Situating Scottish feminist magazines: the 1990s

Rachael Alexander and Charlotte Lauder on the blind-spots and possibilities of researching feminist print

Interest in feminist magazines is on the rise.  From projects grounded in academia, like the British Library’s digitised archive of Spare Rib magazine, to representations in popular culture, like Ms. magazine in the TV series Mrs. America (2020), feminist magazines have arguably never been more visible.  Yet in our research, we have been struck by the lack of sustained attention to Scottish feminist magazines and periodicals.  Aside from some valuable mentions, in particular from Esther Breitenbach and Sarah Brown, they seem to have been largely overlooked.  In this blog post, we look to question some of the reasons for this seeming absence of interest.

In our earlier blog, we looked at Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal and Msprint and the 1970s–80s, and here we’ll think a little more about Harpies & Quines and the 1990s. Harpies & Quines was established in 1992 and, while short-lived, it is a fascinating title. We’ll consider why Harpies & Quines – like other Scottish feminist magazines – has been overlooked, and what it can contribute our understandings of the Scottish publishing landscape and feminist publishing more broadly.

Perhaps we should begin with an acknowledgement that some (or, more accurately, many) magazines will most likely always be overlooked.  Scholars working in the broad field of periodical studies frequently confront the fact that issues, titles, and whole genres must be left out – given the vast quantity of magazine material and the sheer scale of the archive.  For example, in his introduction to the Routledge Companion to the British and North American Literary Magazine (2022), Tim Lanzendörfer includes a final section titled ‘The essays not in this volume’ as a way ‘to briefly acknowledge […] this Companion’s limitations’ (5).  Maybe, like the magazines Lanzendörfer lists, Scottish feminist magazines have simply been left on the side-line.  But this seems surprising, particularly when we consider the aforementioned attention being dedicated to feminist magazines from elsewhere, like Spare Rib and Ms.


Of course, Spare Rib and Ms. were bigger publications in almost every respect.  Being aimed at British and American women, respectively, they addressed a far larger readership than Harpies & Quines, for example.  Harpies & Quines also had far less funding; it was started in 1992 with subscriptions, donations, a small Community Enterprise Strathclyde grant, and £3,000 from Lesley Riddoch’s mother, Helen Riddoch.  Ms., on the other hand, had $20,000 of seed money from Katherine Graham of the Washington Post and by 1972 Warner Communications invested $1 million into the magazine.[1]  Spare Rib started with £2,500, a fact noted in their 20th anniversary issue, published in July 1992.  (£2,500 in 1972 would be worth roughly ten times that sum today.) In that same issue, the collective commented that ‘To launch a magazine like Spare Rib from scratch in 1992 would cost at least £500,000.’  These disparities in financing have a clear impact on the materiality of the magazines; the size, the number of features and articles, and the paper quality, which have perhaps made them more attractive objects of study and attention.  Ms. and Spare Rib also had significantly longer lives than Harpies & Quines, a fact not unconnected from their greater financing.  Spare Rib ran from 1972 to 1993 and Ms. from 1971 with an incarnation still in print today, while Harpies lasted only two years.  But we only need to look at the significant academic attention dedicated to modernist little magazines of the 1920s – characterised by tiny circulations and brief publication periods – to see that circulation and longevity do not directly correlate with levels of interest.[2]

Scottish feminist magazines are by no means the only overlooked English language feminist magazines of the 1960s to 1990s that are gradually gaining attention.[3]  In her recent book on the Canadian Branching Out (1973-1980) – Feminist Acts: Branching Out Magazine and the Making of Canadian Feminism (2019) – Tessa Jordan notes that the magazine had ‘completely fallen out of the historical record’ (xxix).[4]  Indeed, many of Jordan’s comments on the aims and objectives of Branching Out bear resemblance to those of Harpies & Quines.  Jordan notes the collective’s commitment ‘to producing a national magazine that challenged not only the male-dominated mainstream press but also American cultural imperialism’ (xx).  Harpies & Quines did not, it likely goes without saying, seek to challenge American cultural imperialism.  But the collective did position themselves against the macho Scottish media scene and the London-centric publishing sphere.

