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Feature

Searching for the history of minority ethnic people in Wales

27 Apr 2024 4 minute read
Children at a fancy dress pageant at the Angelina Street Mission Hall, Cardiff c1920

Norena Shopland

Everyone has a diversity in one way or another, but diverse histories are often absent from mainstream narratives.

Most UK histories, and Wales is no exception, are dominated by monied, white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, Christian men with everyone else struggling to see themselves represented in our shared history.

Take women for example, only 5% of the Dictionary of Welsh Biography includes women (although recent funding aims to address this), and the worldwide Wikipedia is not much better with only 19.7% of English language biographies about women.

This has a knock-on effect in that diverse women are even less represented.

Research

There are numerous reasons why history fails to represent diverse people, too many to go into here, but one is the ability to research, in practical skills, in confidence, and the few platforms available to showcase people’s work.

Therefore, Glamorgan Archives new research guide to Sources for the Study of Minority Ethnic History is a welcome helping hand.

As Dr Marian Gwyn, Head of Heritage, Race Council Cymru in her introduction points out: “The guide represents a significant step towards ensuring ethnic minority communities are acknowledged, understood, and celebrated as an integral part of Glamorgan’s heritage, and it has a vital role in promoting historical inclusivity, social cohesion, and future research in Wales.”

Despite being of Glamorgan, the methodologies can be applied anywhere.

High bar

It is a guide that sets a high bar and should be an exemplar for research guides the world over. It is easy to use, in heritage organisations and libraries, or online.

The latter being particularly important for those wanting to get involved but have issues preventing them from travelling to archives and elsewhere, such as those on low incomes, mobility difficulties, or anxieties.

My role in this amazing work, was to look at terminology and how it can be used in research methodologies to winkle out stories that may have been missed.

As Professor Uzo Iwobi CBE, CEO Race Council Cymru and a project partner points out: “The guide is for everyone, but for young ethnic minority researchers, especially, it does more than provide search terms; it ignites a connection to history.

“Suddenly, the past becomes relevant, and a place where they too can see their ancestors’ contributions to the Wales of today.”

The project, overseen by Rhian Diggins of Glamorgan Archives and project officer Ophelia Dos Santos, was funded by the Welsh Government under their Anti-Racist Wales Culture Heritage and Sport Fund, but it was a team of dedicated volunteers who uncovered a vast array of material, far too much to be included, and it is their work that makes this guide so special.

Rhian Diggins added that ‘the guide signposts and summarises relevant collections at Glamorgan Archives.  By publishing the guide digitally, it’s our intention for it to be a dynamic document, growing and developing as new collections are deposited at the Archives, and further research is undertaken in our search room.’

As Gaynor Legall, Chairperson at The Heritage & Cultural Exchange, noted at the launch, this guide is one of the most useful projects to come out of the Welsh Government’s Anti-Racist fund as its longevity and potential for uncovering new stories is endless.

I would however warn anyone who takes up this guide and starts researching – you can very quickly become addicted and follow stories of people from the past that amaze and charm you. And if you do put together a new story, offer it for submission to Glamorgan Archives’ blog page.


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Another Richard
Another Richard
26 days ago

A useful initiative in its place, but let’s not pretend that ethnic minorities played a larger part in Welsh history than they really did. When I was a boy 50 years ago there were very few people BAME people outside Welsh seaports. In my school of 1150 pupils you could have counted those from ethnic minorities on one hand. History cannot be made to represent people who simply weren’t there. (And lest I be called racist, it’s worth noting that the forebears of many white Welsh people of today didn’t live here either.)

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