Archive Times: The Church Missionary Society and Save the Children Fund UK, Birmingham Special Collections

I’ve been on hiatus from this blog because everything kicked off at work; a conference to organise, and teaching work with archive visits slotted in between.

Birmingham! A place, I discovered, of cheap manicures, cheap fabric and expensive bus passes; the University Special Collections are in the Muirhead Building, which is monopolised on the ground floor by a sprawling Starbucks. But I’ve never been in a better-run archive. The staff were friendly, helpful and clearly knew their collections, giving me advice on ordering and potential caches of less obvious stuff. The basement room is bright and clean, and the paper catalogues are in a sensible and accessible place. I thought these kind of places only existed in my feverish research dreams.

The papers were also good (although the documentation I’ve found for my PhD suffers from primarily being things that people write in margins in indecipherable scribbles). The Save the Children Fund (SCF) stuff is a relatively recent acquisition for Birmingham, but is well-catalogued online and would be a fabulous resource for anyone studying the religiosity of religious charities, or the internal politics of setting up new missions. Similarly, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) papers – while a bigger archive and better-used – are really fabulous. Again, my stuff was in the margins, but on a last day looking through photographs (always save the fun stuff for the end) I found a fabulous school-style photograph of the Southern Sudanese Anglican community in Khartoum, with some names, from the 1950s: I think I’ll blow it up, laminate it, and see whether anyone I meet can tell me who these guys are.

The joys of archives are the tangential bits and bobs that crop up in files organised around different agendas to your own. Such as the miniskirt ban in Amin’s Uganda:

This reminds me of reports over the last few years in South Sudan of over-zealous new recruits enforcing a kind of social morality (on women’s bodies, obviously – the best place to demonstrate morality) by harassing and sometimes assaulting women wearing what they consider “revealing” clothing. Patriarchal, militarised and authoritarian states have a lot in common.

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Filed under Academia, Archives, Feminism

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