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Decolonising the LSHTM Archives

Within the LSHTM Archives Service we have begun to re-examine the way we work, the stories we tell and the role we can play in promoting different versions of history. This was originally inspired by the work of Lioba Hirsch, a LSHTM history research fellow working on a project entitled LSHTM and colonialism: history and legacy. However, the global response to the Black Lives Matter movement further encouraged us to engage with our collections and archival practices from a decolonising perspective.

Postcard from the Leiper collection, 1905

Inevitably, the LSHTM archives are steeped in the colonial history of our School. LSHTM was originally founded in 1899 as an institution for the research and treatment of tropical disease, in an effort to improve the health of those working in the British colonies. As a result, the histories preserved within our collections are generally those of white, male, colonial explorers, researchers and medical professionals. While there is value in these stories, and the contributions these individuals made to tropical medicine; they are also reflective of the colonial era in which they were produced and are necessarily informed by the values and attitudes of the time.

Group shot from Carpenter Diary, 1927

As a result of our heightened awareness and research, the team has developed a set of Decolonising the Archives Principles and an action plan which provide a framework for our ongoing work, as we aim to address the bias inherent within the archive, decolonise our collections, and look to create a more inclusive research environment. The principles are as follows:

Material from the Archives

Cataloguing practice

· Create cataloguing guidelines for decolonising current collections and future collections

· Review current catalogues in terms of terminology/language/emphasis/omissions

· Use secondary sources more critically eg School histories

Archival practice

· Review and amend Archive policies, statements and procedures and consider how these have contributed to the erasure and marginalisation of underrepresented groups

Dissemination

· Tell a different story with our collections

· Acknowledge colonial history and racism within certain collections without appearing to excuse it

· Create opportunities for discussion and critical engagement from a decolonisation perspective

· Create opportunities and work in partnership with colleagues in the School including Decolonising Global Health Group and Centre for History in Public Health on events

· Re-evaluate the content of current regular events such as Open House, Student Open Day and History Day and how decolonising principles/content can be included

Education

· Archives team to undertake training in diversity, inclusion and intersectionality

· Read and study resources provided by groups and networks such as Decolonising Global Health Group, Archives and Records Association and The National Archives in order to continue our professional development in this area

Inclusivity

· Ensure that the LSHTM Archives Service is inclusive to all of our users

· Review our recruitment practices for future posts

We have received positive feedback on our approach to decolonising the archives, both internally and externally, and are receiving regular requests to discuss these with archive colleagues in other institutions and to speak at events. We believe our principles can contribute to the wider work of LSHTM, especially in terms critical engagement with our colonial history and the use of archival material in teaching and research. We are happy to discuss our work in more detail with LSHTM colleagues, for further information, please contact archives@lshtm.ac.uk

LSHTM Library Collection Service

LSHTM Library Collection Service has also been working on decolonising the collections which they have reflected on via these blog posts:

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