Exploring The Archives
Who writes history? Our panellists will discuss the vital work of collecting radical histories, what this entails and how it can change our perception of both the past and present. Our panellists have archived histories of Black, LGBTQ and sex worker communities, centring those who are often side-lined by dominant narratives.
You’ll hear stories from the archives, learn how these hidden histories are gathered and leave with a renewed understanding of why we must challenge imperialist, heteronormative versions of our past.
To view a pdf of the transcript for ‘Radical Histories: Exploring The Archives’ please.
To download a word document version please.
Dr Kate Lister, Mumbi Nkonde, Morgan M Page, Jay Bernard, Itziar Bilbao Urrutia
history, archives, surveillance, racism, sex work, decriminalisation, LGBT
Dr Kate Lister (KL);
Mumbi Nkonde (NMN) – The GLC Story, The Edge Fund;
Morgan M Page (MP);
Jay Bernard (JB);
Itziar Bilbao Urrutia (IBU) – The Suburban Chick Supremacy Cell.
00:00:00 KL So my name’s Kate, I’m a sex work historian, and I’ll talk to you a little bit about my work after I’ve introduced these fabulous people and about how speaking to the sex worker community has profoundly changed the way that I do historical research. We do have another panellist who is flying in as we speak, so when somebody runs in and sits down behind me, that’s expected—don’t panic. [chuckles] All right, so the first speaker that we’ve got is Morgan Page. Morgan is a Canadian trans writer, activist, artist and historian. She’s a former board member of Maggie’s, the Toronto Sex Worker’s Action Project. She writes and hosts the history podcast—trans history podcast, One From The Vaults. Shall we keep going? We’ve also got Natasha Mumbi Nkonde. Natasha is a community activist, co-founder of The GLC Story, an oral history project exploring the legacies of radical left politics in London in the 1980s. Their day job is Regional Organiser at The Edge Fund, who supports grassroots—Ta da! [laughter] Fine, fine, fine, you’re fashionably late, you’re fine. Sorry, I got interrupted—their day job is the regional organiser at The Edge Fund, who supports grassroots projects like SWARM with small grants. We have Jay Bernard—Jay is a writer, film programmer and archivist from London—late, but certainly not the lesser. Itziar Bilbao Urrutia—sorry, I’ve pronounced that wrong—is the creator of The Urban Chick Supremacy Cell, a dystopian femdom fetish porn project inspired by the SCUM Manifesto and Andrea Dworkin. Her work operates outside the magic circle of contemporary art and goes straight into the adult consumer. As a radical feminist, a porn performer and producer, her practice draws her ideas from the apparently irreconcilable differences between women’s bodily agency. She writes about history of female sexuality and censorship, and it also says here that she likes snails, rock climbing, and putting men in cages. [audience laughter] So—[chuckles]—who doesn’t? So, this is our fabulous panel and they are going to talk to you about their work and their research. I suppose, if I just introduce a little about my research—and one of the things that I have learnt is that historians don’t always appreciate their full power. They tend to be very lovely people, but perhaps a little bit unaware of what they’re doing. Not this panel, they’re amazing—but the idea of ethical historical research is something that can be a little bit lost on them. Not that they’re not ethical people; they don’t walk around happy-slapping librarians or anything like that, but the idea that when you’re writing about the history that’s long dead of something that’s way in the past, that it could exert a palpable influence on context and lives today, that’s often something that historians don’t think of. Ethical review boards are for the sciences; history, not so much. So, I’m really proud to be talking with these people today who think very differently and understand the way that you write about the past very much impacts on the present. And my own research, when I started talking and connecting with members of the sex work community and sex work activists—who are very patient and lovely and generous with their time—is it’s profoundly changed how I do my research. I’ve realised that perhaps I was dragging unconscious bias into looking into the past. Things like when sex workers campaign for everyone to understand that there’s many different types and expressions and variations, and there’s hugely complex experience of sex work. That’s not something that historians think of when we look back. But if you do that, if you go back through history understanding that it’s very, very nuanced, then, just as today, you get a much, much more powerful dynamic. So, this is something that been a learning curve for me and thank you to everyone that’s been very generous with their time and helped me on this journey. So, I think that first of all, we need to speak to Morgan. Let’s do it. [Audience applauds]
00:03:51 MP Hello. So, I’m Morgan M Page, and I do the trans history podcast One From the Vaults, the podcast that brings you all the dirt, gossip and glamour from trans history. And before I very briefly run through—in fact, let me get my phone. Before I very briefly run through three interesting stories about trans people and sex work from history—which is kind of my whole deal—I wanted to just acknowledge for a moment that it’s a hundred and two years and one day from when a Métis—which is one of three major groups of indigenous people in Canada—when a Métis woman named Lizzie Sears was arrested and charged with vagrancy, which was the anti-prostitution law at the time. These arrests happen all the time, but what’s really significant about her case and why I wanted to just take a moment to acknowledge it is that this was before women were legally people. And when she was brought before a judge, the judge happened to be a woman. And Lizzie’s defence lawyer came up with this genius strategy that if women aren’t people, then this judge has no authority on which to charge Lizzie with vagrancy. And this is actually how women gained personhood in Canada, all on the back of a Métis sex worker who was being charged with vagrancy. And unfortunately, we don’t know a lot about what happened to her life after that, and she’s unacknowledged by all the feminist history in Canada today. So, I’m going to talk real brief about three stories. A lot of my research—if you want to go to the next slide—a lot of my research is around the intersections between trans people and sex work. One of my favourite stories is actually one of the earliest trans people we have on record in North America, which is Mary Jones. You can see here in a drawing from the time, in 1836, a man walked through Manhattan and down a little alley where a lot of sex workers liked to ply their trade. And in there he paid for the services of a worker, and as he was on his way home later that night, he picked up his wallet and went to go look inside it and realised that it wasn’t his wallet. But what was in it was a bank slip. So, he used the bank slip to track down the actual owner of the wallet, who turned out to be another man who had used the services of the same sex worker in the same alley. And so the two of them together went to a police officer because they were like, “We want our money back, we want our wallets,” and they hatched a plan to arrest the sex worker and when they got back to the sex worker’s apartment for the sting operation, they found that it was full of empty wallets. And her whole thing was that she would take these white men down an alley, and as she’s servicing them, switch out an empty wallet for their full wallet and be on her merry way. But the complicating factor here is that when they arrested her and they searched her, they discovered that she was a trans woman and was using two slices of beefsteak tied between her legs to mimic a vagina, which earned her the title “Beefsteak Pete” in the New York tabloids. What’s really fascinating though, is that when they pulled her to the courthouse, she refused to stop dressing as a woman. She insisted that she was a woman and she mentioned, very intriguingly, that in New Orleans, amongst her own people, i.e. amongst other African-Americans, it was quite common for there to be trans women who were accepted within the balls and other social events of that time. And this is the only hint of history from this time that we have about African-American trans culture and trans culture broadly in the 1830s. There’s nothing else that exists because obviously, the most marginalised groups, in particular African-American communities—remember, this is still slavery time in the Deep South and on our way towards Emancipation and Reconstruction era—there’s no history collected at all of how people were living their lives then. So, we have this little glimmer in the archive and it’s this shit that I live for! Because it says we’ve always been here, we’ve always been doing our lives the way we’ve been doing them. If we go to the next slide—Two minutes? Shit. Okay, I’m going to go real fast. So, this is Jean Bonnet 00:09:09, who in the 1870s was a proto-trans man in San Francisco who was arrested multiple times for cross-dressing and for being found in the beds of prostitutes. He—the reason I want to highlight his story is that he is kind of the forerunner for the longstanding tradition of trans men dating sex workers and being very intimately related with sex workers’ communities. And the next one—Finally, I want to just highlight a really interesting moment in history in 1975 in Vancouver in Canada, the police raided the indoor sex work location that most sex workers were working out of which were supper clubs. In these supper clubs, it was relatively safe; they had no history of extreme violence, no murders, et cetera. They raided and shut down all the clubs on New Year’s Eve, and as a result, the street-based sex work of Vancouver was born out of nothing—it had never previously existed. Very quickly, obviously, a great deal of violence and murder followed. You might have heard of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, this is what birthed the Downtown East Side. Right away though, a community of street-working trans and indigenous sex workers coalesced and began organising for their rights through a group called The Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes, which, very intriguingly, was run out of the now-extremely anti-sex work, anti-trans Vancouver Rape Relief. They actually produced a newsletter called The Whoreganiser which was one of the very first [chuckles]—we need to see that word in common usage again—it was one of the very first bad date lists for sex workers, and it was run through a coalition of sex workers, their allies—many of whom were trans, almost all of whom were indigenous—and, yeah. So, these are just a couple of stories, and maybe we can dig in a little later, but I thought I’d just sprinkle some history on you. Thanks. [Audience applauds]
00:11:37 KL Thank you—I—beefsteak, who knew? That was just brilliant, maybe M&S could branch out, and—[laughter] Right. I’ve gone to a strange place. [chuckles] No, don’t, let’s—tweet them! No, don’t. I think the next person we’re going to have is Natasha. Would you like to stand up, sit down, lie down, under the table? You’re going to sit? Okay.
