On the 24 October 2015 I gave a brief lecture at the ‘Pop up University’, designed for 14-16 year olds at the Make and Craft Kitchen in Fratton. My paper was based upon my PhD research: women’s subjective experiences of the Second World War in Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. The event was designed for teenagers to engage with my academic research, think about the key messages from my talk and produce art work based upon what I had said about gender constructs, and attitudes towards women and work in the past. The Pop up University project seeks for academics to deliver their research in public spaces to young people, who can then reflect upon and reproduce lectures in an unconventional and creative way with local artists. This hopefully facilitates greater understandings about how teenagers view themselves and their collective identity through the creation of works of art, combining: colour, words, symbols and illustrations to reconstruct links between present and past attitudes towards gender roles, identities, and relationships between men and women.
My paper combined a brief overview about my research, insights into varied ways of engaging with history and listening to short transcripts of interviews I had conducted with four industrial workers. I highlighted how viewing images, thinking about historical objects and listening to oral testimonies are important sources to learn about, and connect with the past. My interviewees’ narratives revealed how they reconstructed their selves as younger women. In particular their testimonies showed how they remembered their positions in the workplace, relationships with male colleagues and the workplace environment during the Second World War. Nora remembered her role as an electrical fitter with disappointment, due her perceived lack of training, and Peggy felt that she was not as physically capable as her male colleagues working on pontoon construction. Dorothy, a former tracer, said that men “had far more advantage in this life”, she identified her gender as placing her in a disadvantaged position in the 1940s by stating “it’s because we’re just women”. Annie, a former aircraft cleaner, described the aircraft hangar she worked in as “Bloomin’ cold, freezing in the winter”. This shows that gender differences in the workspace did not affect the working conditions for female employees during the war who were likely to have worked in similar spaces to men. I asked the audience to think about what the women were saying, what this shows about women and work, and questioned whether there were differences between male and female workers.
These questions and thinking about the answers to them would comprise a starting point for the teenagers to create their works of art.
Thank you to Sonia, who co-ordinated the event and runs the project, Daniela the artist who provided the artistic vision for the event, Hester who runs the Make and Craft Kitchen and Dylan the cameraman who filmed and edited my lecture.
For more information about the Pop up University project refer to:
For an edited filmed version of the lecture see: