Afterlives of Protest: Researching Protest Memories Workshop

Protest Memory Network Logo

Source: Protest Memory Network.

The Protest Memory Network is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and brings together archivists, curators, activists, artists, and researchers to think about how memories of protest are preserved, materialised, recirculated, and utilised. The Network is organising three workshops and a conference between 2018 and 2020, amongst other things. I was invited to take part in the first workshop, on the subject of Researching Protest Memory, at the University of Sussex on the 30th and 31st of May 2018.

The workshop was a combination of paper sessions and workshops exploring the methodological opportunities and challenges of researching such a broad and frequently intangible topic. A whole range of research methods were discussed, ranging from the conventional (oral histories, archival research, mapping, social media analysis) through the creative (film making and artistic engagements), to the rather unconventional (embroidering interview quotes onto handkerchiefs and baking them into empanadas). My contribution was a paper on my work on protest stickers.

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Alison de Menezes and Carmen Wang’s creative engagement with the interview transcripts of Chilean exiles, exploring the role of women in the maintenance and (re)production of social movements (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

We had workshops run by: the TAG Lab, (Text Analysis Group), which conducts research into the analysis of text and language by computers, and applies it to social media and other forms of communication; the Business of Women’s Words project, which explores feminist publishing in the UK during the 1970s and 80s; and the Mass Observation Archive, which is a fascinating collection about everyday life in Britain in the twentieth century. The workshop was also supported by the Sussex Humanities Lab, which looks at the ways in which digital technologies are shaping society and culture. Over the two days, I was reminded of just how many options there are when it comes to selecting a research method, and the importance of considering your options when embarking on a research project, rather than just falling back on what is easy or familiar. The workshop was a chance to learn about unfamiliar methodologies in a supportive environment, where I didn’t feel stupid asking potentially obvious questions.

Invariably, it is difficult to think of research methods without also thinking about research outputs. Over the two days, the topic of research outputs came up often, particularly in terms of how to make research more accessible and engaging for those outside of academia. The alternatives that came up ranged from working with cultural partners such as museums and libraries, to creative outputs such as documentary films and even board games. On the Tuesday evening, we were treated to a radical history of Brighton walking tour. It was fantastic, if a little fast-paced, and highly informative; I learnt a lot even though I have lived in Brighton for most of my life. There are a number of researchers who make use of walking tours as a form of public engagement, and I think they are a great way of

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The radical history of Brighton walking tour (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I have written before about how much I value the academic communities I am a part of (see Parts 1, 2 and 3), and the Researching Protest Memories workshop was a nice reminder of that. It was much smaller than most of the conferences I am used to (20-30 people), which meant I had a good chance to get to know everyone and their work. I came away feeling like I was part of a new (to me) academic community of supportive, creative, and energetic researchers, and as far as I’m concerned, the more communities I am part of, the better!

I don’t think I would be alone in saying that the Researching Protest Memory workshop was a resounding success. I went home exhausted, but with my head buzzing with thoughts and ideas. I would like to thank the Protest Memory Network, particularly Pollyanna Ruiz, for organising the workshop and inviting me to participate.

Discovering Brighton’s Suffragettes

Last Friday, I went on a walking tour in Brighton about the city’s suffragettes. Organised by Dr. Louise Fitzgerald of the University of Brighton, the tour was given by Karen Antoni, a historian and actress. I have written about protest in my home town before, but I still have a lot to learn, so I was keen to go along and find out more. The event was organised to coincide with the release of the film Suffragette (which I still haven’t seen- I want to see it with my Mum, who is hard of hearing, and subtitled film showings are in woefully short supply!) and The Time is Now Campaign, a series of events focused around film exploring the role women play in affecting change.

