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Hampshire Professor Featured in BBC Documentary

Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Lise Sanders

The work of Hampshire College professor Lise Shapiro Sanders 90F played an important role in the new BBC documentary series Shopgirls: The True Story of Life Behind the Counter.

Sanders’ 2006 book, Consuming Fantasies: Labor, Leisure, and the London Shopgirl, 1880-1920, was the first book-length publication to explore the history of the British shopgirl, and it proved an important resource for the producers of the show. Because of that, she was asked to appear in the second episode of the three-part series.

“They had been using my book for research,” said Sanders. “It was wonderful to find out my work had a life beyond the academic realm.”

Sanders, an associate professor of English literature and cultural studies, is also a graduate of Hampshire College.

Shopgirls is presented by University of Essex Senior Lecturer Dr. Pamela Cox, whose previous BBC documentary Servants: The True Story of Life Below Stairs shared the realities that inspired the hit series Downton Abbey. The Shopgirls series was created in response to the popularity of BBC’s The Paradise and the ITV series Mr. Selfridge, both of which revolve around life in department stores in the late 1800s. Shopgirls covers the changing world of the shopgirl from the 1840s to the 1960s.

Sanders was questioned mostly about Margaret Bondfield, a shop girl who eventually became an influential member of the national shop assistants' union before becoming a Labour MP and Britain’s first female cabinet minister. Sanders flew to London in April for an interview filmed in Toynbee Hall, a nineteenth-century settlement house in London’s East End where the shop assistants’ union sometimes met. Bondfield attended at least one labor meeting there.

“Unless you’re a historian of the British labor movement, or you work on women’s history, department stores, or consumer culture, you probably wouldn’t have heard of Margaret Bondfield in the United States. I think it’s really wonderful that they’re focusing new attention on her,” said Sanders.

The series so far has only been shown in England, where roughly 1.5 million viewers watched the first episode. Sanders hopes it will eventually be available to American viewers as well.

“It’s a foray outside of the ivory tower, which I hope will draw further attention and interest to the story of the shopgirl,” she said.

Sanders is currently working on a related article, "The Shopgirl and The 'It Girl,'" that will appear in Tales of Commerce and Imagination: Literary and Cinematic Contributions to the Department Store Debate in the Early 20th Century, edited by Godela Weiss-Sussex and Ulrike Zitzlsperger. It will be published in 2015.

For more about Shopgirls: The True Story of Life Behind the Counter, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0485fz3.

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