The methods used by the Harpies collective, however, diverged somewhat from Branching Out.  It set itself against the daily and weekly Scottish newspapers in its emphasis on women’s writing, like all feminist magazines, but also frequently lampooned (mostly) male journalists in regular features like ‘Wanker of the Month’.  It also positioned itself against conventional women’s magazines in tongue-in-cheek features like ‘How to Read Cosmopolitan and Still be a Feminist’ (December 1993/January 1994, 26).  And it emphasised throughout a particularly Scottish focus, combining its feminism with constructions of Scottish identity.  And again against south-of-the-border publications like Spare Rib, by arguing they were of minimal relevance ‘for anyone living north of the Watford gap’.  These characteristics and how Harpies & Quines, and Scottish feminist magazines more broadly, carved out a space in the publishing landscape are a particularly aspect of interest for us in our research.  Indeed, we argue that this is one of the reasons why growing attention to them is long overdue and one of many ways in which they have much to tell us about Scottish periodical culture.

We want to pause here to consider one additional reason for the relative lack of attention to these magazines: the challenges of conducting research on cultural artefacts and publishing ventures which are well remembered and often held dear by those involved in their creation.  This can be a daunting prospect and raises ethical questions and considerations that do not come into the frame when considering, say, a magazine published in the early twentieth century.  The magazines we focus on were produced in living memory – like Ms. and Spare Rib.  But Scottish feminist magazines have comparatively little in the way of archival records.  Therefore, there is a significant reliance on approaches drawn from oral history, meaning researchers rely heavily on producers and readers who are willing to talk to them.  As has been well-documented by feminist oral historians, this is not only a practical challenge but a significant responsibility.  But the value of these perspectives, the opportunity to speak to those involved in the production of these titles or the readers who engaged with them has been thoroughly demonstrated.  Feminist oral history projects like the ground-breaking Sisterhood and After project, led by Margaretta Jolly with the archive held at the British Library, show what can be gained from such work and provide a valuable blueprint for future research.

In our conversations with a few of the women who have contributed to Scottish feminist magazines – like Esther Breitenbach, Lesley Riddoch and Libby Brooks – we’ve seen how much these magazines meant and still mean to the women involved.[5]  But we’ve also gained a sense of how little we know about these titles and their origins, and how the material that exists in the pages of the magazines only tells part of what these publications meant for feminism in Scotland in the 1970s to 1990s.  In continuing our research, we hope to deepen our understanding of these magazines, the collectives that produced them, and their place in the broader publishing and print culture.

Dr Rachael Alexander is based at the University of Strathclyde and is the author of Imagining Gender, Nation and Consumerism in Magazines of the 1920s (2021). Her research focuses on constructions of gender in twentieth-century periodicals and print cultures, in Scotland, Britain, the US, Canada and Scotland.

Charlotte Lauder is a PhD student at the University of Strathclyde and National Library of Scotland researching Scottish magazine culture from 1870 to 1920. Her work on Scottish women’s magazines has been featured on BBC Radio Scotland.



[1] Amy Erdman Farrell provides an excellent summary of this in her book Yours in Sisterhood (1990).

[2] There are many fantastic books on little magazines, such as Mark S. Morrisson’s The Public Face of Modernism (2001) and Eric Boulson’s Little Magazine, World Form (2016), and broader digitisation projects, such as the Modernist Journals Project (

[3] We add the caveat of English language here, in keeping with Lanzendörfer’s candour, to acknowledge the limitations of our own research.

