2023 End of Year Reflection

Posting an end of year round up at the end of January might seem a bit daft, but I’m already one step ahead of last year, when I posted my end of year reflection in February! 

The beginning of the year was a succession of real highs and lows.  UCU entered a long phase of industrial action which came at a particularly challenging time for me as January and February is usually when I’m preparing for Open Education Week and the OER Conference.  However I also took some time out for a trip to New York with friends, which turned out to be one of the high points of my year. 

Open Education Week

For Open Education Week we ran a webinar that celebrated 10 years of open course development at the University of Edinburgh and shared the open course creation workflow that we’ve developed and refined over the years. 

 

OER23 Conference

It was great to see the OER Conference returning to Scotland in March when it was hosted by UHI in Inverness.  Inverness is a place that is very close to my heart as it’s the main city in the Highlands and it’s also were we used to go on holiday when I was a kid.  Inverness is still a stopping off point on the journey home when I go to visit family in Stornoway so I had a slightly weird feeling of nostalgia and home-sickness while I was there, it was odd being in Inverness and not traveling on further north and west. 

One of the themes of this years conference was Open Scotland +10 and Joe Wilson and I ran a number of sessions including a pre-conference workshop and closing plenary to reflect on how the open education landscape in Scotland has evolved over the last decade, and to discuss potential ways to advance open education across all sectors of Scottish education. 

Photograph of Open Scotland Plenary Panel at the OER23 Conference.

Open Scotland Plenary Panel by Tim Winterburn.
Here, the closing Panel Plenary session

Generative AI

Like many working in technical, educational and creative sectors I found it impossible to ignore the discourse around generative AI, though I hope I managed to avoid getting swept up in the hype and catastrophising.  In July I wrote an off-the-cuff summary of some of the many ethical issues related to generative AI and LLMs that are becoming increasingly hard to ignore: Generative AI – Ethics all the way down.  I appreciated having an opportunity to revisit these issues again at the end of the year when I joined the ALT Winter Summit on Ethics and Artificial Intelligence which provided much food for thought. Helen Beetham’s keynote Whose Ethics? Whose AI? A relational approach to the challenge of ethical AI was particularly thoughtful and thought provoking. 

Student Interns

Much of the summer was taken up with recruiting and managing our Open Content Curator student interns.  It’s always a joy working with our interns, their energy and enthusiasm is endlessly inspiring, and this year’s interns, August and Mayu, were no exception. I suggested it might be fun for them to interview each other about their experience of working with the OER Service and, with the help of our fabulous Media Team, they produced this lovely video. 

 

I was delighted when August and Mayu were shortlisted for the Student Employee of the Year Award in Information Services Group’s Staff Recognition Awards, in acknowledgement of their outstanding work with the OER Service and their wider contribution to ISG and the University. 

Their Finest Hour

The OER Service welcomed another student intern in the summer, Eden Swimer, who joined us to help run a digital collection day as part of the University of Oxford’s Their Finest Hour, a National Lottery Heritage funded project at the University of Oxford, which is collecting and preserving the everyday stories and objects of the Second World War. Organising and running the digital collection day proved to be a huge undertaking and we couldn’t have done it without the help of 26 volunteers from across ISG and beyond who committed so much time and energy to the project.  

 

The digital collection day took place in Rainy Hall, New College at the end of November and it was a huge success. Over 100 visitors attended and volunteers recorded over 50 interviews and took thousands of photographs, all of which will be uploaded to an open licensed archive that will be launched by the University of Oxford in June this year.  It was a deeply moving event, many of the stories recorded were truly remarkable and the visitors clearly appreciated having the opportunity to share their families stories.  In some cases these stories were being told by the last surviving relatives of those who had witnessed the historic events of WW2 and there was a real sense of preserving their experiences for posterity. 

Their Finest Hour digital collection day by Fiona Hendrie

The collection day was covered by STV and you can see a short clip of their news item here: Second World War memories to be preserved at university collection day

Publications

It was a privilege to work with co-authors Frances Bell, Lou Mycroft, Guilia Forsythe and Anne-Marie Scot to contribute a chapter on the “FemEdTech Quilt of Care and Justice in Open Education” to Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz’s timely and necessary Higher Education for Good: Teaching and Learning Futures. 

“Quilting has always been a communal activity and, most often, women’s activity. It provides a space where women are in control of their own labour: a space where they can come together to share their skill, pass on their craft, tell their stories, and find support. These spaces stand outside the neoliberal institutions that seek to appropriate and exploit our labour, our skill, and our care. The FemEdTech-quilt assemblage has provided a space for women and male allies from all over the world to collaborate, to share their skills, their stories, their inspiration, and their creativity. We, the writers of this chapter, are five humans who each has engaged with the FemEdTech Quilt of Care and Justice in Open Education in different ways, and who all have been active in the FemEdTech network.” 

I was also invited to submit a paper to a special open education practice edition of Edutec Journal.  Ewan McAndrew, Melissa Highton and I co-authored a paper on “Supporting open education practice: Reflective case studies from the University of Edinburgh.”

