Roundtable: Gemma Romain, Tamsin Bookey and Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski

Navigate the hierarchies: enabling research into queer black subjects in the UK, 1930s-1990s

In this roundtable session, we will discuss how to circumnavigate the multiple barriers to locating and researching subjects typically very hard to find in mainstream archives: queer people of colour. Though first-person voices revealing queerness and Blackness can often be obscured in archival materials and their catalogues, we explore some ways in which to document and reveal histories of queer Black individuals.

It’s disheartening to research a subject for which free-text searching on the internet or in catalogue databases seems to turn up no results. Our session will include an introduction to the hierarchical structure of archive catalogues, and tips on how to browse them effectively to locate the unGoogleable.



Dr Gemma Romain

Dr Gemma Romain, historian, will talk about her research into Black history in relation to London’s interwar art world which led to the ‘Spaces of Black Modernism’ display at Tate Britain in 2014-15. In particular she will talk about the archival research carried out for her biography of queer Black artist model and student Patrick Nelson as well share information on queer Black lives found in archives relating to jazz clubs such as the Shim Sham.

Ego Ahaiwe Sowinksi

Ego Ahaiwe Sowinksi, archivist and artist, will talk about the importance of building personal relationships within and across grassroots and professional contexts to raise awareness of subjects ripe for research, and will also discuss her recent project to create a creative finding aid for the Women of Colour Index (1985-1995) of the Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths College.

Tamsin Bookey

Tamsin Bookey, Heritage Manager at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, will explore the archive of Edith Ramsay, a local borough councillor during the 1950s, showing how these papers were used by Prof. Nadia Ellis in her book ‘Territories of the Soul: Queered Belonging in the Black Diaspora’ (Duke University Press, 2015) to uncover Black queer spaces and subjects in the postwar East End of London.

The roundtable will take place on day 2 of the conference

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