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Tuesday 27 August 2013

Noted for own reference, and possible interest to others

Just around the corner at UCL, The Key Ingredient: Food in Social Relationships at The Institute of Archaeology, and Panopticon: Experimental Tales of Jeremy Bentham.

Via The Middlebrow Network:
Women writers of the 1930's - a one day course at the City Lit
Cultures of the Suburbs International Research Network, with information about its forthcoming conference next year on 'Imagining the Suburbs' 

Via Damaging the Body:
Body and Mind: Mesmerism in Nineteenth Century Culture and Literature at  Barts Pathology Museum

Revealing Lives: Women in Science 1830-2000 International Conference 2014
TrowelBlazers, which aims to both highlight the contributions of women to geology, palaeontology and archaeology ... while also building a positive, supportive community for women and men working together in those fields today

Monday 12 August 2013

The pre-history of virtual communities

I was thrilled to see this guest post on the Kinsey Institute blog by Samantha Allen,  Plugged In: Sexual Fetish Communities 1970s to the present since it provides further evidence for something of which I have been aware, the existence of 'virtual communities' not necessarily mediated by face to face contact, going back well before the widespread use of the internet.

While as Allen makes clear it might take a certain amount of effort and know-how to obtain the niche publications she describes, they did exist and provided a point of contact between individuals with common interests.

Similar phenomena can be seen in a range of different areas, whether around limited circulation newsletters, somewhat more conventional periodical publications (the shortlived but influential radical feminist journal The Freewoman forms a prime example), or even correspondence clubs, such as the Cooperative Correspondence Club. The problem is, of course, that except in the case of journals such as The Freewoman, where copies survive in public repositories and the researcher can see the vibrant interchanges that took place via letters to the editor, archives of these kinds of material very seldom survive. Samantha Allen was fortunate that the Kinsey Institute had made a conscious effort to acquire the materials she worked with, while when I interviewed Rose Hacker on an entirely different matter and discovered that she still had the records of the CCC, I strongly advised her to contact a suitable repository (I think I may have mentioned what was then the Fawcett Library) to ensure that this valuable set of documents was preserved and accessible to future generations.

Although communications through these networks moved at a more leisurely pace, nonetheless, by these means, virtual communities were created.
Plugged In: Sexual Fetish Communities 1970s to the Present - See more at:
Plugged In: Sexual Fetish Communities 1970s to the Present - See more at:
Plugged In: Sexual Fetish Communities 1970s to the Present - See more at:
Plugged In: Sexual Fetish Communities 1970s to the Present - See more at:

Thursday 8 August 2013

Is this the birth of a factoid?

It's not Victorian, so doesn't really fit on my Victorian Sex Factoids page, but it's quite a doozy, nonetheless. It's bad enough when articles are 'researched' entirely via Google, but this one seems not even to have been run past Wikipedia

Last week an article in The Spectator asserted that Dr Helena Wright was providing an insemination service for women deprived of motherhood by the Great War.

As the very first comment below the line points out, a few seconds on Google would have shown that the story as given was patently impossible. Wright only qualified in medicine in 1915, and far from setting up a classy Knightsbridge practice, was doing the usual kind of hospital house jobs that were the lot of the recently-qualified doc, at fairly non-elite institutions at that. In 1921 she and her husband went to China as medical missionaries and did not return until the late 1920s, and it was only then that Wright set up a private practice, while also being active with the (already established) North Kensington Women's Welfare Clinic, a pioneer in birth control and marriage guidance provision.

Her manual of marriage advice - which was more about orgasms than motherhood - The Sex Factor in Marriage, did not appear until 1931. Not only, therefore, did she not have lots of grateful readers in the aftermath of the War, she was not even around in the UK to deal with their requests if she had been.

Her papers, and those of her biographer, Dr Barbara Evans, are available in the Wellcome Library.

This does not entirely rule out the veridicality of 'Derek' (this may well be a pseudonym for the purposes of the article anyway: so my cavil about this not apparently becoming a popular British forename until the C20th may be irrelevant) and his superstudly prowess, but the narrative within which it is embedded cannot possibly be true. I have, in fact, come across a mention of a scientist of that name who was a 'super-donor' but this would have been around the 1950s-60s (the Derek in question had barely reached puberty by 1920).

It is always possible that there has been some confabulation and chronological slippage - for example (as I noted in the relevant chapter of Sex, Gender and Social Change in Britain since 1880) there was a minor furore around AI in the late 1940s, a decade before the setting up of the Feversham Committee by the government. Wrong War?

Wrong doctor? While Marie Stopes did, in the early editions of Married Love (1918), mention the possibility of AI (or non-A I by a sympathetic family friend) for women with infertile husbands, this passage was subsequently dropped, and few if any of the 1000s of letters received by her now in the Wellcome Library even mention the topic. It's quite possible that Norman Haire may have included it in his practice, but this is only speculation. Even by the late 1940s a mere handful of gynaecologists were providing AID to their infertile patients.

Sunday 4 August 2013

Digitisation: not the answer to the space problem with archives

There's recently been quite a furore about the controversial decision of Barnado's children's charity to digitise its remarkable collection of photographs by Dr Barnardo of the 'waifs and strays' whom he was providing with a refuge in Stepney, dating back to at least 1875. While digitising these will provide much wider access to this important collection, concerns have been raised that the original photographs were in line for destruction once this had taken place.

As I have previously commented, digitisation, though a tremendous asset in increasingly availability of historical records to those unable to visit them in person, cannot be considered a robust preservation medium. Photographic and other historians have also raised the issue that the originals may well provide evidence which is not going to be harvested through the digitisation process.

A post on the Voluntary Action History Society blog summarises the current state of play and raises the continuing issue of 'third sector' bodies which hold historical archives which are no longer relevant to their work in the present. While Barnardo's may no longer adhere to Dr Barnard's own practices, but is still closer in aim than some other bodies - the archives of the National Association for the Prevention of  Consumption (prior to their transfer to the Wellcome Library) remained in the custody of a successor body whose concerns had shifted considerably with the decline of TB as a pressing public health problem.

The blog post suggests the sale of the archive as one option, a strategy that raises significant concerns given that much of it must surely remain subject to Data Protection issues. However, it appears that there have been some expressions of interest in providing a home for the archive, and it is to be hoped that it will be placed in some suitable repository where it can be adequately cared for and made available for research.