Hey there. I’m Hannah. I’m an American museum professional and Fulbright Fellow living in Reykjavík, and I’m the host of a podcast dedicated to exploring Iceland’s museums. Why? Because Iceland has a staggering 165 museums (that’s way more museums per person than most places in the world), and most of them are fantastic places run by fascinating people who are passionate about their institutions and communities.
I launched the Museums in Strange Places podcast for anyone who loves Iceland, museums, stories, culture, and exploring the world. In each episode, I visit a different Icelandic museum to discover what stories they hold and how they reflect and shape Iceland’s unique cultural identity. If you’ve got suggestions for which museum I should visit next, send me a tweet @hannah_rfh.
Museums in Strange Places #13: Finding Iceland’s Hidden Women
For the most recent episode of Museums in Strange Places, I did something a little different than usual. Rather than visiting a museum, I decided to head to the basement of the National Library to visit an archive. As everyone in the field knows, archives are the shy intellectual cousin to museums—not nearly as outgoing, but still really cool once you get to know them.
Since March is Women’s History Month in my American homeland—and I wasn’t on top of things enough to get a visit to the Museum of Design and Applied Art before Design March—I’ve put together a special episode about women’s history in Iceland.
It just so happens that two floors directly below my usual study spot in the National and University Library, is the Kvennasögusafn Íslands, the Women’s History Archive in Iceland. The archive is a one-woman operation run by Rakel Adolphsdóttir, a young historian and feminist activist. She told me about key moments in Icelandic women’s history, and we discussed what was unique about women’s history in Iceland (as well as the universal challenges of the field). After our conversation, Rakel connected me with the three researchers behind Hinsegin Huldkonur (Hidden Queer Women), a project that aims to find the queer women in Icelandic sources from 1700-1960 and create a new database of queer women’s history in Iceland.
Iceland is often called one of the best places in the world to be a woman, and has been ranked #1 in the World Economic Forum’s gender equality index for nine years now. In January of this year, Iceland became the first country in the world to require employers to prove they are paying women equally.
But, as with every country, there is still work to be done when it comes to full equality, and not all women are equally represented in Iceland’s progress. The #metoo movement has helped show that Iceland still has a systematic imbalance of power between the sexes. Just this year, a large group of foreign women in Iceland started organizing to highlight their experiences of gender-based discrimination and advocate for change. And of course, trans-women are still fighting for full rights and acceptance in the legal system and society at large.
In this episode of Museum in Strange Places, you’ll learn about key moments in Icelandic women’s history, find out what it’s like to find the women hidden in Iceland’s male-dominated archives, get a lesson in queering history, and hear some protest songs from Iceland’s famous 1975 Women’s Day Off.
Here are a few key dates to get you on the path to Icelandic women’s historian in less time than it will take you to go to subscribe to the podcast (but also do that).
- If you want to become even more of an expert in Icelandic women’s history before you visit, the Women’s Archive has some great short articles in English on their website.
- The Árbæjarsafn (Árbær Open Air Museum) is just a 20-minute bus ride from city center, and one of their beautiful old buildings has a small but fantastic exhibit on women’s work at home. It highlights all the ways enterprising women earned money for themselves and their families even when they weren’t able to get employment outside their homes.
You can also listen to this episode of the Museums in Strange Places podcast on the following platforms: Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Radio Public, Libsyn, Youtube, Overcast.fm, Stitcher, Castbox.
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