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‘Well really, have we come to that?’: Excerpts from UCL’s LGBT History

Sarah S Pipkin15 June 2021

Colin Penman, Head of UCL Records, writes about the internal documents that sheds light on the history of LGBTQI+ student life at UCL. 

 

In March 1972, Jamie Gardiner, a PhD student in the UCL Department of Mathematics, now a lawyer and human rights activist in Australia, founded the Homophile Society, or Gaysoc at UCL.  As far as we know, this was the first gaysoc to be founded in a UK university and affiliated to its student union.

This Thursday, 17 June, Dr Luciano Rila, who – appropriately – teaches in the Mathematics department, will give a talk on Zoom, ‘Gaysocs: a brief and incomplete history’ partly based on the registration file that is preserved in the College archive to help tell that story.

I don’t want to cover the same ground as Luciano, but thought it might still be interesting to share a few images from that file, and why we have these records (and why we don’t have others).

Regarded as an object, the file is as dull as every other UCL administrative file of its time.  It’s one of many others recording the registration of affiliated societies, the kinds of societies that students have always liked to form: political and social, serious and frivolous.  But this file is a bit different.  The title of this piece comes from a letter written by Dick Bishop, Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, to the College Secretary, Arthur Tattersall, demanding to know ‘Who decreed that it is in the general interest that the College should be identified with sexual predilections in this way?’

Internal letter about the approval of UCL's 'Gaysoc'

UCLCA, Secretary 180/155 fol. 6

And J.T. Aitken, Professor of Anatomy, was ‘disturbed … I cannot understand why people should be allowed to make a parade of their aberration’.  Tattersall shared these concerns, and involved the Dean of Students, Professor Eric Brown, who wrote to the President of the Union, Pete Johns, about the ‘risk of offending individuals in the College’.  Fortunately, Johns declared his absolute opposition to suppressing Gaysoc, suggesting that the authorities should surely be more concerned about those societies that were based around socialism and anarchism, which are dedicated to ‘overturn[ing] the whole fabric of society itself’.

 

Discussion of the approval of UCL's Gaysoc

UCLCA, Secretary 180/155 fol. 15

As I’ve said, we have records of a lot of these societies, because there happened to be an established process for authorising them, which meant the central bureaucracy kept files meticulously, with reference numbers, information about who has consulted them, everything properly attached, and every page numbered.  They are usually very slim files, containing only one or two pages, just recording the foundation, subscription, office-holders and so on.  The Gaysoc file, on the other hand, contains a whopping 22 pages, and it’s not hard to see why: nobody cared much about the Northerners’ Society or the Brewing Society, but some members of UCL were definitely alarmed by the ‘Homophile Society’.

In other words, it’s only where there’s been some kind of trouble that there’s a bit more information.  And this is how an institutional archive like the College archive tends to work.  We have a lot of registers, minutes of Council and other administrative bodies, staff and student personal files and so on, because that’s our main function.  But there are other aspects of life at UCL that, in the past, we were never required to preserve, the unofficial side that would tell us more about how life was actually lived.  The Gaysoc file happens to contain a Freshers’ Week programme for 1972, which I think is unique in this series of files:

Gaysoc Freshers Week Programme

UCLCA, Secretary 180/155 fol. 7

It was originally preserved as evidence of ‘concern’ about ‘homosex’, but now it can tell other stories, about gay social life at this time, about links with the Gay Liberation Front and Campaign for Homosexual Equality.  We are lucky to have in the College archive other material that tells these unofficial stories of staff and student life at UCL: rag mags, periodicals, campaign literature, photographs.  But these have come to us in a really unsystematic way, sometimes without any context.  For example, we don’t know why we have a copy of this wonderful poster by Alan Wakeman, published by Gay Sweatshop:

Poster on 'What exactly is Heterosexuality'

COLLEGE COLLECTION C9

or this terrifying account of gay-bashing, in a 1976 leaflet:

Description of students attacked at a Gaysoc event

COLLEGE COLLECTION C9

We’ve recognised that this has implications about representation in the archive, that doing only ‘top-down’ collecting silences important voices and stories.  We have a rich collection in the College archive, but will certainly be doing more ‘ground-up’ collecting to ensure those voices can be preserved and heard for the future.

