An online lecture as part of the Out of the Ashes Lecture Series, with David M Anderson Professor of African History University of Warwick. This event is free but registration is essential.
In April 2011, Foreign Secretary William Hague informed the British Parliament that a collection of some 25,000 historical files, that had been illegally held by his department for over 50 years, would be speedily transferred to The National Archive, at Kew. This vast collection of historical papers related to Britain’s imperial past, and is now known as the Hanslope Disclosure. These were records that Britain had secretly removed from each of 37 of its colonies at the point of decolonization: these files were deemed too important or too damaging to leave behind, or potentially too useful to destroy. This lecture tells the story of how this so-called ‘Migrated Archive’ came into being, what happened to it over the years in which it was secretly retained, and how it came to be ‘discovered’ in the midst of a human rights trial at London’s Supreme Court on The Strand. Nearly a decade after that ‘discovery’, controversy still swirls around the question of who owns this ‘Migrated Archive’ and what should be done with it. Whose history is this, and where does such an archive belong? The answers to these questions reveal much about Britain’s unease in dealing with the history of its past empire, and about the culture of secrecy that still infects British public institutions – even those that are supposed to be the guardians of our national heritage.