London Metropolitan Archives:
LGBT History and Archives Conference 2003-2012
Ten years ago London Metropolitan Archives established its annual LGBT History and Archives Conference to open up discussion, explore historical evidence and to actively encourage the collecting, preservation and recording of individual and community histories. Collecting, preserving and sharing LGBT histories is essential to provide the balance in the historical record. Without these voices the only story is the official one, those in authority talking about people, not the people speaking for themselves.
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London Metropolitan Archives, which is funded by the City of London Corporation, provides a public service which exists to collect, protect and make available the shared history of London and Londoners. Nearly a thousand years of history is represented by the collections, from 1067 to the present day, through documents, prints and drawings, photographs, films, architectural plans, maps, plans and an extensive reference library. Here, housed on around 95km of shelving, you can find information about individuals, businesses, charities, hospitals, local government, education, court records and the evolution and growth of London as a major world city.
Yet, despite the vast amount of material housed within the archive, there are still individuals and groups whose lives and experiences are not fully represented in the collections, whose own voices are silenced and who are hidden from view because of the way they or their actions were described or viewed in the past. The lives of Gay men and their presence in London life from the earliest records to the mid- twentieth century is represented through court records, asylums and the actions of groups such as The Public morality Council. The official record presents these men as criminal, unbalanced, sick and immoral. There are statements from individuals but only in defence against accusations and we rarely, if ever, get a sense of the real lives of these men.
Lesbianism was never illegal in the UK and so women are even more invisible. Some famous individuals lived open and well documented lives, leaving letters and diaries, but there is little that can be tracked in the collections.
After the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 more records which revealed the lives of LGBT people began to make their way into archives. At London Metropolitan Archives these generally existed as part of collections such as the Greater London Council grants committees and Inner London Education Authority. Although this was an improvement, the records still reflect the official voice, however positive.
In 2003 it was clear that there was a real need to encourage and support individuals and groups in preserving their past and adding and embedding their story into the complex narrative of London and Londoners. There was a danger that the histories of campaigners, active in the 1960s and 1970s would be lost. Personal collections including ephemera, letters, diaries and photographs, stored at home in wardrobes and under the bed might be treasured by the owner, but were not being kept in ideal conditions and might well be disposed of in time.
Raising awareness about the significance of these types of collections, the value of creating oral histories and ways in which materials can be preserved for the future inspired the first London Metropolitan Archives LGBT History and Archives Conference 2003, Why Here? Why Now? We did not know how many people to expect but in the end 60 people turned up and their enthusiasm and encouragement guaranteed the future of the event and the enormous benefits which have grown from it over the years.
Conference Themes and Beyond…
Over the last decade the conference has provided platforms for a wide range of historical exploration and discussion. Themes have included transgendered lives and experience, legislation and its impact, the media, LGBT families, museum, gallery and archive practice, art and activism and history projects involving young people. Spin offs from the conference themes have led to additional events focused on LGBT work in libraries, supporting readers of all ages.
Each year those attending are invited to suggest themes and ideas and there are still some we haven’t yet focused on. Examples have included LGBT people in the workplace and a focused event on LGBT London based writers which we hope to pursue in the future.
Reaching Out Across Communities
Whatever the theme for each year, the continuing central purpose of the conference is to encourage, support and inspire. The conference is for everyone and people with a wide range of interests join us, from academics involved in professional research to individuals who want to discover their own shared history with others
The conferences have attracted anywhere between 40 and 100 people depending on the topics presented. A hard core of people attend year after year and they are joined by new participants. Sometimes people are regular general users of the archives but every year we attract first time visitors. This provides an opportunity to engage new people with the wider service London Metropolitan Archives provides and to encourage them to make full use of the service.
Representatives of community groups, organisations and heritage institutions also attend and the conference has come to provide excellent networking opportunity where people can find out what’s new, catch up with each other and create new opportunities.
Working with Partners and Community Outreach
Brighton Ourstory provided the first partnership project to grow out of the conference. LMA staff provided training in cataloguing, packaging and handling archive material as part of Brighton Ourstory’s European Fund bid.
rukus! Federation have been regular contributors to the LMA LGBTI Conference. In 2010 they deposited their archive with LMA. rukus! volunteers have been working with the collections on site and have made a significant contribution to the work of the archive. http://rukus.org.uk/
Burning Issues was a professional support group for librarians focused on LGBT issues. It closed in 2011 running a final event at LMA which proved very successful. LMA is now working with former group representatives to provide a venue and support for future activities.
