Most collections first arrive at an archive as a mixed up assortment of boxes and plastic bags, filled with all kinds of papers, books and objects. At first glance one could be mistaken for thinking that this was just a pile of rubbish on a journey to its final resting place at the bottom of a bin.
However, what is contained within is important precisely because it has been saved from this fate. These items form a collection made up of records of transactions carried out by an individual or organisations, and through their place in the archive will go on to shape history and form collective memory for many years to come.
‘One culture is that which, while recognising the historical differences of national groups, seeks to build a nation which will bestow on people such knowledge, understanding – a civilisation of co-existence which will result in the eradication of all forms of deprivation and discrimination on whatever basis; the other culture…based on discrimination, oppression, exploitation and divide and rule, by exploiting the differences of national groups in that country and by building a nation dominated by whites.’
Resistance Culture, Transformation and the Expression of Freedom, paper delivered in Glasgow at the Sechaba Festival in 1990, Mongane Wally Serote
The success of the Anti-Apartheid Movement was based on the tireless activities of individuals, groups and nations, uniting across the world because they believed in equality for all, regardless of race, religion, gender or class. Culture acted as the great unifier, with events spanning the arts, showcasing South African/African talent alongside the more familiar and home-grown, proving that awareness raising and activism could be at once enjoyable, exhilarating and hard-hitting.
A collection of stickers and postcards from the Scottish Committee Anti-Apartheid Movement Collection.
‘Support is Visual’ the leaflet said at first glance, a glance that stopped me in my tracks. I was struck by the unusual, yet powerful slogan, and started thinking about the necessity of visual support.
Over a month spent in amongst the stacks, working on the Scottish Committee Anti-Apartheid Movement Collection, has drawn my attention to the vast array of ways that people displayed their support; from stickers, to diaries, greetings cards, plastic bags, leaflets, flyers, banners and sashes. Not to mention posters of every size, painted by hand or printed in their hundreds, and letterheads; providing a constant reminder of what was being fought for.
echo: “a reflection of sound, arriving at the listener some time after the direct sound”
Of the quartet of striking archival images chosen to welcome researchers to our Reading Room, both on the signage outside and the glass banners inside, it is the Paul Robeson image which, to me, most keenly reflects the nature of our remit here. Robeson sings out to that Glasgow May Day 1960 crowd, but his message echoes down, 56 years to the month, saying to us now – listen again, and look!
His image inside our Reading Room appears like a beautiful ghost, his hand hailing a welcome whilst simultaneously pointing a way forward, always forward; looking back to see ahead.
Our shining new Reading Room offers researchers a bright light to do just this. It offers study space for nine readers at any one time – an oasis of silence from the hubbub outside, with lockers for your valuables, and actual pencil sharpeners, for your actual pencils. With access to our Archives and Special Collections, allowing readers to view invaluable primary source material, revolving copies of which will appear in our windows to tempt you inside, as well as access to the knowledge and expertise of our staff, the Reading Room offers researchers a perfect echo chamber of reflection and illumination – preserving the past to inform the future.
The Archives and Special Collections’ Reading Room is open Monday to Friday, 9am until 5pm, by appointment only – firstname.lastname@example.org.
~ Símon Docherty
‘Let’s Look Back’ by KMS, (Click to enlarge), taken from Rixaka – Cultural Journal of the African National Congress, March 1986
The power of the archive lies in our ability to ‘look back’, to sit with the privilege of hindsight, learning about what was, thinking about what could have been and speculating about what’s to come. Source material helps shape our understanding and transform previous assumptions. The past comes alive, and through us, the struggles and successes are overcome and won again; never to be forgotten.