Great Place: Great Women

Introduction:

Great Place North Belfast’s Great Place: Great Women feature will run throughout January 2021. Our archive team have selected five women with historical connections to North Belfast for our New Year social media content. A short analysis of their life and work will be provided for each individual. Collectively, these posts will highlight the important contribution made by women to the social, political and cultural fabric of North Belfast.

Over the past couple of decades, historians have started the process of rectifying gender bias and omission in historical writing. Women ‘only occupy around 0.5% of recorded history’.[1] Where women do appear in the written archive, or in historical sources, they tend to hail from wealthier backgrounds. Historical narratives also suffer from the wider problem of working class, ethnic minority and LGBT+ invisibility. Historians are slowly filling these gaps and actively looking for these stories. Great Place: Great Women aims to begin to address this imbalance.[2]

Our Great Place: Great Women content has been developed using ‘primary sources’ – records dating from the time being written about. They capture the mood music of the era and form the building blocks of historical writing. Predictably, coronavirus has restricted our ability to consult physical records in libraries and public archives. The archive team’s reliance on digital sources has still, however, revealed a startling lack of primary source material written by (and about) women. Where women do make an appearance, to quote one persuasive assessment, it is ‘often a secondary history of serving tea at document-signings, caring for men wounded in battle, and standing off to the side at men’s election victories’.[3] The archive team have foregrounded the individual achievements of the five women selected for Great Place: Great Women rather than interpreting their actions as ancillary to male contemporaries.

Our featured women range from the spiritual – St Brigid – to political figures – like Lady Cecil Craig – who carved out successful, yet understudied, careers in public life. Most historical accounts of Belfast pivot around the themes of conflict, sectarianism and political struggle. This focus has buried other important aspects of the city’s social history that form the backdrop of wider shared experiences: recreation and leisure; work and deindustrialisation and the destruction and rebuilding of communities in the wake of the Blitz and urban redevelopment. Finding and sharing women’s stories forms a vital component of painting a more detailed portrait of Belfast’s recent history.

We hope that you enjoy our discoveries!  

GPNB


[1] http://blog.english-heritage.org.uk/women-written-history-interview-bettany-hughes/?_ga=2.132637838.1024291967.1608043911-243582098.1608043911

[2] See ‘A century of women’ for a good example of this: https://www.acenturyofwomen.com/

[3] https://www.historynet.com/famous-women-in-history

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