Blog

More Working Lives at the Society of Antiquaries

By Amara Thornton (Co-Investigator)

The Beyond Notability team has been busy going through records at the Society of Antiquaries. Among the lot are the Society’s Council Minute books. Alongside fellowship administration and the scholarly agendas of the day. the Council Minute Books also reflect the day-to-day logistics of running the Society.

Keeping my eye out for mentions of women in the Council Minute books, I came across one woman whose work for the Society was integral to its day-to-day functioning in the Victorian era. This woman is Mrs Baldwinson, who was married to the Society’s Porter, Mr George Baldwinson.

The minute noting her work at the Society was made as part of a Council Meeting in June 1874. George Baldwinson had asked for a raise for himself and his wife (whose first name is, sadly, not recorded), and the minute included information on their work and pay. Mrs Baldwinson’s rate of pay was quarterly, with an annual sum for making tea, in contrast to her husband’s weekly salary. After her death a few years later, a Mrs Knight took over her duties. Another very recent find was a reference to “two girls” (unnamed) who were to help with the Library Catalogue in 1884.

As I tweeted on our launch day, The Antiquaries Journal also includes brief references to other staff who helped the Society function on a day-to-day basis. There we can find acknowledgement of the work of Louisa Hurren, the Society’s housekeeper, who retired in 1945 after 40 years working at the Society.

In 1935, another staff member’s departure was acknowledged in The Antiquaries Journal – this was Miss Warrand, who was leaving the post of ‘Library-cataloguer’ at the Society after 10 years of working. It appears from the Journal that she was one of two cataloguers employed, and that her post was not to be filled because the cataloguing work had been so thoroughly done it was felt that the Society could manage with only one catalogue from that point.

We want to acknowledge the lives and work of these women in the Society’s history, and make sure that their work is recognised alongside the contributions of the Fellows to the Society. We hope that this brief post is a start.

Building the Beyond Notability Knowledge Base: 4 reasons why we chose Wikibase

By James Baker (Co-Investigator, Beyond Notability)

For all that people like to moan about the things that are wrong on Wikipedia (and there is much that is wrong on Wikipedia), it is the place people go to when they want to know something: together with the other sites run by the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia is the knowledge infrastructure of the web. Since 2010 cultural institutions have formally contributed to this ecosystem through Wikimedian-in-Residence programmes, typically resulting in digitised material appearing on Wikimeda Commons, the home for every media artefact you encounter when browsing Wikipedia.

More recently a number of those Wikimedian-in-Residence programmes have directed attention towards Wikidata, a multilingual knowledge graph that is a common source of open data used on Wikipedia. More significantly, every time you search Google and a little info box pops up on the right side of the screen containing useful – typically biographical – information, that is probably drawn from Wikidata. In turn a person without a Wikidata page is unlikely to get a box. And so if less than 20% of Wikipedia Biographies are about women, and if most Wikipedia biographies have a corresponding Wikidata page, then it follows that enriching Wikidata with otherwise neglected histories of women active in archaeology, history and heritage is something worth attention. Hence, our project.

Wikidata is a wiki (a collaboratively edited hypertext publication) whose technical infrastructure is based on a combination of the software MediaWiki and a set of knowledge graph MediaWiki extensions known as Wikibase, the workings of which are explained in the ’Introducing Our Database’ post. We have built the Beyond Notability Knowledge Base on the same infrastructure, using Wikibase-as-a-service, first via WbStack (with amazing support from Adam Shorland) and latterly via the Wikimedia Deutschland hosted Wikibase Cloud (with thanks to Mohammed Sadat). In this blog we list the Top 4 reasons why we took this approach.

1. Aligning Biographical Approaches

We can’t record the evidence we find directly onto Wikidata because many of the women we encounter in our research do not meet Wikidata’s ‘notability threshold’ – in some cases because evidence for their work in archaeology, history, and heritage is fragmentary, in other cases because the evidence needs to be assembled first to get over that threshold. Despite this, it wouldn’t make much sense for us to design from scratch a biographical database. And so we align our approach with Wikidata because, in part, it gives us an ontological platform to build on, a template for how to represent things like familial relations, office holding, and residences.

2. Beyond Notability as a Trusted Source

It made sense then to use the same technical infrastructures as Wikidata for our knowledge base. But whilst alignment is useful we cannot – as discussed in our recent blog ‘On Working with Gender – faithfully follow the Wikidata model for representing biographical information: the historically-specific circumstances in which women were working in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century are an awkward fit for a data model orientated around modern ways of being in the Global North: indeed, our project is a test of the capacities of data models like Wikidata to capture and represent these women’s lives. Given this need to diverge, given the choices we are making to diverge from Wikidata-as-canon, using the same software platform as Wikidata, the same visual and ontological aesthetic, supports our ambition for the Beyond Notability Knowledge Base to be regarded as a trusted source of biographical information. This is important because we think our work can make vital contributions to Wikidata. Take as an example Gwenllian Morgan, the subject of our previous blog. Prior to our project she was not listed on Wikidata as being a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (the construction of which on Wikidata uses the’award received’ property). But now she is, with the amended Wikidata entry using Beyond Notability as the source of this information.

