In the week that many have been commemorating the start of World War II 80 years ago, we have some news to share about an exciting new project to open access to some of our key collections from that period.
The Wellcome Trust have given us funding for a new project: Creating a world without war: pacifist approaches to humanitarian relief in World War II and after. The project aims to catalogue, preserve, and promote the papers of the Friends Ambulance Unit (1939-1946) and the Friends Relief Service (1943-1948). The project will involve recruiting a dedicated Project Archivist who will not only do the hard work of cataloguing and repacking the collections so that they are accessible to researchers, but will also be able to devote time to promoting the collections widely and creating related resources such as subject guides, exhibition materials, and more.
Working with the Wellcome Trust involves a focus on promotion of these collections to the academic community, and particularly to academics researching health and the history of medicine. This work has already started, with a successful working group on emotional responses of relief workers, led by Dr Suzan Meryem Kalayci, held at Oxford University in March. Several of the academics present offered their support for this project: some who had worked with these collections in some way before, and some who were excited to hear about them for the first time. Dr Toby Kelly (University of Edinburgh), who worked with us on the Conscience Matters exhibition at National Museums Scotland, wrote the following about these two archive collections:
The archives are an invaluable source for all people interested in the history of medical humanitarianism. They are globally significant…I can think of few sources, anywhere in the world, that provide such a nuanced, complex and personal record of what it is like to work in the medical humanitarian field in periods of war and conflict.
We were incredibly grateful for, and definitely buoyed up by, the strength of support we received from researchers, and from groups such as Quaker Memorial Service Trust. We hope that by opening up access to these collections and promoting them widely, exciting new possibilities for research will emerge.
We will also be looking to engage Quaker communities, Britain Yearly Meeting staff and other public user groups to use the collections in creative and innovative ways.
We learned a lot during the World War I centenary about the wide variety of people who are interested in pacifist responses to war, medical work in conflict zones, historical treatment of refugees, and the many other topics that relief records can illustrate. We want to build on the success of our World War I digitisation project, which made the Friends Ambulance Unit World War I personnel cards freely available online, and part of this project will involve identifying new avenues for digitisation.
We hope to start recruitment for the Project Archivist soon, and we will no doubt be introducing them on the blog shortly after – watch this space!