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7.2 Archives and future opportunities for research

 

In such an under-explored territory as residential therapeutic child care, archives will inevitably hold rich deposits of rare and previously unencountered information. It is one of the privileges of cataloguing to see things for the first time which no one else has seen since the information was created; and to see across the different channels of record creation and management to get a picture of the organisation as a whole which no one at the time would have had in the same way: What the Bursar didn't see in the Head's letters home, the archivist sees; what the children couldn't know about the financial storms and deserts determining new staff hirings or not, the quality of food and cooking, the preoccupations, moods and fads of staff, the archivist can begin to discern, and at best begin to draw to others' attention.

 

Although working with an admittedly limited sample of five focal communities, and concentrating as a cataloguer on three of these, the project archivist, Frances Meredith, began to discern patterns, as reflected in the graphs below. She noted that "Working through the documentation of several similar organisations, it is clear to see that the laissez-faire environment that many of the therapeutic communities started, soon diminished with the introduction of the Welfare State following the 2nd World War. Again, the administrative documentation reflects the increased intervention, the changing relationships with the Department of Education, Education Acts, Health and Safety, and Employment Law, which provided rafts of administration and monitoring which would have increasingly restricted the delivery and style of therapeutic work."

 

Another example where the history of the community "aligned with a wider historical context" was the 1970s: "Community oral history anecdotes of ‘having no food’ and there being ‘no heating’" she noted, "are more easily understood when you consider the inflationary economic situation and price of fuel during the 1973-1974 oil crisis. Whilst, as children they may have been aware of the economic climate, they may not have made the connection to these external events, and to how much food arrived on the table, and who was to blame. The financial management documentation can demonstrate how well the Trustees and management coped with these issues. In the case of Shotton Hall School, the school fees were increased substantially, every term (92% increase between 1974 to 1977), to cover the increasing costs. In the case of Wennington School, it closed."

 

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As she went on to point out, "Understanding the history of the communities from the viewpoint of the archives, which included administrative papers, financial records, photographs, and annual reports, amongst other things, usually provided a very different historical perspective, to the participants, and the rest of the Project team." And while it is not the archivist's job to be the historian or to be the researcher, in cataloguing they find themselves in the unique position of seeing documents, novelties, anomalies, patterns and possibilities of patterns which no one else is in a position to see; and that as part of a wider team working closely together, and in working directly with Community members, they can enrich the conversation and the understanding immeasurably by sharing their understandings and discoveries. What they observe, the oral historian can take into the interview; and in a virtuous circle, what the oral historian brings from the interview can enliven the meaning and possibilities for using and understanding the archives. That then paves the way for more intensive use of the archives and oral histories by independent researchers and Community members alike. An integrated project team, with oral historian working closely with archivist working closely with transcriptionist, and others, is a powerful tool for enriching the history and the heritage.