 

To learn more about UCL Records, check out their main pageTo book a ticket for ‘Gaysocs: a brief and incomplete history’ please visit their Eventbrite page

The New Curators Project is Open for Applications!

Vicky A Price18 January 2021

The New Curators Project is a new programme by UCL Special Collections and Newham Heritage Month. It will offer 10 young people in East London the chance to develop the skills and experience needed to start a career in the cultural heritage sector.

 

UPDATE: The application deadline has been EXTENDED to midnight on 5th March 2021.  If you’d still like to apply, please do!

 

What will the project entail?

Successful applicants will receive training from industry experts in key areas such as carrying out historical research, creating an exhibition and engaging with cultural heritage audiences. Participants will also work together to create an exhibition for Newham Heritage Month. Using historical material from UCL Special Collections and the Archives and Local Studies Library in Stratford, the exhibition will be an opportunity for participants to gain real life curation experience for a public heritage festival audience.

We expect the entire project to take place online, with the possibility of face to face sessions towards the end of the project (this will depend on national and local restrictions.  Any face to face activity that does take place with be compliant with government guidelines).

Who can apply?

Applications are open to people who:

  • Are aged 18 to 24 at the time of making their application.
  • Are living, studying or working in Newham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.
  • Are not a university graduate.
  • Have less than 6 months paid experience in the cultural heritage sector.

As this project is a part of Newham Heritage Month, there are 5 places available to individuals who live, work or study in the borough of Newham. The remaining 5 places are available to those who live, work or study in Tower Hamlets, Hackney or Waltham Forest.

When is it happening?

Application close midnight on 12th February 2021.  There will be two online sessions per week, the first will be during the week of 1st March 2021 (date and time to be agreed with participants).  The final week of activity will be the week of 24th May 2021.

What’s in it for me?

We will be providing training in essential skills for working in the cultural heritage field, including:

  • How to carry out historical research.
  • How to use an archive.
  • How to create an exhibition.
  • Presentation and public speaking skills.

We are also offering a £200 bursary, paid in instalments, to support participants in attending as many of the workshops as possible.

Do I need to have any specific A Levels or GCSEs?

Absolutely not. We want to recruit participants who have a passion for local history, regardless of their qualifications.

What is Cultural Heritage?

The cultural heritage field is an area of work focused on preserving history and culture and making it available to the general public. Among other things, it includes:

  • Museums.
  • Arts organisations and charities.
  • Libraries and Archives.
  • Historic Buildings and heritage sites.
  • Archaeology.
  • Conservation.

How do I apply?

You can apply online via our online form. If you have difficulty using the form, please send us an email and we can find an alternative way for you to apply.

The due date for the application has been extended to midnight on 5th March 2021.  We aim to reply to applicants by 5pm on 8th March 2021.

A student looks for resources in a library. Shelves laden with colourful books line the edges of the photograph as she reads a book.

Among other skills, The New Curators Project will train participants in carrying out research, creating exhibitions and public speaking.

Questions?

You can send us an email at: library.spec.coll.ed@ucl.ac.uk.
Or, if you’d prefer to give us a call, you can call Vicky Price, Head of Outreach, on 07741671329.

If you think this project is a good fit for you, apply now!

The Foundation for Future London logo The logo for Newham Heritage Month

Liberating the Curriculum – A New Remote Volunteering Project

Vicky A Price24 November 2020

We are excited to announce a new remote volunteer project, starting in January 2021 at UCL Special Collections!

The project is part of our team’s work towards Liberating the Curriculum and is our first foray into digital, remote volunteer work. If you are interested in being a part of a project that widens all of our knowledge of, and access to, voices that might otherwise be under represented or under highlighted in our collections, please read on (and register here to attend an induction event)!

The Challenge

Four visitors and a member of staff stand over a table in UCL Special Collections' South Junction Reading Room, looking at collection items from our Poetry Store collection. The items are colourful and vary in format, some folded and with bold print, others non-standard sizes.

Staff and visitors inspecting items from our Poetry Store collection.