“This paper outlines the University of Edinburgh’s long-running strategic commitment to supporting sustainable open education practice (OEP) across the institution. It highlights how the University provides underpinning support and digital capability for OEP through central services working with policy makers, partners, students, and academics to support co-creation and active creation and use of open educational resources to develop digital literacy skills, transferable attributes, and learning enhancement. We present a range of case studies and exemplars of authentic OEP evidenced by reflective practice and semi-structured ethnographic interviews, including Wikimedia in the Curriculum initiatives, open textbook production, and co-creation of interdisciplinary STEM engagement resources for schools. The paper includes recommendations and considerations, providing a blueprint that other institutions can adopt to encourage sustainable OEP. Our experience shows that mainstreaming strategic support for OEP is key to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

Writing this paper was an interesting experience as Edutec is a research journal that expects evidence to be presented in a very particular way.  As a service division, we support practice rather than undertaking academic research, so the case studies we present are based on authentic reflective practice rather than empirical research, however it was useful to think about this practice from a different perspective. 

Wikimedia UK

In July I was awarded Honorary Membership of Wikimedia UK in recognition of my contribution to the work of the charity during my six years as a Trustee. When my term as a trustee came to an end, I was hoping that I’d have more time to contribute to the Wikimedia projects.  That hasn’t quite happened, I didn’t manage to do any Wikipedia editing in 2023, but I did enjoy taking part in Wiki Loves Monuments again.  I also digitised some pictures I took of the Glasgow Garden festival way back in 1988 and uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons to share them with the fabulous After the Garden Festival project, which is attempting to locate and archive the legacy of the festival. 

Teddy Bears Picnic, sponsored by Moray District Council. CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell on Wikimedia Commons.

ALT

I made short-lived trip to the ALT Conference in Warwick in September.  Unfortunately I  had to leave early as I came down with a stinking cold. I was really disappointed to have to miss most of the conference as it was outgoing CEO Maren Deepwell’s last event and I was also due to receive an Honorary Life Membership of ALT award. It was a huge honour to receive this award as ALT has been a significant part of my professional life for over two decades now.  You can read my short reflection on the award here: Honorary Life Membership of ALT. 

For almost three decades Lorna has been a champion of equitable higher education and an open education activist. Lorna ‘s lifelong commitment to and passion for equality and diversity clearly is evident in her work, yet Lorna tends not to push herself forward and celebrate – or even self-acknowledge – her many achievements. 
ALT press release.

Kenneth White, 1936 – 2023

I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Kenneth White in August.  Despite being an avid reader of Scottish poetry, and having studied Scottish Literature at Glasgow University for a couple of years, I hadn’t come across White until my partner introduced me to him in 2002.  His absence from Glasgow’s curriculum, and indeed his relative obscurity in his homeland, is striking given that he was a graduate of Glasgow University who went on to become the chair of 20th century poetics at Paris-Sorbonne. White, however, has always been a writer who divides the critics, particularly in Scotland. A poet, writer, philosopher, traveller, and self-identified transcendental Scot, White founded the International Institute of GeoPoetics and was a regular visitor to the Edinburgh International Book Festival, where I was fortunate to see him read.  To say that White’s writing, particularly his meditations on openness and the Atlantic edge, had a profound effect on me, is something of an understatement. This blog is named after the title of White’s collected poetic works and his lines frequently find their way into more unguarded pieces I’ve written.  I’ll leave you with a few words from the man himself. 

Image of the coast with the words of Scotia Deserta by Kenneth White.

2021 – Finding a way

At the end of each year, I used to write a round up of significant work and life events over the previous 12 months.  That didn’t happen last year.  Just getting to the end of the year felt like an achievement.  That was enough.  I’ve kept this blog ticking over for the last year, though I’ve written fewer posts here than in previous years.  It’s partly that I’ve been blogging elsewhere, on the OpenEd, Teaching Matters, and Open Textbooks blogs. But it’s also a question of bandwidth; surviving in the midst of a global pandemic, and taking care of those around you, be they family, friends, or work colleagues, takes up a lot of emotional energy, so there often wasn’t much energy left over to reflect on what I was actually doing.  I’m still committed to using this blog to share my practice though, so I want to end the year on a hopeful note with a blog post about all the things I’ve done that I didn’t manage to write about at the time, or that I only touched on in passing. 

Open eTextbooks for Access to Music Education

Fundamentals of Music Theory open textbook coverAt the start of the year I was awarded a University of Edinburgh Student Experience Grant, and together with Dr Nikki Moran and three brilliant student interns from the Reid School of Music, we undertook an experimental project to repurpose open resources from an existing MOOC and on-campus course to create a prototype open textbook, Fundamentals of Music Theory.  Working with Nikki and the students was a delight and we learned a lot about different publishing platforms and the process of editing and creating ebooks in different formats. My InDesign skills are basic at best, but my old HTML skills came in very handy!  We gave a talk about the project at the OERxDomains Conference, The Scale of Open: Repurposing Open Resources for Music Education, and it was great to receive such positive feedback on the importance of working together with students on projects like this. In his final reflection on the project our intern Ifeanyichukwu Ezinmadu wrote;

“This project has got me inspired towards creating an independent OER project in music theory based on the ABRSM theory syllabus. To achieve this new goal of mine, I look forward to deploying skills developed on this project such as collaboration, research, design thinking, and other technical skills. I will dearly miss the entire team that has made this Project a possibility – Lorna, Charlie, Nikki, Kari, and Ana – and I look forward to engaging with other opportunities within and beyond the University of Edinburgh to learn and contribute meaningfully towards music education projects.”