00:12:04 NMN Hi everyone. I’ve got my notes in front of me, so I’m going to stay comfortable. I’m a regional organiser for an organisation called The Edge Fund—so we give out funding to grassroots groups who are working to end systemic oppression. We’ve supported SWARM, and I only mention that in case anyone else is involved in organising and would like to know how to get some small grants to support their work. I’m also a community organiser and activist. I’ve been involved in Sisters Uncut, Black Lives Matter UK, and End Deportations. I’m mostly, I’m an unofficial archivist, I’ve sort of stumbled upon it. Or more recently, started calling myself an accidental archivist. Because—I was involved in lots of current organising and just recognising how I wasn’t seeing myself or understanding myself in the threads of history, in the strands of history, and just wanted to kind of reconnect with a lot of that. I did also study history at Warwick, but that history was mostly Western European history and had nothing to do with queers, sex workers, really, black people, even. So, I don’t feel like that’s where I really, really connected with ideas and the importance of archiving today. I’m a co-founder with Debs, who’s sitting over there, of an organisation or collective called The GLC Story, and we kind of came together because I was kind of involved in some radical city-level democracy stuff with an organisation called Take Back the City. So, we were trying to think, how can we reimagine local city councils? And I met up with Debs, and Debs was involved with an organisation called Soundings, which is a journal that was started up by Stuart Hall and many others. And these were all people who were involved in the sixties and seventies organising, and who were part of either the Greater London Councils, the institution itself or involved in the political and social movements around it. So just to say a little bit more about what the GLC was. The Greater London Councils, as it was called then, was the local government that run London. Now we have the Greater London Assembly, which is actually a very, very different kind of institution. It was housed on London South Bank—if you go down there now, it’s called the County Hall, and if you go down there now it’s got a posh hotel, it’s got an aquarium, it’s got a McDonalds and a Shrek’s Adventures something-or-other. But back in the day, it was a really, really important space and a really, really important radical space. And it was the first time—I’m going to start again. So, our interest in the Greater London Councils was basically because between 1981 and 1986 it was taken over by a really radical left group. Some of the people who were involved in it were John McDonald, Jeremy Corbyn, all of the people that you see who are now part of the Corbynism/Momentum stuff. We were looking at that moment in history and just saying, how come we don’t know anything about that? How come we don’t know about the last time some socialists had some power? We came together because I was involved at the time with an organisation or a collective called The Remember Olive Collective, which was specifically an oral history project looking at Olive Morris, who was an incredible anti-racist organiser, black feminist, housing rights organiser, in Brixton through the sixties and seventies, who died quite young but was a really, really important person in history for us to know about. So, I got involved with a group of amazing black women who did an oral history project to make sure that we kept her memory alive and kept the memory alive of all the squatting and gay liberation movement stuff that was happening in South London around that time. I was really inspired by the possibilities of oral histories—that you can sit down as a younger person or an activist who’s doing all of the work right now and how easily you can forget what came before you. And you can sit down with people who are still around and ask them questions—ask what it meant for them to do the work they did, ask them what they feel it’s important for you to be paying attention to. And so I looked at and worked with the ideas of oral histories and how I could use that in my work more generally. So when we’re looking at this period in history, we decided to get people who were involved in Sisters Uncut, people who were involved in Black Lives Matter, people who were involved in sex workers groups, various feminist groups, and asked them, “Who would you like to talk to? Who would you be interested in?” So we had someone from Sisters Uncut interview one of the people who was first involved in setting up the domestic violence refuges in the eighties, and just had a more broader conversation around what does happen or what are the possibilities when you have local government being run in this kind of radical lefty way for the services that feminists, sex workers, and all kinds of people need. I think it’s really easy to forget that local council is such an important site for feminist work, in that it’s your local council that will provide housing for you, it’s your local council that will provide childcare. Your local council just has such a huge impact on your day to day life, and this bit of history sort of gives us or shows us the kinds of ways that we could organise. Two minutes, shit. Okay. [laughs]. That’s what happens when you have a false start. I’ll talk a little bit about sort of—my methods and approach. I’ve been really, really influenced [and] inspired by Black British feminist work and archivists, so when I was working with The Remember Olive Collective, that was as a result of an amazing woman called Ega Aiaweh Suwinski 00:17:56, whose work is really focused on the precarity of black feminist spaces as well as remembering and thinking about black feminist work in terms of artists. She was also one of the people who helped set up The Lambeth Women’s Project, which I would just encourage everyone to go and look up and find out more about. And she mostly looks at and is really interested in using oral histories as a way—or as an intergenerational space. I’ve also been really inspired by academics like Nadia Suabi 00:18:30, who writes on diasporic women and black people’s political organising and activism and she’s really looking back and searching through the archives and understanding what the implications and the importance of organisations like The Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent, and there’s an amazing project called The Oral Histories of the Black Women’s Movement Project that you can all go listen to, it’s at the Black Cultural Archives. I would really encourage people to go and sift through that. Finally, I got a lot of support through someone called Kelly Foster 00:19:06, who just invites everyone to write their own articles on Wikipedia. So, she’s essentially saying, what are the possibilities of digital archiving and digital spaces. So instead of going to an archive and seeing an archive as a building, a dead space/building somewhere that many of us will never feel are spaces for us, because we’re not academics, because we’re not directly involved in the archiving world, and she’s just inviting people to see spaces like Wikipedia as spaces where you can write your own histories and write people into being. And she quotes an artist and archivist called Rita Keegan and says, “If you don’t document yourself, no one else is going to do so. And a photocopied sheet is better than nothing.” So, I think those are the people that I’ve been looking to and learning from. Okay—shit. Come and talk to me later on about building your own archive. I’ve got a least another three pages of notes. Jesus, talk about overpreparing. [laughs] Sorry, I’ll just say very, very, quickly, the image that is up here is some of the stuff that we have in our collection. When we went to interview people who had been involved in the GLC or in the political and social movements around it, people just started giving us stuff that was in their attics. So, we have our own physical archive now, and this is an example of some of stuff we’ve been given. So, this is a pamphlet or a guide on immigration laws in the 1980s and it’s just absolutely incredible to look at. The shit they were doing there and the shit that we’re fighting now and how it’s just the same. It’s yours… oh my God, yeah. [Audience laughs]. So, this was given to me by Crossroads Women’s Centre, and some of the people who work there are here, thank you so much for that. [Audience applauds]
