• Nuala

Unusual Archives

As a Creative Steps attendee, I have noticed that due to the Covid pandemic there are fewer opportunities to get involved in activities linked to the creative arts. I know that everyone involved with Creative Steps is talented and interested in arts and crafts so I thought it might be fun if I wrote some blog posts about various creative topics for everyone to think about and perhaps discuss with our friends, family or carers.

This first post is about archives, which put simply are collections of historical records. I used to have no idea how essential these collections are to our understanding of not only our history, but our place in the present world. Archives come in many shapes and sizes, and here are two which might be interesting to learn more about.

Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL)

This library was formed in 1991 and has since become an important cultural institution, not only as a lending library but as an archive of documents, books, magazines, dress patterns, textiles and any number of items associated with the history of women and women’s issues. It was formed because there is a huge gap in history where women should be: as often their stories were ignored, seen as inferior to men, or eclipsed by the stories of the men in their lives. The history of Women however has been hugely important to shaping our present day, and the Glasgow women’s Library aims to collect the items which help tell these forgotten stories, and show us how vital they are to a fuller understanding of history.

You can find out more about the GWL archives here. You can even visit it online and see examples of their collections here.

The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt

As many at Creative Steps are taking part in the sewing groups run by Morag I thought you might be interested in the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which is a collection of textile squares started in 1987 to memorialise people who died of AIDS related causes. In our current pandemic, it is easy to feel like everything is completely new but it is important to remember that we have a history of health crises and we can learn from these histories, mourn those we have lost as well as find strength in our human ability to love and care for each other, and ultimately survive. When the AIDS epidemic started, governments refused to acknowledge it, refused to fund medical research and blamed the disenfranchised communities which suffered most from the disease: the LGBT+ community, who were often poor and homeless due to social stigma. Families often refused to memorialise their dead due to the stigma of being associated with AIDS, and medical misinformation was so rife due to lack of research that the dead were believed to be unsafe and thus many funeral homes refused to facilitate funerals for them.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt was its own memorial for the dead, as each fabric square was embellished with just one name: an individual who had died of the disease. Now, 33 years later, the quilt is made of 48,000 panels (each 3 x 6 feet) and weighs about 54 tonnes. This is both a devastating number of names, and a powerful collection of hope; of the way humans can care enough for each other to remember those we have lost. The quilt shows how as a group we can all keep the memory of loved ones and community members alive in the face of stigma and keep physical memories of the past alive in archives.

For further information about the quilt and the people who keep it safe there is a wonderful audio program you can listen to here.

Discussion Points

I find it interesting to think of the archives we all keep in our own lives. Perhaps you have some recipes passed down from a friend or family member, or some knitting and sewing patterns which show fashions from a few years or decades ago. Perhaps you have a collection of books you have enjoyed reading on your shelves, or a digital archive of the library books you have borrowed in your ‘loans history’ (which you can access through your online library account or by asking your local library). It is a very human instinct to collect, save and remember and archives are just how we realise this instinct in our lives.