Being humble in the archive: reflections on working in Black community archives in London

Authors: Jacob Fairless Nicholson*, King's College London - London
Topics: Qualitative Methods
Keywords: Black Archives, Archival Research, Positionality, Children and Young People
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Calvert Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Black community - and official - archives in London are underfunded, operate constricted opening hours and are - in some cases - co-staffed by volunteers. In many ways, these structural limitations reflect the inequalities that have shaped the histories and historical geographies that make up their collections. Yet, despite these realities, Black community archives offer an inimitable insight into the social and cultural-historical geographies of organisations, individuals and activist movements which are, in many cases, the only known public record of collective/individual processes/acts of anti-racist resistance and organising of recent times. In this paper, I recall some of my own experiences of engaging with Black community and official archives in my research in London, reflecting on how Black community archives hold a particular set of politics, negotiations and challenges. Specifically, I consider some of the absences and politics that have shaped the collections that I work from. Then, I reflect on my own positionality as a white male researcher working in Black community archives, offering a conceptualisation on how a ‘humble’ archival methodology might address the incommensurabilities this relationship represents. Lastly, through my research on the educational spaces of young Black people and children in London c.1960-1990, I also reflect on the ethical double-bind of researching racialised minors (children and young adults) in archives.

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