2021: “The Audacity of Social Justice and Social Change”, a Prequel to "REVIEW ESSAY: Archives and museums: social change and social justice", ORAL HISTORY 50:1 (2022), pp. 127-135, with an introduction and brief history.




The Review Essay, “Archives and museums: social change and social justice” published in the Spring 2022 edition of the Oral History journal had some important personal and professional things to say, and something of real significance about the use and misuse of Foucault’s critique of “the Archive”. I think it’s probably worth reading for that last section alone. 


The essay as published in Oral History stands on its own. But there was an earlier and longer version, which was more personal and more accessible, less dense, and containing additional observations and thoughts which have an importance as well. This version was preceded by numerous stuttering attempts, and many genuinely sleepless nights over a number of months, a writing impasse that was broken only after the murder of the British MP Sir David Amess on October 15, 2021 while on constituency work in his local church hall. Something in me clicked, the voice in the writing changed, and an essay flowed. 


Before the logjam broke the working title had become “The Audacity of Social Justice and Social Change”, and the essay, such as it was, was divided by subheadings into two parts. The subheading for Part 1 came from Greta Thunberg - “Hope is taking action. And hope always comes from the people” – and it set out “The basis for commenting on these texts”. Part 2 was “Commenting on the texts”. This structure is carried into the essay below. 


What broke the jam apart was its translation into an oral history interview. I am, in fact talking to myself; the Reviews Editors were not there, and there was no digital recorder. But in the medium of the oral history interview, however fictional, I am on home ground. What happened between the essay below, and the essay as published, was a) compression, from 12,000 to 7,000 words, and b) conversion, from dramatic duologue to condensed academic prose. 




Brief History


Email, 18 July 2020: Craig to Reviews Editor, Oral History journal (OHJ): “Two books have recently been published which fall into my area of concern, both as an archivist and an oral historian. If they haven't already been assigned, and if they are available, I wonder if I might review...”


These were Archives, Recordkeeping and Social Justice edited by David A. Wallace, Wendy M. Duff, Renée Saucier, Andrew Flinn, published in 2020 by Routledge, and Museums and Social Change: Challenging the Unhelpful Museum, edited by Adele Chynoweth, Bernadette Lynch, Klaus Petersen, Sarah Smed, also published in 2020 by Routledge. The answer from Anindya Raychaudhuri for the Oral History journal was a very encouraging Yes, and she placed the order.


Routledge took nine months to send the review copies. The books – eBooks, not hard copy - finally came in late March 2021, and only when the Reviews Editors bypassed the publisher and went straight to the books’ editors. During those nine months the books and myself not only grew older, but there had been a change in the OHJ reviews team, from Anindya Raychaudhuri to Isabel Machado and Fearghus Roulston, and the Journal’s approach to reviews had changed. In place of six or so 1,000-word reviews per issue, which now go on the website, the Reviews Editors would commission one review essay per issue, of about 6,000 words each - longer and therefore able to “offer an opportunity for a more expansive and reflective engagement with the materials in question, resulting in pieces that can roam more widely and engage more deeply than is possible in the shorter review format.” 


On March 15 they invited me to inaugurate this new series in a combined review of the two books and Adele Chynoweth’s Goodna Girls: A History of Children in a Queensland Mental Asylum, which had been published by the Australian National University Press and Aboriginal History Inc. (https://press.anu.edu.au/publications/series/aboriginal-history/goodna-girls).

In response to the invitation I said:


What you are inviting me to do (although this may not be your intention!) is to reflect back into myself over the past 30 years or so, handling archives created largely at the point of social and individual pain and the attempt to do something about them, gathering together the physical (museum) objects of meaning, recording and encouraging the recording of oral histories with people who were involved with all that in one way or another, putting the Archive actively to use in exploring the past and facilitating presence, belonging and community; and then bringing that horizon of reflection to illuminate the books and what is in them. If that is something like what you have in mind, then of course that would be an interesting journey for me; and having a duty to the books would ensure I came back to the surface, and didn't get lost in wandering or self-indulgence, which makes the idea even more appealing. The word number is entirely up to you, but if you're thinking something between four and six thousand words, I'm happy to think that as well. The discipline of limits shapes the language and the words and encourages ideas to play.



The deadline was December, which seemed do-able, although because of the complexities of Journal scheduling that became November. When they finally came I found both of the Routledge books difficult to absorb, textually and conceptually – as a time-poor practitioner I was not the primary audience. Chynoweth’s on the other hand was both powerful on many levels, and a story of direct engagement and transformation of author, subjects (the people – the women who had been the girls), institutions, policy and practice which made it immediately vocal. It was doing social justice, while telling the story. Ultimately, I could not review the three together. 


Given the journey into my own experience premised in my “Yes, I think I would like to do this”, with the emotional and other complexities entailed, I found it an immensely disturbing experience in any event. I found it ‘difficult to talk’, in the words of a deeply affecting presentation by the late Maurice Bridgeland. And then the breaking of the logjam described earlier happened, eventuating over two weeks in the text below, almost complete, and sent to the reviews editors on November 2nd. They had a copy-editing deadline of November 5 which they hoped I would help them meet. I was hoping I was giving them enough time to take stock of what I had produced, which even I knew was too long and stylistically problematic. 


They were supportive, positive, pragmatic in terms of possible courses of action, and clear on what they needed from a review essay for the Journal, which included tight deadlines over which they little control or leeway. The text itself was far too long and stylistically idiosyncratic; interesting but needing an overhaul. If I felt it was possible, there was a final deadline of November 10th. It was a surgical exercise. I made the deadline, which was followed by a long and awesome process of copy-editing/proof-reading/negotiating over changes and proof-reading again which involved a huge amount of work over the next three months for the Journal’s copy-editing, reviews, and admin team, with the final publication-ready proof sent to me on February 25th, 2022: An 18 months-plus journey from the initial “May I review these” query. Much had changed.




[Essay sent November 2, 2021]



Archives, Recordkeeping and Social Justice

Edited by David A. Wallace, Wendy M. Duff, Renée Saucier, Andrew Flinn

Abingdon: Routledge, 2020, 282pp, £36.99 paperback, £120.00 hardback, £33.29 eBook.



Museums and Social Change: Challenging the Unhelpful Museum

Edited by Adele Chynoweth, Bernadette Lynch, Klaus Petersen, Sarah Smed

Abingdon: Routledge, 2020, 214pp, £34.99 paperback, £120.00 hardback, £31.49 eBook 



A review essay in dialogue form


OHJ:  It’s the 16th of October, 2021, and I’m here with Craig Fees, founding archivist of what was the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre; a long-standing trustee of the Oral History Society; and various other things besides: A Regional Networker for many years, who set up their original email discussion group in 1999; a former member of the British Library/Oral History Society training programme; course author and tutor in Oral History in the Centre for Archive and Information Studies at the University of Dundee; Honorary Research Fellow in the History of Medicine at the University of Birmingham...and we’re here because earlier this year Craig contacted us about the two books listed above, asking if he might review them. They had fired his imagination as someone who had entered a career in archives in 1989 when asked to set up an archive devoted to making the world better, and emerged almost thirty years later, just before Christmas in 2018, catapulted into a new world. He wondered what others in this new world meant by social justice and social change, and what others had been doing especially during the last decade, when austerity and pressures on the Archive to survive in an intensely challenging environment took more and more of his attention. He wondered what was out there. Is that right?

CF: Yes, I came to the surface after a very deep and long dive and emerged into a virtually different time-world, post-Internet and massively interconnected. These two prestigiously-published books, and there were others, and journal articles, suggested that there had been a lot of movement out there that I had not been aware of as a practitioner; and actually would not have had the time or energy to read and absorb while still on the archival battlefield, so to speak. I apologise for any military metaphors, by the way; I come from a military family, and much of my influences growing up express themselves most naturally this way. And they may even explain something of what I bring to oral history and archiving. Something of their intensity, perhaps.

OHJ: Intensity?

CF: My father was an officer, and we were brought up with a sense of duty and responsibility to others generally. And it’s a milieu in which real lives are lost. My father’s, for example, when I was four. It’s probably important to note that today is the 16th of October, and a British MP, Sir David Amess, was killed in his constituency yesterday, precisely in the course of living this duty and responsibility to others, carrying out his regular surgery. This, and other things, have thrown me out of the essay I was in the course of writing, and into this dialogue approach, because so many thoughts are coming and then challenging themselves that the essay wasn’t able to catch or contain them. I’ve been thrown back into my assemblage, to use the concept Lindsey Dodd introduced in the recent “Power and the Archive” issue of Oral History.i

My assemblage built up over the last thirty-plus years as an oral historian and archivist, and therefore as a person, has involved a lot of intense experiences, from joy – which can in some contexts be devastating – to whatever its opposite is, which can be extremely debilitating, but can also paradoxically hold elements of an overwhelming sense of the purpose of things. Although not predictably or necessarily!, and can slip over into the rupture of one’s continuity of being and self which we call trauma. At which point may I bring in some statistics I found interesting? In the book Museums and Social Change (which I will call “Museums” from here on) the word “love” appears 22 times – 22 times! 14 times in the Introduction, five distributed among case studies, sometimes in titles of publications, and three times in the Index - “attention as love” on page 23, “love as practice of freedom” on pages 24-25, for example. In contrast, in Archives, Recordkeeping and Social Justice (“Archives and Recordkeeping”), the word “love” appears only six times, generally in the titles of things, and not in the index. There are reasons for this, of course, which go below the surface of the statistics. But there is a loveless worldview around “archives” for which I blame Michel Foucault and Derrida, which we will no doubt come back to. 