You can read more about the project on our blog here: Open eTextbooks for Access to Music Education, and download our open textbook here: Fundamentals of Music Theory.

Learn Ultra Base Navigation Upgrade

Another project I was involved in earlier this year was the Learn Ultra Base Navigation Upgrade project, which investigated the implications and feasibility of upgrading to UBN in advance of a full upgrade to Learn Ultra.  I’m not usually directly involved in supporting and delivering our Learn VLE service, but we were short handed so I was drafted in to do some of the project management. Although it was a bit of a steep learning curve for me, it was a really good opportunity to connect with colleagues who maintain and support the Learn Service and the Learn Foundations project, and it was interesting to have a preview of UBN and the functionality it provides. 

OER Policy update

On more familiar territory, I enjoyed working with our Education Technology Policy officer Neil McCormick to review and revise the University of Edinburgh’s OER Policy.  The University’s original policy was approved in 2015 and five years later, in September this year, our new policy was approved by Education Committee.  This new policy, which has adopted UNESCO’s definition of OER, strengthens the University’s commitment to open knowledge and achieving the aims of the Agenda for Sustainable Development.  You can read about the new OER Policy on Teaching Matters here: A new OER Policy for the University, and access the policy itself here: University of Edinburgh OER Policy

Open Education Global Awards

The OER Policy is just one of a sweet of open policies for teaching and learning that the University shares under Creative Commons licence, and we were delighted when these policies were awarded Open Education Global’s Open Policy Award as part of their 2021 Awards for Excellence.  Edinburgh rather swept the boards at the awards, also winning the Open Curation Award for our collection of OERs on TES Resources, co-created by GeoScience Outreach undergraduates and our fabulous Open Content Curation interns.  Melissa Highton won the Open Leadership Award, and Wikimedia intern Hannah Rothman won the Open Student Award.  We didn’t win the Open Resilience Award, but Charlie and I made a very cool video for our entry so I’m sharing it here anyway 🙂

ALT, Wikimedia UK, Creative Commons

I’ve continued serving as a trustee for ALT and Wikimedia UK and it’s always an honour to give something back to both these organisations, given their ongoing commitment to  openness, equity, community engagement and knowledge activism. This year I was privileged to sit on the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year Awards panel, which is always an inspiring experience, and the recruitment panel for the new ALT CIO. I also stepped briefly into the role of interim Chair of Board for Wikimedia UK, when Nick Poole’s term came to an end and before our new chair Monisha Shah took up the role.  With my Wikimedia UK hat on, I contributed to the Creative Commons working group on the ethics of open sharing, chaired by Josie Fraser.  You can read the outputs and recommendations of this working group here: Beyond Copyright: the Ethics of Open Sharing.

Knowledge Activism

I made my own small contribution to knowledge activism at the beginning of the year, when the University’s Disabled Staff Network and Staff Pride Network decided to run an editathon for LGBT History Month, I suggested HIV and AIDS activism in Scotland as a topic. As a result of the HIV Scotland Editathon, six new articles were created and several others improved, making a significant contribution to representing the history of HIV and AIDS activism in Scotland on Wikipedia.  I created a new article about Scottish AIDS Monitor and I also wrote and article about Jill Nalder, the Welsh actress who inspired the character of Jill in Russel T. Davis’ drama Its a Sin. Later in the year, Gary Needham invited me to present a webinar on Knowledge Activism: Representing the History of HIV and AIDS activism on Wikipedia for the University of Liverpool’s School of the Arts.  Gary and I have a formative shared queer history that goes back many years, so it really meant a lot to me to be able to speak to him and his colleagues about the challenges of representing queer lives and experiences in this way. 

A different kind of knowledge activism was provoked by the BBC drama series Vigil, which opened with distressing scenes of a fishing trawler being sunk by a nuclear submarine off the West Coast of Scotland.  I certainly wasn’t the only one who noted similarities to the sinking of the fishing vessel Antares by hunter killer submarine HMS Trenchant off Arran in 1990, despite the BBC denying that the incident was based on any specific real life event.  At the time, there was no Wikipedia entry about the sinking of the Antares and HMS Trenchant‘s entry made only a veiled reference to the incident, so I fixed that.  It’s important that we remember tragedies like this and equally important that we remember who was responsible. 

And while we’re on the subject of activism and loss of life at sea, please consider supporting the Royal National Lifeboat Institution if you can.  Their volunteers risk their own lives to save those who find themselves in peril at sea, and they are facing increasing hostility and abuse for their selfless courage and humanity. 

