A pioneering digital map of the UK Women’s Liberation Movement

By Professor Margaretta Jolly

The Women’s Liberation Movement is vividly brought to life by a new interactive ‘Spare Rib map’ which uniquely charts UK feminist activism and entrepreneurship across the 1970s-80s. The map was developed by the Business of Women’s Words research team, led by member Professor Margaretta Jolly (University of Sussex), in partnership with Dr Polly Russell at the British Library, Dr Lucy Delap (University of Cambridge), Dr Eleanor Careless, Dr Zoe Strimpel and Dr D-M Withers.

The Spare Rib map makes visible the extensive network of ‘second-wave’ feminist activity that took place across the UK from the 1970s through to the early 1990s. The map is based on a data sample of letters and listings taken from Spare Rib (1972-1993), Britain’s longest-running feminist magazine. The sample is made up of about 8% of the magazine’s listings and about 24% of its letters – so it gives only a slice of all the activity that flowered in this period. However even this dramatically reveals the reach and style of a movement famed for its decentralised and domestic activism.

The map was developed over three years, in which Eleanor Careless conceptualised and processed data building on the work of Zoe Strimpel, Lucy Delap led the vision, and Simon Wibberley from the Sussex Humanities Lab built the software. Polly Russell and the web team at the British Library created the public face of the map.

Interpretations and guides to support the map include Girls Are Powerful: Young feminists’ Letters to Spare Rib, by Dr Eleanor Careless; Mapping Provincial Feminisms, by Dr Lucy Delap and Dr Eleanor Careless; Listings and the Feminist Marketplace, by Dr Zoe Strimpel; Mapping Spare Rib: How and Why, by Dr Zoe Strimpel, Dr Eleanor Careless and Dr Simon Wibberley, Discussions of Race in Spare Rib Letters by Charlotte James and Women’s Accounts Of Reproductive Healthcare Provision in Spare Rib Magazine by Alice O’Driscoll.

The map is permanently hosted on the British Library’s free educational website as part of its rich Spare Rib resource. We will also be depositing the data and open source code in the British Library’s research repository.

An analogue version of the map has featured in the British Library’s new landmark exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights (2020-21 and is included in the accompanying book co-edited by Professor Margaretta Jolly and British Library curator, Dr Polly Russell.

A second map of women’s resistance in the UK developed by the British Library was also supported by The Business of Women’s Words. This plots over 60 stories of women’s lives, rights and activism from the 18th century to the present, with each entry linked to a British Library collection item and further reading.

Details of all the associated programming inspired by Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, including digital events, podcasts and educational resources, can be found on the Library’s website.

A new map of the UK Women’s Liberation Movement

https://www.bl.uk/spare-rib/map

Open a full screen version of the map

Please credit The British Library for use of the screenshots of the map. For the image of the analogue map in the exhibition, please credit David Jensen.

Contact: m.jolly@sussex.ac.uk

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