[4] Some digitised issues of Branching Out can be found at the Rise Up! feminist archive:

[5] You can listen to our discussion with Esther Breitenbach here:


Scotland’s Spare Rib: the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal and Msprint

Charlotte Lauder and Rachael Alexander on the emergence of Scottish feminist print culture

The 1970s was unquestionably a decade of a new feminist print culture. As the women’s liberation movement gathered speed across the UK and Ireland, there was a renewal of feminist publications that combined the content of a magazine – articles, essays, poetry, and letters – with an informative and communicative style similar to that of a newsletter or newspaper. This feminist print culture grew out of consciousness-raising groups, collectives, and workshops. In England, this developed more quickly and more diversely than in Scotland. For example, Shrew (1969-74, 1976-78), a newsletter that started at the London Women’s Liberation Workshop had a circulation of about 5,000 by 1974.

Well-known English feminist magazines such as Woman’s Voice (1972-82), Spare Rib (1972-93), and Red Rag: A Magazine of Women’s Liberation (1972-80) were organised by collectives and similarly aimed to provide analysis-based articles and opinion pieces with essential information akin to a flyer or bulletin. WIRES (1975-86), created by the Women’s Information and Referral Service was the so-called ‘internal newsletter’ of the women’s liberation movement that acted as ‘a central facility for feminist news’.[i] Other magazines from collectives in England show a range of viewpoints within the women’s liberation movement, such as Roman Catholic Feminists Magazine (1977-82), Link. Communist Party Women’s Journal (1973-84), Catcall (1976-84), and the Association of Radical Midwives Newsletter (1978-86, 1986-9). Ireland, too, had feminist print scene by 1972 with Fownes Street Journal (1972-4), Banshee. Journal of Irishwomen United (1975-77), Wicca. A Monthly Feminist Magazine (1978-c.80), and Status (1981-2).

The emergence of a Scottish feminist print culture has been described as ‘a trickle’.[ii] Although there were newsletters produced by women’s groups throughout the 1970s, such as the Edinburgh Women’s Liberation Newsletter (1975-1996) and The Tayside Women’s Liberation Newsletter, which was a joint effort between women’s groups in Dundee and St Andrews,[iii] 1976 was the turning point for a more determined Scottish feminist print culture. At the annual Scottish Women’s Liberation conference in Glasgow that year, a proposal was passed to form a feminist magazine and at the next conference in Aberdeen in May 1977 the first issue of Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal was launched.[iv] The magazine was organised by a collective of nine women, with production assistance from four others, and ran for 4 issues at 25p per issue. The principal aim of Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal was to represent the issues and concerns of women in Scotland, rather than relying solely on the viewpoint of publications from England:

The journal will also provide a forum for discussion for women in Scotland. A vehicle for debate on various controversial issues is badly needed. It is simply impractical to attempt to conduct discussions through already existing journals based in London. It is to be hoped that the journal will encourage active participation in discussion from women both inside and outside the movement.[v]

Like other feminist magazines, the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal (1977-78) published a variety of content including poetry, fiction, news, conference reports, book reviews, and political articles. Its list of ‘Contacts’ was especially important and provided a central source of information on women’s groups, collectives, and workshops that were operating across Scotland.[vi]

Illustration from Msprint 1 (1978)

Geographical representation was another major concern for the magazine’s collective: articles such as Frances Bower and Joan McLellan’s ‘Women in Rural Scotland’ drew attention to the lack of access to healthcare, support groups, and educational opportunities faced by women in more remote areas of Scotland.[vii] In November 1977, a short article on the Shetland Women’s Group discussed that the group was facing “a limit to what can be done effectively in a small community where everyone knows everyone else, and to the kind o’ tactics we can use”.[viii] By 1978, the magazine’s ‘Contacts’ list has expanded to include Dumbarton, Inverness, and Falkirk, and calls were made for volunteers to distribute copies of the magazine on the west coast and the western isles.[ix]

