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Archives By-Fellowship Report 2019,
3 July 2019, Winchester
I was delighted to have been awarded an Archives By-Fellowship at Churchill College. I spent a wonderful Lent Term 2019 researching in the Archives’ collections. I am grateful to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust for awarding me a grant to take up the Fellowship, which I held during a period of research leave from my post at the University of Southampton.
My research was focused upon the popular politics of democratic participation in late- twentieth century Britain, especially the politics of the citizen consumer and popular broadcasting and journalism. The Archives’ collections offer rich pickings on these themes. My approach was to research in a number of collections, pertaining especially to the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, looking for connections between and across them. I researched in depth in the personal papers of Peter Jay and Michael Young. Two men of different generations and operating in the fields of journalism/broadcasting and consumer activism respectively, they were both concerned with how the consumer public (whether conceived as shoppers, patients of health care or audiences of broadcast and media content) could feed into everyday political process. Personal correspondence between Jay and Young underscored both the vitality of the social and political conversations happening across these fields, and the intellectual relationships that helped to sustain this energy.
In addition to these collections, I researched in the papers of Mark Abrams, Margaret Thatcher, Neil Kinnock, Phyllis and Peter Willmott, and Margaret (Peggy) Jay. Core themes that I explored here included the politics of children’s rights, the conception of the family and family policy, the scripting of the consumer, and the ‘policing’ of each of these political identities. I also took the opportunity to research in the wider resources available across Cambridge University, including the holdings of the University Library and a number of Departmental libraries.
How was the politics of democratic participation made material in the daily lives of British people in the later decades of the twentieth century? The collections offered up many leads on this question. They revealed Britons navigating evolving technologies and modes of communication in the practical work of being a citizen: hand-written letters (of endorsement or complaint) in some instances became, from the 1990s onwards word-processed letters, and then emails (printed out). The importance of the telephone as a technology of professional and social connection was attested by evidence as varied as Peter Jay’s ‘Notebook’ entries and correspondence relating to Michael Young and Marianne Rigge’s College of Health’s telephone helpline, Healthline. As I delved further into the Archives’ catalogues, I began to trace a material history of children’s participation as civic actors in the 1980s and 1990s. Episodes of the Granada Television programme, Seventeen Plus (found in the Kinnock papers) illuminated children and teenagers as both television viewers and participants. Documents pertaining to the new children’s newspaper, Early Times, which began publication in 1988 (found in the Thatcher papers) revealed child journalists contributing their own perspectives on the social and political concerns of the day.
I was extremely lucky to benefit from the expertise of many members of the Archives’ team during my Fellowship. Allen Packwood was unstinting in his friendliness and enthusiasm, and offered invaluable direction about the scope of the collections for my research. Andrew Riley, Heidi Egginton, Sophie Bridges, and Sarah Lewery provided not only specialist knowledge about the collections, but insights and inspiration that have actively shaped the directions of my research. Along with every other member of the team, they made my time as a By-Fellow a happy, and intellectually enriched, one.
The privilege of working in the Archives’ Reading Rooms over the two months of my Fellowship extended beyond accessing the rich collections. Churchill College is a beautiful space to work, socialize, listen to stimulating speakers and enjoy stimulating conversation. I have made enduring professional relationships, most notably with Professor Myriam Boussahba-Bravard, with whom I am collaborating with Churchill Archives Centre on the organization of a conference to be held in 2021 on the theme of ‘the personal’ in ‘political’ diaries. I am now working on a number of future talks and journal articles based upon my research as a By-Fellow. I look forward to returning to Churchill and to the Archives over the coming years to advance both individual and collaborative projects.
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