Printing and protest at Special Collections’ summer schools
By Helen Biggs, on 13 August 2019
While many of our colleagues have been enjoying (much deserved!) holidays over the past few months, it has been business as usual for UCL Special Collections’ outreach team. We have been lucky this year to be able to offer not one, but two summer schools for secondary school students, both taking their inspiration from our amazing Small Press Collection.
Protest in Print: Year 12 Non-residential Summer School (funded by Widening Participation)
This week-long summer school was co-led by artist David Blackmore, 2018-19 Honorary Research Associate at the Slade. The project aimed to give participants an opportunity to explore the ways in which artists, activists and writers have used and continue to use print to communicate a message of protest or political activism. David was already familiar with much of the protest material in our Little Magazines collection, having taken part in the 2019 Small Press Project, Visions of Protest. With his encouragement, our students were quick to outline the many issues that they believe are worth drawing more attention to (including mental health, Islamophobia, the Extradition Bill in Hong Kong, and data protection) and staged their own demonstration on UCL’s Portico steps.
Our students then spent some time immersing themselves in archival and print collections, exploring ways in which some marginalised voices have found platforms in small press and self-published works. As well as viewing some of the wide range of titles held in Little Magazines, curated for them by Liz Lawes, they visited the May Day Rooms on Fleet Street, and had a tour of the Bishopsgate Institute Archives.
Putting their newfound knowledge into action, each of our students then created a work of art, using collage that incorporated copies of items they’d seen, and screen printing taught and facilitated by the Slade’s Lesley Sharpe.
The week ended with a ‘soft crit’ of their work, and a well-attended public exhibition. While many of our students had arrived anxious that they weren’t ‘art students’, they all showed a remarkable amount of skill and creativity, and a real passion to explain what was important to them through the medium of print.
Paper, Press, Print: East Education Summer School
With barely a pause to breathe, we launched straight into our second summer school, a free three-day course based at UCL Here East, as part of the Olympic Park’s education programme for local 13-to-16 year olds. It was wonderful to be able to host our project at UCL’s own campus at Here East, where our colleagues made both us and our students feel welcome.
We were once again looking at protest in print, but with a different twist: this time, we focused on the ‘grassroots’ nature of many of the magazines in our Small Press collection, and invited Lu Williams of Grrrl Zine Fair to run a zine-making workshop. While our students differed in ages and abilities, they were all able to use photography, collage, block printing and a photocopier to create their own zines, allowing them to disseminate their ideas almost instantly.
And if that wasn’t enough…
…we’ve had plenty of other workshops to keep us busy! This year Sarah Hutton of UCL Culture invited us to take part in her Year 8 and Year 12 summer schools, both of which saw us discussing morality through 19th Century scientific archives and 16th Century religious texts, and July’s Paper Trails Conference was followed by a two-day workshop for Year 12s from Newham Collegiate Sixth Form College, led by Andrew Smith, on how to use primary sources in history research.
We will shortly be looking ahead to the new school and academic year – but first, we’ll finally be taking a well-earned summer holiday of our own!