So many times when I interview people I hear ‘I’m not sure if this is of any interest but….’. A lot of people, it seems, undervalue their contributions, or take for granted how important their experiences are for other people. These tend to be the most interesting interviews. They also mainly tend to be women.
Just as well then, that local historians Nikki Thorpe, Nicola Gauld and Sian Roberts created ‘Women’s History Birmingham‘ to promote and raise awareness of women’s history in Birmingham, and in particular women’s contributions to shaping the social, cultural and political landscape of Birmingham. Subjects covered include the Women’s Liberation movement, policing, mental health, Fascist Spain, perceptions of single mothers, reproductive health, prostitution, sit-ins, and DIY culture to name just a handful of themes we’ve touched on!
The HLF funded project was inspired by a small pamphlet, ‘Birmingham Women: Past and Present‘, produced by Professor Catherine Hall for the Feminist Review journal in the early 1980s. The pamphlet was the basis of a sponsored walk to raise funds for the journal, and featured information about key points of interest along the walk pertinent to prominent women in the city’s history.
Over three decades later, this work is now being developed further through collecting testimonies of women who lived and worked in Birmingham during the 1970s and 1980s. These recorded memories are being added to online maps, to encourage people to undertake their own history walks. You can view the maps, discover a whole host of stories, design your own heritage walk and contribute information by viewing the map on the Women’s History Birmingham website. The edited films are also available to view over on my Vimeo page.
I have facilitated workshops at Perry Beeches II and Waverley School focused on teaching pupils key film making skills and oral history interview techniques, before giving pupils free rein to interview women for the project. I have been completely taken aback by the maturity that pupils have shown for interviewees, and as a result, the honesty and frankness of those being interviewed. The films, which I have been editing together, create an important archive, filling a huge gap in our understanding of how the ideas, actions and attitudes of women in the past shape the world around us today.
However, perhaps the greatest legacy of this project is in the changing attitudes of the young people involved in the project. This quote from a pupils at Perry Beeches II perhaps sums up the impact best.
Thank you for sharing your stories and for making us aware and maybe helping us to see what we can do in the future.
For interviewees too, it has been a valued opportunity to reflect on their journeys and what sharing their experiences can mean to others. Jasmine was very generous in sharing her memories:
The youngsters were keen to listen to my journey, through my life in education and work especially my work with children experiencing mental health problems. Their curiosity and questioning gave me the opportunity to reflect on my own life achievements, as a black women working in the health service.
The interview left me reflecting on my own life experiences and how important it is to share stories with the younger generation about some of my conflicts and challenges.
It left me hoping that the conversations with us may give them a model of overcoming some of their own challenges that they may come across in their female lives.
A few weeks ago we shared the project at the Women’s History Network Annual Conference and it was clear that there is a real appetite and enthusiasm for the project to develop further. We will be developing ideas in the near future, but do get in touch with your thoughts and ideas if this has got you interested!