ISNI: creating identifiers for women without them

In this guest blog, Catherine Senior & Pamela Johnson from the British Library’s Authority Control team introduce work on creating ISNIs (International Standard Name Identifiers) for women we’ve encountered during the Beyond Notability Project.

As members of the British Library Collections Authority Control team, the brief we were given was to create or amend ISNI records for approximately 600 women, to support the AHRC-funded ‘Beyond Notability’ project. These women – educated, knowledgeable, widely-read and sometimes widely travelled – were, in many cases, not given much recognition in their own lifetime.

The period which the project covers is roughly 1870-1950. It delves into the histories of women who were active in archaeology, history and heritage. Having created an ISNI record for each of them, or upgrading and adding to their record if they already had one on the database, we were able to supply an URL which will link to other data.

We describe our experiences of this piece of work below.

Catherine: I have found the project interesting, particularly as I am fascinated by nineteenth century history – most of identities I covered were from the late 19th century and early 20th. The women were highly educated, many having studied at University, yet the papers they produced were often read out at meetings by husbands or fathers – many were not allowed to use their own voice – which seems very alien to us. Quite a few of the women had lived abroad for part of their lives, involved mainly in archaeology, so they had obviously lived full and interesting lives at a time when you would expect women’s lives to be much more narrowly focused on the family.

One of the identities I looked at was simply described as “lady cataloguer” – the title of her paper had lived on, but not her name. I used prior knowledge of how I had tackled creating similar personal names, as a specialist cataloguer librarian, to decide how to cite the identity. It was fascinating to discover just how many women were involved in archaeology during this time period. It feels as though we have played a small part in unearthing some hidden history.

Pamela: Like my colleague Catherine, I found that some of the women did not read out their own papers. For example, Ellen K. Ware, also known as Mrs. Henry Ware, and when younger, as Ellen King Goodwin. In June 1886, Ellen Ware was elected an Honorary Member of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne. She was also a member of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society. At meetings of both these societies on different dates, papers that Ellen had written were read out on her behalf – on one occasion by a Dr. Hodgkin and on an earlier occasion by her father Bishop Goodwin. What we don’t know is – why? Why did Ellen not present her own papers? Was she not permitted, or did she not have the confidence to stand up in front of the assembled group, or was there some other reason? Fascinating, intriguing, and quite annoying for me as a 21st Century woman!

On now to Ethel Mary Colman from Norwich, who was vice president of the British Association in 1935, and even more excitingly, Lord Mayor of Norwich in 1923 – 24. She was not only the first woman to be Lord Mayor of Norwich, but the first woman to be a Lord Mayor of a UK city. I wondered, as I gathered Ethel’s facts together, what it must have felt like to achieve that.

And finally a quick look at Queen Victoria. As there was a considerable amount of existing metadata associated with her, I needed to add specific fields to tie the queen to the Beyond Notability project. I read on Queen Victoria’s Beyond Notability wikibase entry that she exhibited a portrait of Mary Queen of Scots at a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries in London; on another occasion she exhibited a Coronation spoon (topical!); was she there, did she attend the meeting, or did she just lend the exhibits?

The things we most enjoyed about the project were learning about the women and what interested them; their achievements and the limitations seemingly imposed upon them, and the chance to contribute to a fascinating project. We are both so happy that ISNI is a highly valued and useful identifier that plays a part in research. The ISNI data we created can be seen via the ISNI ID property on the Beyond Notability wikibase.

Catherine Senior & Pamela Johnson

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