00:21:03 KL I feel like such a dick for rushing everybody along, I’m so sorry. So sorry. So, that—I can’t stress how important oral history is going to be going forward because as everyone on this panel will tell you, and every historian, trying to capture the history of marginalised, criminalised groups of people is so, so difficult. Because you can go to court records, and you can go to media, and you can go to the police and you can find out what they thought, but trying to find that voice, of what your everyday—these people thought and felt, but we can still do it, now. We can preserve oral history now for future generations. So important. Thank you so much. Thank you. So, I think we’re going to go to Jay? Hmm? And when I get to five minutes and I say two minutes, the precedent now has been set that you have to go ‘Oh, shit!’ [Audience laughs]
00:21:57 JB Thank you very much. I’ll stay here. Hi everyone. My name is Jay Bernard and I’m really happy to be on this panel, actually, and to be sort of speaking in this context because I feel like it’s the sort of—it sort of coalesces a lot of things that I’ve been doing over the last few years. I see myself as a kind of a writer, curator and a sort of custodian. I’m a writer who uses archives, I’m a programmer at the BFI who tries to bring archival material in, and I also work literally as a librarian in an archive called Statewatch which is housed at Mayday Rooms which some of you might know about. And I suppose that rather than try to go in depth into any of the sort of—ideas that I’ve sort of been playing with, I think I’ll just give you a few little sort of points, really. And then I’ll show something that I use regularly, a kind of little bit of history and I think is super important and that does a lot of work. So, I think the main areas that I’ve really been thinking about when it comes to using archives in my work is this thing of breaking down the barrier between access to history and the public. I’m not a historian, I’m going to emphasise that—I know there’s two historians on the panel. I’m very far removed from history, actually, but I do recognise that as someone who literally spends you know, hours and hours cataloguing things, I’m always asking myself, how can I get this to the public? How can people actually access this? And I think one of the reasons for that is because actually, a lot of this stuff fills in a narrative gap that is not addressed by the arts, right? So, I work in programming and I see what kind of films get funded. And very often, they’re just not the stories that you can find by looking in an archive. And actually, it’s quite—there’s an idea of scarcity, I think that has often informed archival theory and discussions around archives. I think that’s changing now to one of abundance. And so the outrage is even more clear, I think, because I will go through a book and I’ll be like, I just found fifteen to twenty stories that are absolutely incredible. Why are these not being converted into the big screen? So, I use archival material to fill that gap as somebody who works in the arts. And I think I’m part of kind of a tide of feminists—I think archive fever has been going for some time now. We’re all part of it, we’re all complicit. And I think part of that is because the archive has become kind of a contemplative space, certainly as a queer person it’s become almost what the club might once have been. It’s a space where I can kind of commune with this aspect of my community and history and where I feel history is also being made as well. The very imaginative and inventive ways that people are kind of using archives is in itself something to be archived, I guess. Which again, feeds into this idea of abundance. And it’s a different kind of space where you can access intellectual discourse, I think, without necessarily in an academic context. And I think that’s hugely important. That’s something that came up on another panel that I would really love to talk about a little bit more. So those are the kind of main ideas that I sort of have. And the film I’m going to show you, it’s just three minutes long, is from, it’s something that I show regularly, I really love it. And it’s from the 1982 Holy Cross Church occupation, two people of which I think are also here [Audience laughs]. You see what documenting history does? It’s there, you know, you’re in the flesh. And that’s really amazing. And I love it because for a number of reasons. I’m just going to bullet point them. This stuff isn’t new. A lot of the things we’re talking about now people have been fighting this battle for a really, really, long time. This is a really great, vivid example of what a bad-arse Selma James was [laughs]. Who is here at this conference. [Audience member speaks] Yeah, exactly, she’s speaking at this conference. I think it also highlights the toxicity of the media and this is something that we’re always talking about but it’s so good to see previous examples. It’s extremely funny. [chuckles] And it’s very—I think it’s a great piece for kind of looking at things sort of intersectionally or at least breaking down the way that the media, the police and so on, have all of these apparatus that can then be challenged and ways that they can be challenged in public. So that’s me, and if we just roll the clip, that would be great.
00:26:25 Narrator “…this is the prostitutes. The protestors, who’ve donned black masks for fear of being recognised, claim that prostitutes working in the King’s Cross area are constantly harassed and victimised by the police. The vicar, Father Trevor Richardson has so far backed the protest, and so has the Women’s Committee of Camden Council. But this sympathy isn’t shared by the Holy Cross congregation, who on Sunday had to worship in makeshift surroundings. And as the five-day protest has continued, further criticism has begun to develop over the fact that not all women sitting in are in fact prostitutes. Some are long-time feminist campaigners and have been accused of doing the prostitutes of King’s Cross more harm than good.
00:27:05 Interviewer “Now, Selma James 00:27:05 you are leading this protest—”
00:27:09 Protestor “—I’m not leading.”
00:27:09 Interviewer “Well, you’re one of the leaders and you’re very heavily involved. Now, you’re not a prostitute. How do you—”
00:27:13 Protestor “You make it sound like that’s a crime.”
00:27:16 Interviewer “I’m just stating the case. How do you know, since you aren’t a prostitute, what the prostitutes of King’s Cross really want?”
00:27:22 Protestor “Because they say so all the time. They say so to everybody and nobody listens, and that’s why we took over the church so now they are hearing. And now, people who want to defend the police are attacking those of us who are not prostitutes and those of us who are, for putting the case before the public.”
00:27:38 Interviewer “All right, now there have been some fairly up-front attacks on you, particularly today in some of the national newspapers. And it’s been pointed out that you’re a long-time campaigner for Women Against Rape, Wages for Housework, Housewives in Dialogue, Black Women for Wages, and so on.”
00:27:52 Protestor “Black women? Sounds ominous.”
00:27:52 Interviewer “Fine. Worthy causes as these are sure may be, isn’t there a danger that your reputation as a professional adopter of causes might backfire on the girls you’re trying to represent and make the public lose sympathy for the girls?”
