TrowelBlazers is an archival project that looks at the historical role of women in the earth sciences, archaeology and geography, with the aim to change perceptions about these traditionally male-dominated careers.
‘Lots of people may have heard of Dorothy Garrod, the first female professor in the UK. How many people know that she led all-female expeditions?’ says Brenna Hasset, a bioarchaeologist who co-founded TrowelBlazers.
‘There are amazing stories just under the surface,’ she says. ‘Yusra was a local Palestinian worker who sifted finds on a dig. She found a Neanderthal fossil.’
The discovery, a skull, was an important find in 1932. So far very little is known about Yusra (even her surname is unknown), although she is now credited as the object’s discoverer on the Smithsonian website.
TrowelBlazers has had more success tracing other archaeologists, circulating photos over social media for identification.
‘How do we do it? We do it by being insanely connected all the time. We’re basically a hydra-headed anarchistic collective. Not anarchists, but anarchistic,’ says Hasset.
The project started as a Tumblr blog, which has been built up to 100 posts. Posts come twice a week, usually from guest contributors. So far the group has gathered 4,000 followers on Tumblr, and around 4,000 likes on Facebook.
TrowelBlazers also goes beyond archival research. The group has joined campaigns to see women scientists represented in Lego sets, and most recently put pressure on a national chain of shoe shops.
The campaign started when a schoolgirl wanted a pair of dinosaur print shoes at her local shoe shop, but was told there were none for girls, says Hasset. TrowelBlazers launched the Twitter hashtag #inmyshoes to collect photos of women scientists at work in boots, trainers, and every shoe type in between.