The Special Collections team are always working towards enabling access to the collection. This usually involves the acquisition, preservation, conservation, digitisation and cataloguing of rare books, archives and manuscripts. We also use the collection in teaching and outreach, deliver a reader and an enquiry service and provide as much digital access to the collection as possible.

Despite this work, we are aware that there are still many barriers (both physical and ‘invisible’) that prevent some users from accessing the collection and that prevent lesser heard voices in the collections coming to the fore: Historically, society’s most privileged have been most able to write and publish work, to collect rare materials and to create archives. The result is that stories from less privileged people – those of non-white ethnicity, women, those living with a disability or people who are LGBTQ+, for example – can be obscured or lost in the narratives mined from the special collections at UCL.

We know that we could do better, and want to make a start in this effort. A more focussed approach to researching the collection, and on communicating this research to collection users, could result in more diverse representation and in these lesser heard voices being more visible to collection users. However, our challenge is routed in the sheer size of the collection at UCL – we need your help to make this happen!

How to get involved

If you have an interest in historical research, librarianship, archives, representation in historic collections, or are simply curious about the project, please consider registering for one of our induction events.

Following one of these induction events, volunteers will be invited to sign up to a specific area of research – some examples could be searching for representations of non-European people and cultures in the Jewish & Hebrew rare books and pamphlets, Small Press collections and Folklore Society, or searching for early modern female book owners that are connected to our rare books.  Volunteers will be trained and supported throughout the project by a UCL Special Collections team member.

How much time do volunteers need to give, and what equipment will they need?
We are very flexible with regards to how much time volunteers can offer, and as this is a remote project, the required equipment amounts to a computer and internet access. If you would like to be a part of this project, but don’t have access to this equipment, or have further questions, please let us know by emailing library.spec.coll.ed@ucl.ac.uk, as we can offer further support for those who need it.

Register to attend an induction event here!

Call for Papers for ‘Paper Trails’ a new open access publication with UCL Press

Nazlin Bhimani23 August 2019

Often there is more than research inside the books we read. Bookmarks, train tickets, receipts, and menus tucked into pages offer clues about the life of the book itself.

Yet the lives of our research material often go unmarked, lost between the gaps in disciplinary boundaries and narrow definitions. The biographies of books and documents can illuminate their contexts, as printed matter that is sold, passed down or abandoned. What happens when we consider the three moments of production, transmission, and reception together with our own research stories? Documents, like people, have births, lives, and even deaths, so what does it mean to investigate the biographies of texts, objects, and archival records? Beyond the formal roles of cataloguing and archiving, what part do researchers play in shaping the emergent archive?

This is not strictly an intellectual history, nor even a material book history, but something more like a social history of ideas, inspired by work such as Antoinette Burton’s discussions of Archive Stories (Duke University Press, 2005), Arlette Farge’s reflection on the Allure of the Archives (Yale University Press, 2013), Lisa Jardine’s discussion of Temptation in the Archives (UCL Press, 2015), and Ann Laura Stoler’s call to read Along the Archival Grain (Princeton University Press, 2009)Indeed, the stories of our research material evolve significantly over their life cycles, as Arjun Appadurai outlined in The Social Life of Things (Cambridge University Press, 1986). Beyond commodities and value, however, this new publication seeks to consider our affective relationship with research material, juxtaposing critical histories with reflections on practice.

The editorial board invite contributors to submit papers to be published in a BOOC (Book as Open Online Content), a fully open access platform with UCL Press described as “a living book”. We are interested in a broad geographical and chronological scope and actively welcome a diverse range of topics and authors.

We will look to publish material in four streams, which will allow us to set fully REF compliant academic work alongside work produced by practitioners for their professional development:

  • Research Stories (8-10,000 words): We are encouraging a focus on research stories to invite a more reflective methodology, offering a more inclusive and engaged commentary on the work involved in researching, ordering, and preserving the past. This section will consist of double-blind peer-reviewed academic articles.
  • Co-Production (flexible word count): Outputs from projects in which non-academic, undergraduate and taught postgraduate audiences collaborate with others (collection professions, academics, members of the public etc) to create new work that is based on research collections.
  • Collection Profiles (500 words): This stream consists of shorter, descriptive or even narrative pieces, that highlights items or collections of interest. This may be a prelude to a piece of in-depth research, but it does not necessarily need to be.
  • Engagement (2,000 words): Reflective pieces that focus on a broad range of engagement activities, from the professional’s perspective. These can be case studies, or ‘think pieces’ on particular skills or techniques.  They should inform professional practice.

