but many do learn it from childhood and many speak interchangeably in English and other Indian languages at home.

Why did you choose to have the ending you did, which means that we have very little understanding of what effect Nomi revisiting the scene of her childhood suffering had upon her?

I wanted to end the book when there was more to be said: when everyone’s inner lives had been altered by what had taken place yet there were still things that might happen to them. I wanted to stop at a point when I felt I could close the door and say, this is as far as I am letting you in, no further.
Books can go on forever, dragging everything out to tedious clarity, but I think readers are intelligent, they create a part of their book within their own imagination, and I need to leave them alone to do that. I love the endings of Alice Munro, for example, which deepen the mystery rather than clarifying everything, and leave me thinking about her stories for ages.

Some of our readers wondered whether you meant us to think about our own society’s hypocrisies in response to the novel’s focus on Indian society?

I’m glad your readers saw connections to their own lives and society. I think that structures of religious power are misused everywhere, and hypocrisy is pretty much a universal human trait.

Your writing is just beautiful and doesn’t flinch from the realities of violence – how did it feel to write about violence like this?

It was very, very hard. The book took me a long time to write – I started it in 2008 and only finished it in 2014. The material was so deeply unsettling and painful that to sit myself down and force myself into those dark spaces felt unbearable at times. But I knew that if I didn’t finish writing this book, I would never be able to move on.

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Art workshops at Glasgow East Women’s Aid

Badges created by art workshop participants at Glasgow East Women’s Aid.

The Speaking Out Project hosted three art workshops with Glasgow East Women’s Aid in August and September 2017 in partnership with Frances Corr, an artist and former GEWA volunteer. Some of the artwork created by the women in the workshops is now on display as part of the Speaking Out exhibition, showing at Glasgow Women’s Library until the 27th October.

Creative expression is an important outlet for women and young people affected by domestic abuse. We hosted a series of workshops with Glasgow East Women’s Aid (GEWA) with the hope of providing a safe and inclusive space for women to relax, reflect, and express themselves.

Many of the women attending had no previous artistic experience, but were interested in having a go. To get the creativity flowing, we kicked off each session with a blind drawing exercise, meaning the women had to draw something – either each other or an object – without looking at the paper. Sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly difficult to stop yourself looking down as you draw! If you haven’t tried blind drawing before, give it a go – you might be surprised at the weird and wonderful things you produce.

Throughout the workshops, we explored the history of Women’s Aid in Scotland and listened to some of the oral histories that the Speaking Out project has collected. We also looked at some of the protest art that women in Scotland have created through the ages – from Glasgow’s rent strikes in 1915 to this year’s Women’s March. The women used some of these slogans as inspiration in designing masks, fans, and pin badges, creating artwork based on statements they wanted to make and things they believed in.

Some of the masks created in the art workshops, currently on display at Glasgow Women’s Library.

 

Three weeks passed quickly and before we knew it, we were saying our goodbyes. The women had made some incredible artwork, and many of them had surprised themselves in how much they enjoyed it and how happy they were with what they had made. Some of the participants shared with us what the workshops had meant to them:

“I’m doing this to relax. For so long I felt I was living on a knife edge. Women’s Aid saved my sanity. I was sure I was going mad (brainwashed). They still support me – thank god for them, I’ve met some lovely people.”

“A great media to express, let go and even feel proud of final results.”

“It is enjoyable and de-stressing and good to be able to draw […] making different designs about women being stronger.”

Many of the women have loaned their artwork to the Speaking Out exhibition, currently on display in the Glasgow Women’s Library until the 27th October. Don’t miss it!

Join us on the 7th October for a free guided tour of the exhibition, featuring audio clips from our oral history archives. If reading this post got you feeling creative, we’ll also be hosting a zine making workshop on the 21st October, drawing inspiration from the Scottish Women’s Aid archives.

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Glasgow Women’s Library Shortlisted for the CILIP Libraries Change Lives Award

Glasgow Women’s Library’s popular Story Café has been shortlisted for the CILIP Libraries Change Lives Award, alongside libraries in Suffolk, Kirklees and Norfolk. The award honours excellence and innovation in the UK library sector and all shortlisted libraries provide services that run successful initiatives around the wellbeing, diversity and inclusion agendas.

Story Café is a women-only shared reading group which brings women from different backgrounds together to connect over literature, with a particular emphasis on diversity and equality and awareness of the voices of BME authors. The sessions welcome women from all walks of life, bringing them together with tea, cake and stories. The equalities agenda is central to the aims of Story Café which explores themes around diversity and culture in a safe and supportive space.