3. Querying Between Knowledge Bases

Recording Gwenllian Morgan as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (FSA) means that any queries that use Wikidata to return a list of FSAs will now include her, as one of the many people that link to the Wikidata item Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (Q26196499). These queries can be made through the Wikidata Query Service, a SPARQL endpoint, “SPARQL” here meaning the query language used to interrogate graph databases. Building the Beyond Notability Knowledge Base on the same technologies as Wikidata means not only that we too have a SPARQL Query Service but also that both sets of data are organised using the same underlying principles, allowing us to more easily write queries that simultaneously interrogate both knowledge bases (and, indeed, any other knowledge bases that take a similar form).

We are already doing this kind of cross-querying to help our data entry. For example, we are using this..

PREFIX bnwd: <http://beyond-notability.wiki.opencura.com/entity/>
PREFIX bnwds: <http://beyond-notability.wiki.opencura.com/entity/statement/>
PREFIX bnwdv: <http://beyond-notability.wiki.opencura.com/value/>
PREFIX bnwdt: <http://beyond-notability.wiki.opencura.com/prop/direct/>
PREFIX bnp: <http://beyond-notability.wiki.opencura.com/prop/>
PREFIX bnps: <http://beyond-notability.wiki.opencura.com/prop/statement/>
PREFIX bnpq: <http://beyond-notability.wiki.opencura.com/prop/qualifier/>
PREFIX wdt: <http://www.wikidata.org/prop/direct/>
PREFIX wd:  <http://www.wikidata.org/entity/>

SELECT ?person ?personLabel ?item ?WD_DOB ?WD_DOD
WHERE {  
  ?person bnwdt:P16 ?isFSA . #select FSA
  FILTER NOT EXISTS {?person bnwdt:P4 bnwd:Q12 .} #filter out project team
  ?person bnwdt:P14 ?url . #look for wikidata URL on person page
  BIND(IRI(REPLACE(?url,"https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/","http://www.wikidata.org/entity/")) as ?item ) 
  
  SERVICE <https://query.wikidata.org/sparql> {
        ?item wdt:P21 wd:Q6581072 . #select women
        OPTIONAL {?item wdt:P569 ?WD_DOB . } #recall date of birth
        OPTIONAL {?item wdt:P570 ?WD_DOD . } #recall data of death
      }
  
  SERVICE wikibase:label { bd:serviceParam wikibase:language "[AUTO_LANGUAGE],en-gb". } 
}

..query to return a list of all woman on our knowledge base with corresponding Wikidata entries and – where present – their dates of birth and death as listed on Wikidata (and yes, it could be a better query, I’m still learning). This is important to know, because we intend to use Wikidata to run queries that rely on this information – for example, return all the women who became Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries before they were 40 – for those women on Wikidata (for those who aren’t, we will record that data on our knowledge base).

As we develop more research orientated queries, using a comparable infrastructure to Wikidata gives us more example queries to draw on for inspiration and guidance. One such query is helping to develop our understanding of the interpersonal connections that women relied on to get recognition for their work, and who were key allies for women in the period. Other queries we are starting to imagine and this is helping shape the data we include in the Beyond Notability Knowledge Base. For example, in order to successfully run a queries that returns a list of all women in our knowledge base who undertook professional activities within 3 years of becoming a mother, we need a record of when their children were born, data which only exists in Wikidata for women whose children are all considered ‘notable’. We therefore have started to formulate plans for how to record information about motherhood, and other life events, in a way that preserves our imperative to centre women in our data.

4. A Community

Finally, we choose Wikibase because it isn’t just a piece of software, it is a community. The Wikibase Stakeholder Group is providing a space where we can gain expertise, share ideas, and demonstrate our commitment to trustworthy linked open data infrastructures. Our particular thanks go to Adam Shorland, Laurence ‘GreenReaper’ Parry, Lozana Rossenova, Maarten Brinkerink, and Maarten Zeinstra. We look forward to continuing to work with you over the next few years of our project.

Working with Gwenllian Morgan

By Amara Thornton (Co-Investigator, Beyond Notability)

As a team, we have been talking a lot about work lately. In order to test out our evolving ontology for cataloguing women’s work, we’ve started to create quite detailed entries for a few women in our database. These detailed entries are based on the initial archive research we have done over the past few months, and associated desk-based research in primary and secondary source material. 

