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Back to the Future: Archiving Residential Children’s Homes (ARCH) in Scotland and Germany

There has been increasing interest in the ways in which children in state care have their lives recorded. This has occurred amid growing criticism of how they are supported to access such records and the type and quality of information being retained. To date, research has focused on individual care records which make little mentioned of the lived environment, staff and other children in the care setting. The political and policy response of Germany and Scotland to looked after care has been markedly different thus comparing these two nations allows an examination of the ways in which their cultural and political context impact record management practices. From the limited research undertaken in this area three significant gaps have emerged which the project seeks to address:


  1. Many adult care leavers report disappointment with the limitations of individual care records and how little they hold about everyday life. What can we learn from historical, pre individualized, group care records about this?
  2. Records have been viewed as written records (case notes, statutory reports, minutes of meetings) and have not included materials and objects produced or commonly used by children whilst in care. The historical analysis will explore what kind of data was stored in the past and, in phase two, the project will examine what might be included and valued in contemporary group care archives.
  3. Care experienced adults have described the challenges of accessing information both in relation to the bureaucracy they face but also the impact on them of having to physically go back to ask permission to view their records.

The ARCH project will advance current understandings of the role that new technologies play in state-individual interactions and the extent to which such technologies offer an introductory, liminal, virtual space, free of face to face interactions with previous staff or residents. This proposed research seeks to examine historical records to identify where and how the everyday and group experiences were captured (or not). From this, using principles of open archiving and partnership to work with children, ex residents and staff in 2 residential children's homes (1 each in Scotland and Germany) it will develop living digital archives of each home. Participants will be asked to consider what is stored, how and for whom, as well as thinking through the ethical and moral dimensions of collective archives. The 'living' archives which are produced will include data capture mechanisms which will allow the research team to track their use, building up a picture of who champions and develops the archives, who accesses them and why. We are particularly interested in the possibility this work has for deepening our understanding of the inter-relationship between humans and technology and the potential that digital archives have in acting as a bridge or step toward re establishing contact with or beginning to explore one's past.

Laufzeit (duration): 04/2021-12/2023

Projektleitung (project management): Prof. Dr. Florian Eßer & Dr. Tobias Thelen

Mitverantwortlicher (jointly responsible): Dr. Thorsten Unger

Mitarbeiter*innen (reasearch associates): Dr. Maximilian Schäfer & Jelena Wagner, B.A.

Kooperationspartner*innen (co-operation partners): Prof.in Dr.in Ruth Emond, Dr.in Sian Lucas & Karl Magee (University of Stirling)

Drittmittelgeber (global funding): DFG (448421360) & AHRC

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