We are a team of researchers (Mary Stevens, Andrew Flinn, Elizabeth Shepherd) at University College London in the School of Library, Archive and Information Studies. During 2008-2009 we are conducting a series of in-depth studies of Black and minority ethnic community archives, financed by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
By community archives we mean any collection of material that documents one or many aspects of a community’s heritage, collected in, by and for that community and looked after by its members. This material helps tell the story of groups of people who have often been excluded from mainstream archives, which have tended to focus on official documents and the lives of elites. In our project we will investigate the role community archives play in supporting a sense of rootedness and identity amongst members of acommunity, as well as what they do to raise awareness of these neglected stories in the wider public. Ultimately, we are interested in the social impact of community archives ontheir creators and on their publics.
Until now there has been very little concrete evidence demonstrating the potential benefits of community archives. Research that has been done has mostly focused on the social impact of museums. We aim to fill this gap by providing detailed evidence of the ways in which community archives and histories impact on the lives of those they touch.
To do this we will be working very closely over several months with the community archives that have agreed to take part in our research. Mary will be participating actively in and contributing to the work of the archives, documenting her experiences in order to build up a detailed picture of the organisation and the effect of its work that is much more than just a snapshot.
We hope that the community archives chosen will see the project as a collaborative venture with concrete benefits for themselves. Moreover, in contributing to the research we anticipate that in a small way they will be helping to secure the long-term future of the sector, by providing evidence of the value of community archives to today’s diverse society.