The Double Seventh

The 8th of March is International Women’s Day. When we celebrate for international women, why don’t we take the time to learn about traditional festivals for women in other countries? In China, Double Seventh七夕节 is a traditional festival for females with a history of two thousand years. 

The 8th of March is International Women’s Day. When we celebrate for international women, why don’t we take the time to learn about traditional festivals for women in other countries? In China, Double Seventh七夕节 is a traditional festival for females with a history of two thousand years. 

Thousands of years ago, Chinese ancients started studying astrology. They found two special stars on the night of 7th July in the Chinese Calendar (normally in August in the Gregorian Calendar): the Weaving Girl Star织女, and the Cowherd Star牛郎. The stars were later studied by astronomers as Vega and Altair.  

Four constellations stone relief: the Weaving Girl (left bottom), the Cowherd (right), now exhibited at Nanyang Museum of Han Dynasty Stone Carvings in Nanyang, China. 

With the evolution of folk tales, the Weaving Girl Star and the Cowherd Star were personified into Chinese mythologies. There are many versions of the story, but the most popular one is that: the weaving girl, who had the best talent of weaving, was the daughter of the king of the gods Jade Emperor玉皇大帝, and she fell in love with a human who was a cowherd. They lived happily in the mortal world. The gods, however, found them and caught the weaving girl back. The cowherd tried to follow her, and the gods drew a silver river, known as the Milky Way, between them, while their love story touched the nature. After that, many magpies built a bridge for them with their bodies on the night of Double Seventh, so that they could be reunited. Since then, the weaving girl became the goddess worshipped by ladies on Double Seventh for her dexterous weaving skills and love. In a society where women were proud of their weaving skills, Double Seventh held a special place in the ancients’ hearts.

Double Seventh had many traditional activities which were recorded by paintings and literatures. The first record of how ancients celebrated Double Seventh is in a book called 西京杂记. The earliest tradition was the “Needle Threading”: ladies competed to thread needles. The lady who could effectively pray for dexterity would be the first one to thread all the needles. 

Kesi Tapestry of Double Seventh缂丝七夕乞巧图轴. The weaving girl and the cowherd reunited in the sky and ladies celebrated for Double Seventh. now exhibited at the Palace Museum in Beijing, China. 

In the Ladies Praying Under Parasol Trees, we can see four girls, on the left side, are watching a bowl, while they are doing a tradition of Double Seventh, the “Needle Testing (投针验巧)”: placing a weaving needle on the surface of water. The needle would not sink, and the needle shadow appears under the water. If the shadow forms a variety of shapes, such as curved, thick, thin or any other shapes, which means the ladies effectively pray for dexterity. Otherwise, if the shadow is unchanged, this means that the praying has failed.

Ladies praying under parasol trees桐荫乞巧. now exhibited at the Palace Museum in Beijing, China. 

Written by Huang Ninting.

Photo Sources:

Unidentified artist. Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) Nanyang Museum of Han Dynasty Stone. Available at: https://you.ctrip.com/travels/nanyang591/3349739.html.  

Unidentified artist. Qing Dynasty (1636 AD  – 1912 AD) Kesi Tapestry of Double Seventh缂丝七夕乞巧图轴. Available at: https://www.dpm.org.cn/collection/embroider/229459.html.  

Mei Chen (1738) Album of Tour Under The Moon: Ladies praying under parasol trees月曼清游图册: 桐荫乞巧. Available at: https://www.dpm.org.cn/collection/paint/228746.html?hl=%E6%9C%88%E6%9B%BC%E6%B8%85%E6%B8%B8%E5%9C%96%E5%86%8A.  

Queering the Archive

Titled ‘Queering the Archive’, Archive and Library Assistant Elliot Holmes’ blog series for the School of Scottish Studies Archives seeks to bring uniquely Scottish LGBT+ stories and interpretations to light. It is a love letter to the present continuous aspect of the word ‘queering’, as it ping-pongs back and forth to the past with themes like traditional ballads, and then to the present with interviews with contemporary drag stars Dorian T. Fisk and Lady Rampant. The message is clear: Scottish LGBT+ culture is alive and thriving today, and it doesn’t need confining to the 20th century onward, or even to history with an obvious connection to the LGBT+ community.

[This image is of the School of Scottish Studies Tale archive with a Progress Pride flag filter, and I found it on the ‘Queering the Archives’ blog page] 

Before I started researching this article, despite four years spent studying linguistics and literature, I had never come across ‘queer’ as a verb. LGBT+ allyship, museums, and language nerdery being three long-standing passions of mine, I wanted to understand what it means to ‘queer’ an archive, and write about it in celebration of LGBT+ history month. In academic and public conversations around heritage and inclusivity today, you’re more likely to come across words starting with ‘un’, ‘de’, or ‘re’: understandable, really, given that museums exist to preserve things which have already happened. But ‘queering’ is a present continuous verb: a work in progress – changing, expanding, moving forward. And this sense of opening up to further interpretation is exactly what I found in Archive and Library Assistant Elliot Holmes’ blog series for the School of Scottish Studies Archives. 