Working through the source material and figuring out how to catalogue what we are finding about women’s work most effectively has highlighted the need for us to construct a flexible and contextually relevant framework to represent what can be quite complex forms of activity into statements that work as linked data.  

We are using this framework to reflect the wide range of activities we are seeing in the records. And where possible, we are noting whether or not “positions held” – which we are deliberately separating from employment – are paid or unpaid, with salary specifics where we have them. To that end, we have decided to pull all these together by making a new item “public or professional activity”, each work-related property we create will now be united, and queryable, through the statement that it is an “instance of” a “public and professional activity”. 

Let’s take the example of Gwenllian Morgan, one of the women in our database. She was elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in the 1930s, toward the end of her extremely active life. Her blue paper reflects the wide range of her activities – beginning with her name, after which are the letters J. P., indicating that she was a justice of the peace.  

The “Addition, Profession or Occupation” field on the blue paper reveals that she held the position of Mayor in Brecon, Wales, where she lived, in 1910, and that she was Governor (equivalent to a Trustee position) of the National Library of Wales.  

The “Qualification” field introduces yet more areas of “public and professional” activity that Morgan undertook: her co-founding of the Brecknock Society and Museum, her role as Correspondent (effectively local reporter) in Brecon and district for the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments, and her association with the “restoration” of the Cresset Stone in Brecon Cathedral.  

This last detail took a bit of time and research to unpack. On first glance, it might look like Morgan had a role in conserving the stone, which had been found in a nearby garden. But in fact, courtesy of the National Library of Wales’s digitised newspaper collection, the “restoration” refers to Morgan’s purchase of the stone and (presumably) her donation of it to the Cathedral. As an aside, I’d highly recommend watching this beautiful film of a specially composed piece of music played near the Cresset stone, which is illuminated with candles. 

Turning to secondary source material, we find yet more evidence of Morgan’s activities in local government beyond her positions as J. P. and Mayor as indicated in her blue paper. An article in the Review of Reviews, published to coincide with her inauguration as mayor, notes that she had further positions as a town councillor and a poor law guardian

It remains to be seen how far Morgan’s local government work fed into her antiquarian interests. But it is clear that Morgan felt very strongly about championing women’s work in local government. She outlined her thoughts on the matter at a meeting of the National Union of Women Workers, which took place in Manchester in 1895.  Her speech there was published as a pamphlet, which is now accessible through the LSE Women’s Library digital collection.  

Alongside this local work, Morgan took part in national and international campaigns for temperance, holding positions in the World Women’s Christian Temperance Association and the British Women’s Temperance Association in the 1890s. As Superintendent of Petitions and Treaties for the WWCTA, she led on the collection of signatures of Great Britain and Ireland for the Polyglot petition, which called for governments to prevent trade in opium and alcohol. The founder of the WWCTA, Frances E. Willard, noted in her announcement of Morgan’s appointment that Morgan owed the role to her friend Lady Henry Somerset – an indication both of the role of patronage in these appointments and of Morgan’s social network. 

Morgan’s public and professional activities encompass some key areas we are planning to highlight through our database, including the intersection of proto-feminist campaigning with heritage-related and philanthropic activities. We won’t be able to cover every woman in our database in this much detail, but Morgan’s active life gives us a useful template for thinking through how we represent various aspects of women’s work through time.  

References/Further Reading 

Brecon County Times, 1913. Builth Wells Naturalists At the Priory Church, Brecon, 31 July, p 6. 

Chapin, Clara, 1895. Thumb nail sketches of white ribbon women. Chicago: Women’s Temperance Publishing Association. 

Morgan, Gwenllian E. F. 1895. The Duties of Citizenship: The Proper Understanding and Use of the Municipal and Other Franchises for Women. 

Willard, Frances E. 1890. A New World’s Secretary. The Union Signal, 4 December, p. 12. 

International Women’s Day!

The Beyond Notability project is taking over the Society of Antiquaries Twitter feed for this year’s International Women’s Day!

As part of this event, we are featuring two audio recordings from the correspondence of two women who are now featured on our database: Eliza Jeffries Davis, a historian, and Margerie Venables Taylor, an archaeologist.

These recordings of letters in the Victoria County History (VCH) archive have been created by Professor Catherine Clarke (Davis) and Claire-Louise Lucas (Taylor). The project is particularly grateful to Victoria County History for permission to record the extracts and make transcriptions of them available here. We’re also very grateful to Professor Catherine Clarke and Claire-Louise Lucas for agreeing to record them.

Eliza Jeffries Davis worked for the Victoria County History as a researcher and writer in the first decade of the 20th century. She became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1929.