The other shortlisted libraries and projects are Ipswich Library’s Chat and Chill, Kirklees Libraries’ Storywalks and HMP Norfolk’s prison library. The winner will be announced on 12 October during the first ever Libraries Week and will receive a £4,000 investment from CILIP, the library and information association.

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October’s Digital Book Group Read: Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

Northanger Abbey Cover

The next book we’re reading as part of our GWL Digital Book Group is Val McDermid’s Northanger AbbeyMcDermid’s Northanger Abbey is an updated take on Jane Austen’s classic novel about a young woman whose visit to the stately home of a well-to-do acquaintance stirs her most macabre imaginings. A homeschooled minister’s daughter in the quaint, sheltered Piddle Valley in Dorset, Cat Morland loses herself in novels (and, of course, her smartphone) and is sure there is a glamorous adventure awaiting her beyond the valley’s narrow horizon. So imagine her delight when her neighbors, the Allens, invite her to attend the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh as their guest.

Cat quickly begins to take Edinburgh by storm and is taken into the bosom of the Thorpe family, particularly by eldest daughter Bella. And then she meets handsome Henry Tilney, who lives at the beautiful and forbidding Northanger Abbey. Cat is entranced by Henry and his charming sister Eleanor, but she can’t help but wonder if everything about them is as perfect as it seems. Maybe she has just been reading too many novels?

How to Get Involved

We’ll be posting updates and related content to this blog. You can find all of the posts so far here.

On Twitter, keep an eye on the #GWLBookGroup hashtag for all related tweets and please do share your own thoughts and insights. We’ll be discussing the book throughout the month with prompts to get involved so keep an eye on our account and the hashtag to see what’s being said.

Facebook Group

On Facebook we’ve created a closed group where we can gather all of the content and discussions. To join, simply request to join the group and we’ll approve your request to give you access.

Jane Austen in the Library

We’re reading Val McDermid’s updated Austen to tie into an event we’re hosting in the Library on Saturday 4th November. To mark the donation of materials from the Jane Austen Society Scottish Branch to the GWL Archive, we’re celebrating Austen and the value of reading aloud.  We’ll be reading from Austen’s novels and extracts of her letters over a delightful afternoon tea. Regency dress welcomed!

Happy reading!

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The Lives of Girls and Women from the Islamic World in Early Modern British Literature and Culture by Bernadette Andrea

Lady Shirley by Anthony Van Dyke, 1622.

Between 2011 and 2014 it was estimated the British Muslim population amounted to around 2,786,635-3,114,992 people or 4.4-5.4% of the total population making it the second largest religious group in the UK. Muslim groups from around the world such as places like Pakinstan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Gujaratis, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and more as well as those of different denominations such as Sunni, Shia or Ahmadiyya Islam have made Britain home for centuries now and impacted it in all areas of life. My own Sunni Turkish Grandfather(Dede) Aycetin Secmezsoy came to Scotland for a hospitality job in the 1960s where he fell in love my Grandfather, married and has since stayed here up until today as a UK citizen. He dealt with significant prejudice as did my mum and her sisters and today many UK Muslims have to deal with prejudice caused by British right wing media, groups and individuals using things such as terrorism as excuses for their hatred. British Islam and Muslim identity has a long history and within Bernadette Andrea’s historical text The Lives of Girls and Women from the Islamic World in Early Modern British Literature and Culture, she trace this back to explore the lives of various Muslim women who came to Britain from the Medieval period onwards, either willingly or unwillingly to see how these early women were changed by and changed the lands they came to.

