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The standard model of archives and archiving, and the model developed and practiced in the PETT Archive and Study Centre.

 

The standard model of archives and archiving is based in the tradition that has grown out of the management of government archives, where the primary unit of interest is the government department or project and its functioning, and the primary purpose of selection and retention of records is based in governance, and more specifically on recording the business functions and processes of the organisation. The emphasis is not on the individuals who make up the organisation or those who are the subjects of its activity, nor on the organisation as a dynamic social and cultural entity; the emphasis is primarily on accountability and the paper trail of the organisation's work, and secondarily, when the records are no longer current and could otherwise be disposed of, on the organisation's administrative history. The American archivist T.R. Schellenberg followed this orientation through in arguing the case for what is sometimes called "tithing" [or 'sampling'; systematic selective destruction, leaving what is intended to be a representative or indicative sample] in his classic and influential 1956 publication, "The Appraisal of Modern Public Records":

 

A government cannot afford to keep all the records that are produced as a result of its multifarious activities. It cannot provide space to house them or staff to care for them. The costs of maintaining them are beyond the means of the most opulent nation. Nor are scholars served by maintaining all of them. Scholars cannot find their way through the huge quantities of modern public records. The records must be reduced in quantity to make them useful for scholarly research. "Even the most convinced advocates of conservation in the historical interest," according to a pamphlet issued by the British Public Record Office, "have begun to fear that the Historian of the future dealing with our own period may be submerged in the flood of written evidences." The scholarly interest in records, for that matter, is often in inverse ratio to their quantity: the more records on a subject, the less is the interest.i

 

The italics in Schellenberg's paragraph highlight a selection from a [British] Public Record Office publication entitled "Principles governing the Elimination of Ephemeral or Unimportant Documents in Public or Private Archives" (London, nd), a title which tells much of the story of the elite tradition within which the standard model was created and from which it descends - and which many areas of scholarship over the last 70 years have left behind. It is a model which, until recently, defended archives against taking in, much less creating oral histories themselves; opposed non-government or Specialist Repositories in the early post-War period, and initially resisted family historians; and, until very recently, did not recognise the validity and value of Community Archives.

 

The Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre was born differently. It is not a government archive, nor indeed an institutional archive as such - until very recently, PETT's own documents did not form part of it, and are still being integrated into it. Rather, it brings together a number of related and converging traditions.

 

  • In professional terms, its overarching identity is as a Specialist Repository, whose holdings include a number of conventional institutional, research and organisational archives, as well as a range of personal and community collections. The concept of "specialist repositories" grew up after the Second World War, to designate non-local government archives generally. See Fees 1997.ii
  • These personal and community collections are diverse in character, and form the backbone of the Archive. They include the original David Wills Collection, whose orphaned state led PETT to set up the Archive and Study Centre in the first place. They include the Marjorie Franklin, Maxwell Jones, Harold Bridger, Dennie Briggs, Josephine Lomax-Simpson, Wennington, Finchden, Caldecott Association, AWMC, and many many more small and large personal and community collections.
  • These personal and community collections consist of a wide range of materials which have been saved and gathered together by people, sometimes at considerable personal cost, because they embody something essential in their history and heritage. The material may well fall far outside the conventional collections policies of mainstream archives, and may well contain "ephemera" and "unimportant documents"; but they tell stories and hold information and meaning which the individuals themselves feel are crucial for that person's and community's well-being, identity and self-understanding; and which - in part because of that - many academics increasingly find essential.
  • These Personal and Community collections have been placed in the Archive and Study Centre
    • either because there was no other obvious home for them to go to, because mainstream archives have not wanted them;
    • or because the mainstream archives have wanted to pick and choose what they considered of value to preserve, using their own and overriding what the community itself placed value in;
    • or because the stewards and donors of the collections made a positive decision for the Archive and Study Centre:
      • because they felt welcomed;
      • because they wished their material to be with similar collections;
      • because they recognised the Archive and Study Centre's genuine interest in themselves, their communities, and collections, and how that interest translated into active engagement and a drive to find ways to augment and add value to the collections and the communities they stood for;
      • or simply because they felt that the collections themselves would be valued and understood in a way that they would not be valued and understood elsewhere.

