UW News

February 27, 2013

Women Who Rock (un)conference, launch of oral history archive – with video

News and Information

poster for Women Who RockThe Seattle music scene might be most known for Nirvana and the grunge movement and, more recently, hip-hop artist Macklemore’s national hit “Thrift Shop.”

Less widely known is that these mainstream performers arose from a local music community rich with women artists.

The Women Who Rock: Building Scenes, Making Communities Project, a collaboration between University of Washington and community organizers, scholars and artists, nurtures this scene. The project will hold its third “unconference” combined with the launch of its oral history archive March 9 at Washington Hall in Seattle’s Central Area. The public event features live music and is open to all ages. Registration is free.

“Thriving local music communities provide a matrix for almost every artist who crosses into the mainstream,” said Michelle Habell-Pallán, one of the founding organizers of the project and a UW associate professor in gender, women and sexuality studies. “This conference calls attention to these local scenes and the women who activate them. The event celebrates the history of multiple Seattle music scenes and the relationships artists in those scenes have with each other and to communities in California, Mexico and beyond.”

The organizers call the March 9 event an unconference, because participants shape the content. They propose ideas in advance and then choose what workshops they want to participate in the day of the conference. Topics submitted so far highlight the ways community organizers are archiving history, such as memoir-writing through music, women making hip-hop scenes, and screen printing as a form of building archives.

Attendees should arrive at 11 a.m. to choose workshops, which run from noon until 3 p.m. Other events and performances will last until 10 p.m. See the schedule for more information on the speakers and performers.

The theme “Rock the Archive” for this year’s conference is a shout-out to the launch of an oral history archive of interviews of musicians, producers, journalists, scholars and others familiar with the Seattle music community. The UW Libraries’ Digital Initiatives Program will house the archive.

At its launch, the Women Who Rock Oral History Archive will include 13 of more than 60 histories gathered so far. The rest of the oral histories will go online over the next year and will be continually added to as more people are interviewed.

“The archive tells the life stories of people who have been deeply involved in making music scenes and building community,” said Angelica Macklin, a UW graduate student in gender, women and sexuality studies who is part of the team collecting and curating the archive.

The archive helps build the music scene, too. “Gretta Harley and her play ‘These Streets’ is a great example of how we have envisioned people engaging with the Women Who Rock Project,” Macklin said. The UW collection will include about 40 histories collected as part of Harley’s research for “These Streets” – playing at ACT in Seattle through March 10 – chronicling Seattle’s female rockers.

“People are creating amazing new stories that change our perspectives and understandings of our own history and impact how we produce the world we live in,” Macklin said.

Here’s a video preview of the archive:

The UW archive provides free material online to anyone wishing to make documentaries, create a curriculum or to tell histories in other ways, said Sonnet Retman, UW associate professor of American ethnic studies and an organizer of the Women Who Rock Project.

“This comes at a moment when a lot of feminist popular music archives are being formed,” Retman said. But whereas other archives are static repositories of artists’ papers or other written documents, the UW archive will grow as oral histories are collected.

In spring 2014, Habell-Pallán and Retman will teach an undergraduate “Women Who Rock” course based on the archive.

The Women Who Rock Project is funded by the UW Simpson Center for the Humanities, with additional support from other UW and community sponsors.


For more information, contact Habell-Pallán at 206-543-6981 or mhabellp@uw.edu; Macklin at amacklin@uw.edu; or Retman at 206-543-0470 or sretman@uw.edu.