OHJ: Of course. 

CF: So I popped back up to the surface, eventually swam to something approaching dry land, found myself immersed in a world which contained George Floyd’s murder and the January 6 assault on the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., where I used to work, and wanted to catch up with what was going on in the world of heritage, social justice and social change. I asked if I might review these books, you said yes and ordered them, the publisher took some prompting and there were long delays, but they finally arrived. Perhaps they delayed because they didn’t believe that there would be a relevance to an audience of oral historians, despite the fact that both books, and virtually all socially engaged work in archives and museums today are laced as a matter-of-course with oral history, and in some cases predicated on it, as in the ‘Hidden Now Heard’ project carried out in partnership with Mencap Cymru by the National Museum of Wales, described in Sioned Hughes and Nia Williams’ chapter “’Nothing about us without us’: the journey to cultural democracy at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum of Wales” in Archives and Recordkeeping. This, by the way, is a huge change, at least in the area of archives. There were pioneers such as Len Macdonald who set up the Pilkington Glass archives, and Derek Charman while at British Steel, who used and advocated oral historyii; but it was still novel and not widely accepted when I conducted the oral history segment for the Society of Archivists’ seminars for recently qualified archivists back in the late 1990s and early 2000s (one former Chair of the Society who engaged with the seminars was great fun, but was very clear they didn’t see the interest in oral history as an archivist); and when I took over the Dundee Oral History Unit in the Sound and Vision Module from John Benson in 2010, which was mainly for archivists, he was still having to make the case for oral history. In any event, the books finally did arrive, and you suggested I might wish to write an inaugural review essay, something ‘slightly longer and more substantial than the standard capsule review format’, giving ‘a little more space for a broader reflection on archives, oral history, museological practice, and so on’. I was happy to take it on.

OHJ: What you actually said was: “What you are inviting me to do is to reflect back into myself over the past 30 years or so: handling archives created largely at the point of social and individual pain, and the attempt to do something about them; gathering together the physical (museum) objects of meaning; recording, and encouraging the recording of oral histories with people who were involved with all that in one way or another; putting the Archive actively to use in exploring the past and facilitating presence, belonging and community; and then bringing that horizon of reflection to illuminate the books and what is in them. If that is something like what you have in mind, then of course that would be an interesting journey for me....” . To which we said Yes. We were also aware that the Archive you had established, which was based largely around collections relating to therapeutic child care and mental health provision for adults, had won two awards, the Community Archives and Heritage Group’s “Most Impactful Archive” award in 2012, and Your Family History Magazine’s “Archive of the Year” award in 2013.

CF: Both of those were effectively an outcome of the Heritage Lottery Funded project “Therapeutic Living With Other People’s Children: an oral history of residential therapeutic child care c. 1930-c.1980”, which took forever to put together, partly because of the enormity of it, and partly because the small charity I worked for - smacked-about by the financial fall-out in the wake of 9/11 and then the collapse of the banks and investment income - was making the creeky-cranky transition from a grant-giving charity with a steady reservoir of investment income to a grant-seeking charity needing, in its terms, substantial financial help from outside. But the South West HLF team were amazingly helpful and understanding, we got the grant, and “Therapeutic Living” ran for 18 months in 2010-2011, bringing together everything we’d learned in the previous twenty years of archiving and oral historying with distressing and traumatic experience, and giving us the time to focus on and enjoy the company of people and collections where difficult childhood experience and the residential, therapeutically-intended response to it was central. Working with former children and staff of therapeutic environments, we put together a really interesting project design which allowed us to set out our stall of understandings, and to demonstrate what a reasonably funded, therapeutically grounded and practice-informed archive could do. The project was a core demonstration of proof of concept, and an intense and sometimes rocky learning experience all rolled up into one, from which we grew - although the charity itself lost the financial battle in the end, after another seven rather demanding years, and any talk about successes comes bundled up with complexities and caveats and not a little pain. 

As far as the awards themselves go, as a kind of manifestation of the success of the project and the history and traditions of social, therapeutic and archival/oral history practice which preceded and gave birth to it: the CAHG award came from our self-presentation of the work and its impact, and it was collected with and for us at UCL in London by the students and staff of Trinity Catholic School of Leamington Spa, who had become very closely entwined with the Project. The Your Family History Magazine's "Archive of the Year" award in 2013 was different, in that the proposals and nominations came entirely from people who had used the Archive and been involved in the project – mainly former children who had been in residential care, and were embodied in our collections, and took part in the project - , and in a very real way the award reflected their perceptions and summarised their experiences of it. How meaningful and powerful that was was indicated by the historian Nick Barratt when he presented the award to the small core team of the Project still there in February 2013 - Gemma Geldart, Chris Long and myself - at the “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” event at Olympia in London: he told the small assembled crowd that the support given by our participants was what had lifted our small charity archive above and just pipped the excellent The Hive to first place. If you don’t know it, The Hive is a very exciting partnership of the University of Worcester and Worcestershire County Council, in a beautiful purpose-built building, with the library, the archive, and the general heritage collections rolled into one impressive public gathering and study centre.iii It’s local to us, and whenever I’ve been there it’s been buzzing. So by any standards that was phenomenal and gratifying. We were also the first winners who didn’t have the institutional presence to have a stall inside the exhibition centre, so the three of us waited outside while the organisers decided what to do (they were great, and let us go in with complementary tickets). But very important is what Nick Barratt said in explaining the rationale behind awarding us “Archive of the Year”:

"It may be that you have never heard of this archive, but the work that it undertakes and collections it holds are inspirational.

"The Trust was founded in 1966 to support therapeutic approaches to the treatment of children and adults who have suffered severe emotional and psychological hurts. The archive and study centre was formed in 1989, and not only does it collect and curate 200 archival material collections, including 1,100 oral histories, but provides a space for people to share memories and experiences relating to environmental therapy, and so it is continuing to undertake therapeutic work today."

"This, to me, is the essence of family history - practical, small scale and life changing. All this is done on a small budget, showing that you don't need millions of pounds to make a difference to people's lives."iv

Which is true, you don’t; but it was the HLF funding which made it possible for us to really show to the public and ourselves what was possible. And by “ourselves” I include the former children and their family members who took part, the former adults (“staff” diminishes who they were and what they did), the students and teachers of Alcester Grammar School and Trinity Catholic School, the Trustees who became involved, the outside transcribers and academics and professionals, and the rest of the very small team at the charity who were fully engaged and contributed (Vicky Theyer, who cooked and helped keep the place up and orderly, proposed weekly team meals for anyone who was on site on the day, which became an essential bonding thread; the bonding and integration that comes from sharing time and meals together being an essential when the environment is placed under stress, as when powerful emotions and experiences are introduced into it. You don’t need millions of pounds, as some of the projects recounted in Archives and Recordkeeping and Museums show, certainly in their early stages – such as the project described by Anna Sexton, Stuart Baker-Brown, Peter Bullimore, Dolly Sen and Andrew Voyce in “Social Justice and hearing voices: Co-constructing an archive of mental health recovery”, or those Rebecka Taves Sheffield talks about in “Social justice Struggles for rights, equality and identity: The role of lesbian and gay archives” in Archives and Recordkeeping; or the exceptional Museum of Homelessness written about by Jessica and Matthew Turtle, and the Glasgow Women’s Library written about by Adele Patrick in Museums (and there are others) - but making a difference to people’s lives doesn’t happen by accident; it requires people who are invested, who care, who are mutually directed and oriented around the task of being welcoming and being human and present with others. Which takes time; more time than most institutions nowdays make available). 

OHJ: What were the core elements of the Therapeutic Living Project?