Titled ‘Queering the Archive’, Elliot’s project seeks, in a series of blog posts and podcasts, to bring uniquely Scottish LGBT+ stories and interpretations to light. It is a love letter to the present continuous aspect of the word ‘queering’, as it ping-pongs back and forth to the past with themes like traditional ballads, and then to the present with interviews with contemporary drag stars Dorian T. Fisk and Lady Rampant. The message is clear: Scottish LGBT+ culture is alive and thriving today, and it doesn’t need confining to the 20th century onward, or even to history with an obvious connection to the LGBT+ community. 

Consistent across these jumps through Scottish history is Elliot’s use of queer theory, which is presented to the reader not as an abstract academic framework, but as a simple way of expanding our perspectives beyond heteronormativity and the gender binary when we encounter archives. To queer an archive is to use a bit of imagination to interrogate ambiguities and subversions of gender and sexual norms, and understand historical subjects as real people with complex inner lives. As queer theorist Nikki Sullivan puts it, one way to understand the term ‘queer’ is as “a positionality (rather than an innate identity) that potentially can be taken up by any who feels themselves to have been marginalised as a result of their preference”. It’s this sense of “positionality”, where gender and/or sexuality in a source conflicts subtly with the status quo, that a queer reading comes into play even for sources about people whose homosexuality or gender-nonconformity is not obvious.  

My favourite example of Elliot’s use of queer theory in this way is his blog on traditional cross-dressing ballads. This takes the reader on a swashbuckling journey through traditional Scottish songs about adventurous women on stormy seas, dressed as men, who fall in love with sailors and are generally thwarted by the crew and relegated back to ye olde patriarchal gender roles. As Elliot points out, the fact that these women usually end up back in the “traditional heterosexual spheres of marriage” only draws greater attention to the gender and sexual subversion of their cross-dressing. Queer theory takes on an even more creative edge in Elliot’s blog on queering the man and woman’s love song. When listening to recordings of traditional men’s love songs sung by women, we can look beneath the surface for LGBT+ subtext and reimagine the songs as lesbian ballads from a woman to her beloved. Elliot notes that there are fewer examples of the reverse – traditional women’s songs sung by men – and answered my question about why with the speculation that it might have been “more acceptable for women to sing these sorts of songs where the love interest’s pronouns do not change”. What I find so interesting about this case is that with queer theory in mind, even the absence of sources becomes a starting point for a new interpretation. 

These posts are two of many of Elliot’s which centre on sound and song. A word which appears again and again, in both literal and metaphorical senses, is ‘voice’. Elliot explained to me that voice and music history have a particular resonance with queer theory and LGBT+ history for him because “queer voices have often been ignored or misrepresented in history”. Preserving LGBT+ folklore and stories through archives is therefore an important acknowledgement of how “the LGBTQ+ community is and has always been a part of history”, and the ‘Queering the Archives’ initiative plays a part in this both by preserving LGBT+ voices in a literal way, and by providing a platform for LGBT+ people to “speak on experience or help educate others or bring empowerment to their community” (Elliot). In Elliot’s podcast with Glasgow drag queen Lady Rampant, one comment from Lady Rampant on LGBT+ voices and emotional labour really stuck with me: “people might not always be comfortable – or able to for their own safety – use their voice, but I think where you can you should”. 

As for the future of ‘Queering the Archive’, it is still very much a present continuous verb. Elliot tells me that we have more interviews to look forward to, including one with Sigrid Nielsen and Bob Orr, founders of Lavender Menace: Edinburgh’s first Lesbian and Gay bookshop, which has now become a Queer Book Archive aiming to preserve and uplift underrepresented LGBT+ literature. I now leave you with a link to ‘Queering the Archive’, and a list of some of Elliot’s choice recommended resources for anybody interested in learning more about LGBT+ history and getting involved. 

Recommended resources: 

Email scotarch@ed.ac.uk to get in touch if you would like to create or re-use archival material for your own research 

Exciting news: they are looking for volunteers to help with their Queer Book Archive at the moment – find out more here: https://lavendermenace.org.uk/queer-lgbt-books-how-to-get-involved 

A fantastic resource for LGBT+ oral history and heritage in Scotland 

Sources quoted: 

A note on language from the ‘Queering the Archives’ blog: 

“The term Queering has been used by many across the Gallery, Library, Archive, and Museum, (GLAM), sector with many launching queering initiatives to expand and represent LGBT+ histories. We will be using the term Queer as a catch-all term, and the term Queering in regards to application of queer theory and approaches. We will also be using the term LGBT+ throughout the initiative.”