Historian and actress Karen Antoni led a wonderful walking tour about Brighton's suffragettes (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

Historian and actress Karen Antoni led a wonderful walking tour about Brighton’s suffragettes (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

With Brighton’s reputation as a cosmpolitan and contentious city, it is no surprise that Brightonians were no strangers to the campaign for women’s suffrage. The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) set up a local branch in 1907, and many of the organisation’s most well known members, such as Christabel Pankhurst, Annie Kenney, and Emily Wilding Davison, came to visit the city. The tour started in Pavilion Gardens, which is bordered by the Royal Pavilion and the Brighton Dome, both of which were used for meetings which the WSPU hosted, and tried to disrupt. We learnt the lyrics to a popular suffragette song, which adapted the well-known Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory/The Battle Song of the Republic, and sung the song as we travelled around the city. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of singing an empowering song in the middle of the street with over 50 other people, even if we did get a few funny looks!

Glory glory hallelujah, glory glory hallelujah,

Glory, glory hallelujah,

And the cause goes marching on!

Rise up women for the fight is hard and long,

Rise in thousands singing loud a battle song,

Right is might and in its strength we shall be strong,

And the cause goes marching on!

Suffragette song, sung to the tune of Glory glory hallelujah. If the religious reference puts you off, you can always replace ‘hallelujah’ with ‘revolution’, although most of those campaigning for female suffrage would probably not have approved!

Karen Antoni outside the Brighton Dome. Two suffragettes, Eva Bourne and Mary Leigh, once tried to sneak into a meeting by hiding in the organ overnight. They were discovered because the organ was so dusty that it made them sneeze (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

Karen Antoni outside the Brighton Dome. Two suffragettes, Eva Bourne and Mary Leigh, once tried to sneak into a meeting where Henry Asquith was speaking by hiding in the organ the night before. They were discovered because the organ was so dusty that it made them sneeze (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The next stop on the tour was the intersection of North Street and West Street/Queen’s Road (the Clock Tower). This is where the headquarters of the Brighton WSPU branch was located, above the Singer Sewing Machine Company. The building is still there, although the ground floor is taken up by more contemporary chain stores now. Just around the corner on Queen Square used to stand a church where a suffragette-themed wedding was held; the wedding vows were adapted accordingly (the wedding was still between a man and a woman, the suffragettes weren’t that radical!)

Selling copies of The Suffragette outside the WSPU Brighton headquarters (Photo: Getty Images).

Selling copies of The Suffragette outside the WSPU Brighton headquarters in 1914 (Photo: Getty Images).

The next stop was Victoria Road, a short walk from the town centre. Number 13/14 used to be a boarding house called Sea View, run by local suffragette Minnie Turner. By 1913 Minnie’s guest house had a reputation for hosting suffragettes, and in April her windows were stoned by disgruntled locals. Minnie was arrested 3 times for her suffragette activities, and imprisoned in Holloway Prison for 3 weeks in 1911 for breaking a window at the Home Office. In July 1912 Emily Wilding Davison stayed at Sea View whilst recovering from being on hunger strike in prison. The tour finished outside Churchill Square, the city’s main shopping centre, where we had one final sing song.

Minnie Turner's House in Victoria Road, Brighton. The current resident's are aware of the their home's proud past (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Minnie Turner’s House in Victoria Road, Brighton. The current residents are aware of the their home’s proud past (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I have always thought that walking tours are a fantastic way of communicating and engaging with historical research, and this Brighton Suffragette walking tour is no exception. It is informed by 7 years of research- many hours spent trawling though local newspapers and the collections of the Brighton Museum. It is wonderful research, and it is so important that it is accessible to all, academic or otherwise. Walking tours are just one of the many ways to disseminate historical research, but they are a very good one.

I couldn't resist the opportunity to wear a suffragette sash (Photo: Tricia Awcock).

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to wear a suffragette sash (Photo: Tricia Awcock).

A campaign is being started to try and get some blue plaques put up around Brighton honouring the city’s suffragettes. To join the campaign or find out more, check out the Facebook group here.