Despite the magazine’s non-sectarian and inclusive policy, it was quickly caught up in the divisions between radical and socialist feminists that dominated feminist debate in the late-1970s. These tensions were splattered across the pages of most (if not all) feminist magazines in the UK and Ireland, and the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal was no different.[x] ‘In Feminism and Socialism’, Finella McKenzie (the St Andrews contact in the editorial collective) discussed the limitations of socialist feminism,[xi] and the article was reprinted in Scarlet Women (1976-82), a national newsletter produced by a women’s collective in North Shields, Tyneside, which emerged from discussions begun by socialist feminists at the 1976 National Women’s Liberation conference in Newcastle.[xii]

As Sarah Browne sets out, divisions could become nasty.[xiii] An open letter from a feminist in New York criticised one member of the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal’s position on radical feminism that was put forward at a radical theory conference in Edinburgh in July 1977 in a particularly heated and personal attack.[xiv] By the winter of 1977, rifts in the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal were obvious. Collective member Fiona Forsyth reported that:

The main disagreements were between feminists who saw women’s oppression by men as the fundamental structure which has existed in all forms of society, and the socialist feminists who wanted to discuss the links between male domination and capitalism.[xv]

Ultimately, these divisions, as well as disagreements about whether the magazine should include more literary content or focus especially on Scottish politics and the nationalist question, were too difficult to uphold in the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal collective and there was a split in 1978.[xvi] Esther Breitenbach and Geri Smyth, founding members of the collective and sympathetic to the socialist feminist cause, went on to produce Msprint: A Scottish Feminist Publication (1978-81).

Msprint – a play on the word ‘misprint’ and a reference to Ms., the liberal-feminist magazine founded by Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes in 1972 – was similar to its predecessor but operated a closed editorial collective (initially 7 members in 1978 and 3 by 1981) in which prospective members had to be sponsored by a member before being admitted.[xvii] The initial run was 1,000 copies priced at 25p and contained 24 pages of familiar feminist content including political articles, letters, book reviews, conference reports, and literature, and a list of contacts for women’s groups and help centres.

The aim of Msprint was to “develop analysis of the position of women in Scotland and the role of women in Scottish politics”.[xviii] Whilst Scottish issues had also been at the heart of the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal, this position certainly reflects the growing discourse on constitutional matters in Scotland magazines by 1978. In practice however, Msprint was much more concerned with wider British feminist debate. Indeed, whilst the magazine was critical of Spare Rib and the way its two Scottish issues of 1980 “handled Scotland”,[xix] far more attention was paid to the national question in Ireland than Scotland across the seven issues of Msprint.[xx] This was not a unique position: both Red Rag and Scarlet Women dedicated space to women’s concerns in Ireland. Scarlet Women’s eleventh issue was put together by the Belfast Women’s Collective and published articles on Irish feminism, the British occupation of Northern Ireland, abortion in Belfast, Belfast Women’s Aid, and a personal account of life in Catholic Belfast.[xxi]

It is worth mentioning that the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal and Msprint were both printed by Aberdeen People’s Press (1973-84), an alternative printing service established by members of the Aberdeen Arts and Community Workshop in 1972 which printed a variety of socialist and community-led publications, including the newspaper Aberdeen People’s Press (1973-6) and books such as Oil Over Troubled Waters: a Report and Critique of Oil Developments in North-East Scotland (1976).[xxii] Feminist publications like Msprint were as reliant on their collectives as they were on their community printers and publishers. Scarlet Women was printed by Moss Side Community Press (later Moss Side Community Press Women’s Co-op) which also published the Manchester Women’s Liberation Newsletter (1973-87), Lesbian Express (1977), and a retaliation publication to Msprint entitled Whatever Happened to the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal? (1978), which was edited by members of the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal’s collective who did not agree with Breitenbach and Smyth.[xxiii]

