Thursday, April 3, 2008

Community Archives in Yorkshire, UK

Shilton and Srinivasan's piece on multicultural archival collections reminded me of something I had read recently about community archives in Yorkshire, England related to the Community Access to Archives Project (CAAP). According to the CAAP website,

"The Community Access to Archives Project (CAAP) was a one-year pilot project that ran from November 2003 to October 2004. It was led and funded by TNA, in partnership with the West Yorkshire Archives Service, Hackney Archives Department, Commanet (´the community archives network'), the National Archives of Scotland, the National Council on Archives, the National Library of Wales, and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. Building on the experience that our partners in West Yorkshire and Hackney were developing, CAAP investigated best practice in the area of community-archive relations, with a particular emphasis on online community archive projects."

The result of this project is the websites of organizations like the West Yorkshire Archives Service and more specific smaller organizations such as the NowThen project in Dewsbury. These websites allow members of these communities to post stories and articles, and to research local events and family histories. Although, I'm not sure how traditionally marginalized the people of Yorkshire have been, I think that these sorts of archives might be most important for communities such as the large Muslim population in that region. According to the Wikipedia article on the City of Bradford, West Yorkshire, the 4th largest district with city status in England, about 14.5% of the population there is Pakistani, with a similarly significant Muslim population overall. With the Muslim population of England at about 2.8%, one might initially assume that this larger Muslim presence in Yorkshire could lead to greater community integration and acceptance. However, the comments of a local mayor attest to the work that is still needed.

After reading about all of this, I tried to find a Muslim archive specifically in the Yorkshire area, one that might be giving voice to members of its Islamic communities and cutting down on the sort of misunderstandings and prejudices evidenced in the Robert Bennet case, but with little result. I did however, find the Islam in Europe and Sunni Forum, two online resources on Muslim interests. While Islam in Europe uses a Blogger blog and is more of a newsfeed, it still provides information and topics for discussion and a way to discuss and comment on its articles. Sunni Forum on the other hand, is, according to its main page, "a collaborative project aiming to promote healthy discussion, learning and teaching on traditional Islam." The full website does not appear to be operational just yet, but the actual forum section is quite active.

Sunni Forum uses vBulletin, a product of the UK based firm Jelsoft Enterprises, that allows the site to work as a giant message-board sort of system. These message-board style forums are an easy and direct way for members on communities to share and archive information and communications. While they succeed fairly well in this sort of easy interactivity, they are mostly text based with a lower level of photographs and videos posted than, for instance, Tribal Peace. There is also the matter of the official status of these message-board sites. Without clear ties to legitimate cultural or local governmentally sanctioned organizations, these sites may not be taken seriously. While the question of censorship always arises, without mediators and care-takers of such public archives, the maliciousness of certain participants, when combined with their online anonymity, can cause problems of informational vandalism and the posting of incorrect, unfairly biased, or hateful content that may undermine the integrity of the site and its related community.

If small-scale community archives like NowThen were created for Muslims in Yorkshire and held an affiliation with the West Yorkshire Archive Service while also holding ties to something like the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK, a much larger organization, and being maintained by leading members of their own communities there would be greater chance for their success in creating comprehensive local community archives and models for implementation elsewhere.

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