Raiders of the Lost Archive

BCN 101 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 101, July 2010

bringing bi history out of the closet
(and loft, and those boxes under your bed)

What’s your bi history?

Where did you first hear about bisexuality? Who is your favourite bi icon or role model? What was the first bi-positive magazine, book or website you ever read?  Was there a bi group or event that was particularly important to you?  How did that group or event come to exist, and what challenges has it faced over the years?

All this stuff (and much more) is bi history.  Just because it’s not in the history books doesn’t mean it’s not important in all sorts of ways.

But hang on – is it true that bi stuff isn’t in the history books?  Where would I go to find out?  Would there be other interesting sources of information if I was wanting to find out more about bi things that’ve happened in the past?

For people interested in researching UK lesbian and gay history, there’s now a wealth of collected resources to browse through: books, academic journals, magazines, oral history recordings, and archives such as the Hall-Carpenter Archive of lesbian and gay activism.  But what will researchers find when they’re looking for information on the history of the UK bi community?

This BiCon, there’s going to be a workshop on bisexual history archiving, to talk about these kinds of issues and plan some positive action.  We’ll have Sue Donnelly, head archivist of the Hall-Carpenter Archives collection, to tell us a bit about archiving in general and the Hall-Carpenter Archives in particular: how they work and what they can do for you.

The Hall-Carpenter Archive is housed in the London School of Economics Library.  Its entire bi content currently seems to comprise six copies of ‘Bi Monthly’ from the mid- to late-1980s and two BiCon leaflets … and that’s it.  All subsequent bi publications are represented by a gaping black hole. Could we change this? What’s in it for the bi community?  Where could we go from here?

At the BiCon bi history archiving workshop, there’ll be two basic questions to tackle: firstly, what bi historical stuff do we have and, secondly, what do we want to do with it?

So, if you’re wondering what to do with all those old bi community publications, BiCon programmes, zines, flyers etc lurking in boxes under your bed, now is the time to act. Don’t recycle them or mulch them to make papier mâché sex toys – make a list of what you’ve got (i.e. titles, year and month of publication, issue numbers and any other distinguishing features) and bring your list along to the BiCon bi history archiving workshop.  At this stage we can’t accept actual copies of stuff, but what we can do is compare lists, see what material we’ve got and talk about how we might like to (a) save it from the ravages of time, and (b) make it available to people who might find it useful.  Could this be through the Hall-Carpenter Archives? (They’re interested.)  Could there be other options, and how would they work?

The future of UK bi history rests in your hands… (cue portentous voice-of-God sound effects!)

The bi history archiving workshop (aka ‘Raiders of the Lost Archive’) will be at 11.30 a.m. on the first day of BiCon (Friday 27 August).

Come, bring a list of any bi stuff you’ve got, and let’s change the face of bi history as we know it (or at least have a damn good workshop trying).

Lisa Colledge