Respectful descriptions of marginalised groups in Archives

Members of our collections team also attended the workshop on describing and managing racially insensitive archives earlier this year, along with Jass Thethi – a colleague (And good friend) of ours over at the John Rylands Library.

In this blog post, Jass uses two concrete examples to explore how archivists might approach potentially insensitive catalogue descriptions and documentation, without ‘white-washing’ history.

John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog

Items within special collections can date back hundreds of years, so it’s no surprise that within these materials it is possible to find outdated or problematic attitudes and language. I am currently researching potential ways to manage this.

In May 2018 I attended ‘Protocols for describing and managing racially insensitive archives,’ a workshop facilitated by Arike Oke and Simon Demissie, from the Wellcome Library,  based on the Master’s Dissertation by Alicia Chilcott. This workshop explored the racial insensitivity in archival descriptions and potential solutions.

In June 2018 I attended ‘Museum Remix,’ a workshop facilitated by Museum Detox at the University of Cambridge. Here, we explored how the use of insensitive descriptions in record keeping can bleed into online catalogues and exhibitions. This spreads misinformation by misrepresenting marginalised groups: an injustice to the educational value of archives and the communities surrounding them.

This blog post will focus on how…

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Stateless in Manchester – the strange case of the “D.P. Student”

Image of a pair of glasses on a book

The Roving Reader Files

 

Have you ever whiled away an hour or two in the University of Manchester archive? You should try it sometime. You never know what you’ll find.

I was in there one day rooting around trying to uncover the origins of international students who’d come to study in our city over the decades. Imagine my surprise when I saw the following statistic in the 1954 Report of the Council to the Court of Governors: “Stateless …. 1”. What could that mean? Sixty people from India or twelve from France is understandable, but “Stateless …. 1”?

You’ve probably guessed already I was on another voyage of discovery, one which I’d like to share with you…

Don’t think the mass migration of desperate refugees we’ve witnessed in recent years is anything new to Europe. It isn’t. The “Stateless Student” I’d stumbled across turned out to be only one individual amongst the millions of unfortunate souls left displaced and destitute on mainland Europe at the end of World War II. The cataclysm of the war-torn early 1940s had wrecked economies and devastated huge swathes of the landmass, leaving governments and people with insurmountable difficulties.

Refugees in Germany moving westwards in 1945

Refugees in Germany moving westwards in 1945 (Image courtesy the German Federal Archives via Wikimedia Commons – Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1985-021-09 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0 de)

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The Language of Catalogue Descriptions

This week I (Hannah) met with Jessica Smith, Archivist for the Christian Brethren Archive held at the University of Manchester Library. This collection contains, amongst other things, a large number of lantern slides of the Brethren’s missionary work in India, China and Africa during the early 20th Century. All of which are now digitised and available via the University’s open access image database.

Our conversation quickly got onto the challenges of archiving material from colonial times; how to do it in a way that is accurate, useful for research purposes, but also culturally sensitive.

Here is Jessica’s recent blog post about this topic – very interesting food for thought.

John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog

The Heritage Imaging Team has recently completed a project to digitise 901 lantern slides held in the Christian Brethren Archive. As mentioned in a previous blog post, in the case of many of these slides, we had very little contextual information, or information relating to their provenance.

The creation of a catalogue for visual material without much knowledge of origin or content presents certain challenges and concerns.

If you are unable to identify the origin of the image, and the scene it depicts, the cataloguer may be reduced to simply describing what they can see, and thus descriptions like ‘Man under tree holding stick’ are born. As there were several cataloguers involved with this project, there are further concerns in terms of the standardisation of language, as one person may decide to to describe the same moving body of water as a river, and another as a stream.

There…

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Narrowing the gap between community engagement & collection development

What happens to the outputs of community-led heritage projects? Why are they so rarely accessioned into registered collections? Can we create a model for projects that benefits both communities and collecting institutions?

These are the questions that Jennie and myself (Hannah) explored back in November at the National Archives’ annual  ‘Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities’ conference (DCDC).  We shared the findings of the first phase of our HLF-supported project Coming in from the Cold, and also our experience as a heritage organisation with a more holistic approach to community engagement and collection development.

Watch the conference video below, and you can download the Coming in from the Cold audit report from the project blog.

To Be Young Adult, Gifted and Black: BAME YA Literature Milestones, Part Two

Another interesting piece from theracetoread blog. This BAME young adult literature timeline highlights some of the key national race related events of the 1980s and 90s, including the founding of our Education Trust!

theracetoread

This week’s blog continues the history of Black and BAME British YA literature.  1981, the year that starts the second half of the timeline, is significant for YA literature.  The end of what scholar Anthony DiGesare calls “the long 1970s”, a period when race was the focus for both Black and white Britons from Enoch Powell to future Guardian prize-winner Alex Wheatle, 1981 saw the Brixton Riots bring institutional racism into the spotlight for the first—but by no means the last—time.

brixton010308_468x317_1 YA novelist Alex Wheatle was among the people who experienced the Brixton Riot of 1981.