In the wake of Msprint there followed a gentle stream of Scottish feminist publications including the Dundee Standard “a closed feminist newspaper in Dundee”, NESSIE: Radical and Revolutionary Feminist Newsletter from Scotland (1979-80), Our Times: the Bulletin for Thinking Women (1986-8) published in Ayr, and Harpies & Quines (1992-4).[xxiv] Of course, the corpus of cultural, literary, and political magazines examined by this network also published articles on feminist issues, including Radical Scotland, Catalyst, Cencrastus and, most notably, Chapman under the editorship of Joy Hendry, who became the first female editor of a literary magazine in Scotland in 1979.[xxv]

The impact of Scottish feminist publications on the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s can seem fairly modest. Indeed, feminist publications in England appear to have been more active in engaging with issues of sexuality, class, and race than their Scottish counterparts. Arena Three (1963-72), the first openly lesbian newspaper, and Sappho (1972-82), a magazine for lesbian feminists, were both published from London, as were Outwrite (1982-88) a newspaper aimed at Black British women, Mukti (1983-87) which addressed British Asian women, and Candice: For the Woman of Colour (1992-4). Nevertheless, articles on class, imperialism, sexuality, race, and anti-colonialism appear regularly in Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal and Msprint, alongside specific Scottish issues, and an in-depth analysis of these will provide a richer picture of the role of Scottish feminist print culture in wider feminist debates. Likewise, an intersectional perspective that includes within its scope magazines aligned with feminist issues highlights the lack of research on titles such as the St Andrews Lesbian Feminists Newsletter (?), Red Herring (Scottish Lesbian Feminist Group, 1975-6), and Gay Scotland (Scottish Homosexual Rights Group, 1978-97). Ultimately, feminist magazines in Scotland proved to a generation of women that feminism was an important source of debate, criticism, and analysis in Scottish cultural, political and social life in the late-1970s and early-1980s.

Charlotte Lauder is a PhD student at the University of Strathclyde and National Library of Scotland researching Scottish magazine culture from 1870 to 1920. Her work on Scottish women’s magazines has been featured on BBC Radio Scotland.

Dr Rachael Alexander is based at the University of Strathclyde and is the author of Imagining Gender, Nation and Consumerism in Magazines of the 1920s (2021). Her research focuses on constructions of gender in twentieth-century periodicals and print cultures, in Scotland, Britain, the US, Canada and Scotland.



[i] Sarah Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Scotland (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014), p. 85.
[ii] Ibid., p. 86.
[iii] Lynn Sampsell, ‘Women’s Liberation in Scotland’, Womanspeak, no. 1 (March 1979), p. 8.
[iv] Esther Breitenbach, ‘“Sisters are Doing it for Themselves” The Women’s Movement in Scotland’, Scottish Government Yearbook (1990), p. 214.
[v] ‘Editorial’, Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal (SWLJ), no. 1 (Spring, 1977), p. 2.
[vi] Ibid., p. 27.
[vii] Frances Bower and Joan McLellan, ‘Women in Rural Scotland’, SWLJ, no. 1 (Spring 1977), pp. 7-9.
[viii] Jane Cook, ‘Shetland Women’s Group’, SWLJ, no. 3 (November 1977), p. 13.
[ix] Ibid., p. 3.
[x] Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement, p. 90.
[xi] Finella McKenzie, ‘Feminism and Socialism’, SWLJ, no. 1 (Spring 1977), pp. 21-3; Finella McKenzie, ‘Feminism and Socialism’, Scarlet Women, no. 5 (1977), pp. 3-7.
[xii] Scarlet Women, 1982-2019, Tyne & Wear Archives and North Tyneside Women’s Voices,
[xiii] Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement, p. 88.
[xiv] Deb Symonds, ‘An Open Letter to Lorna Mitchell’, SWLJ, no. 3 (November 1977), pp. 27-9.
[xv] Fiona Forsyth, ‘The Radical Feminist Theory Conference’, SWLJ, no. 3 (November 1977), p. 14.
[xvi] Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement, pp. 88-9.
[xvii] Ibid., p. 90.
[xviii] ‘Editorial’, Msprint, no. 1 (August 1978), p. 1.
[xix] ‘Editorial’, Msprint, no. 5 (n.d., 1980?), p. 3.
[xx] For example, see Esther Breitenbach, ‘Women in Northern Ireland’, Msprint, no. 3 (n.d., March 1979?), pp. 12-3.
[xxi] Scarlet Women, no. 11 (June 1980), pp. 1-37.
[xxii] ‘Aberdeen People’s Press’, Aberdeen Protest Blog, (September 2014),
[xxiii] Lois Stone, ‘Manchester Women’s Liberation Newsletter and the Lesbian Community’, Queer Beyond London, (June 2017), Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement, p. 90.
[xxiv] Rachael Alexander, ‘“Alive, Practical and Different”: Harpies & Quines and Scottish Feminist Print in the 1990s’, in Laurel Forster and Joanne Hollows (eds.), Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture, 1940s-2000s (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), pp. 307-24.
[xxv] Eleanor Bell, ‘“Leaps and Bounds”: Feminist Interventions in Scottish Literary Magazine Culture’, in Laurel Forster and Joanne Hollows (eds.), Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture, 1940s-2000s (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), pp. 215-28.