The first chapter, The Presences of Women from the Islamic World in Late Medieval Scotland and Early Modern England, starts off by considering the role of Muslim women in Medieval and Renaissance princely pageantry and tourneys ,the phenomenon of marvels and wonders and the courtier ruler relationship at many ruling courts. The late 15th century to early 16th century Stewart king James VI had a variety of Muslim Court inhabitants like Petir(Peter) the More, Elenor More, Helenor More,Elen More and Margaret More. Helenor/Elen/Elanor might have been the same person or multiple and her name was a pun on her race and religion as it meant brightness or light. These individuals came from Western Africa via Portugal, Andrea suggests using Imtiaz Habib’s Black Lives, with Scottish Privateers taking them to Edinburgh via Portugal due to papal blessing of portugese slavery of Christianity’s enemies in that part of Africa. All of them would have had their names given when Christianized.  Elen(or Eleanor/Helenor) was the protagonist and prize of Court entertainments in June 1507 and May 1508 called the Tournament of the Black Lady with Elen the “Black Queen of Beauty”. While being maidservant of Queen Margaret Tudor, James’ wife, it is unclear if she was a slave or not. As a “wondrous” Other she ,like the Burgundian Giant Hans, was an important tool to be used in displays of Chivalry and pageantry. Elen was both beautiful and a wonder due to her racial difference and religious origin and an alien Other. She was valuable both as a person or decoration with her tournament outfit being described by the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland as consisting of luxurious damask with gold flower trimming,green and yellow taffety  sleeves and black gloves. She was brought in a Triumphal chair covered with Flemish taffety of white,yellow,purple and gray and came from Flanders for a hefty £88. Two women, perhaps Margaret and one of the other women, as well as two squires that Katie Stevenson names Master William Ogilvie and Alexander Elphinstoun. James IV did a turn as the Black Knight fighting to defend and win her. James wore an ornate silver-horned helmet,an arming jacket of black satin and a gold clasped gorget while his men were John Dunlop and Alexander MacCulloch in cloth of gold and black velvet. Battle met under a Silk Pavilion at Edinburgh Castle with standards and an Arthurian tree of Esperance(Hope) in a garden of Patient bearing leaves of pleasure,flowers of nobleness and fruit of honour.Each week of the five week extravaganza saw a new challenger’s shield hung on the tree. A variety of reasons for the pageantry are noted by Andrea and others. Katie Stevenson suggests it was to celebrate his legitimate first son’s birth in February 1507 and the mother, his wife Margaret Tudor’s, recovery from the difficult pregnancy. Andrea speculates it could signify the secluded Scottish king’s aspirations to partake in crusading ,but the overarching theme she posits is it was a discourse on the ambiguous connection between blackness and beauty during that period. She connects it to the racist Masque of Blackness written by Ben Jonson in 1605 for James VI/I and Anne of Denmark in which the white court ladies ,Anne and other participants wore black face claiming they made it beautiful while still seeing whiteness and lightness as superior and purer. This simeltnaous hate and love of the Muslim and black female Other in a Renassiance period in which blonde pale Petrarchian beauty predominated was ,Andrea argues, viewable in different facets of the masquerade. The possible slave Elen the More turned Queen and was transformed with the King himself fighting for her beauty ,but that same beauty and perceived otherness was mocked with Royal Sanction. William Dunbar’s Ane Black Moir did this noting how the winner of the duels got a kiss and embrace ,but the losers in a comically sexualized fablua fashion “cum behind” and would kiss Elen’s “hippis”. In one perspective she and other Muslim and black women were beautiful deserving of chivarlry ,but conversely other perspectives made disrespect and mistreatment suitable. Dunbar goes on like this with racist describtions of Elen comparing her to an “aep,gangarell(toad) and catt with “mekle lippis”(thick lips). This first chapter is ,for a masters student hoping to become a Court historian specializing in the Other at the centre of power, the best of Andrea’s text. It ties the pageantry across time and space showing how Elen ,the Black Lady and More acted as a signifier of many things for Renassiance Scotland. She was beautiful yet horrible, wondrous yet disgusting, queenly yet base in the Renaissance world which both loved and hated her. James could play an exotic role by emulating aspects of his Muslim servants or exotic mythological characters yet take off his character at the end and be the white King he was. Elen and so many others were fascinating ,but different. Beautiful and Other. They could play at Queen for pageantry and the king’s sake ,but at the end they returned to a role of subservience with mockery like Dunbar’s keeping them in their perceived place.

In her second chapter, Andrea discusses the contrasting approach to Muslim women by discussing how Elizabeth I treated the Ottoman and Persian female rulers differently to her Muslim female companions or pets(not entertainers ,but wondrous different individuals used for companionship without the usual worries of rank with other court attendants). In a 1561 letter to the Great Sophie of Persia she called herself “Queene of England &c.” and her recipitent “The right mightie and right victorious prince,the great sophie Emperour of the Persians, Medes, Parthians, Hyrcanes, Carmanarians, Margians of the people on this side and beyond the river of Tygris and of all men and nations betweene the Caspian Sea and the Gulph of Persia greeting and most happie increase in all prosperitie”. A typical epistolary approach of the time is in acition here surpisingly. Those of lower ranks addressing higher ranking individuals often put on a faux modesty and submissiveness with the terms used to describe individuals being an important part. Elizabeth by calling herself Queen of England and other places then discussing Sophie’s many regions acknowledges the latters vast power and concedes to the greatness of this Muslim Persian ruler as an act of diplomacy.  Andrea notes how this communication would influence her writing to the Valide Sultans and other Ottoman women during the 1580s. In contrast to these powerful Muslim women that Elizabeth sought relationships with due to england’s isolation from Catholic Europe, there were the many muslim women part of a “human trafficking commodity exchange network” who played a part in Elizabeth’s self-fashioning and presentation as queen. These women who were companions yet power symbols included Ippolita the Tartarian described in 1564 as “oure deare and well-beloved woman” and Tomasina de Paris who as the suffix sina suggests was a dwarf. Andrea is unsure if the women were to perform humourous japes like jesters ,but in my own research of disabled retainers I have found being deemed a “natural fool” or dwarf did not always mean their jobs would be humour based with some even being spies or art collectors for their rulers. The amount spent on Ippolita shows both the importance of her as symbol and pet as she is noted to have received fine “Hollande Granado silke,venice golde and silver”. Elizabeth appealed to the power of Muslim women both as superiors or equals ruling vast distances and as signifers of her own virtues who could play pet for her too.

