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Georgina Brewis, Angela Ellis Paine, Irene Hardill, Rose Lindsey and Rob Macmillan

The paper is the result of the collective efforts of the whole research team, but for pragmatic reasons will be presented on the day by Georgina and Angela.

This paper draws on an interdisciplinary study of voluntary action and welfare provision in England in the 1940s and 2010s to highlight how the different iterative processes involved in collaborative archival research are part of what we call ‘co-curation’. Our ESRC-funded research compared and contrasted the ways in which the general public, politicians, and voluntary sector organisations discuss the role of voluntary action in welfare across two time periods and four sub-fields (older people’s service, youth services, children’s services and the voluntary movement as a whole). In these two transformational decades (the 1940s and the 2010s), fundamental questions were raised about who is or should be responsible for the provision of welfare services, and our findings were published by Policy Press in 2021. This paper will reflect on the nature of this research project as 1) an inter-disciplinary collaboration between an historian and contemporary researchers of voluntary action from the disciplines of geography, social policy and sociology and 2) the process of collaboration with voluntary sector partners resulting in ‘co-curation’. The paper builds on a growing literature in which scholars have reflected on their experiences of working with the owners of archival collections and on the concept of ‘archival interventions’ made by researchers. We extend this thinking to suggest that an even more active appreciation of the dynamic nature of relationships is needed, particularly for private archives that are not mediated by professional archivists. In doing so, we develop the idea of co-curation: the identification, selection, preparation, and interpretation of archival materials as it is negotiated between researchers and owners of records. This has implications for both research processes and outcomes. 


Georgina Brewis is Associate Professor in the History of Education at University College London. She is a historian of voluntary action, education, youth and students in the 20th century. Publications include A Social History of Student Volunteering: Britain and Beyond 1880-1980 (Palgrave, 2014) and Humanitarianism in the Modern World: The Moral Economy of Famine Relief (CUP, 2020, available open access). Georgina has a long-standing interest in issues of archiving and record keeping for voluntary organisations and is Director of the British Academy Research Project 'Archiving the Mixed Economy of Welfare in Britain', a knowledge exchange project supporting this sector.

Angela Ellis Paine is a Research Fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre, and the Health Service Management Centre, at the University of Birmingham. Angela has been researching voluntary action for over 20 years. She is currently involved in an NIHR-funded study of voluntary sector commissioning relationships in health and care; a study of community responses to COVID-19, for Local Trust; and a qualitative, longitudinal study of change in the making within the voluntary sector. Before joining TSRC, Angela was Director of the Institute for Volunteering Research. She is co-author of the book Volunteering and Society in the 21st Century, is a member of the Voluntary Sector ReviewEditorial Management Board, and until recently was co-chair of the Voluntary Sector Studies Network.


All welcome- this session is free to attend, but booking in advance is required.