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Towards protocols for describing racially offensive language in UK public archives


The UK’s history of colonialism has resulted in an archival record that includes evidence of ethnically diverse populations and examples of racialised oppression. Government records created within this legacy present people of colour through a colonial lens, often adopting racist language. Taking inspiration from Australian and North American protocols for the culturally sensitive management of archives documenting indigenous communities and considering the effectiveness of existing common descriptive practice in the UK, some initial recommendations for appropriate descriptive practice are made. These are offered in a tiered format of ‘good, better, best’ practice, responsive to widespread resource constraints in the UK public archive sector. It is hoped that considering the practicable steps that can be taken to decolonise archival descriptive practices can contribute towards broader transformations in the sector. Please note that this article contains terms that may upset or offend readers; these have been included only where necessary for illustrative purposes and are denoted with inverted commas.

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Correspondence to Alicia Chilcott.

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Chilcott, A. Towards protocols for describing racially offensive language in UK public archives. Arch Sci 19, 359–376 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10502-019-09314-y

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  • Archival description
  • Archives
  • Racially offensive terminology
  • Professional ethics
  • Record-keeping practice
  • Decolonisation