COP26

Activism of a different kind was going on all over Glasgow in November to coincide with COP26.  I can’t say I’m hugely optimistic about the outcomes of the conference or the will of global leaders and developed nations to enact meaningful change to halt the climate crisis, however it was hugely inspiring to hear the voices of so many young indigenous community activists.  These are the radical voices we need to listen to and make space for.  Also kudos to my daughter for snapping what surely has to be the most accurate photograph of the conference and the crisis we face, when we joined the climate march through Glasgow on 7 November. 

COP26 Climate Crisis March, Glasgow, CC BY NC SA, Rhuna McCartney

Open Scotland

Another area where we’ve made less progress than I would have hoped is with Open Scotland.  As a purely voluntary initiative Open Scotland hasn’t been particularly active for a number of years now, but many of those involved are still supporting open education, open practice and OER through other initiatives and activities. We remain committed to the aims of the Scottish Open Education Declaration and we haven’t given up hope that one day, the Scottish Government will wake up to the benefits and affordances of sharing publicly funded educational resources under open licence.  In March this year, with support from Creative Commons, we made another attempt at engaging the Cabinet Secretary for Education with the the UNESCO Recommendation on OER and the Scottish Open Education Declaration, but again we were disappointed to receive a generic response from a civil servant.  At a time when inclusive and equitable access to quality education and lifelong learning opportunities has never been more important, Scottish Government’s continued failure to engage with open education and OER is disappointing to say the least. 

Hello Helo

On a more positive note, we got a new kitten this year.  This is Helo and he behaves more like a puppy than a cat.  He’s very cute, but he’s also an absolute menace.  My two long suffering adult cats are getting no peace. 

Helo, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

Home

I got home to the Hebrides in the summer for the first time in two years.  It was a joy to see family again and when I finally got to the beach (yes, that beach) I felt like I could breath again for the first time in months.

Traigh na Berie, Isle of Lewis, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

Hope

In what has been a difficult and challenging year on many levels, I’ve been privileged to continue working with so many kind, compassionate, fierce and committed open education practitioners and open knowledge advocates.  You give me hope. 

It seems fitting to end with a quote from the late, great bell hooks, whose courage and clarity touched so many and whose words provide hope for us all.

“My hope emerges from those places of struggle where I witness individuals positively transforming their lives and the world around them. Educating is a vocation rooted in hopefulness. As teachers we believe that learning is possible, that nothing can keep an open mind from seeking after knowledge and finding a way to know.”

~ bell hooks (1952 – 2021)

M&M Podcast on Knowledge Equity

Earlier this week I had the very great pleasure of joining my colleagues Myles Blaney and Michael Gallagher for their fabulous M&M Podcast to talk about knowledge equity.  I’m a big fan of the M&M Podcast and knowledge equity is a topic that is very close to my heart so I really enjoyed the experience.

In a packed, half-hour conversation we covered everything from what knowledge equity means, improving knowledge equity through open education and co-creation, gatekeeping in open spaces, the impact of algorithmic bias, power, privilege and unconscious bias, learning from other cultures and knowledge structures, and what practical steps institutions can take to improve knowledge equity and inclusion. 

We also went off at a few tangents to talk about COVID vaccines, the historical repression of knowledge equity, how history is constructed and taught, acknowledging the legacy of Scotland’s colonial past, and confusing the twitter algorithm. 

You can listen to the podcast here – M&M Podcast 24: The one where we talk with Lorna Campbell, and like all good things, it’s open licensed of course! 

Knowledge Activism: Representing the History of HIV and AIDS activism on Wikipedia

This is a transcript of a talk I gave for the University of Liverpool School of the Arts “Making a difference in the real world” series. 

My name is Lorna Campbell, I’m a learning technology service manager at the University of Edinburgh and I’m also a Trustee of Wikimedia UK, and today I’m going to be talking about Wikipedia as a site of knowledge activism, the representation of queer and marginalised histories on the encyclopedia, and particularly the history of HIV and AIDS activism.  And I’ll also be introducing some of the people who have inspired me on my own journey to becoming a knowledge activist.Slides are available here: Knowledge Activism

First of all I’d like to start with a few acknowledgements.  I know acknowledgements usually come at the end, but as I’m going to be talking about the work of colleagues whose knowledge activism has been deeply inspirational to me, I want to speak their names up front.  So I’d like to thank

  • Áine Kavanagh, Reproductive BioMedicine graduate, University of Edinburgh.
  • Prof Allison Littlejohn, Director, UCL Knowledge Lab & Dr Nina Hood, University of Aukland.
  • Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence, University of Edinburgh.
  • Tara Robertson, Tara Robertson Consulting.
  • Tomas Sanders, History graduate, University of Edinburgh.
  • Sara Thomas, Scotland Projects Coordinator, Wikimedia UK.

Wikimedia UK is the UK chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation, the international not-for-profit organisation that supports the Wikimedia projects, of which Wikipedia is the best known.  Wikimedia’s vision is to imagine a world in which every human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.  This is not just a statement it’s a promise of inclusivity.

Wikipedia itself needs little introduction, the free encyclopaedia is the fifth most visited site on the internet, with over 6 billion monthly visitors.  English Wikipedia alone has over 6 million articles and there are an estimated 52 million articles in 309 languages supported by the site as a whole. 

