Information Studies


Community archives and identities: documenting and sustaining community heritage

The Community archives and identities project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for 20 months (2008-2009) from February 1st 2008. ahrc_logo

This project investigated the importance of independent 'community archives', and in particular the role of these archives in the production of collective identities via academic and popular public histories, exhibitions and other interactions. We understand community archives in this context as collections of materials created, held and managed primarily within communities and outside the formal heritage sector. Although many of these initiatives have a relatively long history, the importance of these collections has only recently been widely recognised amongst cultural policy-makers and professional organisations. However these collections present many challenges to traditional professional practices (for instance the scope of archival collections, the relationship with non-traditional user communities and issues of ownership / custodianship).

In UK terms, although there have been a number of innovative collaborations between community groups and professionals, this remains a significantly under-researched area with little evidence or theory to underpin and identify good practice. This project seeks to address these gaps through a collaboration between academics in archives and records management, digital humanities, and cultural heritage along with professional archivists and the creators, users and custodians of community archives.

Whilst acknowledging the diversity of possible understandings of 'community', this project concentrates on in-depth studies of four community archives and initiatives defined mainly, but not exclusively, by ethnicity. Although these archives will differ in terms of size, length of existence, resources, physical or virtual location and community represented, there will also be points of commonality which will allow for the identification of some more general points, and to set the study in wider context. The choice of research methods, in-depth ethnographic case studies backed up by a significant number of wide-ranging interviews, means that those most closely involved in community archives have helped to mould the research framework that this project has developed and work to.

Among the questions that this project sought to answer are:

  • How community archives contribute to the process of identity production among diverse communities in Britain and what contribution might they make in terms of building a more cohesive multicultural society?
  • What role do community archives play in terms of challenging mainstream representations and marginalisations?
  • How does the preservation and long-term accessibility of diverse independent community-based archives contribute to academic research and understanding of those communities and wider society?
  • What is the relationship between physical and virtual community archives and how do these different sites affect the ways in which identities are produced?
  • How can professional archivists support the development and sustainability of community archives and what do community initiatives contribute to professional understandings and practice?

The outcome is a better understanding of the role of community archive initiatives in resisting misrepresentation and marginalisation, a clearer understanding of the relationship between formal archive professionals and the custodians of community archives and suggestions regarding best practice models for identifying and ensuring the long-term sustainability of significant community archives, both physical and virtual. Such findings will interest cultural policy makers, historians and cultural heritage academics interested in community history and identity, archivists and other cultural heritage professionals, and the creators, users and custodians of community archives. The findings of these studies will be shared in a range of forms including a final project report, presentations at conferences, advocacy documents and articles submitted for peer review and publication in professional journals and/or newsletters.

Project team
Report and launch event
Project management board
Project documentation

For further details, please contact a.flinn@ucl.ac.uk.