Margerie Venables Taylor worked for the Victoria County History at the same time as Eliza Jeffries Davis. She became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1925.

These two recordings feature letters sent to William Page, the general editor of the VCH, by Davis and Taylor respectively. They illuminate the working lives of these two women. Davis’s letter is celebratory, sent on the publication of the VCH volume on which she had worked. In it, she makes suggestions for publicity and in so doing highlights her non-VCH working life, as a London County Council teacher. Taylor’s letter, sent after she had been working for some years at VCH, reflects her continuing concerns about the rate of pay for VCH researchers. She also reveals the expansion of her research work beyond VCH, enabling her to push more effectively for a salary increase.

Eliza Jeffries Davis

VCH Archvie EJ Davis read by Catherine Clarke March 2022

Eliza Jeffries Davis letter to William Page, dated 5 Oct 1909, on London County Council Moorfields Training College, White Street, Moorfields E. C. letterhead (VCH 2/22/3)

Transcript:

Dear Mr Page,

Thank you for your note. I am glad the London volume is really coming out at last – though I shudder to think of the negligences + ignorances in my part!

I am writing to suggest that you tell the publishers to send a prospectus of it to the heads of various London schools and colleges. I think we discussed this once, + you asked me to remind you again. It would be so very useful in teaching, + luckily the board of Education is awake to the importance of local history just now, so the heads of schools might think it worth while to spend so much money on a book!

In the case of institutions under the LCC it would be well if the notices were sent as soon as possible, as the “Requisition” for new books (only allowed once a term) are made up about the beginning of November. I enclose lists which may be useful.

Yours sincerely,

EJ Davis

Margerie Venables Taylor

Extract from MV Taylor letter to William Page dated 24.IV.1910 from 48 Watton Crescent, Oxford (VCH 1/3/210)

Transcript

Dear Mr Page, 

I have been considering the question we discussed since I last saw you. I should very much like to work for the History again, but I think I ought to have more than 1/6d an hour. If you work out £2.10 a week, working 5-6 hours a day, inclusive of all holidays etc, it comes to more than that. At the present moment for Research work at the Bodley I am paid 2/- an hour + other workers-transcribers are paid 2/6 an hour, while the ordinary, not very skilled, catalogue assistant receives 1/6 an hour. So that I think I ought to have 2/- an hour, especially when it is not certain that the work will continue for more than two years. I put the facts before you so that you will understand my position. I really feel it is not fair to take research work at 1/6 an hour, after some years’ experiences. I am sorry to trouble you in this way, but I think you will understand + tell me exactly what you think.  […]

**If you would like to explore the lives of Eliza Jeffries Davis and Margerie Venables further, you will find them on our database at: https://beyond-notability.wiki.opencura.com/wiki/Item:Q153 (Davis); https://beyond-notability.wiki.opencura.com/wiki/Item:Q133 (Taylor).

On Working with Gender

By James, Katherine and Amara.

The subtitle of our project, is ‘Re-evaluating Women’s work in archaeology, history and heritage in Britain, 1870 – 1950′. We aim to create a large-scale study of women’s contributions to these fields by rendering visible previously unknown ‘professional’ (both salaried and unsalaried) activities of women through the study of archival sources. This requires us to identify instances in our sources of women conducting various activities we would categorise as ‘work’, and to express those as data. But how do we identify these women?

This has led the project team to chew over two issues in recent meetings:

  • How to work within, or modify, the conventions of Wikidata to deal with gender (and indeed other sensitive personal) characteristics in our database
  • The ethics of ascription of gender to people in the past

To begin, let’s consider the conventions governing how the property of gender (or ‘sex and gender’, since Wikidata currently conflates the two – and this is in itself controversial) is handled in Wikidata, the collaboratively edited knowledge graph whose linked data underpins Wikipedia and Google Search. Like other systems for the organization and systematization of knowledge, Wikidata operates by using (relatively) controlled vocabularies: lists of key terms with agreed definitions that allow records to be tagged/described in ways that render them searchable.  In order to link our data to other data sets it is important to work to some extent within conventions in order to make those links. If we were to create an entirely unique, bespoke set of categories to classify our historical data, our database would be limited in usefulness, since it would not be discoverable through standard searches or interoperable with other data ecologies. On the other hand, conventions developed in Wikidata (term lists etc) are simplifying/flattening and can be inadequate when dealing with historically constructed categories, including gender. Crowd-sourced editing of Wikidata (in which we are participating) can also lead to changes and allows for modifications.

We are constructing our database by writing statements that ascribe information to individual or classes of items/objects, including people, by linking them with particular values of properties (known in data design as key-value pairs). For example, the English language statement “milk is white” would be encoded by a statement pairing the property ‘color’ (P462) with the value ‘white’ (Q23444) under the item ‘milk’ (Q8495).

