Sheffield: Protest and Activism

Feb 15 2017

Project Curator Louisa Briggs gives an insight into our current Sheffield: Protest and Activism project and her work documenting Sheffield’s rich history of protest:

In August last year I began working on Sheffield: Protest and Activism, a two-year research and exhibition project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation Collection Fund. Sheffield has a rich story of protest and activism that stretches far back into the city’s history, from the radical press in 1790s to Samuel Holberry and Chartism in the 1830s, Suffragism and Adela Pankhurst in the early twentieth century through to the Miners’ Strike and the ‘Battle of Orgreave’ in the 1980s. This spirit of standing up for what you believe in is still very much alive today. Over the past few weeks there have been some big demonstrations in Sheffield in support of the city’s trees, campaigning for an inquiry into what happened in the clash between miners and police at Orgreave, and in solidarity against some of Donald Trump’s more extreme policies.

Protest can appear in many different guises – it isn’t just about marches and demos, although obviously these are important too! The project is looking at protest in the broadest possible sense, from small community based campaigns to improve people’s day-to-day lives, to forms of activism that connect to worldwide issues. Although we have some objects that tell this important part of the city’s story, it isn’t fully reflected in the collections and we have some significant gaps. For example, we have very little relating to the Peace Movement, LGBT rights, Women’s suffrage or Black rights and important events such as the steelworkers strikes and miners strikes which still have a big impact on the city today are hardly represented at all. So over the next two years I’ll be connecting with different organisations, campaign groups and people across the city to try to find out which protests and activism are important to the people of Sheffield and which they think have helped shaped the city. Through this process hopefully I’ll find objects and stories for the collection to help fill the gaps.

As well as identifying acquisitions, I’m also working on a major exhibition for 2018 to coincide with 100 years since the Representation of the People Act became law and all men over 21 and certain women over 30 were given the vote. The exhibition will put Sheffield’s history of protest in a broader context, looking at how the city has been influenced by national and international campaigns and how it has influenced protest elsewhere. In preparation for these exhibitions we’re opening Protest Lab in March in the Craft and Design gallery in the Millennium Gallery. This will be a more informal space where we want to hear your voice and views and where we’ll be encouraging debate and discussion. Come and get involved and tell us about the protests and campaigns that you feel are important to Sheffield and its history. We’ll be having a series of events, and are encouraging campaign groups to use the space for their meetings and discussions.

It’s been an interesting project so far and it certainly feels like it’s an important moment in the history of protest, more so than we could have anticipated when the project began. I’ve met some inspirational individuals so far and have heard some extraordinary and moving stories. If there are any protests that you’ve been involved in or that you’d like to see in the collections or exhibition, or if you have any placards, banners, tshirts, collection buckets, badges or other protest ephemera that you think we might be interested in please email me at


Protest badges from Sheffield's Social History collection © Museums Sheffield.







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