Archive days: A round-up of my UK visit

So I have returned from my whirlwind research trip to the UK (with a horrible return leg via London, Dubai, Singapore and Melbourne), in which I visited seven archives across the country. The archive gods were good to me and I found some very useful material on a range of topics. I calculated earlier today that 862 photos while I was there, with an average of 123.14 photos per archive (although this is skewed as the British Library doesn’t allow digital photography).

At the British Library, I looked at the bound papers of Rajani Palme Dutt. Many of Dutt’s papers are in the Labour History and Study Centre at the People’s History Museum in Manchester, but the British Library also holds six bound volumes of papers (including manuscript drafts, correspondence, pamphlets, and CPGB memorandum). I am not sure  why some of Dutt’s papers were separated and ended up in the British Library, but it may have to do with the increased tension between Dutt and the Party leadership in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

At the National Archives at Kew, I was interested in investigating the papers released from 1982, but did not find as much as I hoped. I did find some exciting material on the development of the British Nationality Act 1981, including this document (title page only):


My main research was at the LHASC at the People’s History Museum in Manchester, looking at the relationship between the Communist Party of Great Britain with the Communist Parties in Australia and South Africa. The PHM is a far more delightful place to do research, rather than the small confines of the LHASC’s old home on Princess Street. The only problem was that the archive is on the lower floor and the light in February was sometimes not enough for taking photos of archival documents. I was primarily interested in the papers of the CPGB’s International Department, which oversaw the Party’s work with other Communist Parties and its campaigning on international issues, such as anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism. One of the excellent finds from within these papers were a nearly complete set of the Africa Newsletter, published by the Party’s Africa Committee.


I also found some uncatalogued boxes of the papers and ephemera of Kay Beauchamp, who was a member of the International Department and between the 1960s ad 1970s, one of the CPGB’s experts in the area of ‘race relations’. Amongst these papers are notes for Beauchamp’s autobiography, which, as far as I am aware, has never been published.


After finishing up at the LHASC, I took an afternoon trip to Liverpool to catch up with Nick Barnett, an aspiring Cold War historian (check out his paper at the British Scholars Conference in Texas next month), who showed me the sights of Liverpool, including watching Liverpool lose to Zenit St. Petersburg at the Baltic Fleet pub and a very popular noodle bar in Chinatown. The following day I took a brief day-trip to the Hull History Centre to look at the papers of CPGB leadership figure, Robin Page Arnot, and the papers of the British committee of the League Against Imperialism. I have already blogged here on the amazing ephemera that I found in Arnot’s papers, but the LAI stuff was also quite exciting. I think a trip to the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, where the bulk of the LAI papers are, may be planned for the future!


After a week in North, I travelled back down to London to visit the Institute of Commonwealth Studies Library to look at various archival files on the Communist Party of South Africa. The ICS Library had some wonderful pamphlets from the days of the CPSA (before it changed to the SACP) and I spent hours, as well, looking through the microfilm of the CPSA weekly newspaper from the 1930s Umsebenzi: The South African Worker. If I go back to London, I have already locked in that i need to revisit the ICS Library to look at the 9 rolls of microfilm pertaining to the CPSA paper, The Guardian.


My final archive to visit was the Black Cultural Archives in Lambeth. After the closing of the archives at Middlesex University, the BCA became new home of the papers of the Runnymede Trust, but it also holds the papers of several black activist groups and figures, particularly those involved in the black feminist movement, including the papers of Stella Dadzie. From Dadzie’s papers, I found the bulletins of the Black Women’s Group from Brixton, which were fascinating, especially in their critique of the white left in this issue:


In my last week, I also travelled up to Sheffield to present a seminar paper to the Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield on the topic of the ‘dynamic’ border. It was very well attended (thanks to Lucy Mayblin and Margo Huxley for organising the seminar) and I think it went rather well, despite some very curly questions.  I was quite impressed with the look of the city centre too, and hope to travel back to the birthplace of stainless steel (celebrating its centenary in 2013!) in the near future.

I had fun, but I am very glad to be home. Now it’s writing time!

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