Readers of this blog will know that I'm a keen advocate for ensuring that diverse communities understand and preserve their histories and pass that knowledge on to the generations that follow them.
History is not only important for communities to understand their own position in the present; it is also an important source of education for everyone concerned with equality … for ensuring that we learn from
and don't repeat the mistakes or brutality of previous generations.
This is why I've been a keen proponent for educational materials to help educate public sector staff about BME, LGBT and Disabled peoples' history, and for keeping those resources in the public domain in spite of
I also keep an eye out for useful resources from elsewhere, such as this excellent series of Podcasts from the BBC on disabled people's history. There are invariably things which all activists can learn from understanding the history of other groups.
Save it or lose it
These are the reasons why I've been keen to promote the capture of archive material from fast-moving civil rights campaigns, such as trans people, in the digital age. My argument is that communities, now more than ever, must act to preserve material from volatile online platforms, such as Facebook groups, blogs, list servers and even web sites, for the benefit of future historians.
The lesson taught by the total loss of the original Press for Change web site is that vital and unique material is very easy to lose. Miraculously in that case the disaster was mitigated by the British Library's excellent UK web archive. That was luck rather than planning, however.
Over the years I've tried in my own way to preserve history of a different kind. Many of the interviews in my Just Plain Sense series of Podcasts have been conceived as a means of capturing oral history from diverse people with first hand recall of events. Now and then I pull those materials together to make them easier to find.
Other individuals have kept their own libraries. Where possible I've encouraged those people to donate their collections to professional archivists for cataloguing and preservation. I've done this with my own files and I was pleased when veteran activist Mark Rees followed me in donating his entire store of correspondence and cuttings to the LGBT Archive at the London School of Economics.
Not only are many valuable contemporaneous records preserved through archiving in that way; we've also been able to ensure vital protections for sections of the archive to preserve the privacy of living persons. This means sections will not be available for several decades but will be preserved in the meantime.
The Transgender Archive
One archive that has been in existence for longer than most is the collection begun in 1986 by Professor Richard Ekins of the University of Ulster at Coleraine in Ireland.
The Ekins Transgender Archive is probably the most complete academic collection of recent transgender history in the world. It has been collected systematically from newspaper and media coverage in the UK for over 27 years.
Now, following his retirement, Professor Ekins has arranged a new home for the archive, to ensure its continued preservation and facilitate new studies.
The new custodian, Professor Aaron Devor, explains:
The Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria is about to get a lot bigger! Our movers have packed up the equivalent of more than 125 bankers’ boxes (158 linear feet) of transgender books, magazines, articles, audio tapes, video tapes, photographs, artifacts, etc. in Northern Ireland, and we expect them to arrive in Victoria sometime around the end of July.
Richard Ekins, Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Cultural Studies at the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland, UK, has most generously entrusted his extensive collection of transgender materials to the University of Victoria Transgender Archives. Originally called the Trans-Gender Archive, the collection was founded by Professor Ekins in January 1986 with the collaboration of the President and the Librarian of the UK-based Self Help Association of Transsexuals (SHAFT). The ground-breaking University of Ulster Trans-Gender Archive collection ceased its connection with the University of Ulster in July 2010, upon the retirement of Professor Ekins, and it is now on its way to the University of Victoria.
The collection is focused on understanding how attitudes and representations of transgender people have developed and changed over time. It looks at three broad aspects of transgender--biology and the body, gender expression, and erotic expression and representation--through the lenses of expert knowledge, as recorded by scientists and social scientists; transgender community member knowledge, as recorded by and for transgender people themselves; and common-sense knowledge, as recorded by and for members of the general public. It is truly a treasure and we are honoured to become its guardians.
The archive will be accessible online in its new home.