The category (property) of ‘sex or gender’ (P21) is defined in Wikidata as follows:

sex or gender identity of human or animal. For human: male, female, non-binary, intersex, transgender female, transgender male, agender. For animal: male organism, female organism.

The issue here is not only that this gloss is contestable (and indeed contested – check out the discussion on the property talk page (content warning: transphobic language)). It is also that no caveats exist around the ascription of values of this property to historical or living individuals.

The absence of caveats for ‘sex or gender’ contrasts with cases such as ‘ethnic group’ (P172)’ and ‘sexual orientation (P91)’, properties the definitions of which are hedged about with caveats:

subject’s ethnicity (consensus is that a VERY high standard of proof is needed for this field to be used. In general this means 1) the subject claims it themselves, or 2) it is widely agreed on by scholars, or 3) is fictional and portrayed as such)

the sexual orientation of the person — use IF AND ONLY IF they have stated it themselves, unambiguously, or it has been widely agreed upon by historians after their death

We are not the only people to notice Wikidata’s blunt flattening of sex and gender. The wonderful Homosaurus, a linked data vocabulary of lesbian, qay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and others (LGBTQ+) terms, gives us a range of narrower terms we might use instead: gender identity, gender expression, assigned gender.

These narrower definitions draw attention to what we, as historians, are doing in this project. We are dealing overwhelmingly in assigned gender rather than gender identity or gender expression, i.e. gender as ascribed to historical agents in our sources and/or as perceived by us in our interpretation of those sources. We have no direct access to the gender identity of the majority of our subjects (they do not ‘state it themselves, unambiguously’). And gender expression varies over time and between places, making our particular perception of gender a determinant of how we ascribe gender.

In the sources we have been looking at so far, sources that (partially) record work in archaeology, history and heritage in Britain, ‘sex or gender’ (P21) property-values such as womanhood are either ascribed to the people that feature in them, or our sources are silent on the matter. Sometimes the (ascribed) gender of individuals in our sources is signalled in explicit fashion, e.g. by use of gendered titles such as ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’. In other cases there is indirect or implicit evidence of gender-ascription – not least, evidence of the various kinds of barriers and exclusions to which women were subject in 19th and early 20th century Britain.  Most obviously, individuals to whom womanhood was ascribed were excluded from being Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries until 1920, but (in the UK until 1918/1928) they were also excluded from suffrage, from taking their degrees in certain universities, from pursuing certain kinds of professional work once married, and so on.

Data Feminism gives us ways to respond to the inadequacies of Wikidata P21, both as a tool for representing the past lives that are the focus of our study and – in turn – all people effectively misgendered by its flattening effect and binary assumptions. As D’Ignazio and Klein write “data feminism requires us to challenge the gender binary, along with other systems of counting and classification that perpetuate oppression” (D’Ignazio and Klein, Data Feminism (2020), 97). Not only is questioning a classification system a feminist move, so is acting in opposition to it, refusing to contribute to it on its terms. If what gets counted counts, we need to ensure that not only are more women counted, but that they are counted in ways that make clear when their womanhood is an ascription, an identity, and an expression.

What does this mean in practice? It means a number of interventions in the way we make statements about gender and sex, none of which we claim to have got entirely right, all of which we are working though in real time as we encounter the archive and the lives therein. These include assigning gender as ‘woman’ (Q3 in our data) if:

Where gendered honorifics are absent and only initials and surname are given, even if the individual’s name appears in relation to a context and activity in which normative actors in our period are men, we do not assume that the individual indicated is a man. Rather, we investigate that name, indicate uncertainty when ascribed gender is unclear, and record ‘unknown value’ when no evidence can be found.

Finally, we are committed to using a technical infrastructure that tracks our changes, timestamps them and gives each edit an author. This enables our attempts to resist the presumption of gender ascription to be recorded, and when new information is found that revises a claim, ensures that our uncertainty – however fleeting – remains entangled with the linked data we produce.

All these solutions are provisional and imperfect. We welcome constructive feedback on the procedures we have developed so far.

Introducing Our Database

We are now three months into Beyond Notability. We gave our first overview presentation of the project at the Society of Antiquaries Christmas Miscellany last month, for which we pulled together some initial findings. It’s the start of a new year, and so it seems an opportune moment to introduce the first iteration of one of the main project outputs: our research database. 

The research database was set up by Co-Investigator James Baker, and currently operates on WbStack, a shared hosting platform for Wikibase sites. You can find it at the web address https://beyond-notability.wiki.opencura.com (though note the address will change in Spring 2022 when we migrate to Wikibase.Cloud, a new service that will be managed and maintained by Wikimedia Deutschland). You can also find a link to it on our website, by clicking on “Database” in the menu. This post will take you through a few key parts of the database at this early stage of its development. Please note:  if you are using Chrome as your browser, you may need to make sure your language settings are set to British English in order to see all the data.  

