Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp and Beyond
I have to admit that I have never heard of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp before and almost did not sign up for this panel discussion. But I’m so please I did.
This event was part of “Visions of Feminist Peace”, a virtual programme exploring feminist peace, as part of the Feminist International Law of Peace and Security project (see here for further details: https://www.lse.ac.uk/women-peace-security/secure/Womens-Global-Peace-Congress ) and co-hosted by the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security as part of the AHRC project Feminist International Law of Peace and Security.
The discussion began with an overview from the archivist’s perspective and a bit of background to this archive. The archive began its life in the Women’s Library which dates back to 1926 and manages documentation of women’s suffrage literature and is currently housed at the London School of Economics. There are all sorts of documents in the archive ranging from correspondence, publications, videos and even objects like bolt cutters.
Silvia Galloti and Emma Pizarro, both archivists at the LSE library gave an overview of an archivists role regarding an archive. Their main role it to preserve and make the archive accessible. They are concerned with the provenance of the items in the collection and with the original order used and maintained by the creators. Their job is to maintain the context of the archive.
Each catalogue created follows international standards, i.e. there is a hierarchical structure of categories, each containing many sub folders, as well as sections that describe the material in the archive. However, sometimes these prescribed structures are too rigid.
Emma explained some of the parallels between archives and memory. Archives document transactions and activities and provide evidence of these and are often referred to as society’s collective memory. Memories have a habit of fading or distorting and the act of archiving services as an exteriorization of memory. Its a way for us to transfer memories from individuals to the collective memory, and serves as a way to remember things outside of our human memory.
If we think of an archive as a memory bank which we can all access to recall past events, then we must also acknowledge the power and control that archives have over what will be know about the past. (This is something Ariadne flagged for me to research). Historically records about or by women have been systematically excluded from archival holdings. Both memory and archives are selective and represent only fragments of what has happened in the past. Archives can also capture stories that form group identities and promote social cohesion within a community, which helps to sustain cultural traditions and values.
Archivists play an important role in shaping collective and historical memories. They constantly make decisions about what is worth remembering. This act of appraisal can be both an exercise of power in controlling the shape of social memory as well as an act of resistance against other powers who want to shape social memory for their own purposes. Just like documentary photography, archives are not neutral and neither is archival practice. The archivists working on the Greenham Common archive found it incredibly liberating to engage with over 400 women who were at Greenham Common. Each had the power to trigger different memories and the archivists found that there was no one fixed memory. I think that this is a fantastic example of heteroglossia – so many different women sharing their own experiences. The archivists found that this input enriched the value of the catalogue providing more insight into the events at Greenham Common. Emma provided a list of further reading for those who were interested.
The archivists recorded the women’s impressions ad allowed them to take control of the narrative, and were led by the women who worked laterally and rejected a hierarchical structure.
They found that the women’s memories were going to challenge each other as there was conflicting information regarding timelines. Some of the other challenges were that it was difficult to establish ‘fact’ as each woman cold only recollect her own memory. It is important to realise that history is not always tangible or concrete. They also used a lot of photographic material for memory stimulation. This archive is organic and messy, but the people come to life in it.
Rebecca Mordan who is involved with the archives gave some feedback on how they are trying to get the archive out into the public eye and she is exploring really novel ways such as having a gaming company create a game around the archive/events, as well as an online exhibition and various performances. She found that music was an important trigger for memory recall (something for me to keep in mind for both my CS research as well as my BOW).
Some other points raised were that sometimes traditional standards need to give way to how people want to record their experiences. Objects represent many memories. The collaboration of archivists and community is very powerful. Without community involvement archivists can miss something crucial.
Greenham Women Everywhere (s.d.) At: http://greenhamwomeneverywhere.co.uk/ (Accessed 17/09/2020).
Scary Little Girls – Feminist theatre production company : Scary Little Girls (s.d.) At: https://scarylittlegirls.co.uk/ (Accessed 17/09/2020).
The London School of Economics and Political Science (2020) Visions of Feminist Peace. At: https://www.lse.ac.uk/women-peace-security/secure/Womens-Global-Peace-Congress (Accessed 17/09/2020).