00:28:04 Protestor “I don’t earn my living as a backer of causes as you earn your living by questioning people who do have causes. I earn my living as a typist. And I would like to say that every woman should be interested in the cause of prostitutes in King’s Cross, and every person who understands that the police are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and are doing what they’re not supposed to be doing, are doing illegal things, should be very interested, very concerned, with what we are doing. We are the front line, demanding that the police activity in King’s Cross and elsewhere be looked into. We are the—”
00:28:41 Interviewer “Some of the girls were quoted today as saying that your sit-in at the church had caused the police to crack down even harder. How do you reply to that?”
00:28:48 Protestor “I think that that’s partly true. I think that many girls are not being arrested, and I think that some girls are being arrested more. Especially those, you know, whom the police can get at. They’re very angry when women stand up for their rights, and they’re doing more illegal work in some areas now than they were before. Are you sorry?”
00:29:04 Interviewer “Well, is a sit-in is a good thing? If the police—it’s causing the police to crack down harder?”
00:29:08 Protestor “No, no, the police are doing some more illegal work in some areas, and some less illegal work in others. Women walked out of the church today and were threatened with arrest, but they were not arrested because we were with them. Those of us who have been publicly identified. There is no way it is a bad thing to point to police illegality if you have a case and we have one. You cannot say that that’s unjust.”
00:29:31 Interviewer “Selma James, there’s one final point I’d like to put to you. The idea of campaigning for prostitutes’ rights is not a new one, in this country a body called the Josephine Butler Society, was founded in 1870 to protect prostitutes’ civil rights. And today they told us that they could not support your sit in. Why do you think it is that the oldest body in the country to help prostitutes is not supporting you?”
00:29:51 Protestor “Because they are not interested in prostitutes. They’re careerists who are making their living by saying they’re interested and concerned and looking around and doing nothing. Women have come to them for help and they’ve refused.”
00:30:02 Interviewer “Selma, thank you very much. I’m sorry to cut you off, we’re running out of time—"
00:30:05 KL Almost just want to draw it to a close now. That was amazing. One of the things I’m sure you can take away from this is the cyclical nature of history and that these kind of debates and these kind of narratives go back as far as the historical records will go. And as something that when you look at it all you realise that we’re just doing the same thing and the same thing and the same thing in different guises all the time. That was just magnificent. I love that. Thank you so much. Final speaker, would you like to stand up, sit down?
00:30:39 IBU I will sit down.
00:30:40 KL Sit down. Right.
00:30:41 IBU Can you hear me? Hi, my name is Itziar Bilbao Urrutia. I know it’s very difficult to pronounce, so it’s okay. I had a slideshow and everything ready but I was late and it’s not ready so I will just talk. First of all, I am not a historian. I create femdom fetish content of a very specific nature, basically, the stuff I like. And you know, when you do something that you like, you know, your people come to you and your friends come to you. But at a point last year, I was feeling that I needed to start some kind of new artistic, creative project around femdom and fetish which is my subject. My background, again, is in creating video photography content. Basically I wanted to start with something new and something creative, because I hadn’t been doing any of that for a while. So, I decided to use an old idea of mine. Of starting a femdom archive. And I went to the Bishopsgate Institute. As soon as I started looking in there—they have huge collections of magazines, books and all sorts of publications and media donated by people who had an interesting fetish over the years—in London, or in Britain—so there is a lot of stuff there, you know, from magazines from the fifties onwards to coffee table fetish books, video, DVD, all sort of stuff. Also specifically that it’s normally very buried within gay, LGBTQ kind of archives. So, it’s hard finding this stuff. And as soon as started to find this stuff, of course, life brought creative projects to me that were more urgent, so this I had to leave it aside. So, this is very early days. Again, I am not a historian. But I would like to do a femdom archive at some point because I think that with so many female or not-male sexualities it’s been so mediated and appropriated, by anybody but the actual actors in the story that I thought, you know, that it was about time that I started digging up what’s there, we think, from other archives of other alternative sexualities, London history magazines and publications, fashion, all sorts. And one of the first things that I started to see from my historical point of view because I like—I have a tendency to see things from a historical point of view but more like art history, ‘cause that’s my background—was that you know, they have millions of magazines at the Bishopsgate, of fetish magazines from the fifties onwards and it’s all those images of Bettie Page and similar and then women in massive beehive hairdos, and so on. And then suddenly from the early nineties there is a total shift from this fantasy world of magazines and also—we think the magazines, you can see there are lots of how you call it—personal ads. It’s very kink in suburbia, hidden behind curtains, that type of thing. But suddenly in the early nineties—and that’s when my interest started to focus and I would like to work on, and maybe any of you can, some of you can help me, because I don’t think there is more research into this. But in the early nineties—and I think it’s got to do with how, gay activists who became obviously very strong in the late eighties because of the AIDS crisis, so all those identities suddenly became very to the fore. So suddenly kinky people start coming out of the closet. Kinky people that—I wouldn’t say the gay leather scene, it’s always been there as part of the gay queer scene. I’m talking about people who I wouldn’t and they wouldn’t identify as queer. Normally, it’s quite heteronormative, it’s normally cis couples, but it’s like a very early—how do you call it—awareness. We are seen, we are a sexuality that is not conventional, and we want to come out and we want to be proud. And there are talks of, this is not just something I do behind closed curtains, it’s also my identity, who I am, a lifestyle. And it’s something that emerges at that time, that I think has also got to do with the rave scene at the time and the very early, the very early fetish clubs. I think that Torture Garden started in ’93. And it’s around that time a lot of books start being published—normally photography books, that have—how you call them—"coffee table kink.” Basically, they are luxury editions of normally photography; there’s photography but there is also story. The photographer has interviewed the people photographed so they say—it’s kinky people, it’s people who are into BDSM. Very often couples, many of them women who define themselves as dominant which I found interesting who are not doing it say, for the money or for, as a job, but are doing it for kicks, so to speak. And there’s also, there is always this—Sorry? Two minutes. There is also this talk about authenticity, and you know, this is who I am. And the photos—the photography itself from an art historian point of view borrow a lot of Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton. So it becomes some kind of justification of we are, we are kinky, we are here, we are valid because we are classy. The depictions, the shots are always tasteful, artistic. As I say there are lot of references to work by Helmut Newton, Robert Mapplethorpe, so you know they have that validation, you know that it’s high art, it’s high-brow, it’s high culture; it’s not a sleazy magazines like the ones that we’re looking at from the sixties or seventies which is a bit Reader’s Wives. This is, as I said, it loses a lot of—I don’t like the word, because I haven’t prepared this much, I’ll use it—it loses the authenticity, you see in publications before in the sixties, seventies, even eighties. And suddenly becomes more contrived and more, as I said, less authentic, but more—much more self-conscious. And it’s like the beginning of an identity. It’s also a few years before the Internet explodes, so it is a way to spread the words in a way, from like-minded people to say hey, I relate to that, I could be that person. But with the internet everything changes again. But it’s this historical point between early nineties and probably mid to late nineties, when suddenly this identity that says, “I am a dominant woman and this is the way I dress even during the day, because this is my identity.” And of course, probably that woman goes to raves so she can dress like that. And you know, she can afford, culturally, to be that person 24/7, and to be very out about their sexuality. This is, as I said, I had to put this investigation aside and this is as far as I got. But I’d like to carry on working on this historical period—before, or you know, just after or in between—gay and leather culture exploding and gay and leather activism and before the internet again changed everything. And this is me—thank you for listening. [Audience applauds]
00:39:09 KL Oh, hang on, I’m going to garrotte people by accident. Thank you so much, that was fantastic. So we’re going to invite questions from you guys, so just have a minute or two to percolate some thoughts and have some—what would you like to ask about history, the history of marginalised groups of people reclaiming history archives. And I suppose the question that I would start off with is, how do you research marginalised groups of people? What are the challenges? And how you have you managed to negotiate that because history is overwhelmingly written by the victor. So how do you find the voice of any alternative to that.