Future Issues: Event 3 Digest

Our third event, held 24 June, was entitled ‘Future Issues: Digitising Twentieth-Century Magazines’.

This was a wide-ranging exploration of the why and how of digitising periodicals, including opportunities for co-production of digital resources with ‘memory institutions’ such as libraries and archives. We also examined the challenge posed by post-Brexit copyright law, and a compelling – indeed, heart-wrenching – case study of its practical impact for magazine studies, reviewing the British Library’s major digitisation project on Spare Rib (2013-21).

Our first speaker, Professor Lorna M. Hughes, offered a valuable tour d’horizon of recent digitisation practice, from basic ‘digital photocopying’ (simply giving access to an online repository of scanned pages) to more enriched approaches offering ‘added value’ (to researchers, to the public, to specific user-communities). Professor Hughes emphasised models of co-production and ‘slow digitisation’ which treat the move online as a process of discovery, connection-making and knowledge creation, allowing new questions and ways of reading to emerge along the way. In this perspective, the tasks of forming the digital resource (e.g. identifying rights holders, checking and authoring metadata, developing user tools for analysis) become an active, creative, experimental part of the research process itself. This approach both requires and exploits sustained engagement with complementary materials (e.g. linking digitised magazines to contemporaneous newspaper collections), and deepens relationships between researchers, copyright holders and archivists in a paradigm of ‘co-curation’.

In illustrating these possibilities – which are rarely utilised to the full in magazine digitisation – Professor Hughes touched on a range of relevant projects and platforms, operating within various legal frameworks (US, EU, UK, ??).

Instead of seeing digital collections as ‘destinations’ – where digitised content is created in a top-down way and ‘pushed out to users’ – Professor Hughes invited us to view digitation ‘as a journey of creation that brings lots of disparate experts into the conversation’, both uncovering and generating new scholarly possibilities.

This was an inspiring account of the varied purposes and potentials of digitisation, but tempered by awareness of the time, labour and resources required to go beyond digital photocopying. (The term ‘slow digitisation’ tells its own story: one involving hands-on openness to the unplanned and unfunded.) Our next speaker was Fredric Saunderson, Rights and Information Manager at the National Library of Scotland. He gave a lucid introduction to another constraining factor in digitisation – that of copyright law – while highlighting some possibilities amid the prohibitions.

After a crash-course on the essentials of copyright, Saunderson explained the two main paths for re-use of in-copyright works (such as the post-1960s magazines on which this project is focused): seeking permission from all copyright holders, or utilising legal exceptions to copyright (allowances defined and limited in law, with no permission required).

