Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies

SCCS proposal for a panel session at Lesbian Lives Conference 2017

Proposal for a panel session at the Lesbian Lives Conference, February 2017

NB we can only offer this panel for Friday 24 February, as the speakers are not all available on the Saturday. Apologies.

Session Title:

Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies presents
Lesbian Insiders/Outsiders: the pleasures and pains of the life history interview

This panel brings together four speakers who have made use of the life history interview for a variety of purposes, and who will reflect (15 minutes each) on the importance of lesbian voices in recording women's narrative histories, and on the rewards and challenges of oral history practice for both the interviewee and the interviewer.
Chair: Sally R Munt (who will also present one of the papers).

Paper titles and abstracts:

Jan Pimblett:  The Significance of the Lesbian Voice in the Archive

This paper considers the significance of collecting and sharing contemporary lesbian voices and the ways in which they illuminate lesbian experience, past and present. The collecting and sharing of lesbian oral history is an important area of development in the work of the London Metropolitan Archives. Lesbian voices provide testimony and insight into personal and cultural experiences which illuminate the wider archival collections. More than that, they serve as a powerful counterpoint to invisibility and silence. Their presence fills the empty spaces of history.

Clare Summerskill:  Lesbian Oral Histories: An Inside Job

From working on oral history projects as well as writing verbatim theatre created from interviews with people from marginalised communities, I have noticed that trust in the interviewer from the contributor is an extremely important issue. I argue that when interviewing older lesbians, being a lesbian oneself, and thereby holding an Insider position, creates a strong degree of trust from the interviewee, thereby allowing for a more open and in-depth account of their experiences, and creating a richer source of historiography. I examine some of the reasons why, in an interview situation, older lesbians may share more of their life stories with an Insider.

Jane Traies: ‘The perils of the recording’: challenges in older lesbian life history research

For the last six or seven years I have been collecting the life stories of women born before 1950 who identify as lesbians. It is a growing archive, the majority of which is in the form of (transcribed) oral recordings. Although it is clearly important for these previously untold stories to be heard, the implications of such ‘hearing’ can be complex when anonymity and confidentiality are key factors in the process. In this paper, I reflect on some of the ethical and practical challenges I have encountered, not just in acquiring this life history material, but also in presenting it in three different formats/contexts: an academic thesis (and later a book) using extracts from the transcripts; a radio programme using extracts from oral recordings; and a documentary film.

Sally R Munt: Handling Awkward Situations: 

being a Lesbian Researcher in Minority Religious Contexts”

In this paper, Sally will be talking about her research with women refugees in Brighton on the AHRC funded ‘Cultural Values’ Project, which ran from 2012-4.  The research explored how migrant women negotiated their values and their identities in relation to perceived British culture, through an 8-month-long activities course that participated in the cultural consumption of ‘typically British’ art, music, sport and heritage activities, followed by discussion. Sally reflects on doing life history and participatory research as an outsider, and the sometimes emotional demands that such research practice requires. When cultural values clash, how do we negotiate such situations yet maintain the dignity and respect of all participants?

Speaker affiliations:

Prof Sally R Munt: University of Sussex

Jan Pimblett: London Metropolitan Archives

Clare Summerskill: Royal Holloway, University of London

Jane Traies: University of Sussex

Speaker biographies:

Sally R Munt is Director of the Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies (SCCS) and Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sussex. She is also a BABCP accredited cognitive behavioural psychotherapist.

Jan Pimblett is Principal Development Officer at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). Her early career was in teaching, where she was head of department in Theatre Studies and Performing Arts. Since moving into heritage learning, Jan has been responsible for project management and developing and running London Metropolitan Archives’ outreach and interpretation programmes, many of which have been HLF-funded. These programmes include school, higher education, community and family learning initiatives which explore history, culture, science, arts and skills based activities. Jan has been responsible for developing the London Metropolitan Archives LGBTQ+ annual History and Archives conference, now in its 14th year. She is currently leading on the Speak Out London LGBTQ+ community history project, funded by HLF, which is building a digital collection of oral histories, images and resources which will be available via a website and at LMA.

Clare Summerskill:  Clare is studying for a PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London, researching the role, value and experience of a contributor in the making of verbatim theatre, where plays are created from interviews. She is also interested in the intersection between verbatim theatre and oral history practice. Her theatre company, Artemis, tours verbatim theatre productions, most recently Rights of Passage, written entirely from interviews with LGBT asylum seekers in the UK. Over the last decade, for various theatre, film, archival projects, and publications, Clare has interviewed more than 150 LGBT people. She is currently working on an LGBT oral history project at London Metropolitan Archives, and she offers training there on interview techniques employed specifically with people from the LGBT population. Publications include Gateway to Heaven: Fifty Years of Lesbian and Gay Oral History. Clare has also been known to sing songs and do a little stand-up comedy.

Jane Traies is a Research Associate in the Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies and the author of The Lives of Older Lesbians: sexuality, identity and the life course (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). She researches, writes and talks about the lives (past and present) of older women who identify as lesbian; she tends to carry a digital recorder in her handbag, in case a promising subject should cross her path. Her work recently inspired the short documentary film ‘Now You See Me!’ (Esme Waldron, 2016).

Audio-visual requirements:

Digital projector.