It can be quite a thankless task creating & running an archive, to some…why bother with the past when there is too much happening now and to come. At times it is disheartening when you put so much effort into discovering/preserving/showcasing, and sharing OUR history, especially a local archive such as ours – where you get more support and acknowledgement from such far flung countries as Romania, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, & Spain etc than from our very own doorstep. But, as ever we persevere, after all its why we exist, so you can imagine our humble delight when we received another interview and interest in what we do, this time from Arizona, USA………
What was the impetus for creating this archive? (Also, curious to know if anyone involved had experience with archival work, professionally or not when deciding to take on this project)
No experience whatsoever, other than a desire to preserve and showcase elements of locally printed anarchist propaganda, and of which, when added to the amount of ‘national’ printed propaganda that we have, then becomes a ‘collection’ or can be then labelled an ‘archive’.
The archive is just a continuation of my 35++ years of spreading the message, propagating our ideal in whatever form I can. That is my impetus. That is my life.
What is the process of selection of materials for the archive? (I realize some of this information is on your website)
Anything from the anarchist / libertarian spectrum that I come across, buy, or gets donated is kept, especially anything of a local nature. Material is then gradually scanned to make it more accessible to those that can benefit in any way from it.
How have you actively sought out materials to add to your collection?
Yes, from scouring anarchist book fairs for old magazines, to buying old doubled copies of 1970’s editions of Black Flag from the Kate Sharpley Library, to harassing ‘elder’ local anarchists to give over old meeting minutes etc… it can and does at times become quite possessive. Since the recent completion of our history in book form, this has calmed down somewhat.
What value do these materials have? How did you determine that value?
Priceless. As we’ve previously stated, the 1981 leaflet which written by young local punks from run down Gateshead housing estates, embracing and endeavoring to articulate their flowering rebellion and emerging anarchism is “worth a ton of that passed off by the political research industry”. Capturing that moment in written form from that period is priceless and personally is ‘worth’ more than any intellectual tome of a book ever could.
How has the political theory of anarchism shaped your archival practices?
Intellectual political theory’s of learned anarchist philosophers bare little influence when inspiration can be found in everyday life and practices. I could talk about our natural and inherent aspects of mutual aid and inbuilt instincts of co-operation forever, or advise reading Kropotkin, but why bother when you can just look beyond stereotypical conditioning and media manipulation to look at what’s happening within your own community, your own neighborhood, especially in times of ‘crisis’ when the state continually shows its true colors of self preservation.
Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
Your syllabus states “By performing appraisal and selection, archivists are thereby actively shaping the future’s history of our times.” That is why we exist as a ‘local’ anarchist archive, perhaps to counteract the practice of the future historian who only delves into ‘academic’ archives which are ultimately inaccessible for the majority (i.e. the state run International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam).
For instance, during the 1980’s there was an explosion of anarchist activity and groups in North East England yet none of this is accounted for, or barely mentioned, in the national anarchist press of the period, and especially in the contacts section of papers like Freedom. The future ‘historian’ could quite easily bypass important developments of anarchism if reliance of the national anarchist press is relied upon. This has happened in the past, and will no doubt happen again, therefore this is our raison d’être, and why the soon publication of our book ‘Anarchism in North East England 1882 – 1992. A history’ is perhaps important.
Interview – ‘in which we invariably blow our own trumpet’ so to speak…
Not often we do, but a young American comrade interviewed us recently for something or other that she is writing, so we thought we would share….
- How and when was your archive established?
The creation of group anarchist libraries for self, as opposed to state education, was happening with local anarchists in 1907,with the Tyneside Anarchist Federation of the late 1960’s early 1970’s, with the Newcastle Anarchist Group in the early 1980’s, and Tyneside Class War in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The Tyneside Class War library of 1990 eventually evolved into Tyneside Anarchist Archive that we are today. Continuing the tradition, we also have Newcastle’s Canny Little Library based at a local cinema / social centre space.
- Why did you want to preserve local anarchist history?
Apart from it being a particularly personal passion, OUR history is regularly misinterpreted and / or ignored by academic historians only interested in self promotion or biased viewpoints. The majority of ‘down to earth’ accounts of group activities, the histories of the lives of ‘lesser personalities’ within the movement, the lifetimes of activism despite, at times, prevailing odds, rarely, or do not appear in any of the ‘official’ histories of anarchism, especially regional areas such as the North East. A need and desire to remedy this situation is forever my aim.
- Do you all identify as anarchists?
- How many people work, either as volunteers or paid employees at your archive?
No one is paid! It is mainly the work of a couple of individuals, with occasional help from the wider anarchist ‘scene’.
- Who do you see as your main user community or communities?
Our help is always available to any who wish to utilise what we can offer, from the odd university dissertation to the sharing of knowledge to those seeking it to help with current literature they produce / write etc.
- Can you briefly describe the size and scope of your holdings?
Roughly about 3500 items of literature (papers, magazines, leaflets, news sheets, zines, pamphlets, etc) and that doesn’t include the hundreds of books, from my own personal library.
- Can you describe the outreach activities you engage in?
We do the occasional anarchist book fair, where we sell copies of papers etc that we have more than one copy of in the archive and what we know other archives already have. Newcastle has also been host to a North East Radical History Festival of which we were involved with, a stall showcasing our literature and history. We also self promote through the usual ‘social media’ and our website.
More importantly, this summer should see the release of our seminal work ‘Anarchism in North East England 1882 – 1992. .’ Which should be 500+ pages.
- How do you see your archive in relation to other anarchist libraries and archives?
Our influence and inspiration has always been the Kate Sharpley Library, we are like their little nephew! I occasionally visit a member of their library to exchange items of interest. We are just a small sapling amongst a sturdy oak forest when you compare us to the likes of Nottingham’s Sparrows Nest Archive, or Glasgow’s Spirit Of Revolt Archive, and especially the aforementioned Kate Sharpley Library. What we all have in common is that we are not academic institutions open only to the select few, we are all anarchists based in and around grass roots activity.
- How does your archival work connect to movement work or your organizing history? What is the relationship between preserving the anarchist past and contemporary and future movements?
A passage from the introduction of our forthcoming book may answer this question…
“We learn from our mistakes and we also learn from our history. The parallels are apparent throughout this history. Today (2019) a new local group, the North-East Anarchist Group, with their regular anarchist history discussion meetings bare resemblance to the Newcastle anarchists of 1907 who hosted similar events. The lessons learned of the anarchists at the Clousden Hill Colony during the late 1890’s are implemented by today’s co-operatives, social centres, and communes / squats etc. The creation of group anarchist libraries for self, as opposed to state education, was happening with anarchists in 1907,with the Tyneside Anarchist Federation of the late 1960’s early 1970’s, with the Newcastle Anarchist Group in the early 1980’s, and Tyneside Class War in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, this is carried on today with Newcastle’s Canny Little Library. The account of the Chopwell anarchists and their laying of anarchist literature for sale on the grass at the annual Durham Miners Gala in 1913 brings back vivid personal memories from the late 1980’s. This is our history, and this is the purpose of our history, this is our culture, a culture of resistance to the state and its enforced fallacies of indoctrination, control and coercion. And hopefully, this is our future, for the sake of our children or our children’s children, who we may hope can live a life without the destructive nature of capitalism, and a planet recovered from its devastating ravages.”