Oral history research has something to teach us all about respectful dialogue and listening with care. It has the power to connect and to humanise.” margaretta jolly
Professor of Cultural Studies
Director of the Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research
‘We began Sisterhood and After: The Women’s Liberation Oral History Project* (S&A) to create an oral history collection of the UK Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) in the 1970s and 80s that would match those of suffrage activists, now recognised to have world heritage value.
Working with the British Library, we captured and curated interviews with 60 activists in the WLM. Using the long-life form of interviewing, we encouraged participants to talk about their entire lives, so we could understand their influences and how they developed as individuals. What makes someone an activist? And what are the consequences? Hear some of the interviews.
What emerged has shed new light on so many aspects of feminism – from class, relationships and health, to business, spirituality and feminist death.
It’s helped to unpick stereotypes of feminists and feminism, and really underlined the continued relevance of WLM ideas and approaches for activists both inside and beyond the movement.
The project has inspired an exciting variety of educational materials, workshops, exhibitions, films and podcasts, all designed to bring the research to life for audiences from academics to the general public, and from Year 7s just starting secondary school to feminists young and old.
Hearing from long-time activists can teach us all something about endurance, stamina and resilience – the power of sticking with it. In the wonderful words of feminist scholar Donna Haraway, it’s about ‘staying with the trouble’. For me, there’s something very inspiring about an older generation of activists sharing what they did and how they kept going. Oral history has that magic of a conversation across generations.
Right now, we have MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and non-binary and trans rights issues revitalising protest movements, but also experiencing heated clashes and backlashes. Oral history research has something to teach us all about respectful dialogue and listening with care. It has the power to connect and to humanise.
What an oral history project of the scale, depth and humanity of S&A (and many others like it) can teach us is the power of coalitions – across class, race and sexualities – of overcoming pride and division.’
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*Sisterhood and After: The Women’s Liberation Oral History Project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust.