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  • Women's Memory Symposium:Women's Library and Information Center, Istanbul
  • Diane James

Show me your archive and I will tell you who is in power.

(Gloria Wekker)

Keynote speaker Tilly Vriend of the International Information Center and Archives for the Women's Movement (IIAV) set the tone for the April 17-19, 2009 conference marking the 20th anniversary of the Women's Library and Information Center (WLIC) Foundation in Istanbul, where key issues discussed were the continuity (or discontinuity) of the Turkish women's movement; the import of Western second-wave feminism to Turkey; linkage and coordination between women's libraries; and the accessibility of source materials in light of the exponential increase in the volume of information being produced in the digital era. Quoting Gloria Wekker from the 70th anniversary celebration of the IIAV in Amsterdam four years earlier, Vriend spoke of the need and the struggle to preserve women's access to their records in their own archives. Behind her, a massive backdrop continuously sampled WLIC's collections of books, periodicals, posters, photos, and cartoons, which also showcased Turkey's rich tradition of graphic design.

The conference was held at Kadir Has University, a new private institution named for its founding benefactor, established in the renovated former factory of the French tobacco concession in Cibali district on the Golden Horn. Some 50 papers were presented by panelists from Turkey, Europe, the Middle East, Australia, and the U.S., with 200 guests attending [End Page 175] and 20 students in KHU's American Literature and Cultural Studies program providing efficient operational support.

The theme of Women's Memory was situated at the conjunction of women's libraries, archival research, and information technology, and underlined by the launch of Türkiye Kadin Thesaurusu, produced by WLIC's Thesaurus Working Group, and Kadin Belleğini Oluşturmada Kaynak Sorunu / Women's Memory: The Problem of Sources, the volume of conference papers edited by Fatma Türe and Birsen Talay Keşoğlu. Also released was Yeni Harflerle Kadin Yolu / Türk Kadin Yolu (1925-1927) (Turkish Woman's Path...), prepared by Nevin Yurdsever Ateş, a transliteration-translation of nearly the full run of the journal founded and edited by the early Republican activist Nezihe Muhiddin (1889-1958). WLIC holds all but seven irretrievable issues of Kadin Yolu. This is the first in a series of eight volumes of late Ottoman women activists' writings that WLIC is publishing in modern Turkish in 2009. For not only do Turkish women face obstacles of conflict, repression, and compromise in preserving their history-like women everywhere-but they also contend with the fact that original sources prior to the 1928 adoption of the Turkish reform alphabet, which replaced the Ottoman script (in Arabic characters), are now indecipherable to all but specialists.

Women's Archives and Libraries Worldwide

Papers presented at the conference include reports on the state of local and national women's libraries by Tilly Vriend and Marjet Douze (IIAV, Amsterdam), Annie Metz (Paris), Anna Maria Tagliavini (Biblioteca delle Donne, Bologna), Joanne Evans (University of Melbourne), and Zephorene Stickney and Kathryn Tomasek (Wheaton College, Massachusetts). Considerable historical background information emerged from the combined expertise of the activists, researchers, and IT specialists who referenced some of the great Western libraries founded on the personal archives of leading first-wave feminists ("suffragettes"), such as the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America (at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University); the Women's Library (originally the Fawcett Library, now at London Metropolitan University); the International Archives for the Women's Movement (IAV, now part of the IIAV in Amsterdam); the Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand in Paris; and the Centre des Archives du Féminisme [End Page 176] at the University of Angers in France.

Archivists cited many challenges to the establishment and preservation of such collections. Metz noted the Nazi confiscation of the papers of Cécile Brunschvicg (1877-1946), a leading suffragette who served in France's Popular Front government almost a decade before French women had the right to vote. Vriend and Douze discussed the Nazi removal of the entire contents of the IAV to Berlin. Only in the twenty...


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