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Seized Books: Co-Curation & Text Analysis as Community Building

In 1984, British Customs and Excise officers raided Gay’s the Word, an independent bookshop in Bloomsbury. Around 140 titles that were considered ‘obscene’ by government officials were seized. The raid was followed by a lengthy legal battle, which raised questions of censorship, press freedom and Queer culture in the UK – questions which remain important today.

Using this key event as a starting point, this project will seek to enhance the capacity for recording historical memory among members of the public interested in LGBTQ+ history, provide additional training for library and archives professionals working in this area, and to exchange knowledge between researchers and those with a lived experience of queer reading in 1980s Britain.

Project Approach

The project will deliver two workshops in Autumn 2023. One will focus on developing oral history and digital text analysis skills among between 20-30 members of the public interested in LGBTQ+ history, while the other will do the same for archives and library professionals

In preparation for these workshops, the team has digitised almost 15,000 pages from the 140 books seized in the 1984 raid. Central to these workshops is the two-way exchange of knowledge. In addition to sharing skills with members of the public, the team hopes to learn how people who lived through this period experienced queer books and co-create new knowledge about ‘obscenity’ and queer culture in the 1980s. 

Impact & Engagement

The co-created knowledge developed during the workshops will inform a digital exhibition, which will highlight each of the titles seized during the raids and place them in the wider context of 1980s book and social history and the specific circumstances of the raids.

The exhibition will be hosted both online via the University’s website and displayed on an interactive screen in Gay’s the Word bookshop and in other LGBTQ+ community spaces. The exhibition will launch in April 2024 to mark the 40th anniversary of the raids on Gay’s the Word.
The project will also provide training to around 20 professionals working on queer collections in libraries and archives, allowing practitioners outside the university sector to incorporate cutting-edge research into their professional practice.

Further Information

This project builds on long-standing relationships between Senate House Library, SAS and Gay’s the Word bookshop in Bloomsbury, including a book - Queer Between the Covers: Histories of Queer Publishing and Publishing Queer Voices - published in 2021.

This is a cross-school project, that involves: