Unfinished Business

BOWW has made a significant contribution to the British Library’s new landmark exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, which shows how feminist activism in the UK today has roots in a long, complex and compelling history of struggle.

The BOWW principal investigator Margaretta Jolly, Professor of Cultural Studies in the School of Media, Arts and Humanities, co-edited the exhibition book, working with Dr Polly Russell, from the British Library.

The book features sixteen new essays exploring topics as disparate as gender fluidity, Black women’s access to education, and the right to sexual pleasure. It showcases the work of activists, artists, academics and thinkers, some with Sussex connections:

  • BOWW research fellow, Dr D-M Withers, wrote ‘Recovering Traditions, Inspiring Actions’ for the book.
  • Writer and filmmaker Dr Juliet Jacques, who completed a PhD at Sussex in 2019, wrote ‘On The Malleability of the Body’.
  • Professor Jolly wrote the book’s afterword ‘Finishing the Business’.

But BOWW’s contribution to Unfinished Business doesn’t stop here.

Drawing on the British Library’s digitised collection of the feminist magazine Spare Rib, the BOWW team worked with the British Library to develop an interactive map, uniquely charting UK feminist activism and entrepreneurship in the 1970s-80s.

Led by the vision of BOWW co-investigator Dr Lucy Delap (Reader in Modern British and Gender History at the University of Cambridge), the work was started by BOWW research fellow, Dr Zoe Strimpel, and brought to fruition by Dr Eleanor Careless, who succeeded Dr Strimpel early in 2020. Simon Wibberley from the Sussex Humanities Lab built the software to make the map possible.

The map is based on a data sample of letters and listings taken from Spare Rib and dramatically reveals the reach and style of a movement famed for its decentralised and domestic activism.

Interpretations and guides to support the map include Letters from a Young Feminist, by Eleanor Careless; Mapping Provincial Feminisms, by Lucy Delap & Eleanor Careless; Listings and the Feminist Marketplace, by Zoe Strimpel; Mapping Spare Rib: How and Why, by Zoe Strimpel, Eleanor Careless & Simon Wibberley; Discussions of Race in Spare Rib Letters by Charlotte James; and Women’s Accounts Of Reproductive Healthcare Provision in Spare Rib Magazine by Alice O’Driscoll.

An analogue version of the map features in the Unfinished Business exhibition, and the online version will be hosted on the British Library’s website as part of its rich Spare Rib resource. BOWW will also deposit the data and open source code in the British Library’s research repository.

The BOWW team has also helped the British Library to develop a map of women’s resistance, plotting over 60 stories of women’s lives, rights and activism from the 18th century to the present, with each entry linked to a British Library collection item and further reading.

Spare Rib map in Unfinished Business exhibition
With thanks to the British Library. Photograph © David Jensen

Meanwhile, the ground-breaking women’s liberation oral history project, Sisterhood and After, led by Professor Jolly and hosted online by the British Library, is integral to the free, educational website just launched by the British Library to accompany Unfinished Business.

Articles on the British Library website written by BOWW team members to support the Unfinished Business educational resource include:

  • Feminism, by Eleanor Careless.
  • Men’s responses to women’s liberation, by Lucy Delap.
  • Women in Publishing, and Feminist Futures in Science Fiction, both by Margaretta Jolly.
  • Music as protest, by D-M Withers.

Margaretta Jolly says:

“The BOWW team has been delighted and honoured to support the British Library’s Unfinished Business exhibition.

“This helps tell of the vital, vivid and transformative struggle for women’s rights and equality, both in the past and today. It invites us to recognise and celebrate the courage and resilience of the innumerable women who have given so much to the struggle, and who continue to do so.”

Details of all the associated programming inspired by Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, including digital events, podcasts and educational resources, can be found on the Library’s website.

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