 

Together and individually these factors and the collections they represent come together to make the Archive and Study Centre a Specialist Repository for the therapeutic community sector - a Community Archive, and a Community of Communities Archive. This has not happened by accident, but is an intentional development from therapeutic community culture and practice, and a manifestation of the traditions of public involvement, public engagement, and active outreach which have flourished in the community folklore and public history movements. (See Fees 1988 and 1990).iii

 

 

Same profession, different traditions, different situations, different issues, different approaches, different solutions

 

The problem Schellenberg was addressing in "The Appraisal of Modern Records" was the overwhelming proliferation of government records. The problem for the field of therapeutic communities and environments is the inverse: Its history is characterised by the paucity of early and recent records, either because so little was created in the white heat of the work, or because so much has been lost.iv The history of PETT itself is filled with the history of the loss of records: fortunately, although they were bombed on the way up to Scotland, where they were being sent for safekeeping, the Q Camps records survived; but the Q Camps office, and “Records of 50 years of social and other work” housed alongside it didn't (Letter 1941 Marjorie Franklin to David Wills).v When he was researching his biography of Homer Lane, PETT founding Trustee David Wills approached the Public Record Office for the Recorder of Cambridge's file on the prosecution of Lane, but was told it was still embargoed; when he returned after the period of embargo ended, he was told the file had been destroyed: despite David Wills' expressed interest in it, a key file for the history of therapeutic community was destroyed because it did not meet the Public Records Office's criteria for Importance and Permanent Retention. Essential collections of records being held on behalf of PETT by Founder Marjorie Franklin and co-Founding Trustee Arthur Barron were destroyed on her death and following his stroke respectively. The Archive and Study Centre itself came into being because mainstream repositories did not want to take in the extraordinarily rich and important David Wills Collection, which included the Q Camps archives - subject of a current British Academy grant, and the only survivor of the three sets of collections farmed out among themselves for safekeeping by the Trust's founders: Had PETT not stepped in, the extremely important David Wills Collection may well have been lost, as they were, and as have many others:

 

“Innumerable therapeutic environments small and large have come and gone leaving no trace, except in the rapidly disappearing lives and memories of those who were in some way associated with them. When even some extremely important and influential places leave virtually no surviving archives for key periods and episodes - Summerhill School and the Cassel Hospital for their pre-war manifestations, the Northfield Military Psychiatric Hospital for the whole of its pioneering war-time existence - , and considering the conditions of therapeutic work in pioneering environments and the events and disasters affecting them over the last hundred years, the miracle is that some archive collections do survive.” (Fees 2008. See also Fees 1998)

 

Where the problem for archives in the mainstream/local government tradition is the proliferation of records and how to weed them, the problem for therapeutic communities and their history is the rarity of surviving records, and how precious this makes them. This doesn't mean that the Archive and Study Centre doesn't 'weed' collections - in processing a recent collection a significant number of papers were recycled or destroyed, running into several bins and a half dozen black bags - but the starting point and the criteria for selection and retention are different; and where an entire community's archives are intact, the unique value that completeness gives them.

 

The starting point for the mainstream/local government tradition is the business of the organisation. It has to be; and when the local government archives which are at the heart of the tradition began broadening their collections to take in non-governmental records of County families and the wider community, it was at first done (technically) illegallyvi. The broadening of their remit to serve and represent the local community generally means, in a sense, that the Archive and Study Centre is an equivalent in relation to therapeutic communities of the modern County Record Offices in relation to their counties today. But the starting point is different.

 

Although the Schellenberg issue will arise with some force as, if and when the Archive and Study Centre becomes a Records Centre for contemporary therapeutic environments [an income-generating proposal in 2017 when it was envisaged that the PETT collections would be moved when the Mulberry Bush took them, and a new purpose-built facility constructed], the fact that so much of the history and heritage of the past has been lost makes retention of whatever historical material there is the priority. The realities of management costs and space that concern Schellenberg are not neglected; they form a fundamental background to every decision that is taken. But in the context of so much loss and absence, and given the perennial vulnerability of the field in part because of that, the priority for the Archive and Study Centre in support and service to therapeutic communities and environments is the completeness, depth and detail of their records and history.