And so, to begin. At the top of the main page of the database site you will find a short description of the aims of the project. This section also links to our statement of project values, which has a related bibliography. 

Screenshot of the main page of the Beyond Notability project database, Jan 2022.

Below the first section you will find a section called “Where to start”. The links under this section will take you to a list of all the items (currently) in the database, each of which has an individual Q number, the unique identification number for each item. The list includes people, organisations, events, titles, publications and sources, all linked in some way to individual women’s records. You will also find a list of properties in this section. These are words or phrases that allow us to link items together, or qualify information in a given item (with, for example, an approximate date for the information given, or a reference to source material).  

We have begun creating records for women who were proposed as Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries.  For these entries we began by using the information available in one key source for our project, the Certificates of Candidates for Election (also known as “blue papers”). The “blue papers” have been bound into volumes, each volume representing papers from roughly a 10-year period. The volumes are held in the Society of Antiquaries’ archive. Eventually, we intend to add to these entries with information from other sources. 

Scrolling down the page, under the Additional Resources section of the website you will find a link called “Meta“. This will take you to a page where we will be documenting our decision making and our source material. Under the “Item Templates” section is a list of information we will be prioritising in our dataset, and also information we intend not to prioritise. The following section “Key Sources” will link to pages with descriptions of some of the most important sources for our dataset, such as the “blue papers”, with details on why they are useful for our project.  

Let’s look at an individual entry. 

In 1924, the archaeologist Marjerie Venables Taylor became the first woman proposed and elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries through the same route as a man – that is to say, she was proposed by another Fellow and not by the Society’s Council.  We have extracted data from the  “blue paper” for M. V. Taylor (as she was more commonly known) to begin representing Taylor’s life; our current efforts are on our website at this url: https://beyond-notability.wiki.opencura.com/wiki/Item:Q133. This url will be the main ‘address’ for Taylor on our database for the present, and in due course more information from other sources will be added to supplement the information given on Taylor’s “blue paper”.  

Screenshot of the Beyond Notability database entry for Margerie Venables Taylor, Jan 2022.

The box at the top indicates Taylor’s name as it was given on the blue paper. Alternative names are also listed under “also known as”.  The alternative names are important as women frequently appear in different sources with different names (this is particularly true if they were married).  

Below the top box, is the “event” of the proposal, given as a single statement. This includes the propertyelection to SAL proposed by“, with the name of the person who initially proposed Taylor (who we have assumed is the first signatory on the list) following. The property “evidence (free-text)” is next, enabling us to transcribe of the information on the blue paper. Another property “point in time” is used to indicate the date that the blue paper was submitted. All the people who signed her blue paper are listed with the property “proposed election to SAL signed by“. Each person has been given their own Q number, and are included in the list of “items”. The property “is elected” allows us to indicate whether or not the person was admitted as a Fellow.  The property “evidence (item)” is used where we have created individual items for individual pieces of evidence, such as a job, or a publication, that were used as supporting details for admission to the Fellowship.    

Below this are separate statements with properties to indicate an individual’s sex/gender, whether or not they are already included in Wikidata, whether they have been given a person ID by the Archaeology Data Service (which links to a list of their publications), their residence including locality (given in the blue paper), employment or degree information.  

The information given in the blue papers can sometimes be difficult to isolate as an item. In Taylor’s case, while there was specific information about the positions she held at the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, there was also an explicit statement about her “distinguished service to the study of Roman Britain”. To capture this more ambiguously framed but important information, we have created a free-text property called “area of expertise“.  Each of the statements described above has been given a reference, using the property “stated in“, which links to the item “Society of Antiquaries Certificates of Candidates for Election“. 

There are currently three statements on Taylor’s page that do not come from her blue paper, and they show the potential for adding information from other sources to enrich the data given in the blue papers. Two of these – “described at URL” and “Archaeology Data Service person ID” – link outward to other websites that describe Taylor’s life and work in the form of statements, connecting our data to those sites, and enabling cross-referencing and querying. The third uses the property “member of” to indicated that Taylor sat on the (item) “Society of Antiquaries Research Committee“. This information has come from another recently added item, the publication “Camulodonum: The First Report of the Excavations at Colchester“. This excavation was conducted in the 1930s as a collaboration between the Society of Antiquaries (through the Research Committee) and the (item) “Colchester Excavation Committee“. Creating the publication as an item enables us to use it as a reference for the work of other women mentioned in the report. From the “Camulodonum” item, you can use “what links here” on the left-hand menu to see the other women included in the report. Some of these women were proposed and elected as Fellows in the years that followed. We will be adding their blue papers in the months to come. 