00:39:52 ?? [inaudible another speaker]
00:39:53 KL You certainly can.
00:39:54 IBU [off mic] This subject is not marginalised. This subject is very, very privileged, and that’s what fascinates me.
00:39:59 KL Okay. Thank you, oh sorry, what am I doing, have that, sorry.
00:40:03 IBU You know what I’m saying is what I’ve been talking about, I’m sure you have noticed, is the very, very privileged group. It’s the exact opposite. It’s not marginalised, it’s very, you know, they can afford to do this. Socially, culturally, financially, at all levels. Mhm.
00:40:21 MP I’ll jump on this one as well. One of the things that’s really interesting about looking for trans history in general is that we’re often unable to read current identity politics backwards in time. Identities as we know them now are really culturally and temporally specific, so I limit my interest specifically to Europe and North America because I don’t want to try to read Western gender categories onto other people in the world who are colonised et cetera—not that North America isn’t a colonised space. And the other really tricky piece around that is that often we’re fighting against other historians who have come and historicised people in specific ways. So, I don’t know if you saw this recently, but a historical—a person I would call a historical trans man, Dr James Miranda Barry, who was a British doctor who, it turned out after he died had been assigned female at birth. There is a whole controversy recently because anti-trans feminists tried to reclaim him as a strong butch woman of the past, and actually, a lot of the sort of examples we have of trans masculinity in the past have already been reclaimed through this process that happened in the seventies and the eighties of like, oh, these passing women were—they were doing it to fight the patriarchy. Never mind that a lot of these people were persistent and insistent on the fact that they were men but actually went out of their way to hide details of their past and to attempt to ensure that in death that they would still be honoured as men and buried as men, right? So that’s one quirk that I think is interesting to think about.
00:42:24 NMN I think I started off say that I think it’s just really important to be building our own archives and developing our own archival practice, rather than going to the institutions only or relying on them only to tell the marginalised stories et cetera. So, I’m thinking about rukus! which Steph who’s in the audience has done a lot of interesting work with. So rukus! is a queer/trans/intersex people of colour archive, and it’s now—it was developed by Topher Campbell and Ajamu X, and they worked very much in the community, had people like Jay volunteering to archive a whole set of stuff and developed it all themselves and now it’s attached to a bigger archive, the London Metropolitan Archives, maybe to increase access, but really the whole process and the practice of it was very much coming from within the community. And also, I’ve been thinking a lot about within my own organising, within Sisters Uncut et cetera, developing archival practice within our current organising. So, we’re constantly thinking about how we want to tell the stories of the moment as we’re in it, rather than imagining at some later point that that work will get done. So just developing that into your daily practice, I think.
00:43:42 IBU What else can I say? I’ve always had an interest in subcultures, so I got attracted to this subject because I could see it was an emergence of a subculture, which if I start looking at it close I find incredibly problematic. A reason for this is it’s very cis, it’s quite middle class, it’s quite entitled, it’s quite privileged, but did exist at a point, and I think is one of the—and, you know, much political stuff that came afterwards… do you know? It makes it valid, you know. You know, there’s lots of stuff coming afterwards, but it was a stepping stone that the thing became—it’s one of those things that became silenced because its problems would have been first world problems often. But as I said, from the cultural and historical point of view of that point in time in between the AIDS crisis and before big, let’s call it 00:44:44 identity politics exploded mostly thanks to the internet because lots of apparently very different people start getting together who’d never have met before. And you realise that you are not—you thought you were the only one a certain way, sexually or ideologically, and then you found that there are thousands like you, thank god. So yeah, like that moment with before, do you know, when people saw things in magazines, in a book and all of those images suddenly gave you—I don’t know—gave meaning to your existence at that moment.
00:45:21 JB I think it’s a very interesting question, but I also, I think—research to what end? For me, as someone who is programming public stuff, the research element really turns into a question of how do you obtain it? Actually, one of the big frustrations that I find is I can find pages that have lots and lots of information about a really intriguing, tantalising, fascinating piece of history but then it’s nowhere to be found, or the person who would need to give permission doesn’t want it to be shown. Or they want me to destroy a part of it once I’m done with it. And that’s literally what’s happened in the past. So the research element I think for me is like—it actually turns more into a practical question of just how do you get the stuff. And then if the stuff doesn’t exist, how then do you fill in that gap? So, for example, when I’ve programmed things, what we’ve done is literally acted out things that we aren’t allowed to show, or things that are missing, or something like that, almost as a way to kind of point to that absence.
00:46:26 KL Shall we take a question?
00:46:34 Q1 I think that absence that you were just talking about is a really interesting one for me at the moment, because I think for a lot of sex work history, that’s moved online now. And our archive is the internet in so much as it’s the archive of our actual material production, whether it’s porn or websites, or things like that. But I worry at the moment that that is about to disappear in a new way, and I wonder what the panel think—this maybe has more of a sex work skew—about how we shore up an archive that I think is about to be destroyed, really.
00:47:13 MP Hello. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about, because I’m really, as a Canadian, my mind is boggled at this new crazy porn law that’s about to happen. But it’s really interesting because in the case of trans history, I’m trying to push archives really hard to digitise things, and in the case of sex workers I’m like, download everything now! Download it now because in a month it might not be there. Take screenshots, take everything and download it now. What sex workers desperately need is physical archival space, because we can no longer trust that the internet is going to be there, that everything’s going to be backed up on the internet. Which is so—in stark contrast to pretty much everything else related to archives. I think that’s something that people really need to take up as a cause.
00:48:07 IBU Can you hear me? Yep. Yeah, I find that in the—you know—in the early 2000s which is when I started to become interested in fetish there was a lot of stuff still printed on paper and one thing that went around a lot and it’s got to do with all this coffee table kink books is you know, people taking very glamourous photographs of themselves. You know today we see everything; we live on selfies… visually speaking. But until not so long ago, specialist sex workers in the fetish industry, pro doms, relied on very high quality photos taken by photographers to promote themselves. And those things, those, I don’t know even where those photos are anymore, and you have to go and ask women I know who used to work at the time and say, could I have your photos? They should donate those photos because those are—at the moment, they are—I wouldn’t say lost, but they are definitely hidden, and people cannot see them.
00:49:09 MP [off mic] Jay, do you want to take this?