Libraries and archives have special affordances in UK law, and may create digital copies of in-copyright works for preservation purposes, ‘for text and data analysis for non-commercial research’, and on several other grounds (e.g. disability access). There are intriguing possibilities in this area – for text and data mining, for onsite access to preservation copies – but also strict controls. In navigating this terrain, Saunderson helpfully emphasised the key legal difference between a) digitising material and b) making use of digitised material (where, for what purpose, how?). It’s the latter that defines the viability of a digital resource within this legal framework.

Where does this leave our aspirations to digitise post-1960s Scottish magazines? At the genesis of this research network, there was cautious optimism that the key legal provision relevant to in-copyright magazines (and indeed all mass digitisation of in-copyright cultural heritage in Europe), the EU Orphan Works Exception (OWE) introduced in 2012, would remain part of UK law after withdrawal from the European Union.[1] That’s not how things turned out, and the OWE was repealed from UK law effective January 2021.

The impact of this change was vividly illustrated by our final speaker, Dr Polly Russell of the British Library, who led the Library’s massive Spare Rib digitisation project (2013-21). Spare Rib was a leading British feminist magazine active from 1972 to 1993, and the digitisation emerged from the BL’s Sisterhood & After project, an oral history of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Building on clear public interest in the magazine and its legacy, the Spare Rib digitisation was aimed at researchers seeking a full searchable archive, but also a more general audience of teachers, students and interested members of the public.

Dr Russell gave us a detailed overview of the project’s evolution – from scoping the resource, consulting with founding members of the magazine collective, developing a suitable archive platform (via Jisc Journal Archives), photographing magazines and authoring metadata – and legal developments which sadly required the closure of the digital resource earlier this year.

Of particular interest were the project’s struggles with copyright clearance, despite the formidable resources of the BL, significant volunteer labour, and the affordances – at the time, new and untested affordances – of the OWE. The nature of periodicals multiplied the legal and practical challenges at issue: each issue of Spare Rib included a wide variety of content, such as photographs, poems and commissioned essays, with up to eight copyright holders on a single page. Much of this content was produced by ordinary women who were very challenging to identify and locate for copyright purposes.[2]

In the initial stage of copyright clearance, a small army of volunteers sampled 20% of the magazine’s full run, in which they identified 1400 copyright holders. The team successfully contacted 400 of these individuals, with only two requesting that their material be redacted from the digital resource. On the basis of this very low rate of redaction (0.5%), the Library went ahead with digitising the full magazine, and identified a further 4500 copyright holders to contact (seeking permission) or add to the EU’s orphan works database. After the digital archive’s initial launch in 2015, organisations representing the rights of copyright holders raised concerns about some content classified as orphan, and a second process of copyright clearance resulted in redaction of 30% of the resource (around 1000 items), which the Library agreed could not be proven to fall within the OWE. After Brexit, the OWE itself was repealed – the legal basis for clearing around 80% of items in the collection – and the resource had to be taken down.

The scale, value and richness of the Spare Rib archive make the story of its rise and fall truly poignant. It is little short of tragic that the full-run archive is no longer available, but note that the BL’s curated learning site on Spare Rib is still available, including 300 items of (non-orphan) cleared content from the magazine, over 20 high-quality contextual articles, photographs, maps visualising networks of second-wave feminist activity across the UK (based on Spare Rib group and event listings), and links to oral histories. To highlight one example, this excellent primer on the 60s underground press by Marsha Rowe is of direct relevance to several SMN titles.

Dr Russell closed with some lessons learned during the project, including evidence of growing public demand for in-copyright periodical material, the need for clear policy on redaction and takedown, and that copyright clearance – even within the affordances of the OWE, now withdrawn – can be very expensive and time-consuming.

