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Routledge history authors of the month

2013 January 25

Routledge, the publishers of our forthcoming book (edited with Paul Martin), The Public History Reader, has featured us as authors of the month – even though the launch is not until March.

Part of the book analyses materials for the writing of history both inside and outside archives. The campaign against the destruction of archival material at Ruskin College Oxford, where Paul and I successfully ran the first MA in Public History in Britain for many years, has highlighted the value of such records.

As we discuss in the book, archives themselves are socially constructed. Dorothy Sheridan, the former archivist of the Mass Observation Archive in Sussex has argued that any archive involves a ‘complex triangular relationship between three agents’: those who provide the resources for the archive to exist, those whose stories are held within the archive and those who use it. Each agent, she continues, has a political and social influence and a differing level of both cultural and economic power. Not everything is collected: archivists (whoever they might be) choose what to collect and what to ignore. Certainly some have seen possibilities for ‘radical public history’ in the creation of community archives as ‘a space in which the archive can become a significant tool for discovery, education and empowerment’.

We wrote the section discussing the value of archives before there was any hint of the shredding of historic student records at Ruskin (or the closure of the Women’s Library in Aldgate). I suppose that this makes such discussion topical and draws attention to the remaining Ruskin student material (the fate of which is still to be decided).  Of course, saving the records would be preferable to writing about their destruction. Not for the first time  am I reminded of the campaigning slogan (drawn from Shelley) of the suffrage feminist WSPU: Deeds not Words…

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