CF: Teamwork and community building. In the first weeks of the project, before any former children or others joined us, the small project team of four – director, oral historian, transcriber/administrator, archivist; all new to the charity apart from myself - held endless meetings about everything under the sun, on the same principle: that we were about to be thrown together into the depths of the known unknown, with potential complexities of every kind, practical and emotional. In those circumstances, building a very fine web of planning, understandings and communication within the team, so that you can play the events themselves when they happen by ear, is essential. In Sarah Smed’s chapter in Museums, “Behind barbed wire: co-producing the Danish Welfare Museum” there was so much that was familiar; but her paragraph which began “The long meetings, that often last for hours, are intense, and it usually takes days for all participants, both panel members and members of staff, to fully process what has been communicated and shared...” made me smile. As did her response “to the many museum managers reading this chapter [who] might argue that their staff members and institutions simply do not have the resources to prioritise this work”:

“Museums are some of the very last places in contemporary society where resources do still exist to do this work. We work in places where critical dialogue can take place in an inclusive, democratising and polyphonic space, and it is therefore both our ethical responsibility to use our resources in striving for this change and our only way forward.”v

I’m probably less wedded to the idea that it is our only way forward, because there are many. But Change, where you are bringing together different worlds of experience and understanding, engaging emotions and memory, creating community out of diversity, and managing together the intensities of personal histories and the potential comings and goings of distressing and traumatic experience - and the learning all that involves - does take time. The sustainable and self-replicating capacity to learn as a community, and to adapt, innovate, and apply, is a direct function of time and the communication which happens within it, as we know as oral historians. And facing the climate catastrophe as we are, together, what could be a more important take-away? So, core elements of “Therapeutic Living” were time, and the communication which filled it.

The keystone of the Therapeutic Living Project was “Archive Weekends”, residential events which took advantage of the Archive being part of a small rural conference centre where people could stay, make and have meals, wander. These “Archive Weekends” were invented in the early 2000s with former students of Wennington School, up in Wetherby, Yorkshire, who had carried around and looked after the records of the school ever since it closed in 1975. That already tells you something about the place, which was a private Quaker-based boarding school spun out or perhaps flung out (so to speak) from Bedales, “which opened in 1940 as a living laboratory for new ideas in education, citizenship and community”vi, and took in, as a matter of course and principle, at least a fifth of students referred by local authorities: a living experiment in social justice and social change indeed.vii They discovered us in the late 90s, and thought we’d be a good home for the records; but they wanted to go further: to record their memories; to help catalogue and preserve, and learn from their archives; and to use every tool available to broadcast the Wennington story and what it had to teach others. So we invented this very interesting symbiotic phenomenon, called “Archive Weekends” (even when they later took place during the week) because they originally happened over long Bank Holiday weekends throughout the year. Several years later, people who had been children at the Caldecott Community in Kent, who had built up an impressive collection of photographs and documents, discovered us in a similar way, and helped us develop Archive Weekends further.viii Quite apart from the utility of having so many deeply-informed volunteers explaining and working on the records of their communities for the benefit of the Archive, the community processes over the three or four days of an Archive Weekend were fascinating: living on site over several days you had cross-generational members of a single children’s community, many of whom had not met before, who were engaged in what felt for all the world like a family gathering over a holiday, a community coming back together, being created, illustrated and reconstructed, bonding and arguing and contradicting one another right in front of your eyes. It was so valuable, and so richly productive, that we built the “Therapeutic Living” project around them, identifying five children’s communities which were represented in our collections, and creating at least two Archive Weekends for each of them during the course of the project. Into these we built trainings and seminars, where the community members could engage with people with outside expertise – academics and others - where there would be mutual opportunities for learning, and for in vivo assessment and feedback into and out of the Project. Students from two secondary schools became very involved with the community members, with the archives, and with recording memories, resulting in two separate theatre performances and breaking down of mystique and stigma. We had a number of ad hoc and invented events, because the flexibility of the project enabled it, and the people involved made it possible: this included bringing former children from across the five communities together (at their request) into a shared, improvised Performance Archive Weekend, involving students from Trinity Catholic School as well. The community members had each thought theirs was unique before the project came along, and it was exciting to see them discover “family” they hadn’t known existed, with the same comparing of experiences and memories and forming of new bonds as in the original Archive Weekends themselves. There was a project conference at the University of Birmingham, where again former community members, academics, researchers, therapists, students from the school, child care professionals from across the country and others shared presentations together. Copious numbers of oral history interviews were recorded during Archive Weekends, and we were able to go all over the country to record people in situ, who couldn’t or didn’t want to get to the Archive Weekends (communities are rightly complex). And there were other things, including websites for each of the communities, created by and with the communities’ members; and project newsletters, the third and last of which was a very special project brochure put together by the project oral historian and administrator/transcriber, which I can recommend for its visuals and richness and accuracy of content. All of these, and a very detailed description of the project in the form of a Final Report - written to serve as a kind of handbook to thinking, designing and conducting a complex project involving the lived experience of trauma, and/or deprivation, and/or... - are available on the archived project websiteix. The recordings we included were unfortunately uploaded in flash, along with some of the other media; so those are obsolete, dangerous, and no longer available; and there are password-protected sections of the communities’ websites which are similarly unavailable. As a side-note, this stands as a kind of warning in relation to digital alternatives to collections based in institutions, of which there are several in the two books we’re looking at here. x

I’d like to go back and make a distinction between ‘being therapeutically grounded’ and ‘undertaking therapeutic work’, the phrase that Nick Barratt used. This is important, and is something rightly stressed in Museums: The work we do as heritage professionals may have the effect of being therapeutic, whatever that might mean for people; but being grounded therapeutically is an orientation - to ourselves, principally - which includes an understanding that that doesn’t make us therapists. We are grounded in who and what we are, and in recognising the boundaries of who and what we are (and probably why, if I think about it). The problem with undertaking therapeutic work is the frame of mind it encourages in relation to others, with its slippage into a kind of powerish approach that centres and elevates us and diminishes them, without even meaning to, and damages the unique offer of agency and mutuality which is available in the practice of oral history, archives and museums (Stine Grønbæk Jensen, in “Doors, stairways and pitfalls: Care Leavers’ memory work at the Danish Welfare Museum” in Museums puts it this way: “the absence of a therapeutic frame and lingo can be exactly what makes the museum potentially healing”)xi . Museums places this professional and personal grounding in who and what we are – nothing less and nothing more - front and centre, and it is there loud and clear in the chapter written by Anna Sexton and four colleagues in Archives and Recordkeeping, and made it possible. Equally important, I think – although it is difficult for all sorts of reasons; and I have Foucault and Derrida in mind as I say this - is to avoid heroic and romantic language about ourselves and our work generally, and the attitude of mind and orientation to others which they express and lead to. This is especially important when considering and working with and for people who have had to respond and rebuild, having had everyday layers of welcoming and safe-making/trusting relationships attacked and stripped away – by those who were supposed to care for them, by people in authority, by the natural acts and accidents of body, mind and life; whose lives and cultures within the encompassing culture feature exclusion, dislocation, the management of hate, distress, trauma. It is important as a heritage professional to be therapeutically grounded, in the sense of being a human being with another human being: centred in yourself and your skills and limitations (and being aware of theirs, realistically, and neither hopeful/naively nor heroically); present, with your skills and limitations, and learning about them; mutually respectful and listening; not trying to be “helpful”, in the word used in Museums; and where the situation allows it, and when they need your full attention, in a way which has echoes of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott’s concept of maternal preoccupationxii: a responsive listening to and with, rooted in care. An approach which is aware of the concept of “Attention as love”, without losing sight of how demanding and rigorous this is. My own experience of the oral history interview, which also reflects the experience of my time in theater, is that it is an occasion of maternal preoccupation. A very concrete experience of being-with, and being-there. Of a kind of encompassing and embracing care.

OHJ: Given that the Archive won the Community Archives and Heritage Group’s “Most Impactful Archive” award, I presume you situated it as a community archive. Awareness of them has grown tremendously over recent years, as exciting developments in which communities and groups of all kinds take control of their histories and how they are used. 

