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Researchers working on the Coventry Caribbean Community History Project – blog

April 23, 2024
Author: Holly Cooper, Project Coordinator and Jade McFarlane, CCCHP Project Participant

Researchers working on the Coventry Caribbean Community History Project, which is supported by the St Mary’s Guildhall community engagement programme visit De Montfort University (DMU) Special Collections archive.

On Saturday 9th of March, the Coventry Caribbean Community History Project (or, CCCHP) were invited to take a tour through the De Montfort University (DMU) Special Collections archive as well as the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre (SLRC) exhibition.

The CCCHP was launched in January 2024 by a Coventry-based community group, the ArawaK Community Trust (ACT). The aim of the project is to provide research and curation skills to young Black people in Coventry, enabling them to contribute to the creation of a live community-based exhibition. The project engages directly with contemporary historical recovery praxis, to assemble a history by us, for us. The CCCHP facilitator is one of the ACT coordinators, Holly Cooper, who is a History DPhil student at the University of Oxford, who’s thesis directly aligns with the aim of the project. St Mary’s Guildhall Community Programme is one of the project’s funders through the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with thanks to National Lottery Players.

Part of the programme is dedicated to archival training, ensuring our researchers are confident and able to address the archives, as well as being aware of their potentials and limitations. To do this, we were lucky enough to spend the morning with the wonderful Katharine Short, who is the Archives Manager at DMU.

The group began by viewing the SLRC’s permanent exhibition on the life of Stephen Lawrence, the case surrounding his murder, and what came as a result of this tragedy. It is an incredibly heartfelt, emotional, but inspiring exhibition, that beautifully illustrates the four key themes of the Centre: 1) Histories and cultures of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in the UK, 2)The concept and practice of institutional racism, 3) Denials of justice, 4) The social psychology of racial violence. As a project, we are inspired by this work and endeavour to embed these practices in our own work.

From this, our group had the opportunity to learn more about the work of the Special Collections Archive, which led to discussions around the ethics of collecting, managing, and approaching Black community archives, the handling of ‘problematic’ materials in a productive and meaningful way, and the actual assembly of archives that contain the stories of historically marginalised groups. As a group, we were also presented with some materials that relate to this work, and each student was tasked to pick one item and write a short primary source analysis around it.

We want to share our findings with the wider community, and so we have constructed a short series of blog posts, hosted by the ArawaK Community Trust, St Mary’s Guildhall, and the DMU Special Collections platforms. Each blog post is dedicated to a different CCCHP 23/24 researcher, so make sure to check out each one! In this post, we will be sharing Jade McFarlane’s analysis of the DMU Annual Review 1995-1996 (ref. 378.425.42 DEM).

“The object I found most interesting was De Montfort University’s Annual Review booklet for the academic year 1995-1996, because it immediately raised questions surrounding race, multiculturalism and nationalism. The booklet was in very good condition, considering it is almost 30 years old, with the cover still glossy and shiny. I was surprised by its condition because I assumed that the booklet was given out as a form of marketing for the university to prospective students at open days and as I expect a new one came out every year I did not expect it to be as well looked after. Although, it has been kept at DMU’s archives and as it is from DMU this probably explains its good condition.

The reason I chose this booklet was because of the front cover, which showed a range of students from different ethnicities. At first glance it appears that it is merely reflecting the student body, as DMU has always been a diverse university however the archivist pointed out to us that these non-white students had been photoshopped into the photo. The closer I looked the more obvious it became, as every black and brown student I saw looked slightly unnatural in the image- with different lighting and their positioning towards the camera different to their white peers. Then as I continued to look through the booklet I realised the strong emphasis by the University on how international and multicultural it was. There were images of Nelson Mandela, references to the new international students who had joined and countless images of non-white students’ achievements. This persistent emphasis intrigued me because in the mid 90s, race relations were not super positive in the UK.

This object raised questions for me surrounding the intention of those creating it, such as: why did the University photoshop so many minorities in? Why couldn’t those students be in the original photo? Were they trying to cover up a negative race incident or were they trying to get more students of colour to come to the university?

You can find the other primary source reviews on the ArawaK Community Trust blog and the DMU Special Collections blog. You can also find out more about the project by following us on Twitter/X @CCCHProject.

Blog written by: Holly Cooper (Project Coordinator and History DPhil student at the University of Oxford) and Jade McFarlane (CCCHP Project Participant).

If you’d like to learn more about our latest community events and engagement programmes, please explore our community pages.

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Please note: the Guildhall will close early at 2pm on 13th June. Additionally, it will be closed all day on Monday 3rd June and Friday 7th June, for private events. The Tales of Tea restaurant will remain open during these times. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Kilo Sale due to take place this Sunday, 26th May, at the Guildhall has now been cancelled. Therefore the Guildhall will be open as usual. We are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused.
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