Approaching the (Family) Archive: Challenges and Reflections

A Series of Online, Interdisciplinary Workshops

May 2022 – January 2023

Organised by Dr Imogen Peck, Research Fellow at CAMC, and supported by the Leverhulme Trust

Dusty shoeboxes of papers; drawers of textiles and treasured keepsakes; scrapbooks and albums of tickets, photographs, and ephemera: our homes are sites of intergenerational collection and curation. And yet, though the recent ‘archival turn’ has led to a renewed interest in the collections compiled by institutions and eminent individuals, we know rather less about the papers and artefacts accumulated by families and the diverse meanings that these items have possessed for those created and preserved them. The materials of family life are rarely approached as ‘archives’ – but, when transferred into local and national record offices, these same collections go on to form a significant part of our nation’s archival heritage.

This series of workshops seeks to bring together practitioners from a range of disciplines, periods, and geographic contexts to explore some of the major challenges that confront scholars working on, and with, family collections and archives, ideologically, methodologically, conceptually, and practically.

Each workshop centres around a particular “challenge” and features a paper by guest speaker(s) who will reflect on the ways that they have approached this issue in their own work. The rest of the workshop will be given over to questions and an open-ended discussion of the issues raised, allowing scholars share practice and connect with other researchers working in the fields of family, memory, collections, and archival practice.

Culminating in a two-day conference on ‘Family Archives’ in March 2023, it is hoped that these workshops will offer a space for both new and established scholars to discuss, not just the results of their research, but the processes, practices, and challenges that have informed it.

To register, see here


Workshop 1: Collected, Curated, Other?

25th May 2022, 10am

As anyone who has perused the contents of an archival catalogue entry for ‘family papers’ will be aware, family collections can contain a huge variety of material, from carefully arranged and annotated family books to piles of unlabelled receipts and old silk shoes. How should we understand the sheer variety of ‘stuff’ which comprises these collections? What ‘hierarchy of value’ enables us to sort the significant and deliberate safekeeping of certain items from seemingly chaotic accumulations of clutter? And is there any merit in doing so?

Speakers: Dr Katie Barclay (University of Adelaide) and Dr Liesbeth Corens (Queen Mary, University of London)

Workshop 2: Objects as Archive

20th July 2022, 4pm

Are archives always comprised of documents and papers? Can we read collections of pictures and material objects as ‘archives’ – and, if so, what are the implications of thinking about ‘archives’ in such an open-ended way? What about the processes involved – collecting, amassing, inheriting, assembling? What is managed or unmanaged in these processes? Do they operate as sites of contested values and memories? Is there a gender burden in the amassing of family non-textual archives?

Speaker: Prof Jill Journeaux (Coventry University)

Workshop 3: Absence in the Archive

22nd September 2022, 4pm

Perhaps as significant as what appears in any surviving collection are the myriad items which do not. Whether through the deliberate destruction of censorious relatives or marauding troops or accidental loss to mice, fire, and floods, most collections contain traces of absence: ‘shadow’ items which they once contained, but which are no longer there. How does the knowledge of destruction inform our reading of what survives, and what are the possible research avenues that lie in such absences?

Speaker: Dr Imogen Peck (Coventry University)

Workshop 4: Archives into Institutions

23rd November 2022, 4pm

Whether through sale, loan, or donation, many family collections are eventually transferred into museums, local record offices, and other institutions. Under the care of professional archivists they are preserved, catalogued, and made accessible to an audience beyond the family who compiled them. Which items do families seek to pass on, why, and how might these familial bequests shape national narratives? What is gained – and lost – in the migration from the home to the record office?

Speaker: Dr Ann-Marie Foster (Northumbria University)

Workshop 5: Accessing the Family: Private Collections

TBC January 2023

While catalogues and finding aids allow researchers to identify and access family collections held in institutional repositories, many more lie out of sight (and reach) in the hands of family custodians. Some are treasured artefacts, re-read and re-visited by each generation. Others are neglected, perhaps even forgotten, dwelling in dusty corners of cupboards and attics. How can researchers go about accessing these private family collections? What barriers, and opportunities, does this kind of work present?

Speakers: Dr Laura King (University of Leeds), Ms Emma Carson (University of Adelaide), and Ms Lucy Brownson (University of Sheffield/Chatsworth House Trust)

March 2023 (date TBC): Family Archives Conference (Coventry University)

All workshops are free to attend and delivered online via Zoom. To register please complete the form here

Please note that workshops will be recorded and shared via the ‘Family Archives in Early Modern England’ website.

For further information please email

Muniments room at Hartwell House
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