CF: And of what constitutes a meaningful “record”, which often goes well beyond the traditional collections policy of traditional archives. No, I didn’t. The term wasn’t around in the early days in any event, or at least not that I was aware of. But even twenty years in, when we applied for the CAHG award, I was uncertain, first, what the definition of a community archive was – I suspect it was still evolving - , and then whether we fit the criteria. Since reaching out to the two books we’re talking about here, with their examples, and the onward links from Archives and Recordkeeping in particular, I’ve been overwhelmed by the volume of literature on community archives which grew up while I was in the Archive, and has burgeoned since. It really is enough to stun one into silence. But conceptually the Archive began life in 1989 as a Specialist Repository, a category of archive which was an evolution from the post-War period when a movement within the profession tried to set up a national archive service equivalent to the National Health Service, and standardise accordingly. There were places that didn’t, couldn’t and refused to fit into the standard model of local government archives which then led the discussion, and so were designated a special case of repository. And within that subset (ultimately formalised into the Society of Archivists’ Specialist Repository Group in 1982), the Archive and Study Centre reflected my experience and knowledge as an academic researcher – the five years I spent on “Medieval Theater in Indo-European Context” for my masters in Los Angeles, scouring the research libraries in the L.A. basin; and the seven years of my PhD in the Institute of Dialect and Folklife Studies at the University of Leeds, using archives, museums, libraries and private collections around England and Texas - and it began life as a straightforward Research Archive devoted to one Subject Area – like the Archives of the British Psychoanalytical Society, or a mega-mini- version of the Wellcome Library, whose archivist, Julia Sheppard, was immensely helpful in our early setting-up daysxiii. My plan was to create the kind of research facility I would like to have done work in, as a facilitating environment of welcome and hospitality, and my horizons were, and the Archive became, internationally engaged. Having said which, I did approach it like a community folklorist, building an ethnologically-based approach to the collections and the workxiv; but a community folklorist whose community was a very broad and international one, to which I belonged. So it would be right to say in retrospect that we departed from the standard models for an archive in the direction of a community archive: we were a community mathom house as such – a place where archives, library, oral history, museum, and engagement and outreach sat together happily and amplified one another; and our collections policy from the outset deviated from the standard, to include meaningful “valueless” objects and the ephemeral traces of people and places which a standard archive or a standard museum might reject.xv In that respect there are very clear resonances with the community archives Rebecka Taves Sheffield describes in “Social justice struggles for rights, equality, and identity: The role of lesbian and gay archives” in Archives and Recordkeepingxvi, and in Susan Pell’s “Documenting the fight for the city: The impact of activist archives on anti-gentrification campaigns”, with its case study of an activist archive in London called the 56a Infoshop Archive, and the digital archive “Heygate Was Home”, which “collects oral testimony of ex-residents forced to leave the Heygate, helping to preserve and insert their voice into the public record of the redevelopment process”xvii (although is preserving the counter-narrative enough?). It is also very evident in Museums: in the work of the Danish Welfare Museum, in the various chapters devoted to it there; in “Rewriting the script: power and change through a Museum of Homelessness” by Jessica and Matthew Turtle, of a homelessness-suffused project with “the overarching goal of using the art, culture and history of homelessness to tackle systemic prejudice and social stigma”xviii; in the story of the Glasgow Women’s Library told by Adele Patrick, one of the Library’s co-founders – a grassroots movement by volunteers which notably hired creatives before professional collections staff (“We have found that the dynamic of equality is accelerated when creatives are involved...Our work with collections professionals has been characterised by a process of collections professionals ‘unlearning’ those standard museum policies and procedures that tend to prioritise the centrality of objects care, conservation and compliance.”xix) which has become an Accredited Museum and a Recognised Collection of National Significance. What would the oral history equivalent be? 

But, in any event, the ground was already prepared when we were discovered in the late 1990s and colonised by former members of children’s communities [laughs] who brought meaningful objects and ephemeral traces, and a range of their own and different questions: echoing the Danish Welfare Museum experience recorded in Museums. We were and became an Archive and Study Centre in which both researchers of all kinds – academics, social workers, therapists, students, family historians, whatever - , and people represented in the collections were welcome and could feel at home, separately and in sharing time in the Archive together.xx Dissolving artificial boundaries around apparently separate communities and bringing people of all kinds together into one room, so to speak – sometimes really, sometimes metaphorically – was an Archive hallmark: towards the end, for example, in the inaugural conference of the Oral History Society’s Psycho-Social Therapies and Care Environments Special Interest Group, where oral historians, therapists, academics, and former children in care all listened, spoke and worked together, in a kind of day community; or in the awkwardly named Joint Newsletter (of the Association of Therapeutic Communities, the Charterhouse Group of Therapeutic Communities, and the Planned Environment Therapy Trust), which we produced for and on behalf of the three main charities devoted to therapeutic community between 2001 and 2004 - and its online audio-visual successor, RadioTC International, 2006-2009 - in which patients, residents, students, academics, professionals, artists, children, poets; people of all kinds, from around the world, from all the areas of therapeutic community, speaking in a whole variety of ways and languages – were woven into one place;xxior in the “Therapeutic Living” project itself. The fundamental principle is in the words of the American psychotherapist and therapeutic community pioneer Harry Wilmerxxii: People Need People, people meeting and working with people as people, with insights and knowledge to offer one another and to amplify the understandings that flow from bringing different expertises of life and learning together; and with the environment within which they meet, the holding environment within which diverse people can come together for a shared experience of creativity and learning, being thoughtfully constructed and – maternal preoccupation comes back in here – thoughtfully managed. I think this is what oral historians probably do naturally at our best, when we assemble and conduct an oral history interview - creating the environment, and the relationship of thoughtful listening. And I think this is the basis of, and the mechanism for, social justice and change. But as for whether or not we were a community archive, I think we were just an archive, as archives can be. Assuming the parent institution can bear it.

OHJ: Can we switch now into talking more specifically about the two books?

CF: May I just make one last set of points. First, in various formulations of community archives they are either semi-professional, non-professional, or even anti-professional. We were always fully professionalled, with two archivists at our best, and a part-time archivist at our least. Second – and this will be germane to my reading of these books: I was immensely fortunate to be an archivist and oral historian for a field whose organisations and people were committed to realising social justice and social change in contexts which are not always associated with them: prisons, psychiatric hospitals, approved schools, children’s homes, homelessness hostels, addiction treatment centres...I had my hands in the archives, my eyes in the publications, and my ears in the lives of people who changed lives and institutions and even prevailing assumptions and legislation. Third, my trustees were all people who were or had been directly involved as professionals in these areas themselves, and had the audacity to believe from their own experience that a small charity could create out of nothing a professional archive and study centre, with an expectation that it would be practically engaged with people and the field, and make a difference. And fourth, they gave me extraordinary freedom – not much of a budget, and not much of a salary, but extraordinary freedom - to build whatever there was there to build. Almost every archivist and museum professional steps into an existing and ongoing institution and career structure which shapes them and shapes what it is possible to do. Change takes place against the background of existing institutional cultures and friction, and it is sometimes nothing short of heroic. By contrast, and this is important, I had no career structure ahead of me, the culture pointed in the direction we were taking – there were strong non-hierarchical threads woven through it, and the shaping of practice came from the archives, the oral histories, the people, organisations and therapeutic places, and the limitations and strengths of my past and personality. The frictions were never minimal, but were grounded in personalities; and reified into institutional frictions largely only once the fundamental creation of culture and practice had been realised.xxiii

Turning to the books: In the first part of this dialogue I used the metaphor of drowning, and then swimming to dry land, and after a period of recovery looking to these two books to help locate myself in the world of heritage, social justice and social change: a book of maps, to see where we were, where roads were heading towards, and where the roads had come from. In interestingly different ways both these books do that. But if I can go back to my metaphor and the drowning bit, I was drawn to these two books in particular by my existing familiarity with the work of archivist Anna Sexton and of Jessica and Matthew Turtle, founders of the Museum of Homelessness, who have chapters in Archives and Recordkeeping and Museums respectively (Anna with four colleagues). They were beacons of audacity, lighthouses in the metaphor (who I think would have a lot to say to one another); and I really wanted to see what they were saying in their chapters, and what company their chapters were keeping. Interestingly, the work that Anna Sexton was central to sits unique within Archives and Recordkeeping as an act in itself of social justice-making, and almost as a challenge to the other chapters, but also as part of what the book is trying to do: that uniqueness is part of the book’s remit as a survey. The chapter in Museums by Jess and Matt Turtle, on their work in the Museum of Homelessness which they established in 2014, is unique and stands out too, because it is also creative and ground-breaking; but it is more at home in Museums; there is a fierceness, care and indomitableness which is shared and fits with what the book is about and tries to convey. I was drawn away from what I was expecting through my familiarity with Anna Sexton’s work; I was drawn further into it by Jessica and Matthew Turtle’s. But each fit the books they were in. The books are very different; but they each have a coherent purpose, and are thoughtfully assembled. If you go into them, you are in good hands.

