Whose voice tells the story?

The Wellcome Library's Archives and Manuscripts Collections: whose voice is telling the story of mental health?

The Wellcome Library's Archives & Manuscripts Collections: whose voice is telling the story of mental health?

The table opposite represents a work-in-progress (December 2013) in relation to my PhD research in which I am seeking to explore and understand the complex array of voices telling the story of mental health in the archives and manuscripts collections held by the Wellcome Library.  The categorisation is based on an initial trawl through the relevant subject guides alongside searches of the public catalogue and the in-house accessions databases using a set combination of key terms.  As my knowledge of the collections is increasing, my ability to refine my data analysis strategy is also developing and I will be returning to this work in January 2014.  I expect the data to change considerably as I develop it further.  I find categorisations difficult to work with because they immediately seek to homogenise what is in fact a messy and intricate reality.  Even the question of whether a collection is sufficiently themed around mental health to be included in the categorisation is full of complexity.

This research (which is fallible and incomplete at this stage) is necessary to point to the extent of the silences; the gaps; and the biases that the mental health recovery archive is positioned against.  At first glance, the table points to an overwhelming bias towards the voice of the professional expert but at this stage the table should be read as a hint of what a more comprehensive data analysis is beginning to  reveal.

In my extended data analysis I will be attempting to unravel the temporal association between when the material was created and prevailing societal attitudes at the time and the influence this has over representation.  I will also be looking to analyse the temporal connection between when the material was created and when it was acquired by Archives and Manuscripts at the Wellcome Library and how in-house collecting patterns may have altered over time; and the reasons for these attitudinal changes.  I will also seek to understand the relationship between the existence of the collection and public access to it and the impact that processing delays and temporal closures to sensitive material has on the shaping of the available historical record. I will also look to take into account the size and extent of the collections that I am categorising rather than a simplistic collection count.  I will also be looking to reveal the subtleties of how different creator voices can be intertwined within the same collection, and how (although often subsumed and buried) there are snippets of the relatively autonomous voice of the individual with lived experience in unexpected places within the documentary landscape.