00:49:12 JB This is a huge and very, very important question. And it’s one that is, it’s a problem that I think is underpinned, you’re right, by these horrific laws that we have in this country. We’ve got some of the most ridiculous privacy laws in the world actually. The Investigatory Powers Act means that everything you look at is retained for twelve months and can be shared by many governmental bodies. We’ve also got age verification coming in July 15th, supposedly, which is the worst privacy nightmare ever in terms of personal privacy because literally, they’re going to give over the machinery for storing data about what kind of porn you watch to a company known for having breaches and for stealing content and things like this. So, you’re right. This question of archives also bleeds into a question of data retention, privacy and surveillance. And the ethical challenges, I think of obtaining archives, running archives and who has access, who has permissions, suddenly become extremely relevant to these things. And it’s kind of one of the ways I think that actually archivists—archival practice and theory could be helping us, kind of in other ways. The question of data retention and all of this stuff is super important because so many of these platforms are hugely corporate. And they don’t give a fuck. And in fact, they want your data and they will keep it, and they do store it. And so it’s so ironic that at precisely the time that actually space is at a premium, this is when we need it most. And yet, I think the fact that that space has become premium is driven almost by the data retention and these tech companies. So, there’s a kind of terrible knot that we’ve got ourselves into. And I think it will take some quite intentional, deliberate work on areas that are not traditionally associated with maybe sex work or with feminism to undo that.
00:51:23 Q2 I’m really glad I came to this session. I wasn’t going to come to this one, I was going to go to one of the others. But I’m really glad, because it was really good to see the slides about the trans history and also the other two slides and the video of Selma. And what it made me think, is that, you know, I think somebody spoke about there was an influx of kind of archiving energy now and a lot of people have approached us for our archives. We started in 1975, The English Collective of Prostitutes, and we have been doing some work to try and archive the stuff because we think it’s a story that’s really important to tell. But as you’ve kind of—we were meeting with the guy from Bishopsgate at some point—and it’s like you kind of have a pile of papers and you kind of wanna go, you know, there’s a story behind this piece of paper. It’s like every single piece of paper represents a lot more than what’s actually on the paper, and one of the key things that it really brought up was that kind of fury at all the struggles that had gone on, including within the movement, over those years. Selma James is there now, and she’s funny and uncompromising, and brilliant, but she paid a very high price personally and politically for standing with sex workers at that time. Because nobody else would. It was the only women’s organisation in the UK that would associate with sex workers which is why we went to her when we first started. And you feel—my question I think to the archivists is, is that a consideration for you to try to also document that other kind of aspect of archiving because otherwise, there is a danger that the information is there but it’s kind of sanitised from the struggle that kind of came with it to actually even produce that stuff. You know, we have all these lovely documents about—we had a network which was a newsletter for—you know, our newsletter. And then when you look at it, you think, wow, that was the time they came after us for this time. You know, there’s such a lot of other aspects to it, it’s like something I feel like has to be also recorded. And I feel like we have to now register the price and the fight that people made when we’re looking at archives.
00:53:52 NMN That’s just a really, really great point. Thank you so much. And I’ve been to Crossroads Women’s Centre and just think it’s an incredible space for—having been there for so long, first of all. And Crossroads Women’s Centre is one of the buildings that was funded by the GLC in the 1980s, actually, in one of the few buildings that people have managed to keep for as long as they have done. I’m not sure it’s exactly that building, but the previous building you had, yeah. But yeah, kind of going back to what I was saying about, for me—
00:54:22 Q2? [off mic] John McDonnell got us the money.
00:54:24 NVM Yeah.
00:54:24 Q2 [off mic] The women’s committee took it away.
00:54:26 NVM Yeah. [chuckles]. Awkward. [Audience laughs] [laughs] Just thinking about like, for me this is the importance of oral histories, that I don’t want to just look at the bits of paper and the documents by themselves, because sifting through some of the stuff we’ve been given that’s basically the most boring—minutes of meetings, of Great London Council—you can imagine how dry it gets. But when you’re sitting in someone’s—you listen back over the interviews—you can go on our website to listen to some of the interviews—it’s www.glcstory.co.uk—when you put the things out, the ephemera out and ask the people questions and they just are using that to sort of prompt them, that’s when it gets really interesting and exciting to me. And for me, the importance of intergenerational dialogue is to have all these different ways of keeping history alive. It’s like it exists in the buildings and in the institutions, but it also exists through the relationships that you’re creating across the different generations of amazing feminist organising that’s happening. And all of the different kinds of organising. So yeah, I think there’s so many different parts to it. Yeah. I don’t think we should see the internet and digital archiving as the answer, or the only answer, yeah. I think that would be foolish. I think there’s many, many different ways we have to be looking at this which includes just meeting people in person and engaging with them and developing relationships.
00:56:05 Q2 Not jumping in and… but yeah.
00:56:06 KL Chair’s privilege. So I’ve been doing some work with a group in Leeds called Basis Sex Work Project who have been letting me go through their archives which go back thirty years, and when we say archives, you might be forgiven for thinking that’s like a really organised, library-type system? No. No. It’s boxes. It’s boxes and boxes full of random stuff that nobody knows what’s in there. And there’s everything from receipts and sandwich wrappers through to really important—and you have to sit there and wade through it—but, and I’ve worked with them really carefully, and we’ve managed to document on a timeline the development of sex work in Leeds from the eighteenth century and it’s exactly what you’re saying, it’s the really, really boring stuff. And you are aware that everything that you’re looking at, there’s a huge story that I don’t know behind that. Like I found a record saying, listing where all the brothels were in Leeds in 1850 and no more information. And I gave a talk about the history of sex work in Leeds and this old chap wandered over towards the end, as they tend to do when you talk about sex and usually they tell you something you—[Audience laughs]. [sighs]—it’s lovely. But he didn’t. He was a retired police officer in his eighties, and in two minutes he told me more about the history of sex work in Leeds than I’d learnt in a year in the archives. He told me personal stories, character development, he told me the whole shebang. And it really hammered home oral history. That’s where it has—and the whole thing has got to run alongside together to get that picture and to capture it. So, yeah.
00:57:36 MP So, a big part of why I do my podcast is precisely this issue, that a lot of people within the trans community aren’t connected to our history and the bits and pieces that we get to see are just like pieces of paper. And you’re like, okay, a support group met a long time ago. Great. Woo! [laughs]. You know, it’s not that exciting. But I really think when you focus on stories and narratives that’s when you make history relevant to people, that’s when you make history alive. Thomas King says, “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.” And I think that’s precisely why history is so important. We have to have these stories so that we can understand our place in the world and how we got here and where we might be going in the future. And so I feel like one of the things that’s incumbent upon people working with history in whatever way, whether that’s inside an academy or outside of it—I’m outside of it—I’m not a properly trained historian, I just like to have fun. I think what’s incumbent upon us is to use our positions to tell that story and to give that story back to the community from which it came. Right?