They are both published by Routledge, and have similar structures: A core of case studies framed by Introductions to the subject, the themes, the case studies, and the contributors, with an accompanying apparatus: Index, Dedication, Acknowledgments... Archives and Recordkeeping has a Conclusion, which is helpful, and whose absence from Museums I felt physically: the book concludes with a powerful chapter by Adele Chynoweth on developing her co-curated temporary exhibition for the National Museum of Australia on “Inside: Life in Children’s Homes and Institutions”, in which she works her way through the Museum’s complex and contradictory treatment of institutional care survivors during the process of preparing and launching the exhibition, and culminates in the direct, challenging and personal call for justice by two survivors during the launch celebrations for the exhibition, to which Chynoweth life-changingly responded, beginning in 2011 and culminating in her book of oral history with women who had been incarcerated as children in an adult mental health facility, Goodna Girls, in 2020. In this context, perhaps the silence of an absent Afterword was intentional.xxiv

The case studies around which the books are wrapped – nine in Archives and Recordkeeping and twelve in Museums - are guides to the current state of play in their respective areas of concern, with the usual caveat of the lag time between writing and publicationxxv. Both books are very clear in what they set out to do, and in the opening sentences of their remits you can clearly see how and where they diverge in their approaches to what they otherwise have in common; and they do have a lot in common: A number of the chapters could (and perhaps should) speak directly across the volumes to one another – Joanne Evans, Frank Golding, Cate O’Neill, and Rachel Tropea’s ““All I want to know is who I am”: Archival justice for Australian care leavers” in Archives and Recordkeeping, and multiple chapters in Museums (Adele Chynoweth’s “A call to justice at the National Museum of Australia”; Jacob Knage Rasmussen’s “The act of emancipating oneself: the museum and the release of adult Care Leavers’ case records”; Stine Grønbæk Jensen’s “Doors, stairways and pitfalls: Care Leavers’ memory work at the Danish Welfare Museum”); Rebecka Taves Sheffield’s “Social justice struggles for rights, equality, and identity: The role of lesbian and gay archives” inArchives and Recordkeeping and Adele Patrick’s “March of Women: equality and usefulness in action at Glasgow Women’s Library” in Museums, chapters charting the grassroots re-invention of the archive and the museum around activism and the community’s definition of what is necessary to their own history and identity. But to begin to see where the orientations and purposes of the two books diverge, compare the phrases “depicts struggles” in Archives and Recordkeeping with “explores the ways” in Museums:

Archives, Recordkeeping, and Social Justice expands the burgeoning literature on archival social justice and impact. Illuminating how diverse factors shape the relationship between archives, recordkeeping systems, and recordkeepers, this book depicts struggles for different social justice objectives.”


Museums and Social Change explores the ways museums can work in collaboration with marginalised groups to work for social change and, in so doing, rethink the museum.”

The nucleus of concern for Museums is “marginalised groups” with the focus on “collaborating with marginalised groups for social change”. The more abstract and theory-oriented nucleus of concern in Archives and Recordkeeping is “the relationship [my emphasis] between archives, recordkeeping systems, and recordkeepers” with the focus on how “diverse factors shape the relationship”.xxvi In this context, the purpose of Archives and Recordkeeping is to expand “the burgeoning literature on archival social justice and impact”, where “impact” - and what constitutes impact, and how impact can be uncovered, defined, demonstrated and assessed - is an essential and original part of the contribution the book makes to the literature. Thinking as an oral historian, how do you assess and demonstrate impact in heritage work? Taken all together, this illuminates the primary audience, of academic information professionals and social and cultural theoreticians – maybe even policymakers - to whom Archives and Recordkeeping is addressed. But they are not the only audience. The nine case studies, like the audio clips played during an oral history presentation, take the arguments and theory of the various introductions and conclusion (which I found difficult, as someone who knows archives largely through my hands), and makes their themes accessible – illuminated, concrete (for the most part), and illustrated. And demonstrably important. Museums, the Introduction to which opens with a dedication to Richardt Aamand - a man whose experience of early institutional care and later homelessness played an important role in developing the work of the Danish Welfare Museum (which is seminal to the origins of the book), and who died having helped to shape it - is directed to the practical task of doing social change, rethinking “the museum” as such from the point of view of learning through action. I found it immediately more accessible, and its primary audience – as might be expected through the more public nature of “the museum” as an institution, and the “doing” orientation of the book – overspills museum professionals to pretty much embrace all of us. In terms of oral historians and statistics, the phrase “oral history” appears in Archives and Recordkeeping 12 times, and 19 times in Museums, where the references are generally more substantive, and the Oral History Society is mentioned. As always with statistics and language, however, these will not tell the whole story. In Archives and Recordkeeping for example, we’ve already seen references to oral testimony; and David Wallace, one of the book’s Editors, was a consultant on “Stories for Hope, an intergenerational storytelling project in Rwanda”; another Editor is Andrew Flinn, Reader in Archival Studies and Oral History at University College London; and the first case study, on “Archives, records, and land restitution in South Africa” is by Anthea Josias, whose practice as a researcher and an archive/heritage professional “has focussed on documenting the memories and records of South Africa’s liberation struggle”xxvii. The following chapter, by Raymond Frogner, ““Hang onto these words”: Indigenous title and the social meanings of archival custody”, hinges on oral history, in a really important and satisfying way. From the point of view of the likely readers of this journal, oral history is woven all through the two books, and altogether, in both books you are in interesting and engaged company.

OHJ: So would you say you have you found what you were looking for in these books?

CF: I wish I had come across them four or five years before they were published. And had they been there when the Archive and Study Centre was being born I suspect the Archive would have had a very different history. But the two are very different mapping exercises. Archives and Recordkeeping takes us up into the heights of academic theory without losing contact with the ground; and Museums is firmly anchored to the doing of social change, without losing touch with the heights. I’m caught in a bit of a paradox at the moment, because Museums speaks most directly to my personal experience, while Archives and Recordkeeping engages my imagination as a practical archivist. In the almost accidental inception of the Danish Welfare Museum as a way to make use of the last surviving complete Danish Workhouse, which the Museums service in Denmark made use of as a place to store things, I can see the origins of the Archive and Study Centre: outside the standard conventions of already-established museums, but with a physical base; a virtual tabula rasa, filled and shaped by the approach from and outreach to people who might once have lived in the workhouse; inventing practice in conjunction with the people themselves. In the Museum of Homelessness I see mirrors of my experience, and background in community; but I wish I could give them a firm and secure base to work from – what they could accomplish in thirty years would be well beyond anything I could imagine. And they’re doing oral history. And so on - personal resonances with the majority of the papers in Museums.xxviii Apart from the immediacy of Sexton, Baker-Brown, Bullimore, Sen, and Voyce chapter on “Co-constructing an archive of mental health recovery”, which would sit comfortably within Museums, and even challenge it to do better – it does social change in itself, as a co-created paper (and reading what the non-archivists in that team have to say about the process, and about the other archivists and researchers they encountered will be instructive to oral historians) – my relationship to the papers in Archive and Recordkeeping is largely that of an observer. I am tugged away from the thirty years I spent at work in the Archive demonstrating proof of concept there, and I am invited back to the researcher I was, with words like ‘foment’ and ‘fight’ and ‘struggle’ and language which takes on the personification of action. I am invited to engage with records as problematic, whose creation shapes the narrative of how things are; which remain fixed as objects which are locked into the perceptions and structures of the scribes and masters who created them, who were attempting to fix the future along certain lines, but the meanings of which change as the times around them change. I am invited to see how records, recordmaking and recordkeeping repress, oppress, and liberate, and how archives, as the endpoints of records, can be complicit, like Facebook, in turning the management of information against social justice and positive social change, and how – seen, imagined, and acted out differently – they can become agents and handmaidens of positive change. And I am invited to see all this in terms of Power. I am thrown back into the world from which I emerged, before I was an oral historian (if there ever was such a time), and before I became an archivist.

And that’s the conundrum. The Archive and Study Centre was my response to a world I grew up in, which was personally loving and secure, but bounded by assassinations and violence of various kinds: the background radiation of the McCarthy era throughout my early childhood; the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas when I was in the sixth grade in Texas; the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. when I was a sophomore in high school; the Viet Nam War era and so many things attached to it. My senior year in high school was both the first Earth Day, and the killing of students not much older than myself by the National Guard at Kent State University in Ohio, which I associate with the police killings of Black Panthers in their apartment in Chicago, and the killing of black protesters at Orangeburg State University in South Carolina. That was part of my assemblage. When my senior high school class began sharing thoughts and memories in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of our graduation in 2020, aborted by the pandemic, we remembered together how we instigated the school’s Earth Day, and took the school out on strike in the National Moratorium in protest at the invasion of Cambodia, which was the day the Kent State killings happened; my memory went back to People’s Park in Berkeley, and the mural depicting the protestors shot when the police broke it up. Violence of all kinds, and what to do about it in nonviolent and productive ways was at the heart of the collections of the Archive I stumbled my way into. Oral history brought me into people’s lives. The work has been my gift back, my response.

But emerging from the Archive after thirty years into a world on fire – whole swathes of California that I knew going up in flames; drought in Colorado, where I used to walk in trout streams; capitol buildings surrounded by violence...

As an archivist, and as a researcher in the archives, I know how powerful and life-enriching the encounter with records can be. The world is literally changed in the encounter; horizons are pushed back in all directions, opening up space which allows things to fall into place. Dams break, and agency flows. And yet archives are among the most distant of the institutions of Society devoted to putting the past to the service of the future - behind museums and libraries, and, of course, oral history. 

