by JANE CLINTON
Morning Star | 31 January, 2017
A SMALL silk buttonhole, a pamphlet on how to avoid arrest and a petition for women to sit their medical degree exams.
These are just some of the objects on display at the Radical Voices exhibition at Senate House Library in the University of London charting how protest has been expressed over the past two centuries.
Including petitions, photographs, posters, songs, poetry, book collections, political cartoons, badges and ephemera, it is a rich analysis of the voices that have spoken out and have often forced change.
There’s a James Gillray cartoon dating 1807 — the oldest item on show — along with much more recent items such as a 2003 Stop the War poster and literature printed by Occupy Design in 2012 as part of the occupation at St Paul’s cathedral.
For Dr Jordan Landes, research librarian of history at the library and the guiding light behind the exhibition, it was reading Rebel Footprints by David Rosenberg that inspired her.
“It made me realise the wealth of what was in the collections as I recognised that we held the collections of so many of the people he wrote about,” she says.
“Instead of trying to do this by subject we do it by how the voices are expressed,” she explains. Thus the Gillray John Bull and Communist Party cartoons sit cheek by jowl in the political cartoons section, while in the badges category there’s a silk buttonhole worn by men to express support for the Suffragettes next to membership badges of the Liberal Party of South Africa.
The “Advice for Those Taking Part in Protests” section is a particular favourite for Dr Landes because it not only reveals the ever-shifting face of protest but also how dissent was once regarded as the sole preserve of men.
“There is the change over time in the tone and language,” she explains. “I love the 1934 pamphlet, where there is a warning to men to tell their wives not to let policemen into their house.
“There was the assumption that the women would not be protesting. It reveals so much about society at the time, not just about protest.”
That this free exhibition should take place at the University of London is no surprise. It has long been seen as a radical institution and this too is explored.
William Beveridge served as vice-chancellor of the university from 1926-1928 and in 1942 he outlined the contents of The Beveridge Report in Senate House’s Macmillan Hall.
Also progressive was the fact that the university did not have a religious requirement. In 1878 it was one of the first institutions to open up higher education to women.
Despite this progress, there was a sticking point — women were not allowed to sit their examinations to earn their degrees. A petition calling for this to change is included in the exhibition.
With a mixture of personal libraries and manuscripts, Radical Voices also has a concurrent series of events including film screenings, talks, conferences and music.
“I hope the exhibition is a reminder that libraries and archives are places that preserve these, as we are calling them radical voices, and in preserving them they can potentially inspire people to study further and learn more, which is our main purpose.”
On entering the space, there is a poster emblazoned with a simple but powerful quotation from WH Auden: “All I have is a voice” and Dr Landes is keen that the exhibition will inspire people to think more deeply about the means and messages of protest.
“Hopefully this exhibition will allow people to read and hear others’ voices and maybe in turn it will help them find their own.”
The free exhibition Radical Voices runs until March 31 at Senate House Library, University of London, Malet Street, WC1, opening times: senatehouselibrary.ac.uk/exhibitions-and-events. This review first appeared in Camden New Journal, camdennewjournal.com