A final important chapter is the sixth in which Andrea explores the interlocking paths of women from the Islamic world called Teresa Sampsonia and Mariam Khanim via their experiances with the East India Company. Teresa Sampsonia Shirley was a Circassian subject of the Safavid Shah, who travelled to England with her husband, the Persianized Robert Shirley. They travelled around Europe on behalf of the Shah meeting many rulers and in 1613 went on an expedition that perhaps had them cross paths with Mariam. She was an Armenian subject of the Mughal emperor who married two successive company operatives, William Hawkins and Gabriel Towerson and travelled via Good Hope in 1613 for England.Her father was the nobleman Mubarak Khan who served the emperor Akbar as a high ranked courtier with his heir Jahangir bestowing Miriam on William Hawkins. Hawkins noted he was offered “a white mayden out of his palace” with slaves and “all things necessary” who would he promised “turne Christian”. They were married before Christian witnesses and in March 1612 they left for Britain.Dying in the Cape of Good Hope Miriam needed to marry again finding Captain Gabriel Towerson and having Hawkins buried in Ireland. Miriam’s fortitude yet unstable financial situation can be glimpsed in her relentless fight during 1616-1618 to receive the dues a Company Widow was expected to receive something made worse by Towerson going off to die as a martyr during the battle of Amboyna. She vanished from the records soon afterwards. While Teresa went from court to court and was relatively accepted Miriam had to deal with carving out agency in an inheritely male sphere of Trade companies and find male or financial protection outside the Muslim nobility’s world she had come from.

Consequently Andrea’s book is a fantastic and vital work that opens up our eyes to the variety of roles ,high and low, that Muslim women ,or those from Muslim countries during the Medieval to Early Modern Period, had. They travelled to distant lands ,either willingly or as slaves, and could be servants, pets or entertainers at courts. They could signify the Christianity, Worldliness and Power of many royal courts. Symbol, Person or both their presence is important to history and Andrea shows that we need to acknowledge such incredible women like Elen More, Great Sophie of Persia, Ippolita the Tartarian, Teresa Sampsonia and Mariam Khanim.

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Pens, pens, pens

One of the few things I never had to worry about during my time at school and university had been pens. Not only that I had been provided pens by my classmates, who regularly left them on or under the table; but also my parents, some always-busy aunts and uncles, charity shops, street festivals, recently opened shops and many other people and places have contributed to my diverse drawer-collection. From a professional point of view my tiny wooden table commode can’t meet the standards of a proper archive: an inappropriate storage, missing documentation or donation protocols. In one word: pure chaos. And the archive’s simple motto: functionless – disposed.

Nonetheless, the circumstances of the latest donation shed new light on my collector’s items. It was Friday morning and I just entered the event room at the GWL, still sweating after my bike-ride to work. The room was already prepared for the Engender Conference, decorated with striking cloth bags that were laying on each chair. I picked one and I literally heard it saying: ”I’ll keep your stuff together!” Good idea these cloth bags, I thought. And of course, a pen wasn’t missing, too.

The conference started, many inspiring women talked on the stage and interesting and challenging questions were raised. With this unused pen in my left hand, I zoned out for a moment. While a smooth voice talked about “challenge”, “activism”, “fight” in the background, an idiom came to my mind: “A pen is mightier than the sword”.

Certainly in a world of social media, voice recognition and artificial intelligence the comparison this idiom undertakes seems a little bit archaic. Swords are definitely objects I’d locate in a museum rather than in my everyday life. Nevertheless, what the idiom highlights is the power of writing. Less metaphorical the scholar W. J. Ong describes his view on this powerful impact of writing.

