Early in October The Guardian reported that students and campaigners at Warwick University were campaigning against the presence of the BP Archive on their campus. My initial reaction was that it was necessarily wrong to demand that BP be less transparent. However, the more I examined the issues the more it appeared to me that BP had questions to answer. Moreover, these questions can only be satisfactorily answered by changes in the way the archive operates. My full piece can be read here. https://britishcontemporaryhistory.com/news/oiling-the-wheels-of-history-the-bp-archive-and-historical-research/
Oiling the Wheels of History? The BP Archive and Historical Research
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2 responses to “Oiling the Wheels of History? The BP Archive and Historical Research”
Thanks for the kindly name-check, and more importantly for a thoughtful discussion of the issues. It would be helpful to have some evidence of cases where researchers have actually been refused access to BP data.
And it would be really interesting to hear from Shell about their policy of keeping the archives tightly shut up. Has anybody ever asked them for an explanation?
The problem is that it is easy to identify where people have used the archive and published on that basis who are happy with the access they gained (or at least happy enough that they do not want to go on record criticising the archive’s policies). What is more difficult is to find those who came away from the archive-empty handed, and all but impossible to show that there was material in the archive they may have helped hem. I am currently reviewing all the literature I can identify that references the archive and will update the piece when I have finished this (this is likely to be December). All of this will still remain circumstantial evidence only, but it is a case that BP has to answer.
I think that you are right in your implication that this is tough on BP who are have offered some transparency compared to Shell who offer none. In the end I was swayed by the campaigners’ argument that this archive was on their campus, whereas Shell’s archive is in The Hague, which was at least one factor taking me away from my original position that the archive represented a degree of openness that should be defended.
But the main question is how genuinely open the archive is. So feel free to circulate a link to the article (and my email address and phone number) to any habitués of business archives that you know. I would be interested in finding more evidence based on people’s experience, rather than second-hand reports.