Translation and Digital Democracy in the Feminist Archive South

By Elissa O’Connell (@ElissaOConnell)

As readers will surely be aware, 2018 has been a historically significant year for women’s history and archives. The centenary of some women gaining the vote has created many opportunities to celebrate women-led activism across the UK, as well as to reinforce the need to document and protect these herstories through archiving and heritage. 2018 also marks the 40th anniversary of the Feminist Archive South (FAS), established in 1978 to document the herstories of international feminist social movements active between 1960-2000. The need to celebrate these vital campaigns for democracy and women’s rights has raised important questions about imperialism in women’s movements more widely.

The Feminist Archive South’s current project ‘Hatpins to Hashtags’ is funded by the Government Equalities Office and aims to celebrate a century of tools for feminist activism and engage groups underrepresented in public life. In my role as Education Co-ordinator for the project, I am always conscious of the need to delve deeper into the archive. It is time to highlight those voices that have been marginalised in the greater narrative of the Women’s Liberation Movement. At 160 metres of feminist materials, it was hard to know where to start…

My research interests in Hispanic Studies and experience as a Spanish teacher meant that I was immediately drawn to the Latin American materials documented in the archive catalogue. Several cardboard boxes revealed an incredibly diverse and surprising collection of testimonies to the boom in networks of grassroots feminist activists across the continent and beyond. Throughout my personal research of the Latin American materials, I had also been organising volunteering workshops to digitise some of FAS’ collection of over 1000 striking posters, with the idea of preserving and sharing the unique collection online. The experience of working collaboratively with other feminists surrounded by such visually affecting images of the Women’s Liberation Movement was revelatory — both in terms of what we discovered about the materials and each other in the process.[1] The archive worked as a catalyst for intergenerational feminist exchange and led me to consider how sharing the Latin American Feminist Archive materials in a more public, collaborative way might lead to cross-cultural exchange.

As a researcher with white privilege, reading these highly valuable intersectional activist herstories in my second language highlighted the need to share these materials with others, and in particular with Hispanic feminists. However, it felt like an opportunity to do more than raise awareness for individual researchers. Could translation, as an act, be a vehicle for collective learning and exchange? How could we mobilise the transnational possibilities of translation through digital archiving? The Translating Latin American Feminisms project was born.

In June we held the first Translating Latin American Feminisms workshop in Special Collections at the University of Bristol. In collaboration with Dr Katie Brown, lecturer in feminist translation studies, we invited staff and students from the Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American studies department as well as translators from further afield.FullSizeRender 42

The workshop facilitated interesting discussions around ethical and methodological questions such as ‘What is a feminist politics of translation?’[2][3], ‘How do feminist archives challenge hegemonic histories?’ and ‘How can translation and collective digital archiving begin the process of decolonisation?’. As we discussed possible translations and differing historical interpretations of materials, we encountered perfect examples of how we could use the principles of feminist technology to archive feminist knowledge in non-hierarchical ways. In practice, we considered how to further harness the control afforded by the bespoke website built by FAS Digital Democracy lead Alison Bancroft. Digital Democracy is a key strand of the archiving and activism work the Feminist Archive South and looks at ways of using online software as a tool in grassroots activism – for existing and potential projects.[4]

Whilst for many the intersectional particularities and militancy of the materials was eye-opening, for others translation revealed commonalities between issues faced by transnational feminist movements; for example, violence against women and machismo. Whilst technically anyone can access the archive, our aim is to break down barriers to access to these incredible resources and herstories, online and offline. With this in mind, we aim to engage the Bristol Latinx community with a creative translation stall using facsimiles from the archive at the annual Bristol Latin American Encounter festival on 21st October 2017. By transferring the power to access and translate these herstories to diverse diasporic communities, we hope to build solidarities and transform our archiving and activism to become more intersectional.



[1] D-M Withers, Feminism, Digital Culture and the Politics of Transmission: Theory, Practice and Cultural Heritage, (Rowman & Littlefield: London, 2015)

[2] Sonia E. Alvarez ‘Enacting a Translocal Feminist Politics of Translocation’, in Translocalities/Translocalidades: Feminist Politics of Translation in the Latin/a Américas, ed. by Sonia E. Alvarez and others, (Duke University Press: Durham and London, 2014), p. 8

[3] Damien Tissot, ‘Transnational Feminist Solidarities and the Ethics of Translation’ in Feminist Translation Studies, ed. by Olga Castro and Emek Ergun, (Taylor and Francis: New York and London, 2017), pp. 29-42



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