Individuals affected by disaster often instinctively collect information and artefacts about the tragedy they have experienced.
Some bereaved family members and survivors also join with others affected by the same or similar incidents go on to form support groups which in turn generate and organisational documents and records.
These may include, for example, newspaper articles, video accounts, media reports, photographs, memorial or anniversary services sheets, campaign records and/or correspondence with politicians and others.
It is not unusual for individuals and support groups to continue to collect and retain such materials over time about the tragedy and connected events over time. The materials often hold huge personal and emotional, significance to their owners.
The archives that develop can also become ‘sacred’ in the sense of holding huge personal and emotional, significance to their owners. They are often carefully gathered and stored and treated with special respect.
All these records and archives help to tell different stories – personal, organisational and societal. They can also be of social, historical, cultural and political interest, not only for those first owning and retaining them, but also to cultural, heritage and civic organisations interested in acquiring them.
Such organisations face often a number of challenges, including building trust with the support group, defining the scope of a possible archive, and developing a sensitive practice of engaging with the group throughout the process.
This guide is the outcome of a relevant project, funded by the University of Manchester. From January to August 2022, a team of collective trauma and heritage consultants and academic researchers worked with members of the September 11 UK Families Support Group (S11UKFSG) in understanding and articulating the motivations, aims, value, use and challenges of the formation of an archive of S11UKFSG’s work.
The guide is based on this experience and consists of two parts.
Part one of our guide provides advice for disaster support groups who are looking to deposit their archive with a public institution.
By ‘disaster support group’ we mean a group of people affected by the same disaster or an umbrella group across disasters who support each other by sharing information, giving each other emotional and practical support and/or by focusing on issues important to them.
The group can include bereaved family members, survivors and their families and others affected by the disaster. Disasters are major emergencies or collective trauma events occurring at a single place/time or impacting on a community or group of people over time.
This can include long term or even generational trauma related to an incident or series of events.
Part two of our guide and is aimed at archivists, museum and heritage professionals and academic researchers who are considering embarking on a collaborative journey of acquiring an archive related to a disaster or traumatic event.
This guide is a work in progress. Conversations are ongoing and further consultation is planned. The project team welcome feedback and suggestions for additional content you would find helpful. Please contact Kostas Arvanitis and the team if you’d like to discuss this work further.