Our new Widening Participation and Outreach Officer reflects on her first few weeks in the role.
It is with great pleasure that I have started in the role of Widening Participation and Outreach Officer at the Modern Record Centre. My role is to promote and encourage interest in the truly fascinating collections held at the Centre. After a few weeks browsing the holdings it is clear to me that this is going to be far from a tough sell. I have been stunned by the richness of the collections and the wide range of topics documented. As well as the material on the shelves there are also the myriad research projects the Centre has and continues to be involved in. Archives are quiet places but we need to shout more loudly about this true wealth of information and activity. This has never been truer than in the lead up to Coventry 2021 as the region prepares to celebrate its rich culture and identity.
Improving access to archives has always been an area of interest to me. After graduating as an Archivist in 2010 one of my first roles was working on the Find and Connect Project which sought to help children who had experienced out of home ‘care’ in Australia locate records about themselves. This project opened my eyes to the barriers people face when accessing historical records. Much of the archival material being accessed by ‘care’ leavers had been created for routine administrative purposes, however viewed from a different perspective had the potential to transform a person’s life by filling in key gaps of knowledge essential to their identity.
At the Modern Record Centre one recent project which similarly evidences the significance and impact of archives is the Chilean Exiles in the UK project, run in conjunction with the School of Modern Languages and Cultures and the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile. The Modern Record Centre holds the records of the World University Service which assisted around 900 scholars to escape persecution in the years after Pinochet’s violent seizure of power in 1973. This material is a vital record of the human rights violations committed by Pinochet’s regime, and recognises the plight of Chilean exiles as well as the contribution made by UK organisations. Further information about the project can be found here: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/modernlanguages/research/chileanexile
My role is not just about sharing these stories more widely but to encourage people to be more curious, and to find these stories for themselves. Gone are the stereotypes of dusty boxes and cardigan clad archivists, Archives are hives of activity, actively engaging with schools, students, researchers and the general public and making a positive impact on the local community. I hope that as my role develops there will be more opportunities than ever to interact and engage with the collections here at the MRC, so watch this space!