Detail from Margerie Venables Taylor’s page showing the what links here link (see bottom left hand corner), Jan 2022.

We hope that this post will help you navigate our database site, which grows larger every day. This site is a work in progress, and the ways in which we are cataloguing the data will change as we continue discussing, thinking about and analysing the records. We encourage all of you to take a look at the women we’ve already been able to represent with the data available to us to date. And we hope that you enjoy engaging with the data as much as we do. 

Gertrude Rachel Levy in the Archives

By Amara Thornton (Co-Investigator, Beyond Notability)

My first guest post for the project is on Gertrude Rachel Levy (1883-1966) who was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1947, while she was working as Librarian of the Hellenic & Roman Societies in London. I focus on her work in the 1920s and 30s in Mandate Palestine and Iraq, and spent a morning in the archive of the Palestine Exploration Fund to track her down, coming across many other women in archaeology, history and heritage along the way! “Gertrude Rachel Levy in Mandate Palestine” is published on the Institute of Classical Studies blog.

The Congress of Archaeological Societies

By Amara Thornton (Co-Investigator, Beyond Notability)

We are continuing to explore the various archives held in the Society of Antiquaries that may be relevant to understanding the range of women’s activities in archaeology, history and heritage. Recently, we examined the papers of the Congress of Archaeological Societies (CAS), which are part of this group. This historic organisation was before a few weeks ago unknown to me, but it has already proven to be significant.

Image of the front cover of the Minute Book of the Congress of Archaeological Societies, 1894-1918. Copyright of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
Congress of Archaeological Societies Minute Book 1894-1918 (CAS/001). Reproduced with permission of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Established in 1888, the Congress of Archaeological Societies brought local archaeology and history societies throughout the UK “in union” with the Society of Antiquaries. As the Report of the Derbyshire Archaeological and Natural History Society put it in 1892, following the Congress’s Third Annual Meeting: “Members will be glad to know that this Congress seems to supply a long-felt want in bringing the various county societies into closer communication one with another, and in promoting systematic research.” 

The Congress issued summary pamphlets on the work of its various Sub-Committees who spearheaded the “systematic research” being supported or undertaken by the Congress. This included, between 1891 and 1914, annual Indexes of Archaeological Papers published in a significant number of local antiquarian, archaeological and historical societies and field clubs across the UK (England, Scotland, Wales, and all of Ireland). These yearly Indexes were complemented in 1907 by Laurence Gomme and Alice (Merck) Gomme‘s Index of Archaeological Papers 1665-1890.  Looking at these Indexes more closely gives us an important overview of the names and numbers of women publishing papers in local, regional and national journals relating to archaeology, history, ethnology, anthropology and folklore. 

Many FSAs were deeply involved in the Congress as members of the Standing Committee, cementing the close relationship between the two.  Among the early schemes that the Society either supported or organised were a Photographic Survey of EnglandTranscription and Publication of Parish Registers, and a framework for recording Church Inscriptions. In 1901 the CAS formally established its Earthworks Committee, which also issued annual reports giving an overview of sites discovered, at risk, and under active exploration, as well as an earthwork-specific bibliography of papers published that year. Women’s names can be found there too.

One or more representatives of the Societies subscribing to the Congress sent delegates to its Annual Meetings. These events were held at the rooms of the Society of Antiquaries at Burlington House, and comprised of verbal reports on the work of the Congress Sub-Committees and the progress of the various schemes the Congress was engaged in, as well as discussions among the delegates. Events after the meetings occasionally included visits to archaeological exhibitions held in the Society.

The Society of Antiquaries library has bound copies of the printed Congress reports as well as the Congress’s archive; these sources are complementary and should be read together.  The printed meeting reports include lists of the Congress’s affiliated Societies, with the name and address of an individual to contact. By 1908, the first women’s names appear. Amy (Leslie) Johnston, the Viking Club (later Society)‘s Honorary Secretary and co-editor with her architect husband Alfred Wintle Johnton of Old-Lore Miscellany, and Agnes Sophia Griffith (later Johns) for the Oxford Architectural and Historical Society (Griffith’s brother was Egyptologist Francis Llewellyn Griffith).  Amy Johnston was a delegate for the Viking Club at the Congress of Archaeological Society’s Annual Meeting in July 1911, where she spoke on the issue of restoration of churches.

In 1917, another milestone was gained for women at the Congress of Archaeological Societies: the election of Nina Layard to the Congress’s Council. Layard’s publications had been included in the Congress’s Indexes of Archaeological Papers since 1899, and as the First World War drew to a close, at the meeting of the Congress in November 1917 she was proposed by William Dale and Dr David Cranage, both of whom were Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries, for election to the Council. Just a few years later, in 1921, she was proposed by the Council of the Society of Antiquaries for election to the Fellowship.

