University of Sussex
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Telling people's histories: an exploration of community history-making from 1970-2000

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:34 authored by Lorraine Sitzia
This thesis explores the practice of community history-making in England in the period 1970 to 2000. Community history has been seen as a radical challenge to conventional history-making, with process and participation often as important as the end product. I explore the origins and development of community history, taking History Workshop, the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers, and the Oral History Society as the starting points. These movements all sought to democratise the practice of history, and to challenge ideas about who could make history, and I consider the influence of these movements on understandings and practice of community history. I examine how groups committed to democratic history-making work in practice, and the tensions that may arise in the process, through three in-depth case studies of community history groups: QueenSpark, Brighton; Bradford Heritage Recording Unit; and Living Archive, Milton Keynes. Whilst initial critiques tended to focus on the ‘value’ and content of the histories produced by such groups, my findings suggest that these critiques have ignored the complicated factors at play in the making of these histories. These groups had to contend with a rapidly changing political and social climate, and balance conflicting needs. The complex mix of external and internal factors such as funding, technology, the structure and organisation of groups, personalities and interests of key ‘members’, sales viability and audience expectation, has all shaped how the groups worked and crucially what histories got told and how. Fundamentally this thesis challenges conventional understandings and meanings of community history and demonstrates that definitions of community history are historically, regionally and politically contingent. In doing so it adds to the debates about the production of knowledge and intellectual authority within history making.


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  • History Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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