The heritage institutions are spread out along a continuum of direct engagement with people, with archives at the least end, and (maybe because it isn’t an institution in itself, but a direct involvement) to oral history at the closest. How directly engaged an institution is impacts directly on how, when, and how quickly it recognises and responds to the changing needs and aspirations of people for self-encounter and discovery, which are the building blocks of identity, of agency, place, and belonging. It is no accident that oral history has a strong record in being early to the places where society is changing. Nor is it surprising that museums have been ahead of archives in discovering their role as agents of social inclusion and change (as Rebecka Taves Sheffield points out in her chapter, interestingly enough, inArchives and Recordkeeping, “Social justice struggles for rights, equality, and identity: The role of lesbian and gay archives”).xxix Nor is it an accident that both museums and archives have turned to the use of oral history in becoming locii of social engagement and social change.

Archives have a steep hill to climb to begin with, because they are historically places of retention, preservation, and delivery, with people held at arms length from the archives for the security and preservation of the materials, and the information they carry. This protection is an essential part of the archive’s duty to the future: to hold information intact and reliable for when future generations are ready to seek and deal with themxxx. The capacity of archives to be radical depends paradoxically on their capacity to be conservative, to be objective in the sense of holding material securely, completely – i.e, not weeded, not edited - , safely, its integrity, contents and provenance intact; and, on the basis of this evidential authority, to be ready and available for discovery and interpretation through new eyes and in new situations, as we see powerfully in Archives and Recordkeeping, for example in Andrew Flinn and Wendy Duff’s “Justice for the 96! The impact of archives in the fight for justice for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough Disaster” : their Report and the records re-examined by the Hillsborough Independent Panel overturned almost a quarter of a century of police, media and government narrative about the culpability in their own deaths of the 96 Liverpool Football Team crushed at Sheffield’s Hillsborough Stadium in 1989. The truth was available and could finally be asserted because the records were kept, and they were reliable.

Museums also have the archive’s function of retention and preservation, holding materials securely and to protect them, with cataloguing systems to secure the evidence of their provenance and handling, and to be able to find and make them available when needed. Museums have storerooms which are not available to the general public, just like archives do. But museums are built around objects, and with the lessons and stories that can be woven from them. Collections are on display and meant to be experienced. Where archives have traditionally been encountered in holding back, and giving material only when requested, museums are built around the gift of direct and immediate experience. In this context it is no wonder that “love” predominates in Museums, and “power” predominates in Archives and Recordkeeping (the word “power” appears in Archives and Recordkeeping 113 times; in Museums it appears 62 times). Both archives and museums are involved in power and service – or, translated into other terms, “power and giving” or “power and care” (where the ultimate ground of genuine service and genuine care is love). But archives are more distant from direct experience, and this is problematical. It means they are more readily subjected to projections such as “dusty archives”, which is the archival equivalent of oral history’s “old men drooling”: dismissive, detached from the reality, and in its own way equally offensive.xxxi And they are subject to uncontested appropriation.

Archives have changed considerably and become far more accessible to the public since the 1960s, when Michel Foucault, who was an academic, and who knew what an archive was, looked into the nature of human being as an historical and corporate discourse, and looked past the actual archive in order to grasp, much much deeper into social and cultural being, “the general system of formation and transformation of statements.”xxxii. Like a rather impatient version of Martin Heidegger, Foucault looked past archives as everyday workplaces of information and knowledge, with which he wasn’t concerned, to appropriate a term in the public domain (“archive”), unmoor it from its everyday meaning (because there was no other linguistic vessel available to say what he wanted to say); turned it into a categorial abstraction (“The Archive”); filled it with a new set of significations - making it quite clear he did not mean archives as institutions, nor their contents (albeit at a rollicking gallop which, in The Archaeology of Knowledge, leaps the transition in meaning and thereby obscures it, before heading off)xxxiii; and then abandoned it, leaving in his wake the free-floating use of the term “the archive” for anything but a working archive: an ironic expression of the power of the intellect to colonise the real and immediate, the assertion of the hegemony of the intellectual over the actual everyday work and lived working place of archivists, conservators, cleaners, researchers, and real people generally. Foucault appropriated “the archive” as an entrepreneurial intellectual capitalist; extracted what value he wished from it, and then sailed on to new shoresxxxiv, leaving a free-floating “archive” behind and available for further abstract appropriation and exploitation, notably by Derrida.xxxv

This released an heroic imagination, and has been useful for many people in many ways; but it has burdened the real archive with meanings that belong to Society and Culture at large. The archive is both real; and a proxy for forces of power and control, which attracts opprobrium and anger, if only subliminally. And this is problematic. It is convenient for Power to annul the archive. And projecting power onto the archive does that very nicely.

As an archivist I know from handling them that archives have an immense capacity to change the status quo, because they show how contingent and arbitrary the present arrangement of things is - what a house of cards the present is built on. And as an archivist you know they are filled with “Good Trouble” waiting to be discovered and put to use, full of creativity and challenge. But, but, but...all this immense potential for personal and social change, and for the generation of social justice, is held in check - by the institutions themselves of course, because they consist of people who are part of the public, and have historic residue; but also by the public perception and experience of them. You know that archives as institutions are capable of radical change, because they have gone within living memory from facilities for a relative handful of specialist and academic researchers, to places like the Hive, in Worcester, filled with life and family and community historians. They only have a little way to go to expand their relationships further. And yet here we are – archives are seen and experienced by too many – outside and inside - as elite institutions. Too many marginalised and excluded groups and communities expect an archive to be indifferent or hostile, geared to maintaining the status quo, something which is by and for others: alien, ignorant, distant. You’re a trained archivist, you’ve had stuff in your hands that virtually nobody else has seen since it was created, you know that archives are good trouble waiting to happen; and people are kept away by images and expectations. By framing the archive in terms that don’t inherently belong to it. To some archives, yes, and let’s have an analysis of them. To “the Archive”, as inherent in every archive as such, no.

In my reading of it, in a sense Archives and Recordkeeping is an attempt to break out of the straightjacket of public perception - where that perception has been framed by Proxy to subvert access to the radical potential that archives represent (and by association museums, libraries and other sources of the past in its own terms, like oral history; archives have unintentionally been made an easy target by Foucault) - to demonstrate a critical self-appraisal, and to assert and demonstrate the ethos of service, care and utility which is at the heart of archiving: to demonstrate impact and value in relation to a better future, in the hope we can get there together in time. Hence the sense of urgency and struggle in the book itself. Many will remember the session in the magnificent Leonard Deacon Lecture Theatre in the Medical School at the University of Birmingham during the 2008 Oral History Society Conference where archivists and oral historians spoke back and forth to one another. It is a crucial conversation, and one which it is important for oral historians to be engaged in. The future really does depend on it. And both these books are gateways.

OHJ: Thankyou, Craig. Our time is pretty much up; but in time honoured oral history tradition, is there anything else you would like to add?


Additional Material

[I emailed the text above to the Reviews Editors during the late evening of November 2 2021 with the following note:

I've attached the draft which is very close to being finished - a paragraph to add at the end.

It feels as if it is pretty much as complete as it will be. There are footnotes not completed, the ending needs to be created, and I will continue to make smaller changes in the text while re-reading. That would be typical of me.

It may not work within the framework of what you have in mind, and that is why I am sending it to you now, uncharacteristically early. 

I had already written two different endings, given immediately below. Even without a closing paragraph the text was well over the original 6,000 word target, and with a closing paragraph over-spilled 12,000 words. As described earlier, with care, encouragement and consideration I was guided to complete the radically compressed and revised version which, with copy-editing, was published as “Archives and museums: social change and social justice” in the Spring 2022 edition of the Journal. 


Concluding paragraph(s): November 2 2021 morning

...The future really does depend on it. 

Both these books are gateways. I did, and I am happy I read them together. What I think would be genuinely powerful would be their fusion, and their fuller perfusion by oral history and oral historians. Perhaps as I climb up this island I will discover those books have been written. Perhaps that’s where the roadmaps are leading.

OHJ: Thankyou, Craig. I realise you would have more to say about both books, and indeed generally, but that sounds like a useful place to stop. I wonder if, in time honoured oral history tradition, there anything else you would like to add?

CF: Many years ago, in the Archive, I took a phone call from a woman who had been left behind at the end of a holiday by her father and his new wife sometime after the end of the Second World War, and taken on by the owners of the guest house she’d been left in before going into residential care. She was trying to trace the places she’d been, and her family. She had interesting shards of memory, one or two of which I was able to pick up on. From then on she would phone me occasionally to update me on her progress, not regularly, and never saying “this is so and so” because she assumed I’d remember her. But she was an amazing person, who was happy and settled within herself, and made discovery after discovery. It was a regular and unpredictable joy. I would like to have met her. 


Concluding paragraph(s): October 31 2021

OHJ: In time honoured oral history tradition is there anything else you would like to add?