00:59:02 JB Yeah, I really love this—I’m really glad you brought up this term, sanitisation. Because it’s something that I recently experienced. I was—another archive that I have worked with quite extensively is The George Premel Institute 00:59:12 which is in Stroud Green near Finsbury Park. And I’d sort of put together what I thought was a history of the New Cross Fire and the Black Peoples’ Day of Action, and the Brixton riots that happened afterwards. And then, very luckily, Linton Kwesi Johnson read it and was like, “uh-uh.” [Audience laughs] “No, no, no, no, it didn’t happen like that. You’ve actually written the sanitised version.” And that was both really embarrassing but also really great, because it kind of speaks to what I was trying to say earlier, which is that we need to be sort of looking at how—looking at archives as well. And I think it’s super important that these records are kind of brought back to the people who created them, or who knows something about them, in order to enrich them. But I think the other side of it is the word archives itself, actually. I think the word has valences of a set of theories or practises that are a past 01:00:13. To archive or an archive in its kind of traditional sense meant the sort of by-product of an institution, and it’s got a lot of legal and state connotations that I think we sort of imbibe a little bit as people who [are] actually working outside of those institutions a lot. So, what even is an archive? And how does it differ to a collection, for example, which is more what I tend to work with? And how can we think about our practices differently so that we’re not thinking about archives solely in terms of let’s open the box and put it in a catalogue and then a researcher comes—actually, I think archival practice can be something else and something different. And so what you just said about activist communities having archival practices embedded in their work, to me, seems like one of the ways that you can then have a different by-product, right. So, it’s not just a set of files, of documentation that someone a hundred years later rifles through, although that is very important. Actually, you can maybe embed these complications in a different way simply by thinking about the theory a little bit differently.
01:01:25 Q3 Hi. I don’t want this to come across as like a basic question or anything, so currently right now I’m a Goldsmiths student in my final year. I’m at the forefront of one of the—the longest student occupation in the UK. [Audience cheers and claps] Trying to dismantle institutional racism—it’s the first student occupation run by people of colour, black women at the forefront. I’m really glad I came to this talk, actually. I just wanted to ask a practical question of—I would like to collate information from the occupation and how, practically, is the best way to do that? Because already the press are putting on a narrative onto us that is completely false and so is Goldsmiths, and I definitely want this to be recorded from our voices, and I don’t want anyone to kind of, enforce something on us that is untrue, so I just wanted to have your thoughts on how would be the best way to actually start doing this?
01:02:28 JB Shall we begin? [laughs] I’ll say a few things just because I literally—I work in an archive, right, and I’m going through this process and I’m constantly doing this. But I think that the first thing you can do is just set up a free Omeka page. Omeka is just a—it’s almost like the Tumblr for archivists.
01:02:47 NVM? Yeah we’ll get it out for you right here, you know. [Audience laughs]
01:02:51 JB We’ll show you the whole thing—anyone wanting to create an archive, please come and see us. Yeah, and just make one, basically. It’s really, really simple to do and the way that you get the stuff up is dead simple, you just use an Excel spreadsheet. And then I think to begin from there, and to just be kind of—what is it that we’re trying to collect? I think you can just start out with just, collect everything, put it in a box or take photos of absolutely everything, and then just kind of put it up. And then I think your—not remit, but the thing that you’re kind of interested in and your thread and your narrative will come out after that. Like I wouldn’t worry too much about trying to come across as you know, fancy or anything like that. Just get it up there. And then oral histories, I think, as well. Like you were just saying, I think you could probably speak a bit more on how to conduct that.
01:03:38 NMN Yeah. First of all, just big up yourselves. I live in Camberwell and I’ve been meaning to come and support you and now I definitely will. And also to say it’s so shit and so hard. Like I was part of Black Lives Matter UK, and when we were doing our actions, like when we did the London City Airport shutdown, and various things like seeing how the media will just—they basically said we were all white. And I was sitting in a room having a meeting with ten BLM members being like, “The Guardian says we’re all white.” [Audience laguhs] There’s not a white person in this room. So yeah, I think you’re totally right to be approaching it as in, “we want to make sure that we are documenting everything.” Right now, I would download all the Whatsapp conversations that you’re having amongst yourselves, take loads of pictures, videos, all of that. Agree amongst yourselves the different places you’re going to keep them, on different hard drives. There’s obviously always the question of the state, which is something that hasn’t come up. As activists, one of the things that we were also constantly doing is using software and technologies like Signal for example, or Telegram, where things disappear. And how you’re, like, sort of partaking in erasing your own histories because you necessarily have to to stop the state surveilling you. That’s something that maybe we can talk about one-on-one a little bit in terms of security stuff. But yeah, and as Jay said, don’t worry about what you want to say about it now, just have it there and then at a later point when it’s all kind of –at whatever point the occupation ends or whatever and you have time to rest and do all of that, then you may be able to come back and think about the kinds of articles you want to write and all of those things. You definitely don’t have to wait years for that but giving yourself some months, even [chuckles] is a good idea. But yeah, again, one of the things that was just coming to mind is for me, I’ve been thinking a lot about this kind of archives in action type thing, where we are—I was saying, we are like thinking about documenting ourselves all the time as we’re doing the work. And that for me, is like the archive in action. We don’t need to see it as being in a building somewhere, dead. It has to be, to me, alive, and it needs to be alive in our work all of the time. Did you want to go?
01:05:58 KL I was just going to say that—yeah. Thank you so much for that. And this goes for everyone else in the room as well. Please download your stuff, keep it somewhere, archive it. Because trying to wrestle history away from the dominant narratives is so difficult now. If you’re researching, like I do, the history of sex work from a hundred years ago, all I’ve got to go on is newspapers and court reports. It would be like a hundred years from now the only things that people have got is an article by Julie Bindel. What would you think about sex work then? So we need something to counter that. It’s hugely important and this stuff can be dangerous and subversive. There’s a historian in Russia, Yuri Dmitriev, who’s currently in prison because of the history that he did. His history was trying to identify the victims of the Stalinist purges. And he got to the point where he’d identified almost ninety percent, and then Mr Putin came in and the tide turned and they didn’t really want to demonise that bit of their history anymore, and he got put in prison on trumped-up charges of child abuse and then detained on psychiatric grounds. And all he’d done was try and give names back to the victims of the Stalinist purges. So history is really, really important to save your voice and your authentic voice. Because we will need it.
01:07:11 MP And to that, interview everybody. One of my favourite history projects is the ACTUP Oral History Project that Sarah Schulman and Jim Hubbard ran and they started several years after the fact in the early 2000s. An attempt—a race against time to interview every surviving member of ACTUP. And they’ve managed to do it, but even in that—in the eighteen years they’ve been doing the project, people have died. Or they’ve disappeared, or gone off and lived their lives or whatever. If you have the opportunity now—take those couple of months after, chill out a little bit, have a little self-care time—and then, get out there and speak to everybody. No matter how small their involvement was. Not just the lead organisers, because that’s usually who we hear from. Go talk to the person who showed up one time. Why did they come that one time? What was that about? Those people are just as important as the central organisers of any struggle.
01:08:21 JB Just one tiny other thing, which is almost as soon as I said document everything, I almost wanted to retract that and say, document everything but be very careful about what you do document. Just because state, you know—if you did get busted for whatever reason and they find that you’ve conveniently labelled and filed everything, that’s a big help to them. And the second thing is also think about potential storage and how people are going to engage with it.
