We’ve recently done a little conservation and access work on our Institute of Race Relations (IRR) Newspaper Clippings collection. It really is one of the gems of our archive – a vast collection of race-related stories from provincial UK newspapers, covering the short but intense period of September 1977 to April 1984.
The collection has been in need of some TLC for a while. It takes up 49 lever arch files, in varying states of dilapidation. We’ve only been able to replace the ones that were most severely falling apart, but we’ve also relocated a whole box of orphaned pages and moved the more fragile sheets to separate storage. With the detailed content summaries we now have for each folder, this is starting to feel like a much more accessible collection, ready to have its hidden depths explored by intrepid researchers….
In today’s era of instantaneous web searches and automated content alerts, it’s hard to imagine the old fashioned ‘cut and clip’ media monitoring service that the IRR would have commissioned to bring together this collection from newspapers across the whole of the UK. The cutting and sticking time alone must have been tremendous.
There’s certainly something slightly magical and nostalgic about a physical newspaper collection like this. I recently took one of the folders out to an engagement event at the University and a young student, gingerly touching a page of fading, yellowy newsprint asked me ‘Are these real? Real newspapers from the 70s?’
But moreover, this set of information couldn’t exist electronically today – provincial newspapers are much less likely to be digitised than national ones, especially from this time period, and certainly not in a format that could be accessed remotely. Making this collection truly unique.
But unique or not, what is the value of a collection like this? A postgraduate history student studying the collection last year commented on how it impacted his research. Originally he’d been looking for some additional references for his bibliography about the collapse of the National Front in 1980, but found that reading about this national issue through the lens of local media outlets –seeing how different local councils and constituencies reacted to the threat (or indeed the promise) of the far right – gave him a much more nuanced picture than he had gleaned from national publications. Because the collection is organised chronologically, it’s easy to look up a date and compare how a story of national significance resonated in different parts of the country.
And of course there is a wealth of colourful local stories; maybe serious, maybe light-hearted, often quirky and featuring a cast of regional voices. In the spirit of discovery I had a look at what was happening on this day in 1978. An anti-fascist exhibition opened in Oxford, staff at a South London children’s hospital threatened to walk out following the unfair dismissal of a male Asian nurse (for allegedly pinching a woman’s bottom) while boredom and bad parenting are blamed for a violent attack on a Pakistani woman in Sheffield.
Most interesting perhaps was a story from the West Sussex Gazette: ‘French Students Not Welcome: Tea shop ban breaking race laws?’ It seems an old-world tea shop in Arundel drew the attention of the Commission for Racial Equality when it banned French students from its premises after they ‘terrorised’ regular visitors. ‘It’s the French who are the trouble-makers. The Germans are immaculately correct’ the shopkeeper stated, while the local teacher responsible for the students refuted that the French were less well-behaved than others, just that ‘they are perhaps more noisy, this is in their character.’
If you want to find out more you can access the content summary document for the collection from the Archive Collections page of our website. Use the Find function in Word to search for specific topics.
And you might like to read another story in the collection discovered by one of our archive volunteers: Writing on the Wall.