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  • Young Historians Project

Sociology in the Archives: Black and Asian activism by and for young people

This brief report is a part of a collection of reflections on the public events that the members of Young Historians Project (YHP) partook in throughout Winter 2019 to showcase our research on 20th century African women and the British Health Service.

On the 18th of November 2019, YHP members Olivia and Sue gave a presentation at the Sociology in the Archives Event: Black and Asian Activism, hosted at the British Library. Their presentation explained how what YHP does is a form of resistance, and played a key role in the wider conversations of the day.

Olivia made the important point that YHP exists in order to collate black history and cultivate an emerging generation of young African and Caribbean historians. Therefore, YHP aims to work to solve the systemic failures black people face when their history is predominantly narrated by people outside of black communities in Britain.

At this event in particular, Olivia and Sue argued that curating oral history is a form of activism by young people as we are unearthing stories from history which would otherwise be left buried. They also asserted that curating oral history follows the cultural tradition of our ancestors, passing down knowledge by word of mouth. This method is intrinsically valuable. So we at YHP use it as a main tool in order to negate this.

During the event, YHP also explained our current mission to create learning resources about African women’s contributions to the British Health Service between the 70-year period of 1930-2000. An overall continual discussion throughout the day included the impact of systemic misrepresentation of African people and their exclusion or misinterpretation in official archives on research, which YHP is grappling with at present.

As we see it, those individuals we interview, as well as ourselves as interviewers, are ‘living archives’. The lived experiences of our elders, as told by themselves directly to members of the younger generation, creates an exchange of knowledge and wisdom which can be used to enrich and educate peoples understanding of Britain and the black community's historic role in it. Therefore, a form of activism in the present is to fight against the pernicious effects of a warped historical narrative which impacts on the lives of black people today.

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