Delivering or supporting heritage projects involving school or youth groups is always an uplifting experience. I appreciate having the opportunity to encourage young people to see London’s history in new and different ways and I enjoy observing their invariably positive response to the chance to view historic sites they might not otherwise visit – or handle and work with original archive sources that are usually difficult to access. Invariably, too, their energy, creativity, thoughtfulness and enthusiasm provide a welcome counterbalance to the negative media stereotyping of young people.
The Only Way is Ethics (TOWIE) is a heritage lottery funded youth project, led by the brilliantly creative Emergency Exit Arts organisation with heritage support from Museum of London and Bishopsgate Institute. My main role in the project is to locate and share archive materials relating to the TOWIE themes (protest, politics, activism and representation). The idea is to establish a sound historical framework within which the ethical debates and discussions programmed to take place across 2013-14 might be meaningfully located.
TOWIE is a particularly uplifting project in which to be involved. Not only does it provide me with the chance to work with a team of inspiring creative heritage professionals from a range of organisations but it has also attracted an extraordinarily engaged and articulate set of participants. At the project summer school earlier this month I met young Londoners from across the city who shared a desire to engage in open, intelligent political enquiry about challenging subjects from class to gender to race. To find out more about how TOWIE summer school played out, view the amazing ‘storify’ narrative collated by Emergency Exit Arts:http://sfy.co/hPyd
In among the wealth of tweets, texts, clips and images showcased here, the words of one of the project’s young producers Gabriel Akamo stood out for me. Describing the archive workshop that took place on the final day of summer school, Gabriel wrote:
‘We looked at sources connected to feminism and gender politics from the mid-19th century to the present day. Possibly the most interesting archive task all week, we discovered evidence of an early women’s suffrage movement in the 1840s: a rejected parliamentary bill and a pamphlet arguing for female voting rights, inspiring engaging and insightful conversation. After this, we fed back to the rest of the group, inspiring a discussion about our perceptions of feminism, gender roles and the historical narrative presented to us from the sources we had looked at. Once again, I found myself questioning my assumptions about these issues and the contrast between the narratives taught in the curriculum and what we had just seen in the archive session – truly fascinating.’
The power of original historic sources to make people pause, think and re-think their views and ‘knowledge’ about the past is the reason why it’s so important to allow a range of audiences to access archive collections; that is, not just academics, not just researchers, not just librarians and not just adults.
To get involved in the project discussions on twitter, use the hashtag TOWIEthics.