CF: The Archive and Study Centre was my response to a world I grew up in, which was personally loving and secure, but bounded by assassinations and violence of various kinds: the background radiation of the McCarthy era throughout my early childhood; the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas when I was in the sixth grade in Texas; the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. when I was a sophomore in high school; the Viet Nam War era and so many things attached to it, including tear gas. My senior year in high school was both the first Earth Day, and the killing of students not much older than myself by the National Guard at Kent State University in Ohio, which I associate with the police killings of Black Panthers in their home in Chicago, and the killing of black protesters at Orangeburg State University in South Carolina. That was part of my assemblage. When my senior high school class began sharing thoughts and memories in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of our graduation in 2020, aborted by the pandemic, remembering how we instigated the school’s Earth Day, and took the school out on strike in the National Moratorium in protest at the invasion of Cambodia, which was the day the Kent State killings happened; when we listened to what each of us had done, I realised that oral history and the Archive were my gift to the world we thought we were creating. 

OHJ: And would you do it again?

CF: Time doesn’t work that way.


The first attempt at the review, August 27 2021


The first thing I must acknowledge at the start of this review is my failure. There are many failures lined up to tell their stories, but the failure I mean here is their culmination in the failure to be wise and grown up enough. What I mean by that will become clearer in the course of this review, of two books which promise, in their titles, to go to the heart of what it means to be involved in the past as a project of (positive) social change.


My vantage point is what I once styled “the Founding Archivist of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre”; my response as an American living in Britain, having grown up at a time of war and social revolutions[1], to the violence, death, and unnecessary sufferings we inflict on ourselves and others through a simple lack of grounding in the shared and historical nature of everyday life. My primary tool in retrospect was enthusiasm, but my adjunct tools were oral history, and creating a space and a place to which memories in the form of objects, and documents and publications could come, and gather people to them. Any kind of people. Academics, students, oral historians, members of the local community, the people who were directly involved in and affected by the core materials we were collecting.

[1] My father was killed on an intelligence gathering reconnaissance flight during the Cold War when I was four, when we were stationed in Japan; I was ten, and at school in Texas, when John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas; there were random arrays of killings and violence particularly in my teen years, in California and Rhode Island - of Black Panthers in Chicago, of students at Kent State, at Orangeburg State; of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.. The Viet Nam War.



October 5 2021 opening paragraph


When these two books came to my attention they fired my imagination as someone who – in 1989, the year the idea for the World Wide Web wasborn, and a year before it was launched - had unwittingly and with a lightness of step abandoned a career trajectory as a theatre historian/ethnologist to become an archivist: an archivistfor a field which is largely characterised by suffering and distress of one kind or anotherand, fortunately,by organised therapeutic – or at the very least, ameliorative and supportive - responses to themI completed my PhD in Folklife Studies in 1988 and was immediately asked to pilot a study into what would be involved in creating an archive devoted to planned environment therapy; and was then invited to set up a full-blown Archive and Study Centre by the eponymous charity, given full rein and a salary, and ultimately a small budget, and set free to explore. Thirty years and many bumps and adventures later I emerged via redundancy and the decision of the charity to wind up and hand its assets and responsibilities to others; I emerged into a world characterised by more than its fair share of suffering and distress of one kind or another



Other fragments:


There is a very interesting example of this in the final case study in Archives and Recordkeeping, by Beverley Butler, “Archives “act back”: Re-configuring Palestinian archival constellations and visions of social justice”. She quotes from a very exciting article by the social historian Beshara Doumani: 


“There are usually at least two key moments of archive formation: The moment of production of the text itself, such as the keeping of a legal register by a scribe, and the moment of deployment of that text by a scholar at some future point as an archival source. In modern times, both moments are usually forms of producing nations and collectivities, and the power relations within and between them.” 


Between the creating scholar and the deploying scholar there is, in practical terms, an invisible and decisive third moment: the moment of the archivist. 




On the back of a history of many brick walls, and many closed and sometimes slammed doors, internal and external, not to mention abysses of history and memory, expect oral history and relationships to take time.




When I carry out an interview, the interviewee becomes a part of me. Over the course of twenty five years, many of the people I have interviewed have died, taking part of me with them. Add to that the handling of archives - the reified living - of a number of communities which have themselves died, and visiting places in the throes of death to survey their archives and record memories: And it becomes, as I said at the beginning of this paper, hard to talk




iLindsey Dodd, “The disappearing child: observations on oral history, archives and affects”, Oral History vol. 49, no. 2, 2021, pp. 37-48.

iiRecorded as part of the “Celebrating Memory: An oral history of the Society of Archivists and its members” project, 1996-2000. The project “Handbook” by Craig Fees, with Key Questions by David Lee, accessed online athttp://web.archive.org/web/20030222054356/http://www.pettarchiv.org.uk/fsg/handbook.htm, 28 October 2021. The recordings are archived in the British Library under “Society of Archivists Oral History Project”, Shelfmark C1181, details accessed online athttp://cadensa.bl.uk/uhtbin/cgisirsi/x/0/0/5?searchdata1=CKEY6935373&library=ALL&_ga=2.174640482.1769802652.1635428236-1932549839.1635428236, 28 October 2021. Len Macdonald interviewed by Craig Fees 20 May 1997, project reference SOA 24-26, British Library reference C1181/08/01-03; Derek Charman interviewed by Craig Fees, 7 May 1997, project reference SOA17-19, British Library reference C1181/06.

iiiThe Hive, http://www.thehiveworcester.org, accessed 28 October 2021.

ivNick Barratt, "The Last Word: Archive of the Year 2013",  Your Family History, April, 2013, p. 74.

vSarah Smed, Behind Barbed Wire: Co-producing the Danish Welfare Museum, p. 39.


viiWennington School Association, “Wennington School, Wetherby, Yorkshire, 1940-75”, accessed online at https://wenningtonschool.org.uk, 29 October 2021.

viii“The Caldecott Association”, accessed online on https://caldecottassociation.org.uk, 29 October 2021.

ix“Therapeutic Living With Other People’s Children”, accessed online at https://www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/en/archive/20130420060840/http://www.otherpeopleschildren.org.uk/, 22 October 2021.

xOne of these, the archive of mental health recovery Omeka-based site described by Anna Sexton, Stuart Baker-Brown, Peter Bullimore, Dolly Sen, and Andrew Voyce in their chapter, “Social justice and hearing voices” in Archives and Recordkeeping, has already disappeared as a live site from the Internet, and the archived versions on the Internet Archive and the UK Web Archive are incomplete. See:http://web.archive.org/web/20190415150723/https://mentalhealthrecovery.omeka.net/ andhttps://www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/en/archive/20141022192035/https://mentalhealthrecovery.omeka.net/, accessed online 31 October 2021. The “Heygate Was Our Home” digital archive described in Susan Pell’s “Documenting the fight for the city: The impact of activist archives on anti-gentrification campaigns” in Archives and Recordkeeping is still live, accessed 31 October 2021at https://heygatewashome.org. A born-Internet museum is described in Museums by Manon S. Parry, Corrie Tijsseling and Paul van Trigt in “Slow, uncomfortable and badly paid: DisPLACE and the benefits of disability history”; see https://www.displace.nl, accessed online 31 October 2021.

xiStine Grønbæk Jensen, “Doors, stairways and pitfalls: Care Leavers’ memory work at the Danish Welfare Museum”, Museums, p. 97


xiiiWe had immense help from archives and archivists generally. 

xivSee Craig Fees, “Community Folklore: Folk Memory in a North Cotswold Community”, Talking Folklore Vol. 1, no. 4, 1988, pp. 22-38. Accessed online at https://craigfees.com/room/index.php/papers-and-talks/papers-and-talks/29-1988-folk-memory-in-a-north-cotswold-community, 29 October 2021. With more on the ethnological side, and details of the specific contribution made to oral history, see Craig Fees, “Gloucestershire: Planned Environment Therapy Trust”, Current British News, Oral History vol. 47 no. 1, 2019, pp. 13-15, accessed online at https://craigfees.com/room/index.php/papers-and-talks/papers-and-talks/232-2019-gloucestershire-planned-environmental-therapy-trust, 29 October 2021. See also Craig Fees,” 'No Foundation All the Way Down the Line' Revisited: Analysis and reflections on 30 years of working with and building community processes through oral history", Unpublished presentation, Oral History Society Annual Conference, 19 July 2014, accessed online at https://craigfees.com/room/index.php/papers-and-talks/papers-and-talks/23-2014-no-foundation-all-the-way-down-the-line-revisited-analysis-and-reflections-on-30-years-of-working-with-and-building-community-processes-through-oral-history, 29 October 2021.

xvThe collections policy and the rationale behind it as the Archive matured is set out in the GDPR document

xvi“Like other lesbian and gay archives that have emerged within similar socio-political contexts, The ArQuives has rescued, preserved, and made accessible any record of a queer past as a way to create historical documentation, even if this has resulted in collecting ephemera or photographs that are contextually vague and might otherwise be dismissed by traditional collecting institutions as lacking evidential value. As Marcel Barriault (Fall 2009) notes, sometimes non-traditional records or incomplete documentation are all that remains of our collective queer past.” p. 193

xviiSusan Pell, “Documenting the fight for the city: The impact of activist archives on anti-gentrification campaigns”, Archives and Recordkeeping, p. 179.

