The inspirational Delia Derbyshire

It was really exciting and uplifting to attend the event “Archiving Women’s Performance Practice”, run by Delia Derbyshire Day and [DWAN] and hosted at HOME in Manchester.

The evening was a mix of talks, performance and discussion all revolving about creative women’s presence in and use of archives.  In the RNCM Archives, we have a few pretty amazing women represented but most of the collections are of men and I am really conscious about how many archives of women have been lost, dismissed or simply not created.

The evening did not disappoint. Chock full of amazing women with wonderful ideas and insights into archives.

Caro C talked about being an artist and interacting with archives, in particular that of Delia Derbyshire held at Manchester University. Derbyshire was a pioneer of electronic music in the 1960s and her papers at the University are brilliant, containing the graphic scores she wrote and all sorts. Caro C made the important point that by getting up close with someone’s archive you can gain insight and information into someone’s creative process.

This is particularly worth stressing when it comes to women and creative women. It all comes back to the point I try to impress upon the organisations I work with: if you are not evidenced, you are forgotten. 

Women like Derbyshire may not have been thinking of an archival legacy when they created their papers but nevertheless, they did create one. They created one which embodies their own voice. Using archives we can understand them as they are conveyed through their own unique female voice. No one’s talking for them.

Pretty important stuff, this.

So how do we bring these collections out into the open?

The first step is to make sure that they are being created and kept. Something has archival relevance because someone has deemed it of having archival relevance. So, why can’t female artists make that judgement themselves and empower the material they create in their artistic process with archival relevance. These women can decide what’s important and what tells their story, what’s worth evidencing, what’s worth a future and what should be included in our future’s past.

The second step is captured in a brilliant line from the Manchester District Music Archive reps and Mary Stark.  In order to get women represented more in archives, and to get their stories and lives out there,

 “strategies for disruption are required in curating history.”

That quote should be above the door of every curator, archivist, researcher and creator of archives everywhere.

Basically it should be everywhere.

Because that is we do: we curate history. We pick and choose what is worth keeping – what is worthy of being evidenced and represented 10, 50, 100, 500, 1,000 years from now.

History is not an objective timeline upon which events and people just appear. History is made up of markers chosen by people which we then superimpose upon the past and say “there, that’s what happened.”

Going forward we need to consciously and carefully choose which of these markers we’re putting forward. Time to mix it up, methinks.

By working together with the above organisations and others, I’m sure we can make this happen.

[Title pic from the Feminist Webs Archive]

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