At the Congress’s meeting in November 1919, Layard discussed her ongoing work at Mundford, Norfolk, where flint tools had been uncovered in the course of ploughing in 1918. Layard’s subsequent excavation of the site intended to discover the original position of the tools. The Congress’s report highlighted that Layard had already presented a paper on her findings at the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia.

There are many facets of the Congress’s work where women might be found. At present, we are going through the Congress’s Indexes of Archaeological Papers in order to gather data on the women included in these Indexes and the local archaeological and historical societies with which they were associated. Nina Layard is an important example of where the Society of Antiquaries and the Congress of Archaeological Societies intersect in terms of women’s participation. But she will not be the only one. 

References/Further Reading

CAS Committee and Council Minute Books, Society of Antiquaries archive CAS/001.

CAS Annual & Special Reports 1888-1920, Society of Antiquaries Library.

Congress of Archaeological Societies in Union with the Society of Antiquaries, 1903. Scheme for Recording Ancient Defensive Earthworks and Fortified Enclosures. London: Harrison & Sons.

O’Neil, B. H. St J. 1946. The Congress of Archaeological Societies. Antiquaries Journal 26 (1-2): 61-66.

Saga-Book Archive, Viking Society for Northern Research.

Townsend, J A B, 1986-9. A Memoir of Alfred Johnson by his Nephew. Saga-Book 22, 457-62.

Our First Trip

By Amara Thornton (Co-Investigator, Beyond Notability)

On 6 October, the Beyond Notability team took its first steps into the Society of Antiquaries archive. This will be a key research area for us, as the Society’s archive is one of our main record sets in starting to map women’s work in archaeology, history and heritage between the late 19th and the mid-twentieth centuries.  

The Society has been in existence since 1707 (more on its history here).  Its recently appointed archivist, Kat Petersen, was our guide to getting to know the SAL’s archive a bit better. She is currently going through the entire archive herself, to ensure that ultimately the Society’s rich institutional history will be discoverable through the Collections website

Our goal with this initial visit was to look at a cross section of the Society’s archive to get a better sense of the kinds of ways in which women’s work was recorded.  The Society’s Blue papers (records generated when a person is proposed as a Fellow of the Society) are an obvious starting point. However, women were not admitted as Fellows until 1920, so references to their work before that point can only be found by looking beyond that particular set of records.  

The Society’s various Minute Books are another key resource.  There are series of Minute Books for various groups within the Society, including the Executive Committee, the Council and the Finance and Library Committee. Women can be found in the Executive Committee and Council minutes before 1920 if they are sending artefacts for exhibition at the Society, reporting on discoveries made, or offering books or artefacts to the Society (Fig. 1). Another activity we’ll be tracking and highlighting is instances of women seeking to use the resources of the Society for their own purposes (Fig. 2). 

Fig. 1. Detail from the Society’s Executive Committee Minutes from 3 July 1913, showing that a “Miss Cobbe” offered the Society a group of manuscripts relating to Bedfordshire. © The Society of Antiquaries of London. 
Fig. 2. Detail from the Society’s Executive Committee Minutes from 18 June 1914, showing that a “Miss Portal” applied to copy extracts from a manuscript held by the Society. © The Society of Antiquaries of London. 

A further valuable record set is the Special Committee Minute Books. We looked through one volume of these, dating from the years immediately after the Second World War. We found the names of FSAs Marjerie Venables Taylor and Kathleen Kenyon among the members of some of the Committees. On the Society’s Apulia Committee, gathered to organise excavations in this region of southern Italy, we spotted the name of another woman, “Mrs J. S. P. Bradford”. “Mrs Bradford” accompanied her husband John Spencer Purvis Bradford, FSA, on a scoping mission to Italy prior to a formal application being made to excavate.  

Thanks to Francesca Radcliffe’s biography of John Bradford, a bit more information about Patience (Andrewes) Bradford is available. Prior to her marriage, she attended the Courtauld Institute, and was part of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) during the Second World War. Radcliffe’s research reveals that during her lifetime Patience Andrewes Bradford was considered to be an expert in medieval archaeology and art – and that in the 1960s, she took over the management of the Apulia Committee.   

Through our project, we will be bringing together archival records at the Society of Antiquaries with information from other associated archives and sources, ensuring that we can view each of these women as individuals within the context of their time, and as a network linked across time. The first step in our programme is to understand how the Society’s institutional archive is constructed and what parts of the Society’s activities over time it represents, all the while taking note of the ways in which women appear in the records. 

We can’t wait for our next trip!