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Now open at the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham

Stuart Hall’s Archive is now open to researchers to explore. It is housed at the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham where for 17 years Stuart led the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS). 

In celebration of this milestone a symposium was held at the University on 2 July, open to all. Ruth Borthwick (FRSL) was in attendance and contributes the following report:

It was a rare opportunity to find out about the scope of the archive, and the painstaking work that is ongoing to gather the work and make it available to researchers. It was also a fabulous coming together of people from many areas of Stuart’s life, embodying the tremendous range of his interests and pro-occupations across the worlds of politics, the arts and academia. Alongside Stuart’s contemporaries, it was encouraging to see lots of young people in the audience in what was a very diverse crowd.

The day consisted of three panels: the first on working with the archive itself, the second on television and the media, and the final panel on policing and politics.

Helen Fisher from the Cadbury Research Library told us that they had taken charge of 30 cartons of Stuart’s papers in 2018, when they began the first parts of the process to preserve the material, taking care to uphold the authenticity of Stuart’s approach to filing, whilst making the papers accessible to researchers. Helen acknowledged that the enormous scope of Stuart’s work—from editor of New Left Review, his involvement with CND, leadership of CCCS, the years at the Open University and his active role in the Black Arts Movement—make the archive a unique resource which would be valuable to researchers across many different fields. Helen emphasised the Archive is available to any interested researcher and no appointment is necessary to access it.

Catherine spoke about the huge task to sort out the papers following Stuart’s death in 2014. She said that the nature of the archive was extensive and was evidence of the fact that Stuart was always working in concert with others, on many different subjects concurrently. There were difficult decisions that had to be taken. She kept all the heavily annotated books, but gave 3000 books away, many of them out of print, to Housmans who agreed to sell them cheaply to students. Catherine has kept all the family letters and is still working on documents from the 1950s.

Nick Beech spoke about his work in helping Stuart in the last years of his life to prepare the papers for the archive. Taking the 1950s material as an example of Stuart’s interests, Nick showed us Stuart’s literary output, poems for example; articles on the reconstruction of the city; on identity in the metropole and, in particular, the rise of youth culture and the political consequences of ignoring it. Nick emphasised that the nature of the archive is fragmentary, and it is often hard to follow the development of arguments, such as editorial correspondence. Nick has constructed a bibliography of Stuart’s work on this website and is updating it as new publications come to light.

The panel on TV and the Media featured a presentation by James Proctor, who has immersed himself in Stuart’s radio archive. 

Between 1930s and 1950s BBC Radio commissioned hundreds of colonial writers, including Stuart. This post-war period was one in which the BBC’s output was clearly directed to the colonies –it was not a two-way conversation. The series ‘Caribbean Voices’ (1944-58), being a flagship. James suggested three areas of Stuart’s radio  archive that prompted further investigation: first, his voice and how this reflected cultural difference; second his role as a mediator/broadcaster, for example, at the same time as being a programme-maker, he often wrote critical reviews of the station’s output in The Listener, and finally, working through ideas of colonial identity from 1950s presaging his 1970s work. 

Anamalik Saha’s close reading of Stuart’s essay ‘The New Ethnicities’ (1987) demonstrated the relevance of the analysis today, and Anamalik made a convincing case that it remains a key text in the discussion on race, media and social justice.

Charlotte Brunsdon who is writing the forthcoming volume for Duke University Press’s series on Stuart’s work, The History of the Media in 20th Century, drew our attention to the dynamic between Stuart’s media production, and his analysis of the media. The key text, The Popular Arts, co-authored with Paddy Whannel (1964), responded to the enthusiasm of young people for arts outside the canon and its publication immediately created a clash between sociology and arts, the texts themselves and the means of production and the manipulation of audiences. Charlotte emphasised Stuart’s understanding of the media as a site where power was contested underpinned his methodology. He took the text and always interrogated it to uncover who was creating it, who was the intended audience, how was it edited and published. How was meaning being made in the media and what were the consequences for audiences? 

The third and final panel featured Tony Jefferson and Chas Critcher, two of the co-authors of Policing the Crisis. Chas ingeniously took the analysis that the team had brought to understand the media coverage of mugging and used it to interrogate the current crisis of knife crime. He looked at media coverage of one month of knife crime in the national press and in an admittedly ‘quick and dirty’ survey, discovered that the meta-theme was one that argued knife crime was a failure of the state in that the streets were not safe due to lack of resourcing of the police.

Becky Hall’s closing remarks brought to life vividly her story of living with ‘the two Professors’ and how it had shaped her growing up. We laughed with her at her greeting of Stuart towards the end of his life when he picked up the phone, ‘Still alive?’ and his reply, ‘Still legendary.’

— Ruth Borthwick FRSLThe Stuart Hall Archive Finding Aid is accessible here

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