This was a sobering (and sometimes jaw-dropping) case-study, which gives the network a great deal to think about in regard to our own plans and objectives. In subsequent discussion, Graeme Hawley and Lorna Hughes discussed the importance of active engagement with copyright holders, which can become a valuable part of the process, drawing people into the project and letting them become stakeholders (and future audiences) in ways that enrich and expand the collection. Several members of the network expressed interest in ‘slow digitisation’ along these lines, creating enhanced digital collections focused on a more manageable subset of material – over which online audiences can ‘linger’ – rather than a full archive. But there are clear trade-offs here, in moving away from a searchable resource (e.g. of a magazine’s full run) that would permit large-scale analysis, comparison, text-mining and the more innovative sorts of periodical research Clifford Wulfman associates with the truly ‘digital library’.[3]

This was a hugely useful and stimulating exploration of the terrain, and its obstacles, which the network will spend some time digesting before we consider our own next steps in regard to digitisation. Our deep thanks to all the speakers.

With thanks to Alice Piotrowska, and her notes!

[1] Though its repeal from UK law creates significant obstacles for digitisation projects – and resulted in the takedown of the BL’s Spare Rib project – the EU Orphan Works Exception (OWE) is no panacea. For a concise outline of its limitations, see James Boyle, ‘(When) Is Copyright Reform Possible? Lessons from the Hargreaves Review’ (2015), section IIc: ‘In brief, the scheme is heavily institutional, statist, and inflexible. Its provisions can really only be used by educational and cultural heritage institutions, only for non-profit purposes, with lengthy and costly licensing provisions designed to protect the monetary interests of – almost certainly – non-existent rights holders. The EU seemed never to grasp the idea that citizens also need to have access to orphan works, for uses that almost certainly present no threat to any living rights holder.’

[2] Note that the OWE still required an extensive ‘diligent search’ to trace copyright holders. A work only becomes ‘orphan’ – and eligible for the associated exception or licensing scheme – when ‘it is established that the owner of the copyright cannot be identified, or if identified cannot be located’. (NB the UK’s own orphan works licensing scheme still operates, but the EU-wide OWE scheme enabled by the 2012 Orphan Works Directive has been repealed from UK law, creating risks of infringement for UK projects constructed within this framework.)

[3] ‘But what happens if you encode metadata directly into the texts themselves? If, for example, you mark up the structure of complex publications, like magazines, you can pose and answer interesting contextual questions. Let’s say you had a textbase of structured transcriptions of magazines that distinguished among pages and blocks of advertising and content. You might then be able to pose this sort of question: how many short stories by Faulkner and Hemingway were printed alongside ads for sporting goods?’ Clifford Wulfman, ‘The Rise and Fall of Periodical Studies’, Journal of Modern Periodical Studies 8.2 (2017): 226-41 (p. 234).

Podcast: Esther Breitenbach

Esther Breitenbach on Scottish feminist magazines

A fascinating introduction to the print culture of Scottish feminism, focused on the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal (1977-78) and MsPrint (1978-81), and looking ahead to Harpies and Quines (1992-94).

Dr Esther Breitenbach is our guide to the role of these magazines in feminist networking and political organising, the challenges of editorial/activist collectives, and the uncertain place of feminist perspectives in the wider Scottish magazine culture of the period.

Interviewers: Rachael Alexander and Scott Hames. To explore this world further, key sources include Sarah Browne’s The Women’s Liberation Movement in Scotland (Manchester University Press, 2014), Shirley Henderson and Alison Mackay (eds), Grit and Diamonds: Women in Scotland Making History, 1980-1990 (Stramullion, 1990) and the anthology Women and Contemporary Scottish Politics (Polygon, 2001), edited by Esther Breitenbach and Fiona Mackay. The British Library’s ‘Sisterhood and After’ project also features a number of testimonies by women active in the women’s liberation movement in Scotland (Sheila Gilmore, Sandie Wyles, Rowena Arshad, Mukami McCrum, Elizabeth Armstrong, and Zoe Fairbairns). See also Rachael Alexander’s article and blog on Scottish feminist magazines, via the network’s informal bibliography.

BONUS: near the end of our conversation, Esther mentions the cartoon below, which she credits to Sue Innes (from SWLJ 4).

All SMN podcasts