“Without writing, the literate mind would not and could not think as it does, not only when engaged in writing but normally even when it is composing its thoughts in oral form. More than any other single invention, writing has transformed human consciousness.” (W. J. Ong in Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word)

So this fragile, half-transparent and not very appealing object I was holding in my hand is probably the most intriguing invention when it comes to humankind.

Another question came to my mind: What would a person that had never seen a pen before think about this longish tiny “something”. Would this person believe that there is liquid coming out even if it’s invisible? That it’s refillable in some cases but always meant to be written with. That the main purpose of its invention is to write words, that can’t be erase easily.

Discussing Scotland’s feminist future the pens in the cloth bags stand metaphorically for the power of change and especially in regard to the organisation Engender that provided us with them. They embody the power to influence policies and political debates. Coming back to my imagined person that had never seen a pen before, would she be satisfied with this answer, given so far? Having a closer look at this half transparent and half purple plastic pen, wouldn’t she ask about its colours, material or its technical characteristics? Wouldn’t she like to not only write with it but also to take it apart?

visual representation of the conference's topicsIt’s not only the history of literacy which this pen talks about. From a technological perspective it’s a writing instrument that exists among others: ink roller, pencils, writing feather, fingers dived in paint. But it’s also a writing instrument that has become widespread in a certain geographical region to a certain time, whether by coincidence or for a purpose. It also tells the story of hand typing and raises a present day debate about its meaning in a digitalized future.

Looking at its design, it’s impossible to think about pens without considering topics such as mass production and consumption and connect it to modern debates of ecology and sustainability. How many thousands of years does this sole pen need to decompose or to put in into polemic terms, what’s the probability of this plastic pen to ending up as rubbish in the North Sea? And in what way can I contribute to ensuring this doesn’t happen?

Moreover, its appearance reveals its use as a medium of communication. It’s surely not mere happenstance that “ = ENGENDER “ is printed on the pens. It’s a nice reminder of an important conference but also an advertisement, as if the pen is yelling “promote Engender!” As a pen it’s there to write with but through its own texture it’s already transmitting a message. And as a hidden clue its purple colour connects our feminist generation to the achievements of the Suffragettes movement.

It’s lunchtime at the conference. I put all my stuff back into my bag and slowly begin to collect my thoughts. My mind is full of pens and literally blue of so many thoughts circling around ink. Standing in the queue to grab some sandwiches my glance falls on the bookshelves of the Women’s Library. What did the “women on the shelves” feel when they were holding a pen to write? I thought. Did they realise how big their impact would be on us?

Damnphotograph of a purple-transparent pen it it’s not just a pen!

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Community Curators: Exploring the Museum Stores

A tshirt from the Lesbian Archive on a table with archive boxes and pieces of paper

Glasgow Women’s Library is the only accredited museum dedicated to women’s history in the whole of the UK and our rich collections of books, objects and archives contain rare and unique items that explore every aspect of women’s lives from the early 19th Century to today.

Our collections contain everything from Suffragette memorabilia to Women’s Liberation material; recipe books and zines; knitting patterns and Roller Derby crash helmets; quilts and protest banners; private journals and newspaper clippings. We are still actively collecting and have wonderful items from the 2014 Commonwealth games in Glasgow, material representing both sides of the Scottish independence referendum as well as placards and pink pussy hats from the Women’s Marches across Scotland from 2017.

In April 2017 we put out a call for a group of women to be volunteer Community Curators on our Women Making an Exhibition of Themselves project. We wanted women who are up for quite literally making an exhibition of themselves and we were not disappointed. Our dynamic group of Community Curators meet regularly and have been learning the ins and outs of museum work from collections care to exhibitions.

Close up of a farming diary being investigated by the Community Curators

Objects the curators have been examining so far have included t-shirts from the LAIC (Lesbian Archive and Information Centre) collection, transcripts from the witch trials in Scotland, a nurse’s training diary, and diaries from the 1840’s.

The Community Curators are examining objects and creating lists of each artefact in our museum boxes, all whilst keeping an eye out for any emerging themes and thinking about how the objects might eventually be displayed in the Library.

To mark the halfway point of the Women Making an Exhibition of Themselves project, the Community Curators will share their ideas and vision for GWL’s new permanent exhibition at our Hear from our Community Curators event on Tuesday 21st November.

This event is your chance to meet the Community Curators and see a display of their favourite objects from the collections stores.

Keep an eye on our blog for more Community Curator posts and follow the hashtag #CommunityCurators on Twitter.

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