Civic Engagement Project

Refugee Council Archive at UEL
Civic Engagement Project

On the 16th January, 2015, the University of East London (UEL) launched the Civic Engagement Fund, the aim of which was to provide funding for projects that would support, promote and reinforce connections between academics, staff and communities. This is directly aligned to one of the key objectives in the UEL Corporate Plan for 2015-2020, to explore and exploit new opportunities to build partnerships that benefit our students and communities, facilitated by UEL staff.

DSCF5924Under the auspices of the UEL Library and Learning Service, a bid was submitted by Dr. Rumana Hashem and Paul Dudman, the Archivist, which would focus on the Refugee Council Archives at UEL. Entitled, “Democratic Access or Privileged Exclusion: Civic Engagement through the Preservation and Access to Refugee Archives,” the aim of this project will be to use existing Archives held within the UEL Library as a basis to forge new partnerships between students, academics, archivists and a community groups. The UEL Archives are committed to the civic engagement agenda as reflected in our mission statement:

The Archive seeks to identify, collect and preserve original and unique records that document the history of the University, and its academic interests, and to facilitate their accessibility and to make them available for teaching and research use by academic staff, students, local communities and the wider public.

The University of East London will seek to enhance the quality of its Archives and special collections through the selective acquisition of new archival collections and materials that reflect the learning, teaching, research and civic engagement needs of the institution and its wider community. As part of this remit, we aim to aim to complement the existing UEL Archive collection strengths, namely: theatre studies; sports science and Olympic studies; plus International Development incorporating Refugee and Forced Migration Studies. It is within the later field of Refugee Studies that this civic engagement project will be focused upon.

Outline of the Project

The UEL Library at Docklands has, for over a decade, been the home of the Refugee Council Archive. The aim of this Civic Engagement Fund application is to use this Archive as a basis for forging new partnerships between academics, students, archivists and community groups by investigating whether the voices of refugees are marginalised within mainstream archival collections through engagement with community groups.

The project will act as a pilot study to investigate the practicality of the concept of a Refugee Living Archive combined with a Oral History Project along similar lines to the Vietnamese Oral History Project at the University of California, Irvine (, which assembles, preserves, digitizes and disseminates the life stories of Vietnamese Americans in Southern California. It will also consider the potential demand for a community focusing oral history centre at UEL.

The project will be undertaken by Paul Dudman and Dr. Rumana Hashem. This project will act as a catalyst for the UEL Archives to strengthen new partnerships and to establish a dialogue with local community groups about how the Archive can be used to develop a living history which is reflective of, and incorporates, their needs. In order to achieve these, our project will engage with key personnel within those organisations and with refugee communities through the running of workshops, and through collating oral histories.

Project Objectives

Our key objectives for the project will be:

a)    To engage with local communities in an attempt to establish a Living Refugee Archive and to promote and enable accessibility and engagement with our existing collections. This will be documented through the collection of oral histories.

b)    To strengthen and develop partnerships and working relationships between the UEL Archive and our new and existing archive depositors.

c)    To encourage and involve our student community in the Refugee Archival collections and to develop their skills in the collection of oral histories.

Our key outcomes for the project will include:

1.    New partnerships with refugee-orientated organisations and community groups. Engagement with local refugee-communities through discussion and workshops to consider how the `Refugee Archive’ could be constructive and beneficial to their own community.

2.    Student engagement through: (1) The contribution of oral histories and archival materials; (2) To help engage with local communities with Archive-led activities and to help the local community/refugee groups understand how the Archives which UEL holds can be relevant to their own community; (3) To participate at the launch event at the end of the project workshop, and to ensure the participation of a considerable group of community representatives in the workshop; (4) To help and assist with new archives where appropriate.

3.    To pilot a Refugee Living Archive website to incorporate digital content collected as part of our Oral History Project and, if successful, this could lead to a continuation of this project beyond the initial timescale outlined in the bid.

4.    To commence the collection of oral histories by UEL students; digitized and made available online. This may also include investigating the viability of a community facing oral history centre.

5.    In order to facilitate greater synergies with our students, staff and communities, and to explore and utilise new opportunities to build partnerships, a workshop-led seminar will be held towards the end of the project, bringing together academics, students, archivists and community groups. The seminar will launch both our new pilot website and archives, whilst providing an opportunity to consider how the project can be continued.

In addition to the expected outcomes above, the following objectives will also be achieved:

i)             Newly accessible archival content, which can be of research value to both students and staff.

ii)            Creation of Refugee Archives and History Group to help facilitate continued discussions and civic engagement activities, and to help encourage interaction between archivist, historians, NGO’s and the communities themselves as to how the refugee experience can be preserved and documented.

Project Updates

We will endeavour to provide regular updates on the progress of our project through our website and social media channels.  Do please consider following us one on of the following:

            Refugee Council Archive on Twitter:  @refugee_archive

UEL Archives on Twitter:  @ArchivesUEL

Mailing Lists: Refugee Archive mailing list and the Refugee Archives
and History Group mailing list.

Refugee Archive Blog:

Contact Us

If you are interested in the project and would like to know more, or maybe you would be interested in volunteering, please do contact us for further information. Our contact details are as follows:

Paul Dudman                                               Dr. Rumana Hashem
UEL Archives                                               UEL Centre for Migration,
Library and Learning Services                  Refugees and Belonging
e-mail:                 e-mail:
020 8223 7676

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