Activating the archive: rethinking the role of traditional archives for local activist projects
This article explores the way archival material has the potential to become a core component of activism, through an evaluation of an AHRC-funded collaborative research project on the histories and futures of local food in Liverpool. “Memories of Mr Seel’s Garden: exploring past and future food systems in Liverpool” is a collaboration between four academics, two arts/heritage professionals and three community groups, around the theme of local food. The community groups were brought together by their mutual interest in exploring how historical work might contribute to the developing local food movement. The project aimed to undertake research into the history of local food systems, using three different methods: archival research, map research and oral history, in order to develop deeper understanding of food systems, both historically and geographically and to explore what this understanding might contribute to future community activism. The project examined whether undertaking the research changed participants’ awareness of the value of historical research (including the value of different methods); their understandings of the local environment and local food issues, or provided new perspectives on the possibility of future change and their role within it. In short, could historical research assist local activism? The article will describe the methods used and the research findings, which suggest that even “traditional” archival materials, neither created nor selected for activist purposes, have the potential to be valuable resources for activist projects, both for challenging simplistic activist narratives about the past and for empowering members of activist communities to develop new narratives for change and communicate these to wider society.