Using material culture to explore women’s everyday experiences of Methodism since 1945.
Since November 2019, Dr Ruth Slatter and Dr Hannah Worthen from the University of Hull have been working on the ‘Jumpers, Umbrellas and Plastic Bags’ research project, using material culture to explore women’s everyday experience of Methodism since 1945. Funded by the British Academy, the project has been undertaken in close partnership with the Methodist Women’s Collection at Epworth Old Rectory and would not have been possible with the support of Methodist Women in Britain.
The project’s data collection phase has had three components. Firstly, Ruth and Hannah explored the everyday material things that have been donated to the Methodist Women’s Collection. This included objects like ribbons made by Methodist women for the Over the Rainbow vigil in 1990, service booklets and prayer cards, and a blue knitted jumper with the Network logo emblazoned on it. Through these objects, Ruth and Hannah have been able to gain insights into the history of Methodism and stories of everyday faithfulness of ordinary Methodist women.
Secondly, Ruth and Hannah conducted a series of virtual interviews with Methodist women across the UK. In these conversations, participants discussed various ways in which Methodist women meet and support each other, make and use objects as part of their worship practices, use objects as reminders of special moments in Methodist women’s spiritual journeys, and have made and used material things to advocate for social change. Participants were asked to specifically identify one object that played an important role in their Methodist practices and photographs of some of these objects have been included here. The transcripts of these interviews will be deposited in the Methodist Women’s Collection at Epworth and Ruth and Hannah are hugely grateful to all the women who participated in these interviews.
Finally, Ruth and Hannah have looked at the entire run of Magnet magazine, from the late 1980s through into the 2000s. This hugely valuable resource has provided further insights into the ways in which material things have been incorporated within Methodist women’s spiritual practices, engagements in social action, and fellowship practices.
The data collection phase of this research project is now complete and Ruth and Hannah are beginning to reflect on the vast amount of data they have collected and the insights they can draw from it. They are currently exploring three initial areas of interest. Firstly, they are considering the importance of faithful friendships that women create through their Methodist networks. While material things are not necessary for these friendships to thrive, these friendships have often been and continue to be effectively expressed through gifts, strengthened by participation in collaborative making projects, and – on occasion –cemented by dressing up and participating in talent contests, performances or soiree. Secondly, Ruth and Hannah have become very aware of the role that making material things has played within Methodist women’s engagement in social action. Methodist women have made objects to raise awareness of social injustice (e.g. banners for the Over the Rainbow event) as well as providing practical support for those in need (e.g. teddy bears and blankets). Finally, Ruth and Hannah are interested in the continual presence of merchandise related to groups of women within and connected to the Methodist Church and how they highlight how these material things have served to make space for these female communities, highlighting their presence and importance.
Ruth and Hannah presented some of their initial findings in the University of Hull’s Department of Geography, Geology and Environmental Science lunchtime seminar in March 2021 and a recording of this seminar can be watched here: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/hull/93dfc9052aadd0e79d0314e5ca59448e781fefe4-1615984287393/capture/