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Working with Archives - Transnational History of Social Work, Social Welfare, and Social Movements

Who we are

The research network “Working with Archives – Transnational History of Social Work, Social Welfare, and Social Movements” comprises academics from various countries in Europe and North America (Canada, Germany, UK, and Switzerland) who are engaged in theoretical and methodological discussions on archival research in the broad field of social work, social welfare, and social movements. The network is inspired and supported by the research cluster “Transnational Social Support“ (Mainz/Hildesheim) and is collaborating with the Alice-Salomon-Archive in Berlin (Germany).

What we are up to

Working with archives in the field of social work and social welfare confronts researchers with questions regarding the boundaries and materiality of archives: What kind of geographical, social, national etc. boundaries do archivists draw when they are working with ‘archives’? What boundaries do the researchers recognize? What kind of artifacts are stored and how? How do researchers and archivists deal with different sorts of artifacts, such as photographs, pamphlets, journal articles, objects and so on? How do questions of selection and interpretation shape what we do with archives? What are their institutional constraints and possibilities? What is lost and what is gained through archives? How can we reactivate past archives into the present? Both perspectives on boundaries and materiality lead to the overarching question of:

What is considered to be an archive and by whom?

We pursue an inter-disciplinary approach (encompassing visual studies, archival science, history) that reveals the complexity of artifacts and that promise to give various insights into the practices and values of social work and social welfare and those who worked on their archiving. We emphasize the ongoing interconnection of developments in social work across national boundaries in Europe and beyond. This transnational perspective places special emphasis on the flows and translation of knowledge, practices, theories and policies influencing historical developments in countries across the globe. These translations reflect that social work as an important field of social development that is located in a conflictive space, with numerous actors, contrasting interests, and power differentials that are documented, archived, and interpreted in various ways.
Our group considers itself as an open forum for these diverging approaches to the history of social work and social work research. Therefore, we invite scholars from different disciplines and countries who are interested in historical research in the field of social work, social welfare, and social movements to become part of this network and take part in the workshop-series that was launched in 2011 in Mainz and will be continued on a regular basis.