Prisons Memory Archive - New Book Launched

10 August 2022

Prison wires and a bird in flight | NICRC

The Prisons Memory Archive has published a substantial new book about the memory of conflict.

The book, entitled The Prisons Memory Archive: a case study in filmed memory of conflict, is published by Vernon Press (2022).

The original Prisons Memory Archive project, that the book is based on, was supported through the Community Relations Council’s CR/CD Small Grants Scheme.

Conflicted past

The Prisons Memory Archive (PMA) explores ways that narratives of a conflicted past are filmed at the site of the experiences and later negotiated in a contested present in the North of Ireland.

Cahal McLaughlin, Queen's University Belfast, said: “Given the state’s failed attempts at establishing an official process for addressing the legacy of the conflict that lasted between 1968 and 1998, there are a number of community and academic initiatives that have taken up this task. The Prisons Memory Archive is one such project, whose aim is to research the possibilities of engaging with the story of the ‘other’ in a society that is emerging from decades of political violence.”

The PMA filmed back inside the prisons with those who passed through Armagh Gaol (2006) and the Maze and Long Kesh Prison (2007), which were both touchstone and tinderbox during the 30 years of violent conflict.

Cahal said, “We applied protocols of co-ownership, where participants become co-authors of their own story, with the right to withdraw up to the point of exhibition; inclusivity to ensure a multi-narrative archive with prison staff, prisoners, visitors, teachers, chaplains, etc.; and life-story telling, where leading questions are eschewed in order to return more agency to the participants.”

Currently, the full archive, made up of 160 walk-and-talk recordings totalling 300 hours of filmed material, is available at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, where it is preserved and made accessible to the public, and a website was also developed for educational use of the archive.

This edited collection offers critical reflections on the processes of recording, archiving and utilising the archive in its several manifestations, e.g. feature films, website, and full archive at the Public Records Office. The perspectives offer a range of reflections, including filming, editing, archiving, web design, education, and museum practice. 

The Community Relations Council (CRC) supported the project over a number of years.

“CRC were crucial during a fallow ten-year period when it proved challenging to access funding for such politically sensitive material,” Cahal said. “With its support, we were able to design a temporary website and also produce the film Armagh Stories: Voices from the Gaol.”

 

Academic conference

The newly released book came about through discussion with Vernon Press at a recent academic conference.

Cahal explained: “The book came out of a request by a publisher at an academic conference on memory and trauma. Vernon Publishers were looking for an edited collection on the conference, but we asked them to consider one on the PMA. Fortunately, they saw the interdisciplinary nature of the project and agreed. Academic publications can be expensive, but we hope libraries will pick up on the book.”

The book is available for purchase here: https://vernonpress.com/book/1518

While the full archive sits at the Public Record Office NI, the education-focused website offers engaging and varied access to some of the material: https://www.prisonsmemoryarchive.com/

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