Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bad News for Radical (and other) Researchers

In a ‘Statement on status of destruction of archival material Ruskin college’ dated 15 October 2012 historian Dr Hilda Kean tells the sorry tale of how ‘Archive material dating back to the first decades of the twentieth century of the internationally renowned labour movement college, Ruskin College, Oxford has been destroyed and material constituting its radical history has been dispersed. The integrity of the material in the college as an archive of working class history no longer exists. Sadly, this process of destruction and dispersal has not finished.’
In summary (from her pdf, further summarised here) the destruction involved:
·         Unique student files from c.1900 to c.2000 containing application forms, details of union sponsorship, progress within the college, in some instances press cuttings on future activity. Contents destroyed with only some bare-bones material digitised.
·         Records of the Ruskin Student Union. (Thrown away).
·         Duplicates of rare labour movement pamphlets. (Shredded rather than given to another library).
·         Former student dissertations. (Many destroyed at the behest of the ‘Principal’ – [on the evidence ‘Dictator’ would be more apt. - LW]).
·         Historic labour movement collections listed on the National Register of Archives. (Dispersed to other collections).
·         Artefacts reflecting the radical history of the college. (Gone to other institutions or individuals).
Although Bishopsgate Institute in London advised the college management that it could take unwanted material in July, the college management did not take up that offer.
College management has not said that it will save the remaining student records despite worldwide petitioning and emails and letters.
Background to how this came about, and the implications:
What digitisation does and doesn’t mean: (blog) (By the College Librarian 1972-2004)

Whose archive, whose history?
(Comment by L.W.)
There are parallels, obviously, with things happening in other institutions and organisations where mindless authoritarian management rides roughshod over the welfare of people working in them, the needs of those they were intended to serve, and, often, the principles which led to their being set up in the first place. The breath-taking arrogance and ignorance of the Principal’s quoted comments beg the question of how anyone like that was allowed to get into a position to wield such power unchecked, in such a context, but will be horribly not unfamiliar to many who have found themselves working within an admin-heavy hierarchical set-up where corporate newspeak mentality and unquestioning subservience to government policy rule.
On a brighter note, Volunteer students working in the archive instructed to shred labour movement pamphlets acted with the imagination and integrity one expects of the best of the Ruskin tradition. Other material such as pamphlets or ephemera has been squirreled away by staff keen to preserve the past.. .’ Grass-roots spontaneous action has thus achieved some damage limitation at least. Copy that!


  1. Re. archives:
    History Workshop has posted a new item, 'The Thatcher-Botha Papers':
    British government papers just made public (3rd January 2014) ...
    Briefing papers by British officials also [...]
    You may view the latest post at

  2. See also -
    "Destroyed Ruskin student archives and online debate on the nature of history"