 

 

 [NOTES]

 

i T.R. Schellenberg, "The Appraisal of Modern Public Records", originally pubished in National Archives Bulletin 8, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C., 1956. |Excerpts reprinted in Maygene F. Daniels and Timothy Walch, eds, "A Modern Archives Reader", National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C., 1984, pp. 57-70. Quote is from page 57.

 

ii Craig Fees, "Handbook: Celebrating Memory, an oral history of the Society of Archivists and its Members", 1997, Section C 'Archives: An Integrated or Multi-Valent Service?': "A great and continuing challenge to the views of the early Society lay in the specialist repositories, such as the John Rylands Library (see 1951 in the Chronology), or the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading which in 1966 created "a particular problem in the past year and one which has been brought forcibly home to the Council...". As an independent, specialist archive, it not only stepped outside but threatened to wreck the vision of a regionally-based national archives service to which the Society was dedicated." http://web.archive.org/web/20020602032628/http://www.pettarchiv.org.uk:80/fsg/handbook.htm#2C, Accessed 17/9/2017.

 

iii Craig Fees, “Folk Memory in a North Cotswold Community”, TALKING FOLKLORE 1:4 (1988), pp. 22-38, http://craigfees.com/cv/publications/folk-life-studies/1988-folk-memory-in-a-north-cotswold-community/ , accessed 17/9/2017.

Craig Fees. ‘Reflections of a Folklorist1 in a Residential Therapeutic Community2 for Emotionally Deprived and Disturbed Children’, MALADJUSTMENT AND THERAPEUTIC EDUCATION 8:2 (Summer 1990), pp. 68-73, http://craigfees.com/cv/publications/therapeutic-community/1990-reflections-of-a-folklorist-in-a-residential-therapeutic-community/, accessed 17/9/2017.

 

iv "...the losses in the conventional records of this field of work are immense. A great deal certainly survives and one of the exciting things about developing a specialist archive for therapeutic community is discovering how much there is. But not only have so many of the people themselves died and taken their memories and experiences with them, but the records of the work they have done have all too frequently been lost and destroyed as well. For example, following her death Marjorie Franklin’s housekeeper destroyed all of her files, including the records of Arlesford Place School, a wealth of correspondence (for a period during the war she worked closely with Donald Winnicott), and the organisational archives of Children’s Social Adjustment Limited. Following his stroke, the records of the hostels for evacuated children in which Arthur Barron had worked during the war as well as the archives of Hawkspur Camp for Boys and the records of his subsequent work as a consultant psychotherapist in a variety of units were destroyed at his own request; the majority of the historical records of Shotton Hall School were thrown away during a change in administration; Alfred Gobell’s papers were accidentally lost during a spring cleaning at Hengrove School. " Craig Fees, ‘”No foundation all the way down the line”: History, memory and ‘milieu therapy’ from the view of a specialist archive in Britain’, THERAPEUTIC COMMUNITIES: The international journal for therapeutic and supportive organizations, Volume 19: Number 2 (1998), 167-178.

 

See too, Craig Fees, “'Records of 50 years social and other work have been lost'. It does matter”, http://www.pettrust.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=539:20th-anniversary-celebrations-records-of-50-years-social-and-other-work-have-been-lost-it-does-matter&catid=60&Itemid=176, accessed 16/9/2017.

 

v In a letter from Marjorie Franklin to David Wills on May 6, 1941 – she was later Founder of PETT, and he one of the two co-founding Trustees – Franklin wrote, with evident sadness:

 

The West Central Jewish Girls' Club and Institute [founded by her aunt, Lily Montagu CBE] and the day settlement (and of course Q Camps office) attached had a direct hit from a land mine and are now a heap of stones. The 27 killed include Miss Paynter (Secretary) and Mr. and Mrs. Jacobson (caretakers) and 2 of their children - a third was evacuated.

 

Records of 50 years social and other work have been lost.

 

Well, good bye

 

Yrs sincerely

 

MEF

 

vi See Craig Fees, interview with Fred Stitt, 20/6/1997, for "Celebrating Memory: An oral history of the Society of Archivists and its Members", SOA34-37.