xviiiJessica and Matthew Turtle, “Rewriting the script: power and change through a Museum of Homelessness”, Museums, p. 50.

xixAdele Patrick, “March of Women: equality and usefulness in action at Glasgow Women’s Library”, Museums, p. 62.

xxI disagree with ; or perhaps I just don’t understand it.

xxi Craig Fees, “Current British Work: RadioTC International”, Oral History, vol. 34 no. 2 (2006), pp. 18-20, accessed online athttps://craigfees.com/room/index.php/papers-and-talks/papers-and-talks/33-2006-radiotc-international, 29 October 2021.

xxiiCraig Fees, "Dr. Harry Wilmer, interviewed by Craig Fees in London 7th September, 1999 [(T)CF296]", Joint Newsletter 7 (2003), p. 56, accessed online at https://craigfees.com/room/index.php/papers-and-talks/papers-and-talks/52-2003-dr-harry-wilmer-interviewed-by-craig-fees, 29 October 2021; Craig Fees, "Harry Wilmer and "People Need People", ABC Television Network, October 11, 1961", Joint Newsletter 7 (2003), p. 55, accessed online at https://craigfees.com/room/index.php/papers-and-talks/papers-and-talks/51-2003-harry-wilmer-and-people-need-people, 29 October 2021.

xxiiiSomething of the worldview which went into the founding of the Archive and Study Centre is available here, accessed onlinehttps://craigfees.com/room/index.php/papers-and-talks/papers-and-talks/61-1990-reflections-of-a-folklorist-in-a-residential-therapeutic-community 31 October 2021: “The function of scholarship is to help illuminate the world, and to do so by exploring the way it works and why by jumping into a small bit of it and wrestling with what comes up. Where you jump and how you wrestle depends in part on your academic discipline, in part on yourself, and in part on which bit of the world you land in. An academic discipline is a tradition which provides leads and life-lines, maps and colleagues, insights and its own set of blinkers, misconceptions and snares. The task of the scholar is to leave a better map with fewer snares and, if not more applications for the discipline, then at least fewer unknown dangers when others follow. By implication the tools and techniques of the discipline are refined and perhaps new ones forged in meeting new problems and situations.” Craig Fees, “Reflections of a Folklorist1 in a Residential Therapeutic Community for Emotionally Deprived and Disturbed Children”, Maladjustment and Therapeutic Education vol 8, no. 2, pp. 68-73. Reprinted in Folklore in Use 1, 1993.

xxivAdele Chynoweth, Goodna Girls: A History of Children in a Queensland Mental Asylum, Australian National University Press and Aboriginal History Inc., 2020 Accessed online at https://press.anu.edu.au/publications/series/aboriginal-history/goodna-girls , 26 October 2021. “I decided to do what I could—with my own personal resources, and within the bounds of my qualifications and area of professional expertise, as well as academic research ethics—to draw public attention to the experiences of this group of women survivors.”, pp. xi-xii. Goodna Girls was originally intended to be part of this review essay. 

xxvIn “Chapter 8. Social justice and historical accountability in Latin America: Access to the records of the truth commissions in Chile” in Archives and Recordkeeping Joel A. Blanco-Rivera writes, p. 160, “As of August 2017, the law is still under the legislative process.” In Museums, in “Rewriting the script: power and change through a Museum of Homelessness”, p. 47, Matt and Jess Turtle note that “The duties imposed by the [Homelessness Reduction] act come into force in April 2018”.

xxvi To situate yourself as an oral historian into this: Archives are the end stage of a three step process which begins with Recordmakers. These are the people who create the document. As an oral historian, you become a recordmaker as soon as you turn the recorder on or fill in your spreadsheet. You are the equivalent of the “scribe” in Beverley Butler’s chapter “Archives “act back”: Re-configuring Palestinian archival constellations and visions of social justice”, and you share the role of recordkeeper with the perfidious and inefficient colonial treaty-writer in Victorian British Columbia described in Raymond O. Frogner’s chapter ““Hang onto these words”: Indigenous title and the social meanings of archival custody”, both in Archives and RecordkeepingRevolving the point of view, your interviewee, and the indigenous participant in the 1854 British Columbian treaty negotiations who records the terms of the treaty in oral narrative and hands it down, are recordmakers too. The second step towards archives, Recordkeeping, is also about you; in GDPR-equivalent terms you are a data processor, and as long as the recording and the spreadsheet are in your possession, you are keeping the record. The members of the indigenous British Columbia Snuneymuxw community who carry the oral history of the 1854 treaty all the way to court in 1963 to secure recognition of their hunting rights are recordkeepers too. 

xxviiArchives and Recordkeeping, p. xiv.

xxviii An interesting outlier is Ying-Ying Lai’s chapter in Museums, “In the name of the museum: the cultural actions and values of the Togo Rural Village Art Museum, Taiwan” –which is about the transformation of an economically precarious and government-neglected agricultural community into a living art museum and is fascinating.  It stands apart for several reasons, but one is that it is unique in an otherwise Euro-centric book.

xxixRebecka Taves Sheffield, “Social justice struggles for rights, equality, and identity: The role of lesbian and gay archives”, Archives and Recordkeeping: “Within information studies, the concept of shared heritage is most commonly associated with museum studies. Sandell (1998, 2003) was among the first to suggest that museums might become agents of social inclusion by working with communities to ensure participation from disenfranchised groups with the goal of producing exhibits and museum experiences that better represent marginalised histories.”

xxxCf “The [1854] records were in fact “rediscovered” once the colonial society was ready to discover and deal with them as records embodying legal rights and title for Indigenous peoples. “ Raymond O. Frogner, ““Hang onto these words”: Indigenous title and the social meanings of archival custody”, Archives and Recordkeeping, p. 100

xxxiThis often quoted but (as Graham Smith points out)rarely referenced phrase appears in Brian Harrison, "Oral History and Recent Political History" Oral History vol. 1 no 3, 1972, p. 46, as part of a longer statement. Harrison writes: "If statesmen could be persuaded to record their acts and motives the same evening, he [A.J.P. Taylor] continues, 'there would be some use in it. Similarly diaries, when not rewritten, are useful. But old men drooling about their youth - No.' " Graham Smith calls the failure to cite “Somewhat ironic, given that it most likely originates from a piece by Brian Harrison first published in Oral History and may well have been based on personal correspondence.” G. Smith, Historical Insights: Focus on Research. Oral History, Coventry: History at the HEA in conjunction with the Institute of Historical Research, 2010, fn. 11 on p. 7, accessed online at https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/heahistory/resources/rg_smith_oralhistory_20111015.pdf, 29 October 2021.

xxxiiRichard A Lynch, “Archive”, in L. Lawlor & J. Nale (Eds.), The Cambridge Foucault Lexicon, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014, p. 21. Accessed online at doi:10.1017/CBO9781139022309.006, 31 October 2021.

xxxiii“By this term I do not mean the sum of all the texts that a culture has kept upon its person as documents attesting to its own past, or as evidence of a continuing identity; nor do I mean the institutions, which, in a given society, make it possible to record and preserve those discourses that one wishes to remember and keep in circulation.” Michel Foucault, translated by A.M. Sheridan Smith, The Archaeology of Knowledge & the Discourse on Language, New York: Pantheon Book, 1972, pp. 128-129.

xxxiv See Richard A Lynch, op cit, p. 20: “Foucault used the term “archive” most commonly in the years 1967– 1969, in a number of interviews before and just after the publication of The Archaeology of Knowledge as well as in the book itself. In each of these interviews, he offers a definition of the term – all of which are variations on the definition given in The Archaeology of Knowledge. After 1969, however, the notion of the archive virtually disappeared from Foucault’s vocabulary, as his interests shifted...” and p. 22: “In sum, the “archive” is a key concept of Foucault’s “archaeological” period – indeed, Foucault chose this term in part because of its etymological similarity with “archaeology.”” . See also Richard A. Lynch, “Discourse”, in L. Lawlor & J. Nale (Eds.), The Cambridge Foucault Lexicon, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 120-125, accessed online at doi:10.1017/CBO9781139022309.024, 31 October 2021.

xxxv Famously in Jacques Derrida, translated by Eric Prenowitz, “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression”, Diacritics 25:2, 1995, pp. 9-63.  I saw Derrida in performance in his ‘archive fever’ period in London in the 1990s. The performance was mesmerising and electric, but as someone who was still experiencing life as a theater professional I came away thinking he was an intellectual charlatan; and for better or worse have not been able to get beyond that direct and personal experience of him.