Please send in proposals for publications in these streams, along with a brief biographical presentation.

Deadline for submissions is 31st January 2020. For further information, please contact the lead editor, Dr Andrew WM Smith (University of Chichester) –  a.smith@chi.ac.uk

Minute Books offer glimpses into the organisation of women teachers at the turn of the 20th Century

utnvkh221 August 2017

Volunteers’ week may be long over but that doesn’t mean we can’t say thank you to our volunteers throughout the rest of the year!  This time I would like to introduce some of the work done by one of our volunteers, Ashley Zuelke, who you may have come across before in one of the Volunteer Week posts. As well as volunteering in Special Collections we have been lucky enough to have Ashley volunteering with us in UCL IOE Archives.  Ashley has worked on catalogue enhancement of Minute Books of the London branch of the National Union of Women Teachers (NUWT).  The account which follows is a fascinating analysis of what she uncovered and gives an insight into the interesting stories that can be found in these unassuming looking volumes.

Minute Books Offer Glimpses into the Organisation of Women Teachers at the Turn of the 20th Century

By Ashley Zuelke
Summer Volunteer with Special Collections, Archives and Exhibitions studying for an MSc in Business Analytics and Management

In the early 1900s, British women teachers formed their own associations, branching out from the primary teaching organizations of the time to advocate for emerging issues including equal pay, pensions, and the management of “combined” boys and girls school departments. Reading the first minute books kept by the London Branch of the National Union of Women Teachers – then known as the National Federation of Women Teachers – is like sifting through snapshots of history taken every few months.

Entries from 1908 to 1922 reveal glimpses of the expansion of women’s rights and education in the U.K. before, during and after World War I. Discussions on proposed resolutions for national meetings reveal issues on which broad consensus prevailed, such as supporting aging women teachers, as well as points of disagreement, which included Parliament extending the vote to women. In history books, women’s suffrage seems like a natural course within a history punctuated with equal rights victories. The minute books, however, present a more nuanced picture with a spectrum of views and no certain results.

Demonstration by the London Unit against the allocation of the Fisher Grant, 1918

Demonstration by the London Unit against the allocation of the Fisher Grant, 1918

The year 1918 marked a watershed moment for the organisation: Parliament passed landmark education reform legislation and the group merged with the Women Teachers Franchise Union to create the London Unit of the National Federation of Women Teachers. The Franchise Union at the time was a politicised organisation, which prompted some members to urge that the group not advocate for political issues. The group did not accept those proposals, though the organisation unanimously postponed advocacy on political issues during the war. With the merger, the group codified its practices into a constitution and began to persistently advocate for equal rights and the implementation of the Education Act of 1918, which was designed to improve school conditions and to study the UK educational system – objectives for which public support increased dramatically after the war.

Within 10 years, the group grew from a handful of regular members to more than 50 subscribers in attendance at annual meetings representing nearly all parts of greater London. The organisation’s behaviour evolved as well. Initial notes that focused mostly on social gatherings and group administration became disciplined accounts of proposed resolutions and active correspondence. Early schisms dissolved as rules and procedures were finalised. By 1916, the group even published meeting minutes in newspapers as public record.  Members, some of whom participated in the group for more than a decade, built seniority. The group developed a clear, ringing voice on important issues. The women’s dedication is evident, with many lines commemorating achievements of group presidents and expressing condolences for members with illness or those who passed away.

The minute-book entries represent many hours of work for members outside the classroom, often on weekends. They offer readers a new perspective on events in the first two decades of the 20th Century. The books show how one organisation developed, enduring setbacks and victories on a path that many organisations today would likely recognise. And the books open windows into time as a group made changes and won rights for women and children that today many of us could not imagine doing without.

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Thanks so much Ashley for writing up such an interesting account of the early minute books of the NUWT and for all your work in expanding and enhancing the catalogue description for these.

For more information on the National Union of Women Teachers please refer to our libguide or our online catalogue.

 

All images ©UCL Institute of Education Archives