Wikipedia is not just a repository of knowledge in its own right, it’s also a source of information for others services such as Google, whose 92 billion visits per month dwarfs Wikipedia’s paltry 6 billion. Amazon Alexa also draws much of its information from Wikipedia. Whenever you ask Alexa a question, there’s a good chance that the answer will come from Wikipedia.

In the global knowledge economy, knowledge is power, and Wikipedia is the largest repository of free, open and transparent information in the world.  Consequently, it’s perhaps no surprise that Wikipedia is censored to various degrees by numerous countries and regimes throughout the world, and outright banned by several including Myanmar, China, and Turkey. 

Having access to a platform where we can all access reliable, high quality information for free has never been more important in this age of disinformation, fake news, and government sanctioned culture wars.  How information is created and consumed matters like never before, and understanding how knowledge is created on Wikipedia can help people to understand how they consume and reproduce information.

Continue reading

Those who fought: Representing HIV/AIDS activism on Wikipedia

LGBT History month is almost over but before the month draws to a close I want to highlight the brilliant work of the HIV Scotland Wikpedia editathon that took place at the end of January.  The event was supported by the University’s indefatigable Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, and organised by the University’s Disabled Staff Network and Staff Pride Network, who were keen to run another editathon following the success of their previous Pride editathon on LGBT+ Books in Scotland and Beyond.  (I’m proud to have created a page for the controversial lesbian magazine Quim as part of that event.)  I suggested HIV / AIDS activism in Scotland as a potential topic as I’d noticed previously that this important history was almost entirely missing from the encyclopaedia.  Scottish AIDS Monitor and PHACE West had no articles at all, and although an article already existed for Derek Ogg, it only touched on his legal career and made no mention of his prominent AIDS activism.  This omission was all the more glaring in light of the belated public conversation about the impact of the AIDS pandemic sparked by the broadcast of Russell T Davis’ series It’s a Sin.  The Network were keen to address this omission and HIV Scotland also came on board to support the event, and I’m pleased to say that six new articles were created and several others improved. You can find out more about the articles created on the event dashboard here: HIV Scotland Editathon.

As part of the event, I wrote an article about Scottish AIDS Monitor, an organisation I first came into contact with in 1992 at an event at the Tramway which coincided with their seminal exhibition Read My Lips: New York AIDS Polemics.  That event and exhibition, which featured works by Gran Fury, Keith Haring, David Wojnarowicz, Felix Gonzalez-Torress and others, left a huge impression on me.  I was aware of the AIDS pandemic, growing up in the 1980s it was impossible to ignore, even in the Outer Hebrides. Who could forget the stigmatising horror of the Don’t Die of Ignorance campaign?  But it was Read My Lips that really brought home to me the deeply personal impact of all those lost lives, the fight for justice and recognition, and the importance of organisations like SAM in raising awareness, providing support and promoting safe sex.

Read My Lips: New York AIDS Polemics

Returning to It’s a Sin, the second article I wrote this month was a biography of Jill Nalder, the actress and activist who inspired the character of Jill Baxter and who played her mother in the series. I know that there has been some criticism of the series for stereotyping women as carers, and for centering the experiences of a woman whose own sexuality and relationships are elided from the show.  While there’s a discussion to be had there, I think it’s important to acknowledge the many many “ordinary” women who played an important role in awareness raising, fund raising, befriending and yes, caring for, people living with AIDS from the earliest years of the pandemic. 

I still have a copy of the Read My Lips exhibition catalogue, which includes a transcript of Vito Russo‘s seminal speech, Why We Fight, from a 1988 ACT UP demonstration.  These lines really resonated with me. 

“AIDS is really a test of us, as a people. When future generations ask what we did in this crisis, we’re going to have to tell them that we were out here today. And we have to leave the legacy to those generations of people who will come after us.

Someday, the AIDS crisis will be over. Remember that. And when that day comes — when that day has come and gone, there’ll be people alive on this earth — gay people and straight people, men and women, black and white, who will hear the story that once there was a terrible disease in this country and all over the world, and that a brave group of people stood up and fought and, in some cases, gave their lives, so that other people might live and be free.”

Wikipedia is the fifth most visited website in the world, with aspirations to provide “free access to the sum of all human knowledge”.   For this reason more than any other it’s critically important that the history of HIV and AIDS activism is represented on the encyclopaedia.  So that those generations that come after will be able understand the legacy and the courage of those who stood up and fought. 

Closer to home

I’ve struggled for words this week, or rather I’ve struggled to know whether to speak. There are so many other voices that need to be heard and listened to right now, rather than another privileged white cis woman. I can’t help feeling that stepping aside and making space for these other voices is the most useful thing I can do. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that I am appalled, I am utterly horrified, by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of the white supremacist state that is the USA. I can’t even begin to imagine the rage and fury of Black people who live with this fear and injustice on a daily basis. So for most of the week, I’ve tried to use the small space I occupy online to amplify the voices of others, while trying to listen and learn from what they have to say.

