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Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Voluntary action history

Yesterday I attended an event run by the Voluntary Action History Society to celebrate its 20th anniversary and launch two books in the area recently published.

Take-away thoughts:

How very broad the remit is, once one considers that it includes mutual aid initiatives as well as philanthropy, and in both area covers a huge range of endeavours (two things that wouldn't have immediately sprung to my own mind were adult education and restoration of waterways).

How very cynical/perturbed historians who actually work on voluntary action are about the nostalgic and simplistic invocation of 'volunteerism' by the current government and how complex and intricately imbricated relations between state and voluntarism have been.

Is it really true that the British concept of voluntary action has been widely exported (outside the bits that used to part of the Empire)? The call for more transnational work might nuance that considerably.

Made the point myself about the endangered status of archives of voluntary bodies. There is no statutory obligation on such bodies to retain records, they may not have permanent offices (and the early informal stages at their inception may well be very sparsely documented), they may be subject to recurrent 'clear-outs', the historical significance of their documentation is not necessarily recognised. Also, except in certain subject areas (e.g. the Wellcome Library for health-related organisations)  or for locally-based bodies (in which the local record office may be interested), there is often no obvious repository which might be acquiring them.

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