Recalling community: Using material culture and digital archives in Salford

Lawrence Cassidy


Abstract

This article explores strategies for engaging geographically fragmented urban communities as active participants in conceptually re-mapping their former localities. It looks in detail at the ongoing Retracing Salford project in Salford, UK, which employs the use of everyday objects and oral histories to engage and enable former residents to reconnect with their recently demolished neighbourhoods and each other. The project also seeks to document an urban working class history largely overlooked by the large-scale institutions.

The project is based on a PhD study undertaken by the author at The District Six Museum in Cape Town, South Africa, which examined the use of material artefacts in exhibitions and memory workshops at that museum (Cassidy 2009). Like District Six, Salford has undergone wide-scale demolition and population dispersal over the past 40 years.

What began as relatively simple installations in museums, libraries and the like, has now grown to include digitised versions of the family snaps, street signs and oral histories, as a developing online Streets Museum archive (www.streetsmuseum.co.uk). This article reflects on how the methodology employed in the Retracing Salford project has helped rejuvenate and reconnect these dispersed communities. The article argues that the approach used is succeeding in widening the circle of participation and debate in relation to heritage issues, in particular the absence of commemoration of working-class community culture in the city. It has also increased awareness of urban land clearance issues. Its continued success depends on numerous factors, such as developing new strategies of engagement with the community, regularly gaining publicity and organising new exhibitions and workshops.

Keywords: Material culture, community participation, urban working class history

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