Constructing life stories of women

Archaeolgists, Mr and Mrs Mallett at Harlyn Bay, c. 1900 (credit: R. Ashington Bullen, "Harlyn Bay and the Discoveries of its Prehistoric Remains" 1902). How do you write the life-story of a woman? Are biographies of women different to those of men?

Biography as a genre has a field of study all of its own. But for History 51 we are very much starting from scratch and most of our subjects are having their biographies written or constructed for the very first time (e.g. through art, craft, photographic journeys, film and oral history).

The history of the great and the good?

Contributors to History 51 have asked if the women we want to record have to be famous or have done something outstanding in the conventional sense of the male dominated narratives we're used to that promote the achievements of 'great men' especially if they are kings, princes and politicians.

The simple answer is No.

History is about understanding change over time. The acts of women, good and bad, have contributed hugely to those changes which have affected the lives and men and women alike.

We also have hundreds of thousands of female ancestors about whom nothing is written.

The Elizabeth Treffry Collection documents the lives of women in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly from all walks of life and will continue to do so. We do not privilege one kind of achievement over another.

We can learn so much about the past and about our own attitudes today if we listen more to the everyday stories of ordinary people. And very often we will find that they were not that ordinary at all.

We also have hundreds of thousands of female ancestors about whom nothing is written. Archaeologists are experts at reconstructing lives and lifestyles from the remains of past societies, and Cornwall and Scilly are blessed with some of the the richest, most fascinating archaeology in the world.

Cornish Women's Index data entry form

Documenting lives in the Cornish Women's Index

As part of History 51 we are developing a pioneering digital project to record and gather together the life-stories of as many women as possible. The Cornish Women's Index will be a Wikipedia-style online database that contributors can add to from anywhere they have an internet connection.

We'll shortly be offering training to our contributors so if you'd like to take part and add your story, please register your interest.

You can also find out more in our Cornish Women's Index guide in the History 51 resources section.

Help us tell our story

History 51 poster (click to download 3.4MB PDF) Now we have got over the euphoria of winning a £10,000 Heritage Lottery grant it is time to start the hard work.

We need volunteers who are interested in contributing to a pioneering and creative project. You don't have to have any particular experience but just have a love of finding out and capturing interesting information on women. Most volunteers will work on the Elizabeth Treffry Collection in Penzance, but we are also looking for others to use collections and resources from elsewhere.

The kind of tasks we need help with are:

  • researching the life stories of women who have lived, worked or come from Cornwall or Scilly
  • photographing and scanning historical documents and artefacts
  • creating art, music, poems or literature inspired by Cornish and Scillonian women
  • work on our social media channels and blog (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube)
  • writing short Wikipedia-style biographies
  • entering information into the Cornish Women's Index (a free online database of words and images)
  • participating in informal and fun workshops scheduled for venues across Cornwall in 2013.

What you will get in return

  • free training
  • a chance to undertake brand new historical research
  • your name next to contributions on the Cornish Women's Index and website
  • VIP guest at the History 51 party in November 2013.

Find out more about the women in your area or your family

Are you doing local or family history research? History 51 could be the project for you. We are looking for local and family historians to contribute new information on historical women they know about.

We would love to hear from you and help you collect and record information about these women.

Please share and display the History 51 poster!

If you think your group or organisation would be interested in History 51, please share and display our poster with them. Clicking on the poster will download a PDF version you can print out.