01:08:55 NMN Yeah, just on that security stuff, don’t necessarily keep it in your houses. The main people who are seen or are understood to be the ‘occupation’ should probably not be all the people who keep all the hard drives, as an initial thing. Also, because—you started talking about that ACTUP Oral History Project, I was just sort of reminded of how within our own project, The GLC Story Project, how that archiving has taken on a life of its own for people who are grieving and mourning. So, when we started out the project we had lots and lots of support from people like Doreen Massey and Robin Murray who were really involved in the GLC, in the political and social movements around it, and they died whilst we were doing the project. And so, we kind of ended up with stuff, the ephemera that had been loaned to us, that belonged to Doreen, we suddenly were like, what are we supposed to—do we own this now, who owns this? All of those kinds of questions of who owns things. But then also, letting our mailing list of people know who’ve shown interest in the project, letting them know when someone has died who has been part of the project, and just like the sadness that comes with that, and lots of people would email us back and be like, “Oh my god, I knew this person, I can’t believe they’ve died.” And realising that we were part of documenting people’s lives in a really personal way. Yeah, and I hadn’t thought about that before we started the project. I hadn’t thought that people are going to die through that process. And that this is a way of grieving as well.
01:10:33 KL I think we’ve got time for both, probably? Yeah.
01:10:36 Q4 I have a rather short question—to the proper archivists. What do you think about archive.org as like the idea of, like, wants to archive the internet, which works rather badly nowadays because there are like, no proper 01:10:50 videos and stuff. Does it work, or can you work with that at all, or is it like, “Oh yeah, it’s a nice idea but in comparison to a proper archive…?” Yeah. Just—or something.
01:11:07 MP If it wasn’t for archive.org’s Wayback Machine, I wouldn’t be doing work with history period. I got into doing history work because I wanted to know if there were other transwomen artists who existed, period. Because I didn’t know any—this is like, over 10 years ago—before the tipping point. I was like, where were they? And then I saw a small reference to a trans arts festival that had happened in the nineties, and I was like, what the fuck is this? And I found the old web URL for it, and it didn’t work anymore so I put it into archive.org and I found bits of pieces of that website and through that, basically it’s changed my whole life and I’m doing this. However, archive.org has several issues. So they archive just about everything, but that means they’re also collating information about people without their permission, which is a huge problem particularly for sex workers. So, if you’ve ever put “I’m a sex worker” in your bio because it was your first time going to an activist thing and you put your real name on it and your face, it’s going to be on archive.org probably, and there’s no way to get it down. Or—it’s tricky. You’d have to go through a process and that’s not the funnest, so—it is—I have a complicated relationship to it. But I do think it’s—it’s something I use all the time. They’ve also—give a lot of storage space to things that other people want to archive. So, Drag Magazine, which is a 1960s sort of trans/drag world magazine, all of its issues are up on there and a lot of old cross-dresser magazines are up on there as well. And if it wasn’t for archive.org hosting those things then they just wouldn’t exist on the internet, right? So, I don’t know. Complicated.
01:13:06 Q5 My research is on sex workers as image makers, and part of that is mapping the entire stereotypical visual landscape of sex work visual representation from 1850s up until the 1990s. And then from 1990s to now because that’s when sex work moved online. My issue is, how—I have so much visual data. How do you—given that so many sex workers have been evicted from online spaces, sex working communities are transient, what ethical responsibility do I have if I’m collecting photographic content? How do I then store that, strip it of information, then knowing full well that some of these people might not be sex workers in ten, fifteen, twenty years? How do we have an archive of sex working images when the sex working population is so transient?
01:14:09 ?? [inaudible]
01:14:12 IBU I am going to—I can’t answer that question, but I work with images too, so I understand completely. I was thinking while you were talking that on the internet—that social media—well, everything [on] the internet evolves really quickly. It means that all those things disappear. The Wayback Machine—but you know many sex workers have a script written in the website having to do with that, where Wayback Machine is not going to pick up anything. I’ve been working as a professional dominatrix since 2002. My image, everything, like so many, that is not mine, only everybody’s presence on the internet has changed and evolved a lot, as I was saying earlier. You know before, we had the very glossy photos, they were still on paper, then they were translated online until the internet. It’s changed a lot, the way one presents themselves. I—as I said, I can’t answer your question but yeah, it is my question too. As I said, lots of stuff, the Wayback Machine is not going to pick it up. And it’s going to die, when the people say, especially because it’s sexual, they’re going to say, “I want every trace of what I’ve done to disappear from the internet.” Of course, that’s never going to happen to anyone. But—but everything is going to end up in a database. Everything we say or do on the web is going that way anyway.
01:15:45 JB I think it’s one of those questions that can never be answered, and I think the tension at the heart of it is a tension that you see replicated in many areas, wherever there’s an ethical dilemma. But I will say that precisely that question is why we need to rethink what an archive is, and also we need to think, does it always need to be digital. So, you have a collection that you can put online it’s here, you can come and see it. You know what I mean? Actually, a lot of collections operate in that way and then you can say you cannot take photographs, or whatever. I think that’s probably the only way of doing it. But I think also your question touches on something else which is a kind of broader issue of, like you’ve just said, databases, right? Facial recognition is increasingly a problem both online and in reality. I don’t know if you know, but the Metropolitan Police have started rolling out facial recognition and it’s—and they can do you, basically, for covering your face and things like that. So actually, maybe in exploring this question from an archival perspective, you might indeed help us come up with theories or practices or methods of challenging this whole idea, in fact of facial recognition and of how our identities are kind of weaponised against us. Just a thought.
01:17:09 NMN Sometimes I also wonder and ask myself, do we really want to keep everything? [chuckles] Which is kind of going back to kind of your question as well, when you’re involved in doing work that is pushing against the state, that is already on the margins, you might have to be more thoughtful and considerate about what you keep and what you don’t keep. And as archivists, you might have to be really, really thoughtful about what you allow—who you allow to access to what. And that’s just stuff that I’m thinking through now. And if that is part of our practice than also learning how to read into the gaps in archives, as well. If you can see that something’s just not there, should we be more like, there’s a reason why it’s not there and try to understand and work through those gaps as much as the existence of the things themselves. Yeah.
01:18:11 KL I think I’d say as well with that one, this is one of the areas where historians teaming up with sociologists and psychiatrists and you know, science-y people, can be really useful, because they work with live subjects all the time. [Audience laughs] That sounded so shit, sorry. You know what I mean. But like, ethical implications around research, around data protection, around right to reply. And perhaps another interesting area for anyone trying to collect their history is the oralhistoryproject.com, who have reams and reams of advice on exactly this. On who—if you take a recording of somebody, talking about history, who owns it? Do you own it, do they own it? Who—signing consent forms, et cetera. But something that we might have to accept is that if this person is alive and I have a picture of them, I might not own it and don’t have a right to it. That’s—as much as I would love to put it all in the archive and go, “Ta-da!” We have to be more ethical and historians have to be more ethically minded. And that means you might not get what you want for your archive. I think we’ve got time for one more question… no we don’t, we absolutely don’t. But thank you very much, everybody, it’s been amazing. Round of applause. [Audience applauds]
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