Written by Alice Adonis.

A Celebration of LGBT History Month

For LGBT History Month, we wanted to bring awareness to the significance of the celebration, how LGBT people and stories can be represented in collections, and some of the issues associated with undertaking research in this subject area. With specific reference to the University of Edinburgh’s own collections, we also take a look at some useful starting points for research, including material through which LGBT history can be discovered and told.

This February we wanted to draw attention to and celebrate LGBT History Month, which – as I’m sure many of you know – is a time dedicated to recognising lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lives, culture, and histories.  

The significance of this yearly acknowledgement lies in a very real historical need to actively promote equality and diversity. Until the early 2000s, Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act legally prevented local authorities from ‘promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material…in any maintained school’ or encouraging ‘the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.’ This meant that, until these provisions were repealed on the 21st June 2000 in Scotland, and on the 18th November 2003 in the rest of the UK, anti-discrimination initiatives and outward displays of support for the LGBT community in the public sector were severely restricted throughout the country. 

Although looking at LGBT histories can be an important mechanism for the celebration and promotion of LGBT History Month, researching these types of subject areas can be a complex process. The historical criminalisation of homosexuality has resulted in the under-representation of LGBT stories in archives, libraries, museums, and galleries. Evolving definitions, terminologies, and methods of expression over time has additionally meant that issues of homosexuality and gender identity in records have historically been dealt with in problematic ways. Identifying significant LGBT-related items in collections can therefore be complicated by negative portrayals, purposeful concealment, and a persistent lack of intent or desire to document or collect relevant material in the past. 

Despite these difficulties, however, resources can be found and used in ways which allow researchers to gain fascinating insight into LGBT lives. With this in mind, we thought it would be both helpful and interesting to highlight some significant material within collections held by the CRC and the wider university. 

A useful starting point for LGBT-based research is the source list detailed on the university’s website, which can be found here: LGBTQ+ Sources | The University of Edinburgh. As detailed, the CRC holds a range of material, from the personal and professional papers of LGBT authors, activists, and professors, to records of significant LGBT university alumni, such as Dr James Barry and Ian Charleson.  

As part of the CRC, the Lothian Health Services Archive (LHSA) holds a number of medical collections relating to the late twentieth century HIV and AIDS crisis. By the mid-1980s, Edinburgh had one of the highest rates of the disease in Europe, and although this was later found to be the result of widespread intravenous drug use rather than homosexual relationships, the rise in cases was publicly attributed to gay sex. The scale of the crisis, the need for an appropriate response by local health services, and the publicity generated as a result, led to extensive documentation of the situation, which LHSA has acquired and made available as part of a UNESCO-recognised collection. The material covers Lothian Health Board’s reaction to the crisis, the work of charity and awareness initiatives, promotional and educational material, and the involvement of the LGBT community. Further information can be found here: HIV/AIDS source list home page (ed.ac.uk)

LHSA additionally holds the archive of Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard; a charity established in 1974 as one of the first helplines specifically dedicated to assisting gay people in the UK. The collection contains call logbooks, correspondence, minutes, and publications, and provides insight into the lives of LGBT people in Edinburgh over thirty years. More detail can be accessed here: LGBTQ (ed.ac.uk)

Also held by the CRC are the records of the Bisexual, Lesbian or Gay Society – or BLOGS – which is the student LGBT society currently known as PrideSoc. The collection covers the society’s activity between 1973 and 1999, including the constitution, registration forms and correspondence. 

Finally, a number of further resources are accessible through the university’s library, including LGBT Thought and Culture, Archives of Sexuality and Gender, the LGBT Magazine Archive, and Politics, Social Activism and Community Support. Although not specifically relating to Edinburgh or the university, these resources provide further access to material focusing on the wider history of LGBT lives, such as magazines, journals, newspapers and books, as well as primary sources. Each of these can be accessed through the DiscoverEd tool. 

Hopefully by illuminating how research into LGBT histories can be facilitated, and the importance of promoting and using these materials, awareness of the historical contributions of the LGBT community, and the struggles it has faced, can be established and built upon. These conversations are also hugely important in the ongoing battle for diversity, equality, and inclusion in collections, those who use them, and those who access them. Happy LGBT History Month everyone! 

Sources  

Local Government Act 1988 (legislation.gov.uk)

University of Edinburgh Source List – LGBTQ+ Sources | The University of Edinburgh

LHSA – HIV/AIDS source list home page (ed.ac.uk) and LGBTQ (ed.ac.uk)

Written by Catherine

%d bloggers like this: