Queering the Collections Series

Queering the Collections

Our LGBTQ+ Special Collections Guide acts as a new route into our collections - opening up fresh avenues of research and enriching our knowledge of the past and present world.

A note on language:
In this post I will be using the word ‘queer’ in the broad and inclusive sense, to refer to all those contained within the LGBTQIA+ family. The word ‘queer’, once used as a term of abuse, has become reclaimed as a fluid term for people of different sexualities and gender identities.

‘Queering’ is a term that is used to describe the reinterpretation of a cultural work or a person’s life story in specific relation to sexual orientation or gender. It is also used as a creative device to look at things from a different perspective.

Two pages containing illustrations from The Sphinx book by Oscar Wilde. 1894. Mythic characters are depicted.
The Sphinx, Oscar Wilde. 1894. Ref: SC5256B.

Today, at the beginning of this year’s Pride celebrations, remembrances and actions here in Manchester, we are releasing an LGBTQ+ Special Collections Guide. You can see the guide by following this link.

The guide can act as a new route into our Special Collections – opening up fresh avenues of research and enriching our knowledge of the past and present world.

As we are an institution that has been forming its special collections for over a century (with items that span 5 millennia and come from multiple cultures), it felt important to look at our collections through a queer lens, as the potential for research and discovery benefits could be quite vast.

As the groups of people who make up the LGBTQIA+ family have been (and still are) persecuted, marginalised and even killed for long periods of history, their voices have often been suppressed, lost or entirely silenced within societies – stripping a great richness away from our collective cultures.

As a library that collects material of cultural significance, this means we can employ a two-pronged approach to find and amplify these lost voices. Firstly, with our historical material, we can highlight queer people, groups and movements, as well as queer themes and stories, which might otherwise not have gained the amount of access or exposure it perhaps warrants. Well-used material can also be viewed in a new light. Secondly, in our acquiring of new collections, we can forefront material which includes these under-represented individuals, groups, stories and work.

A photo of Alan Turing inspecting the Ferranti Mark I console, 1951. Copyright, the University of Manchester.
Alan Turing inspects Ferranti Mark I console, 1951. Copyright, the University of Manchester.

Where better for us to do this than in Manchester? A city which has queerness woven into its DNA. 1880 saw the infamous Hulme drag ball, 1950s Manchester was home to Alan Turing, in 1975 The Manchester Gay Alliance opened the Manchester Gay Switchboard to provide support and information to callers. It originally operated in the basement of the University of Manchester. By 1990, the switchboard teamed up with The Lesbian Link Helpline to form the Manchester Lesbian and Gay Switchboard. 1985 marked the first official Manchester Pride event and a huge anti-Section 28 protest was held in 1988. The first episode of Queer as Folk aired in 1999, a drama series based on Manchester’s gay scene, broadcast on Channel 4. And today Canal Street and the burgeoning queer scene continue to have a major cultural influence upon the city and wider reaches.

Even the city’s approach of ‘doing things differently‘ has been partly formed by its queerness: as people who often operate on the outside, rather than the inside of things, doing things differently is the natural state for most queer people.

The LGBTQ+ Special Collections Guide, that we have produced, is the starting point of a wider project to queer the collections: leading to forthcoming interviews and articles which will hone in on specific collections and shine a light upon them in greater detail.

To give you a flavour, the guide contains material from queer writers in a wide range of the printed collections, including: Sappho, Allen Ginsberg, Carol Ann Duffy, Edwin Morgan, Wilfred Owen, Elizabeth Bishop, John Ashbery and many others. 

Archive holdings which contain queer-related material include the Carcanet Press, the Pit Prop Theatre Company Archive, Rainbow Noir, the papers of activists Edward Carpenter, and the Papers of Tony Dyson and Cliff Tucker. The Thrale Piozzi Manuscripts contain correspondence from the Ladies of Llangollen – Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby.  Follow the link below to see everything contained within the guide.

It’s important to note that the guide is not exhaustive and that it will act as a living document; being added to as new discoveries are made by our staff and those who access our collections. A true labour of love, as all good things are.

With that in mind, we welcome your input and insight. You can view the LGBTQ+ Special Collections Guide here.

Flesh flyer image courtesy of MDMArchive

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