Keeping UK feminism alive for a digital generation

A century since some UK women first got the vote, there’s a problem in keeping the history of the women’s movement alive; it’s all on paper

International Women’s Day 2018 focused attention on the #PressforProgress, as the World Economic Forum’s latest report deemed gender parity to still be 200 years away. As IWD organisers pointed out, though, there is a ‘strong and growing (online) global movement of advocacy, activism and support’ to ensure we keep pressing forward for parity. 

But 100 years since UK women got the vote, there’s a very modern problem in keeping the roots of the women’s movement alive; it’s all on paper.

In particular, 2nd wave feminism – the period from the 1960s to the 1990s – is in danger of gathering dust and being overlooked, as today’s research takes place primarily online. 

Dr Ann Kaloski Naylor, lecturer at the Centre for Women’s Studies at the University of York, is passionate about preserving access to this type of content: “Current feminism has a strong relationship to (and perhaps even reliance on) the internet. We need to digitise material to allow recent history to be accessible to today’s students.

“Although there is now a huge array of easily accessible work on women’s lives, the discipline is very young and rooted in grassroots movements. The community nature of these movements means that significant work was produced in pamphlet form, and later in ‘zines and books. The potential of exposing such material outside of small-scale archives is huge.” 

Jisc, the UK’s organisation for education technology, is working on a digitisation project with Reveal Digital, a US-based open access publisher, to make independent and alternative press collections available for teaching, learning and research. As part of the Independent Voices collection, Reveal Digital has already digitized 500,000 pages of content in the US, including feminist collections, by employing a “library crowd-funding” open access approach. Access to the resulting collection is currently restricted to participating libraries but, in January 2019, the entire collection will be openly available on the public web. 

“Current feminism has a strong relationship to the internet. We need to digitise material to allow recent history to be accessible to today’s students.”

Following the success of Independent Voices, and the earlier collaboration with the British Library on Spare Rib, Jisc are calling for nominations of collections of UK alternative underground magazines by the end of March. In particular they’re seeking titles covering:

 – Second wave feminism in Britain

 – The struggle for black and minority ethnic (BAME) civil rights and equality in Britain

The material must date from the 1960s to the 1990s and have been produced by non-commercial publishers to be considered for match funding by the education technology organisation. Entries are open to UK higher education and community-based libraries and archives, too.

To secure the content, Jisc  will be reaching out to the communities concerned in order to involve them and to clear copyright. 

Peter Findlay, Digital Portfolio Manager at Jisc, said: “We recognise that this is a restricted set of material and are interested in other categories such as punk zines, community newspapers and material produced by political groups, but we decided to make a start here. We hope to keep these vital resources available for students today and celebrate the centenary of women’s right to vote, by creating a new digitized collection of UK feminist material.”

If you would like to discuss your proposed collection, or if you need more information, please email Peter: