Archives aLive: Researching Unemployment

Belén talks us through the second session of our widening participation project, Archives aLive, at the MRC. Read about what our school groups got up to & their responses…

After a successful first session of the Archives aLive project, it soon was time for the second one. The atmosphere was much more amicable, as we all knew each other, and this could be seen throughout the session.

This time, instead of focusing solely on archive material, our objective was to look at the theme unemployment and linking it to archival material, as well as discussing and debating our own understandings and ideas. First of all, we encouraged the students to recap some of the things they had learnt throughout the first session. It was so gratifying to see that they had throughly grasped all the concepts, especially what archives were! This was very important, as it also was the basis of out second session.

To continue the session, and get them on their feet, we gave them 10 minutes (although it took longer, as they got really into it) to brainstorm reasons for unemployment and write them down on a flipchart. What I noticed from the second session with both groups is that the students were thinking more creatively and were more open towards the questions when we used flipcharts, also, they were much more active and participative throughout the session. It was really refreshing to be able to see so many different perspectives on the reasons for unemployment and how most of them -if not all- linked their experiences with unemployment to the reasons. We then got all together to discuss them and try and link them with the construction of an identity and expand on the stigma surrounding unemployed people. Overall, I think it was a great activity to kick start the day!


The second activity of the session was a research into unemployment. Students were split up into three groups, and we assigned a different date range to each group. The date ranges were a way to arrange the different archives we had previously chosen, with the objective of being able to explore and understand the different attitudes and situations regarding unemployment throughout time. We had documents which dates from the pre-1960’s up until the 80s, so the shift between attitudes was noticeable. At the end of the activity we all got together and discussed our findings, in order for all of us to see the wider trends in each time period. The group I mostly worked with was the one handling documents from the 1960s. I really enjoyed this time period because one of the archive materials assigned to it was the “Race Relations Act” of 1968. By examining it closely you could see the poor attempt they had made to introduce new standards of behaviour into an effective legal document, hence why it was criticised so much.


For the last hour of the session, we had arranged some more archive analysis but this time with the themes of gender and unemployment, and of strikes and protests. My highlight of this part of the session was definitely seeing how much the students enjoyed and engaged with the posters we had set throughout the room. One of the ones that caught the attention of most of us was a promotional poster of a protest where the protesters were starting in Manchester and walking all the way through London, lasting more than a month. At the end of the session, when they were giving us some feedback, they told us that looking at the posters was one of their highlights too.

More posts about the project coming soon! 

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