At the same time I’m not so naïve to think that systemic racism and police brutality are problems that only afflict the US.  Witness the deaths Joy Gardner, Cynthia Jarrett, Sean Rigg, Mark Duggan, and Sheku Bayoh, whose death at the hands of police officers in Kirkaldy, is currently the subject of a Scottish Government Public Enquiry.

Racism is so ingrained in the social, historical and cultural fabric of Scotland and the UK that we barely even see it. I live in Glasgow, a city whose mercantile wealth was founded on the exploitation of Black bodies; the slaves who worked the plantations of the tobacco barons and sugar merchants. When we walk down Ingram Street, Glassford Street, Buchanan Street, we barely give a thought to the fact that these streets commemorate slave owners. Their mansions are now art galleries, bars, restaurants, designer clothes shops but nowhere in Glasgow is there a visible public memorial to the enslaved men, women and children whose lives and labour were exploited to build the wealth of the slave owners and their city. Scotland has a long, long way to go before it even begins to acknowledge its racist, colonial legacy.

When universities, museums, art galleries and archives tweeted their support for #BlackLivesMatter this week they were, quite rightly, called out for their hypocrisy and performativity. After all, where is the evidence that black lives really do matter to these public institutions? Where is the evidence that they are addressing systemic racism, discrimination and inequality?

At the same time, the deluge of racist abuse that the University of Glasgow received for tweeting its support for #BlackLivesMatter shows why it’s so important that our education institutions do stand up to be counted.

Ironically, Glasgow is currently the only university in Scotland that has made a concrete effort to address its historic legacy of profiting from slavery through its Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow report, its commitment to raise and pay £20million pounds in reparations and its MOU with the University of the West Indies to found a research centre to “stimulate public awareness about the history of slavery and its impact around the world.”

In its own public statement in response to the murder of George Floyd, the University of Edinburgh announced its intention to:

launch a community-led process of restorative and reparative justice, through which we will interrogate the role of the University in slavery and colonialism.

And furthermore to:

launch a cross-disciplinary hub, RACE.ED for research and teaching on race and ethnicity… to bring together academics and students to explore issues of racism and be part of a University network taking forward anti-racist initiatives within our University.

Because of course addressing historical racism is only part of the picture, we need to address the systemic racism and discrimination that still pervades our academic institutions. The University of Edinburgh Student Union’s statement of solidarity notes:

Across Scotland, Universities have a BME attainment gap of 8.9%, which rises to 24.5% for Black students (AdvanceHE, 2018) – at Edinburgh, the BME attainment gap is as high as 17.7% in some Schools (EDMARC, 2019a). The University’s own internal review of support for BME students in 2019 found that a lack of racial literacy among both staff and student fundamentally undermined the experiences of BME students at Edinburgh (UoE, 2019) – this is unsurprising in an educational environment where BME academic and professional services staff are less likely than white staff to be employed at higher grades (EDMARC, 2019b) and across the UK Black academics make up less than 1% of University lecturers (HESA, 2019).

And as Dr Jasmine Abrams succinctly put it:

I don’t really know how to end this post, so I’m going to end it with the queer Black poet Essex Hemphill

“It is easier to be angry than to hurt. Anger is what I do best. It is easier to be furious than to be yearning. It is easier to crucify myself in you than to take on the threatening universe of whiteness by admitting that we are worth wanting each other.”

Please donate if you can. There is a list of bail funds here, and a list of UK organisations fighting racism and injustice at the end of the EUSA statement here.

Threads That Connect Us

In my post about my Open World femedtech quilt square I explained why I chose to make my square out of Harris Tweed, a protected fabric that is only made in the Outer Hebrides where I was born and brought up. In many ways the fabric is emblematic of both the islands and the islanders; the wool is shorn from the local black face sheep, the colours, traditionally from natural dyes, reflect the colours of the landscape, and the cloth is woven by hand to produce a fabric that is unique, beautiful and hard wearing.  As with many traditional fabrics, tweed production was originally a communal activity, and much of the work was undertaken by women; from dyeing and spinning the wool, to weaving the tweed, to waulking and finishing the cloth.  Waulking involved soaking and beating the tweed to remove dirt and impurities, and soften and shrink the cloth. Before tweed mills were built in the islands to process the hand-woven cloth, finishing a tweed was a social activity as much as a collective task.

This following account of the importance of waulking as a women’s social activity, comes from a Gaelic radio programme called Tigh Mo Sheanair (My Grandfather’s House) which was recorded in the early 1970s and the speaker is my grandmother, Anne Campbell, who was born in 1909 and lived in Harris all her life.  Her words were translated from the Gaelic by her daughter, my aunt.

Anne Campbell & Sybil McInnes

“The entertainment whilst waulking the tweed was better than a wedding, for us anyway when we were young, especially if the waulking took place in the evening.  If the waulking was in the morning we had to come home afterwards and stay in in the evening.  Waulking was sometimes our only entertainment.  We were always delighted when we got news that someone in the village was about to complete a tweed.  In those days it was the women who wove the tweed on the “little loom”.  A tweed would take three weeks to complete – today a tweed is completed in one day using an automatic loom.

