This month Trowelblazers and Leonora Saunders launched the Raising Horizons exhibition. It features 14 new portraits of historical "Trowelblazers" - women active in archaeology, geology and paleontology. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was asked to portray the Egyptologist Margaret Murray for the exhibition, a great honour. It's been a fantastic project to be involved in - in no small part because I got to dress up for my photograph (though I must admit publicly to a smidgen of costume envy - who wouldn't want a bit of Charlotte Murchison's early 19th century sheen?)
These new portraits raise really important issues about women's visibility in the historical record. Among the archaeologists I research there are several for whom I have never found a likeness - and more with only one or two sometimes blurry or busy photographs to show us what they looked like.
That's not to say pictures don't exist, but they are hard to come by, even though you might have lots of other kinds of evidence.* I've yet to find a picture of the archaeological artist Jessie Mothersole, for example, though her work is now more discover-able because some of her early illustrated books have been digitised and are available on Internet Archive.
Just seeing someone's face tells you something almost indescribable. I can see someone's handwriting for years, read their thoughts in letters and diaries, and have a vague picture of them in my head, but there's always something missing without a image of them. Somehow they seem a bit less real. That's what I enjoyed the most about seeing all the Trowelblazers portraits hanging in the Geological Society. It brought home again the fact that these women were alive, human beings, not just names on a page.
Raising Horizons is open till the end of the month at the Geological Society and then moving on to other venues - do check it out if you can! For more information, visit the project website: raisinghorizons.co.uk.
*My favourite Margaret Murray find remains, unsurprisingly, her curry recipe - more on that here.