44. The Case of the Burnt Document: Committee of 100 Papers

This week, a document that tells the story of a campaign, illustrates the physical risks to archives, and shows the power of social media. Impressive for such a small and fragile object.

Burnt document from the Hannam Committee of 100 Archive (Cwl HC)

Burnt document from the Hannam Committee of 100 Archive (Cwl HC)

As this image I hope shows, the paper of which this document is made is extremely thin and poor quality, as well as being badly burnt around the edges.  Many of the documents in this collection, a small archive of the Committee of 100 given to the Commonweal Collection by Derry Hannam, are in a similar condition.  This makes the documents difficult to handle without causing further damage; some files are closed for this reason.

The Committee of 100, founded on the initiative of Ralph Schoenman and Bertrand Russell in October 1960, called for a mass movement of civil disobedience against British government policy on nuclear weapons.  It can be seen as a successor to the Direct Action Committee, which applied nonviolent direct action techniques to this issue though never on such a scale.  The notes on this paper describe preparations for a court case involving leading members:  Pat Pottle, Bruce Reid, Michael Ashburner, Andrew Murray, Des Lock and Len Smith were charged with obstruction and incitement to others to take part in a demonstration.

Detail of a Committee of 100 promotional leaflet (Cwl AS3)

Detail of a Committee of 100 promotional leaflet (Cwl AS3)

This archive was catalogued as part of the Paxcat Project which used a grant from the National Cataloguing Grants Scheme to bring our peace campaign archives to life.  Project Archivist Helen Roberts blogged about the burnt documents, showing how the project had to take account of the physical nature of the objects concerned.  When Helen wrote her piece, we did not know the story of the fire damage.  To our delight, both Derry Hannam and Michael Ashburner added comments to the blog, so we learned the story for the first time and it is recorded for the future.  The original blog and the comments can be found on the PaxCat Project site.  Find out more about the Hannam Archive, the Committee and related collections on the Archives Hub entry, also written by Helen.

(Thanks to the Scheme, the commenters, and Helen herself, whose writings I have re-used heavily in this post).

4 responses to “44. The Case of the Burnt Document: Committee of 100 Papers

  1. brilliant
    thank you , mary – peace studies student

  2. Why don’t you send this to the ‘Times Higher Education’ as part of their interesting or historic documents/ artifacts that universities possess?

  3. well done- fascinating

  4. Pingback: 11. Banning Britain’s H-bomb: the Direct Action Committee flyers | 100 Objects

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