Sources and Further Reading

Dyhouse, Carol. “Minnie Turner’s “Suffragette Boarding House,”” Clifton Montpelier Powis Community Alliance. Last updated ….accessed on 26/10/15. Available at http://www.cmpcaonline.org.uk/page_id__85_path__0p36p21p55p.aspx

Kisby, Anna. “Found! Suffragettes Hiding in the Brighton Dome.” Brighton Museums. Last updated 11th March 2011, accessed 26th October 2015. Available at http://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/2011/03/08/found-suffragettes-hiding-in-the-brighton-dome/

Simkin, John. “Minnie Turner.” Spartacus Educational. Last updated August 2014, accessed 26th October 2015. Available at: http://spartacus-educational.com/WturnerM.htm

Following the Chartists around London

Last Monday, I took part in an event organised by Dr. Katrina Navickas of the University of Hertfordshire and British Library Labs called Following the Chartists around London. Dr. Navickas won a competition run by the Labs to develop a project that makes use of the British Library’s digital resources. As a result she is currently working on the Political Meetings Mapper, a project mapping all of the Chartist meetings listed in the Northern Star, one of the most popular Chartist newspapers. The Following the Chartists event was part of this project.

Katrina Navickas, in full Chartist costume, introduces her Political Meetings Mapper project.

Dr. Katrina Navickas, in full Chartist costume, introduces her Political Meetings Mapper project.

The afternoon began with lunch and a series of talks. Mahendra Mahey, manager of the British Library Labs project, introduced the British Library Labs and their work. Dr. Navickas explained the Political Meetings Mapper and gave a brief history of the Chartists. Dr. Matthew Sangster (Birmingham University) talked about his website romanticlondon.org, which uses contemporary maps and representations to explore romantic-era London. Finally, Professor Ian Haywood (Roehampton University) discussed the visual representations of ‘monster’ meetings- large, outdoor political meetings. The Chartists used this tactic frequently. We then embarked on a rather damp walking tour of Bloomsbury and Soho, visiting the sites of Chartist meeting places. In some cases, the pubs are still there, in others they have become stationary shops, or the building sadly no longer exists. The tour ended at the Red Lion in Kingly Street in Soho, which hosted meetings of both the Chartists and the London Corresponding Society.

Following the Chartists around London walking tour route (Source: Katrina Navickas).

Following the Chartists around London walking tour route (Source: Katrina Navickas).

We weren't about to let a little bit of rain stop us!

We weren’t about to let a little bit of rain stop us!

At the Red Lion we re-enacted a Chartist meeting that took place in December 1838. This is where I came in; I played the roles of a female Chartist of St. Pancras/ Mr. Cardo, who proposed the following resolution:

This is the most important crisis that has existed for the working classes. At the present moment we possess a power most mighty in its operation, one that is to be viewed by us with the highest feelings of delight and by our enemies with dread and alarm (Cheers.) … the Radicals are determined to be staunch to a man, and the people united will carry the day.

RESOLUTION: That this meeting considers a perfect union among all the Radicals absolutely necessary for the accomplishment of Universal Suffrage.

A recent Chartist conference in Edinburgh had proved devisive, and there was a sense that all the various groups and factions needed to get back on the same track, quickly. Only with a united front could universal (male) suffrage be won. Mr. Cardo’s motion was passed unanimously by our meeting.

Me, Samantha Walkden and Alexandrina Buchanan, some of the volunteer Chartists.

Me, Samantha Walkden and Alexandrina Buchanan, some of the volunteer Chartists.

The whole afternoon was great fun. I thoroughly enjoyed wearing a bonnet and apron, even if we did get some funny looks as we wandered around London. The talks highlighted the potential of digital research methods in relation to archives. Around 2% of the British Library’s collections have been digitised, which may not sound like a lot, but considering the Library holds well over 150 million items, it is a huge amount. Dr. Navickas has used computer programmes to transcribe newspaper articles, date meetings, and create maps that begin to interpret the data. The transcription software still needs a human to check its results, and all of this could have been done by hand, but it would have taken an awful lot longer. When it is finished, I think the Political Meetings Mapper will be a valuable tool for academics, students, and the simply curious; a resource which others can use to develop our understanding of the Chartist movement.The walking tour and re-enactment demonstrated how the Political Meetings Mapper could be used.

The British Library Labs project is doing valuable work raising awareness and promoting engagement with the Library’s digital collections. I learnt a lot about the possibilities of digital research methods, and would love to try and work it into my own work somehow!

If you want to do the walking tour yourself, see Dr. Navickas’ guide here.