To waulk the tweed a long table was set out with seating for four women on each side.  There was a tub at either end of the table. The tweed was cut into two pieces and a piece dropped in each tub.  One side worked left the right and the other right to left.

For a bit of fun the loose coloured threads at the end of the tweed were cut and each woman would put her thread outside the door. If your thread was the first one then the first man who came to the house had to see you home that evening.  It did not matter if you had a steady boyfriend, it was who ever found your thread that had to take you home.  There was often good-natured bantering outside the house especially if your own boyfriend turned up expecting to walk you home. We didn’t think anything of being up all night if there was a waulking.”

Although my granny wasn’t a weaver, she did spin and dye her own wool, which she used to knit socks, jerseys and other garments.  When I was a child, there was a huge cast iron cauldron wedged in the rocks outside the house, which had been used for dying wool before modern conveniences came along.  The remains are still there today.

This communal aspect of fabric production, sewing, embroidering, and quilting has always been important.  It provides women with a space where, to some extent, they are in control of their own labour. A space where they can come together to share their skill, pass on their craft, tell their stories, and enjoy each other’s company.  These spaces sometimes seem to stand outside the strictures and expectations of “normal” society, and provide women with a space where they set their own rules.   To my mind this has been the most powerful aspect of the femedtech quilt project, which has given so many women from all over the world, a space to collaborate, to share their skills, their stories, their inspiration and their creativity.

I’m writing this post with Frances and Suzanne in mind who will be coming together this weekend to sew the femedtechquilt, and although all those of us who sent in squares won’t be able to join them in person, I hope they’ll feel the strength of the threads that bind this amazing community together.

Gray and Glasgow – Living Imaginatively

I was deeply saddened this morning to hear of the death of the author and artist Alasdair Gray, undoubtedly one of the most significant English-language authors of the last century. I have a strong personal connection to Gray’s writing as in some obscure way it’s bound up with my decision to come to study and live in Glasgow.

I first came across Gray’s writing in one of Penguin’s Firebird anthologies in the early 1980s, when I was about 14, then the following year my partner’s brother, who was studying Scottish Literature at Edinburgh University, came home with a copy of Lanark and gave it to me to read it. I was completely captivated by everything about the book and pestered my friends to read it, most of them did and were equally enthralled. (Dragonhide was a condition we recognised well.) After Lanark, I went on to Unlikely Stories Mostly and 1982 Janine. I know 1982 Janine is a divisive book, and I certainly read it at an impressionable age, but I still think it’s an incredibly powerful work, and one that comes frighteningly close to capturing the disorienting reality of mental breakdown in words and typography.

When I left school, I had hoped to go to Edinburgh to the School of Scottish Studies, but although I was successful in securing a place, the university didn’t offer me a place in halls, and, as I couldn’t afford to travel to Edinburgh to find a flat, I had to turn the place down. Instead I went to Glasgow, which offered me accommodation and a place to study Scottish Literature and Archaeology. I wasn’t exactly keen on going to Glasgow at first, but in an odd way it was through the writing of Alasdair Gray and Edwin Morgan, and an anthology of Glasgow poetry called Noise and Smoky Breath, that features Gray’s artwork of Cowcaddens on the cover, that I warmed to the idea of moving to the city. I say odd, because Gray’s vision of Glasgow in Lanark is very much a dystopian one, but it’s a very human dystopia.  

When I first read Lanark in Stornoway as a teen, I had no real experience of Glasgow, it was a city I’d visited only once as a child, so re-reading the book at university while I was living in the city was a real eye-opener for me.   I saw Gray reading several times while I was a student, most notably at Felt Tipped Hosannas, a Mayfest event in 1990 to commemorate Edwin Morgan’s 70th birthday. He read an excerpt of McGrotty and Ludmilla and he was hilarious.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read Lanark since then, at least a dozen probably. It’s a book I go back to time and time again and every time I read it, it becomes more relevant.

It goes without saying that I love Gray’s art as much as his writing, as it’s really impossible to separate the two. For a short time, while I worked at Strathclyde University in the early 2000’s, we were privileged to share our Cetis office with some original prints of the Lanark illustrations from the University’s art collection.

I’ve lived in Glasgow for over 30 years now and somehow my experience of the city is still inextricably bound up with Gray’s work, whether it’s his artwork in Hillhead, Oran Mor, or The Chip, or his words that are woven into the fabric of the city.

“Glasgow is a magnificent city,” said McAlpin. “Why do we hardly ever notice that?”

“Because nobody imagines living here…think of Florence, Paris, London, New York. Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books and films. But if a city hasn’t been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively.”

Lanark ~ Alasdair Gray

As an eighteen year old teenager from the Outer Hebrides, I was able to imagine living in Glasgow because I had already visited it through Gray’s art, and never once have I felt like a stranger here.

Dunfermline College of Physical Education: A personal connection

While I was off on strike I was able to spend some time finishing a project I’ve been working on for a couple of months; editing the Wikipedia page for Dunfermline College of Physical Education.  I was inspired to update the existing page by the recent Body Language exhibition at the University of Edinburgh Library which delved into the archives of Dunfermline College and the influential dance pioneer Margaret Morris, to explore Scotland’s significant contributions to movement and dance education. And the reason I was so keen to improve this page, which was little more than a stub when I started editing, is that my mother was a student at Dunfermline College from 1953 – 1956, and when she died in 2011 my sister and I inherited her old college photograph album.  

