NNAQH ▰ Blog: NNAQH's Helsinki Summit

Panel discussion on the queer archival situation in Finland.
Panel discussion on the queer archival situation in Finland. From the left: Susanne Österlund-Pötzsch, the Archives of the Society of Swedish Literature in Finland; Katri Kivilaakso - Insights Archiving and Queer Archive Collections of the Finnish Literature Society; Iris Olivainen - The LGBTQ collections in the Finnish Labour Archives; Tuula Juvonen, Friends of Queer History; and Runar Jordåen moderator, Skeivt arkiv/Queer Archive.

Photo: Pia Laskar. © All rights reserved.

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NNAQH's Helsinki Summit

22 November 2023 | Written by QRAB collective
The QRAB collective contains hardworking volunteers loving the Archives and Library of the Queer Movement.

The first public event of the Nordic Network for Queer History Archives and Activities (NNAQH) was held in Helsinki on October 11th, bringing together lecturers and audiences from all over the Nordic and Baltic countries - and some from even further corners of the world! 

On Tuesday October 10th, one the day before the open seminar, the participating partners of the Nordic Network for Queer History Archives and Activities, i.e. Saatenkaarihistoria (the Friends of Queer History), Skeivt Arkiv (Queer Archives), and Queerrörelsen Arkiv och Bibliotek (QRAB - the Archives and Library of the Queer Movement) got together to share experiences and discuss the past, present, and future of LGBTQIA+ cultural heritage. For this internal meeting, the network was hosted by the Finnish Labour Archives, who are responsible for preserving LGBTQIA+ materials in Finland.

During Tuesday's meeting, materials from our respective collections were presented, with a focus on items that concerned and connected the other Nordic countries. The discussions were about similarities and differences between the archives, problems, funding, ethical research principles and accessibility issues. One similarity was that we wrestled with how to structure fragments (such as individual flyers, anonymous donations, etc.) so that they become searchable. How can we as well create a queer perspective on archiving? And what does it mean for sustainability, credibility, and donations if we work in collaboration with institutions (like Saatenkaarihistoria), from within institutions (like Skeivt Arkiv) or as an independent grass roots movement (QRAB).

On Wednesday, the public part of the network's meeting was organized as a seminar day or mini-conference in the aula of the Finnish Literature Society, with panel discussions that were preceded by short lectures.

The first panel brought together actors of queer history work in Finland - the active work has been going on for about 20 years. According to Tuula Juvonen, who once as a young PhD student set the ball rolling by contacting the Labour Museum, which in turn contacted the Labour Archives, queer archiving has been lucky with timing and circumstances. At the beginning of the 2000's, same sex partnership had just been introduced, there were interested and initiated archive workers, and a positive social democratic government with connections to the Labour Archives. Today it might not have been as frictionless, she said.

The second panel presented and discussed minorities within the queer minority, mainly on the theme of Afro-Nordic queer history, but also with elements from the Welsh language minority. Blackness is usually categorized as otherness, something different. Therefore, the panel pushed to put the experiences of Afro-Nordic/Black people at the center. The archival situation of Afro-Finnish queers is fragmented, there is no collective responsibility. Important then has been to focus on intersectional collaborations by and for queer, trans*, and non-binary people with a Muslim background and with Muslims. Focusing on joy and other aspects of black history and not just documenting racism is one method. Examples of material used are family stories and photo albums. Black Archives Sweden emphasized artistic expression as an important medium for history work and Wasla Collective/Islamia Queeristi underlined that history is a way of imagining the future.

The final presentation and panel discussion of the day focused on the situation in Lithuania, Estonia and Wales. The Lithuanian queer archive is an offshoot of Išgirsti – which started as a festival and then grew in different directions. They talked, among other things, about the problems with Soviet handling of documents - paper recycling was prioritized over preservation, especially preservation of "bourgeois individualist" publications. The archival structure also meant that a lot of material was brought to Moscow, and the turbulent histories of the region has meant that much has been destroyed. The Nazi invasion meant that material was taken to Germany, and what was possibly preserved has since been incorporated in e.g. Jewish collections in the United States. In a shorter historical perspective, stories about queer clubs are collected and in Estonia strong ties are built between organization and research.

From Wales, Norena Shopland participated in this panel on minorities in the minority. Shopland is a diligent method-developing archivist and author of, among a long list of works. Her "Queering Glamorgan - a research guide to sources for the study of LGBT history" is available to read open access.

The closing discussion of the seminar day was led by Pia Laskar (QRAB's secretary and Nnaqh's project manager). She pointed out, among other things, that when collaborations between institutions and communities are planned and implemented, it is important to be aware of who gets to represent the community. The attendants highlighted the vulnerable situation when responsibility is placed on individuals, both within institutions and self-organization. Other issues raised were about the fact that - when funds are tight - activists are expected to work without compensation, and finally, questions around how we could think about how a queer archive can queer the archiving itself.

All in all, the network meeting and the seminar day were highly appreciated and meant an opportunity to deepen both knowledge and contacts. Over 70 physical participants were registered (about 60 were on site at the same time) and at any given time an average of 30 people were streaming the Youtube broadcast.

The next meeting of the Nordic network for queer archives and history activities is organized by Skeivt Arkiv in Bergen on April 19-20, 2024. Save the date and keep an eye on NNAQH's website for more information!

Keywords: queer archive seminar, queer archive, queer cultural heritage, queer network