What is an archive?

‘Archive’ has two meanings relevant to BCA.

  1. A record of significant historical interest
  2. A collection or repository of records of significant historical interest

Archives traditionally include personal and organisational papers (for example, diaries, correspondence, photographs, minutes, reports) although they are increasingly digital. Archives tend to be unique, as they are created by an individual in the course of their activity or business. Archives are historically significant if they provide evidence of an important decision, action or activity.



What is a catalogue?

A catalogue is a database containing descriptions about the archives that we hold. You can search the catalogue to look for things of interest to you.



Why does the catalogue include racially offensive terminology?

As BCA has attempted to collect material relating to all aspects of life for Black people throughout the centuries, our collections necessarily include evidence of racism in Britain and elsewhere. As a result, the catalogue contains a number of terms which are overtly racist, and some whose meaning has changed since they were written. All such terms have been retained in the catalogue in the interest of historical accuracy, as altering them would risk falsifying the historical record. It would also be problematic to try and find non-offensive modern equivalents with a similar meaning. All such terms will appear in inverted commas (negro or coloured) to indicate that they do not reflect the views or opinions of Black Cultural Archives or our staff. We apologise for any offence that our inclusion of these words may cause.



Why does the catalogue not include the library or ‘museum’?

Archives, libraries and museums are different types of collections that require different methods of description, and normally different types of cataloguing software. This catalogue is based on software that support archival cataloguing, and BCA are presently investigating other packages that will support our museum and library catalogues. We will be happy to answer any enquiries about these collections in the meantime.



Why can’t I see images of the documents in the catalogue?

The catalogue only contains descriptions for the documents in our archive and (except in a few instances) not digitised images from the collection. On the website there is a small image gallery containing some images from the collection.



Why can’t I find what I’m looking for?

Searching will only find the exact words used in the catalogue, so if you haven’t found what you wanted it’s often best to try several related terms. So, if you are searching for material relating to Jamaican plantations owned by British landowners in the 1800s try words like ‘plantation’, ‘estate’, ‘sugar’ or ‘enslavement’. You can also search for part of a word by using a wildcard (*); so ‘Afr*’ will bring up ‘Africa’, ‘Africentric’, ‘Afro’ or any other word beginning ‘Afr-’.

Some words, such as ‘slavery’ or ‘West Indies’ have been deliberately withheld from usage in our catalogue where possible - unless they have been used in the original document. Please refer to our Glossary for a list of our preferred terms and reasons why we use them.



How do I access the documents I’ve found in the catalogue?

Most of the documents in the catalogue can be accessed in the BCA’s reading-room at 1 Othello Close, London, SE11 4RE. We are open to researchers by appointment only. Please contact us to make a research appointment via email on archives@bcaheritage.org.uk or by phone: 020 7582 8516. It is helpful to provide a list of the reference numbers of the records you would like to consult.

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