Pride has provided excellent opportunities make people aware of the LGBTI work at LMA and to encourage them to visit the archives, come to the conference and join other activities.
In 2011-12 LMA hosted its first Write Queer London events with a poet in residence, Peter Daniels and a poetry workshop and performance run by Rommi Smith.
Rommi is now working on ideas for an LGBT inspiration resource for schools and Peter will be delivering new workshops later this year.
Birkbeck College have run MA modules on Queer History hosted at LMA and using material from the collections.
In 2011 Middlesex University has brought students training to be teachers in Citizenship and History to explore the LGBT collections and consider how they might be used effectively in the classroom. As a result of this work an article was published in Teaching Citizenship Magazine Issue 32. Spring 2012
London Metropolitan Archives continues to work in partnership with sister institutions, developing projects, sharing good practice and professional skills and contributing to each other’s programmes.
LMA continues to develop its LGBTI collections and is taking in material each year. This is crucial work which provides the evidence of LGBTI histories for future generations. Many collections held in formal institutions are official, rooted in social frameworks which describe people as criminals, sick or immoral. Without the rich and important stories generated by LGBTI people themselves this history will remain incomplete.
To collect, preserve and share LGBT histories is a form of political activism and connects absolutely with the fact that archives provide dynamic engines of discourse and change, utilised by our users and depositors.
The current information list can be found here
The impact and importance of the LGBT History and Archives conference and the associated events which have built up around it should not be underestimated. The conference has encouraged people to deposit collections, if not with us as an official institution, then with community projects and other organisations such as the Hall-Carpenter Archive. The conference days have supported people as they share their stories and have gained in confidence, realising the worth of their memories and personal materials.
Organisations, such as Lesbian lines, have deposited collections. Sometimes the material relates to long finished activity, but the record has remained stored in someone’s house, they knowing its value but not sure what to do with it or how long they can continue to look after it. This kind of material is easily lost and it is encouraging to be getting increased interest in placing collections such as these in safe environments.
LMA is actively collecting and will continue to do so in order to add to the rich and complex narratives of London and Londoners and their interwoven histories. As pointed by Tamsin Bookey in her presentation, rukus! federation chose to deposit their Black LGBT material at LMA because of the wide community reach across the African-Caribbean communities through the Eric and Jessica Huntley Collection and the annual Huntley Conference held at LMA, but also the long tradition of LGBT history related activity at the archives. They have made full and good use of the LMA’s strong and thriving community programme and this will continue to bring dividends to the on-going work of the group.
Over recent months new approaches to engagement have started to evolve. Since May LMA has been running a monthly LGBT History Club which is a free drop in event. Numbers vary between 5 and 16 but people have attended every week and a range of presentations have been well received. This week (08/08/12) people came to hear our account of the LGBTI ALMS 2012 conference and were keen to discuss the sessions we highlighted.
The traditional date for the London Metropolitan Archives, LGBT Conference is December. This year we are running a practical seminar workshop day on Saturday 8 December 2012 in response to people’s need to collect, care for and share their own personal and community stories. Our Stories – Ourselves will help participants recognise the importance of personal collections and become active in creating and sharing their own stories.
LMA is actively working to encourage under-represented groups to have a presence at the conference and other activities, either as speakers or attendees. Trans people do come but infrequently, youth attendance is improving but more needs to be done to engage young people and their needs to be more representation from organisations such as the LGBTQI Muslim Support Group.
LMA will continue to work with individuals and groups wishing to develop new projects and those wanting to deposit. Support and advice is freely given in creating events, promoting collections and planning activities and we anticipate this area of work to go from strength to strength.
The tenth anniversary conference is to be held on 16 February 2013 in the Old Library, at Guildhall in the City of London alongside Ajamu’s new photographic portrait exhibition, Fierce, which will be on show at Guildhall Art Gallery. The conference and the exhibition are the first specifically LGBT events to be held in the Guildhall complex and are being presented as part of LGBT History Month 2013. We hope you will join us.
More information about the conference will be available soon on the LMA website