An unhappy catalogue of lost (or concealed) archives….
Marc Parry on the Mau Mau investigations by Caroline Elkins, ‘. . . Many documents relating to the detention camps were either absent or still classified as confidential 50 years after the war. She discovered that the British had torched documents before their 1963 withdrawal from Kenya. The scale of the cleansing had been enormous. For example, three departments had maintained files for each of the reported 80,000 detainees. At a minimum, there should have been 240,000 files in the archives. She found a few hundred.
. . . The story exposed to the public an archival mystery that had long intrigued historians. The British destroyed documents in Kenya – scholars knew that. But for years clues had existed that Britain had also expatriated colonial records that were considered too sensitive to be left in the hands of successor governments. Kenyan officials had sniffed this trail soon after the country gained its independence. In 1967, they wrote to Britain’s Foreign Office asking for the return of the “stolen papers”. The response? Blatant dishonesty, writes David M Anderson, a University of Warwick historian and author of Histories of the Hanged, a highly regarded book about the Mau Mau war.’ click here.
Nicole Longpré writing in the blog of the Journal of the History of Ideas,
Historians of the twentieth century in particular are frequently confronted with the barrier of the closed file: information that archivists, politicians, or others have deemed too sensitive to be read by the general public. But what do we mean by “sensitive”? “Sensitive” for whom? The files that I was requesting to view in these cases all dealt in some way with immigration to the United Kingdom in the second half of the twentieth century. More specifically, they dealt with anti-immigrationism: opposition to immigrants who arrived in the UK from the Caribbean and South Asia in substantial numbers from 1948 through the 1970s. The material in these files almost certainly would not have included references to individual immigrants, so the files were not closed out of concern for those people’s wellbeing. Rather, they were closed because they might reveal that some individual, prominent or otherwise, who was involved with politics during the second half of the twentieth century opposed immigration, and may have done so in a way that was shameful. click here
Shaheed Fatima writes, ‘On August 28, 2015 the British Library publicly stated that it would not acquire or give access to the digital archive of materials collected by the Taliban Sources Project (TSP). This decision, coming from “one of the world’s greatest research libraries” and “a place of knowledge and inspiration, encouragement and engagement” has been criticized by academics/researchers as “madness” and “completely, completely ridiculous.” But, from a legal perspective, the British Library’s self-censorship is a predictable consequence of the UK’s broad terrorism laws and so if that self-censorship is to be criticized then it is important not to lose sight of the root cause of such decisions — the underlying law. It is only then that progress is likely: the effectiveness of the law can be practically assessed, its content re-appraised and, who knows, lessons may even be learned and applied to future counter-terrorism proposals engaging academic freedom’. click here, 14 September 2015.
The Royal Household’s closed files:
A still frame that captures the princess in a gesture that strikes us now as abhorrent still resonates, even if in 1933 it was commonplace in the often anti-Jewish upper classes to make light of Hitler’s antisemitism. No wonder the royal archivists at Windsor guard the papers of father, uncle and grandfather with such care. Nonetheless, it is an unacceptable anomaly that the gatekeepers of documents relating to affairs of state should apparently be mainly concerned with concealing them from the public gaze. A glance at the papers of almost any national figure in the 20th century reveals how deeply the activities of the monarchy infused public life before the Queen came to the throne in 1952 … The acknowledgments in countless histories of the 20th century betray the frustration of academics at the ruthless exploitation by royal archivists of their control over access. click here.
More on the lost FCO files from the VICE News website :
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has located a new cache of colonial-era government documents …The documents, some with “Top Secret” classifications and tantalizing subject titles, originate in the Colonial Office — the long-ago-disbanded government department that oversaw the colonies of the British Empire. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) confirmed to VICE News that the files were located last year, during an audit of government offices that revealed a staggering 170,000 historic files which had never been made public. Some are long overdue for release, and have been held unlawfully, in violation of the UK Public Records Act. The discovery of the colonial-era documents is likely to arouse unease among historians — some of whom have accused the government in recent years of purposefully suppressingdamning material from Britain’s Imperial days. click here.
Records relating to the British Army’s help in Operation Bluestar (Amritsar 1984) destroyed!
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat)
Given the distress that is felt by the Sikh community and its desire for clarity on the events at Sri Harmandir Sahib, it is obviously very regrettable that a key file was destroyed in 2009. Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House at what level oversight would have been exercised or permission given for the destruction of that file? Do we need to review the procedures to ensure that such sensitive and important material is not destroyed in future? Hansard 4 February 2014
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has hoarded 1.2m files – some of them dating back to the 1840s – in breach of the 30-year rule of the Public Records Act, which should have seen them transferred to the National Archive…The FCO is not the only government department that has been unlawfully hoarding public records. Earlier this year the Guardian disclosed that the Ministry of Defence was holding 66,000 files at an archive in the Midlands, in breach of the Public Records Act.”
“In Northern Rhodesia, colonial officials were issued with further orders to destroy ‘all papers which are likely to be interpreted, either reasonably or by malice, as indicating racial prejudice or religious bias on the part of Her Majesty’s government’….Officials in Aden were told to start burning in 1966, a full 12 months before the eventual British withdrawal…In British Guiana, a shortage of ‘British officers of European ‘ resulted in the ‘hot and heavy’ task falling to two secretaries, using a fire in an oil drum in the grounds of Government House. Eventually the army agreed to lend a hand….” From Ian Cobain’s article in the Guardian (29 November 2013) ‘Revealed: the bonfire of papers at the end of Empire’
According to historian Mattia Toaldo, papers on Gaddafi deputy Abdesalam Jalloud now no longer to be found in Italian state archives!
In the old horse stable of the Lahore Civil Secretariat, in dark, moldy, dingy conditions, lies this amazing collection, all official record let me clarify, of over 70,000 rare books and under one million rare manuscripts and documents, piles upon piles, on the floor, on old broken desks, in cupboards without glass panes. The stink and humidity overwhelms the senses. Only in the British Museum Library of London is there a better collection, all kept in mint condition. They respect our rich history. In terms of our own history, we are the wretched of the earth.
For a digital archive collection including magazines produced by Muslims in Britain click here