1981: The Brixton riots erupt as a response to the perceived racist attitudes of police against the Black British community.  West Indian Children in our Schools, a government report authored by Anthony Rampton, calls for mainstream literature to better represent the increasingly diverse cultures of Britain.  The Rampton report was written in response…

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Sooni Taraporevala: Home in the City, Bombay 1976 – Mumbai 2016 at The Whitworth

By Jo Manby

Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M15 6ER
On view until 28 January 2018

My third review (following from my review of Raqib Shaw and John Akomfrah’s ‘Vertigo Sea’) looks at the Whitworth’s current exhibition of photography by Sooni Taraporevala, and introduces the South Asia art and culture programme that marks the 70th anniversary of the Partition of India.

1_Sooni_Taraporevala_Salim and Tukloo Bombay 1987

Salim and Tukloo, Bombay 1987 by Sooni Taraporevala. Courtesy of the artist and Sunaparanta

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Raqib Shaw at The Whitworth

By Jo Manby

The Whitworth, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M15 6ER
On view until 19 November 2017

As promised, my next review of The Whitworth’s summer exhibitions explores the art of London-based artist Raqib Shaw. His gloriously opulent exhibition is part of the South Asia art and culture programme that marks the 70th anniversary of Partition. The programme is part of the work of the New North & South network which involves ten North of England organisations.

The exhibition is co-curated by Dr Maria Balshaw, Director of Tate, Diana Campbell Betancourt, Director of Dhaka Art Summit and the artist himself.

Some key facts about Raqib Shaw:

  • Shaw was born in Calcutta and grew up in Kashmir, which he describes as a very beautiful place etched on his memory.
  • His family are involved in textiles.
  • Originally he wanted to be a teacher of English literature.
  • He is totally devoted to his art and lives for his work.
  • His Peckham studio doubles as his home and is filled with beautiful objects and trailing plants.

The interior of the first main gallery at The Whitworth is transformed, and now has the feel of an exclusive boudoir-style club. Shaw’s newly commissioned wallpaper covers every wall, dark both in colour and theme (it’s available to buy in The Whitworth shop as a limited edition). It is called ‘After A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (see below) and features phantasmagorical beings intertwined with braided creepers and branches over a background the colour of lapis lazuli.

After A Midsummer Night’s Dream

After A Midsummer Night’s Dream, © Raqib Shaw and The Whitworth, The University of Manchester

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Vertigo Sea by John Akomfrah at The Whitworth

By Jo Manby

The Whitworth, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M15 6ER
This exhibition was on view until 23rd July 2017.

The Whitworth has some fantastic exhibitions on over the summer, I’m especially excited to see the gallery’s contribution to the New North and South programme, bringing the work of South Asian artists to prominence. But before I talk about the current exhibitions (watch this space next week) I want to reflect on another piece we saw there recently that had a profound effect on me: Vertigo Sea, a three-screen film installation by the artist, filmmaker and founder member of Black Audio Film Collective John Akomfrah.

the image shows three large cinema screens in a row in a dark room, each showing different images, one shows a boat on a rough sea, one shows a misty forest, one shows a burning forest

John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea, 2015. ©Smoking Dog Films. Courtesy Lisson Gallery

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Voices of Kosovo in Manchester… and in Kosovo

The welcome was magnificent, unexplainable. Not just our first steps off the plane at Manchester Airport, but also the processing of all the refugees. And yes, it’s true, the English removed the rags of oppression and truly brought smiles for the first time to our kids’ faces – our kids, who had seen nothing but violence, burnings and killing.

Bedri Hyseni, Voices of Kosovo in Manchester archive

Oral histories are a significant feature of our collection. We currently have in the region of 400 interviews covering a range of experiences, from the life stories of Windrush immigrants to recollections of the 1945 Pan-African Congress.

image shows a bunch of yellow flowers, a large blue book with 'voices of kosovo in manchester on the cover and a photograph of a woman, displayed on a table

Image courtesy Manchester Aid to Kosovo

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‘White Fawn’ and the lost history of James Young Deer

Image of a pair of glasses on a book

The Roving Reader Files

 

People disappear from history all the time. No written records, no treasured belongings handed down as heirlooms, no-one still around to remember… There are lots of reasons. But one of the most successful film-makers of his era? That’s unusual…

Take a look at this:

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