My mother was not a typical Dunfermline student. Unlike many of her fellow students, who were privately educated and went straight to the college on leaving school, my mother was educated at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway, and after leaving school she took an office job while working her way through the Civil Service exams.  She’d been working a year or so when the college came to the island to interview prospective students, and her father suggested she apply.  Her interview was successful, and she was awarded a place and a bursary to attend the college, which at that time was in Aberdeen.  Having experienced a degree of independence before going to Dunfermline, my mother chaffed at the rigid discipline of the residential college, which expected certain standards of decorum from its “girls”.  She didn’t take too kindly to the arbitrary rules, and it’s perhaps no surprise that her motto in the college year book was “Laws were made to be broken”.  She did however make many life-long friends at college and she went on to have a long and active teaching career.

My mother worked as a PE teaching on the Isle of Lewis, first as a travelling teacher working in tiny rural schools across the island, and later in the Nicolson Institute.  She passionately believed that all children should be able to enjoy physical education, regardless of aptitude or ability, and she vehemently opposed the idea that the primary role of PE teachers was to spot and nurture “talent”.  Her real interest was movement and dance and many of the children she taught in the small rural schools where convinced she was really just a big playmate who came to play with them once a week.  Sporting facilities were pretty much non-existent in rural schools in the Western Isles the 1970s. Few schools had a gyms or playing field, so she often organised games and sports days on the machair by the beaches. The first swimming pool in the islands didn’t open until the mid 1970s and prior to that she taught children to swim in the sea, on the rare occasions it was sufficiently calm and warm.  None of the schools she taught in had AV facilities of any kind and I vividly remember the little portable tape recorded that she carried around with her for music and movement lessons.  She retired from teaching in 1987, not long after the acrimonious national teachers pay dispute.  Despite being rather scunnered with the education system by the time she retired, it’s clear that the years she spent at Dunfermline played a formative role in shaping not just in her career, but also her personal relationships and her approach to teaching. Typically, she was proud to be known as the rule breaker of her “set” and I think she’d appreciate the irony of her old pictures appearing on the college Wikipedia page. 

In order to add these images to Commons, I’m having to go through the rather baroque OTRS procedure, and I’d like to thank Michael Maggs, former Chair of Board of Wikimedia UK, for his invaluable support in guiding me through the process.  Thanks are also due to colleagues at the Centre for Research Collections, which holds the college archive, for helping me access some of the sources I’ve cited. 

One last thing….when I was producing our OER Service Autumn newsletter I made this GIF to illustrate a short news item about the Body Language exhibition. 

Garden Dance GIF

Garden Dance, CC BY, University of Edinburgh.

The gif is part of a beautiful 1950s film featuring students from Dunfermline College called Garden Dance, which was released under open licence by the Centre of Research Collections.  The film is described as “Dance set in unidentified garden grounds, possibly in Dunfermline” however when I was looking through my mother’s college album I found this picture of the very same garden, so it appears it was filmed in Aberdeen. If you click through to the film, you can clearly see the same monkey puzzle tree in the background. It was obviously something of a landmark!  I wonder if my mother is one of the dancers? 

 

Society for Nautical Research – Stepping down

In a couple of week’s time I’ll be formally stepping down as Member of Council and Chair of the Society for Nautical Research’s Publications & Membership Committee, a role I’ve held for five years. I was approached by SNR, following a couple of conference presentations my colleague Heather and I gave while we were researching and writing our book about the midshipmen of HMS Indefatigable, Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates.  At the time, the Society was in the process of redeveloping their website and launching new social media channels and they were looking for a committee chair with experience of both nautical history and digital media. 

I’m glad to say that the SNR’s new website, snr.org.uk, and social media presence, curated by the Society’s web editor Dr Sam Willis, have been a huge success and have helped the SNR to connect with it’s wide international membership in new ways.

Charing the committee has been an enjoyable and enlightening experience for me, though as one of the few female Members of Council it hasn’t always been plain sailing.   It’s been a privilege to meet so many highly respected scholars and historians through the Society and I’d like to thank everyone who has worked so hard for the Committee over the last five years, particularly our secretary Dr Cathryn Pearce, Nigel Blanchford, who was single handedly responsible for revitalising Topmasts newsletter, and Dr Chris Holt who has kindly agreed to replace me as chair.  It’s great to know  that the Committee will be in such good hands, and I’ll also be staying on as a regular committee member to ease the transition. Although the chair hasn’t previously rotated on a fixed term basis, we strongly believe that this will help to ensure that the Committee remains fresh and is able to attract new members. 

When Heather and I started our research six years ago, I would never have envisaged that what started off as a fun, informal project would end up with me joining such an august society. I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to work with the SNR and I’m honoured to have been made a Fellow of the Society.  I don’t generally use post nominals, but if I did, I would now be Lorna M. Campbell  MA (Hons), CMALT, FSNR.  I remain, as always, Ms 😉