UK collections seek artefacts from Women’s Marches

Institutions respond to historic mass protests
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Geraldine Kendall Adams
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Museums and archives in the UK have put out calls for donations of placards, photographs and artefacts from the Women’s March protests last weekend.

Thought to be one of the largest global demonstrations ever to take place, the day’s events are estimated to have drawn up to five million people to more than 670 rallies around the world standing up for equality and women’s rights.

The main focus of the protests was Washington DC, where the original march was planned to coincide with the new US president Donald Trump’s first full day in office. Sister demonstrations were held in numerous UK cities, including London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Cardiff.



Crowds at the Women's March in London. Image: Simon Stephens

Among the institutions collecting items in the UK is the Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL), the only Accredited museum in Britain dedicated to women’s history, which put out a call for objects on Twitter this week.

The museum has so far received several offers of items from the Glasgow march, including placards and pussy-hats (pink hats knitted by protesters to draw attention to the notorious comments caught on tape in which president Trump bragged about sexual assault). It has also been promised a pussy-hat from the Washington DC march.
 
“To be able to have material in the collection from both sides of the Atlantic is really meaningful for us,” said GWL’s curator Wendy Turner.

In the immediate future, the museum will use some of the objects in an upcoming community co-curation project, Women Making an Exhibition of Themselves.

Turner said the historic nature of the marches “brought the whole importance of contemporary collecting into focus”.

“We are caring for [contemporary items] as we’d care for something from a hundred years ago. We hope that in 100 years’ time there’s not a lack of material,” said Turner.

“I hope it will act as a wake-up call for museums that are not wholly about the history of women and challenge them to think about how women feature in their collections, especially the stories that haven’t been told yet,” she added.

The Bishopsgate Institute in London, which has a tradition of collecting material from protests and campaigns, is also seeking donations.
 
“Aside from the huge turnout for the Women’s March on London, what was particularly interesting about this march from a collecting point of view was the organic nature of the movement,” said the institute’s archivist Nicky Hilton. “Usually we see a march dominated by one of two big groups, but here individuals took to the streets to highlight issues they were passionate about.
 
“While the inauguration of Donald Trump was a focal point for some, others chose to make their voice heard regarding women’s rights, healthcare, racial equality, LGBT equality and climate change.”

Hilton said she had also been struck by the individual nature of the placards and objects.

“As a marcher on the day, I was taken aback by the quality and variety of homemade placards on show, adding to the sense of this being a unique and very important event. The decision to put out a call to collect material from the protest was actually very spontaneous. I really felt these items and people’s voices needed to be captured.”

The institute has received dozens of offers of placards so far, as well as around 50 digital photographs that will be added to its digital repository.
 
Once catalogued, the material will made publicly available through the institute’s archive, and is likely to be used in workshops and adult education classes.

“We’ll also look to exhibit the material, working in partnership with other organisations with a desire to tell the story of protest and the women’s movement in the UK,” said Hilton.

Other museums that have put out a call for objects include the People's History Museum in Manchester, National Museums Liverpool and the Peace Museum in Bradford.

A wide range of institutions in America are also collecting memorabilia from the protests, including the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington DC and the New York Historical Society.

Update
26.01.2017


Updated to include other UK museums that are also collecting objects from the protests.



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