Research visit report: Commonwealth Games and the University of Stirling archives

In the early parts of 2020, I was awarded a British Society of Sports History (BSSH) Early Career Researchers grant and intended to use the funds to travel to the University of Stirling archive in March 2020. It goes without saying the pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions put a pin in my trip. Thankfully, I travelled up to Stirling in November 2021 to access the Commonwealth Games Scotland and Sir Peter Heatly collections.

View over water
The University of Stirling reading rooms: an idyllic setting.

The collections I accessed are part of a larger project at the University of Stirling to preserve and celebrate Scotland’s ‘Hosts and Champions’ sporting heritage. The delay in my trip presented a valuable lesson in preparing to visit an archive, as I could communicate with University Archivist Karl Magee in a lot of detail. A huge thank you to Karl for all his time and efforts before and throughout my visit. This prolonged preparation helped me understand the archive collections and refine my research ideas and what I wanted to collect.

In my broader research, I am exploring the diplomatic and political aspects of the six previously UK hosted Empire and Commonwealth Games to consider the changes and continuities to UK identity and Commonwealth relations. My aim for this trip was to access materials for the Scottish portion of the research, particularly the 1930s to 1980s activities by the leading bodies and voices for Commonwealth sport in Scotland. Across my five day visit, the materials in the archives on the 1970 and 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games were extensive, and I was able to access the organising committee minutes and the Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland minutes across both events.

As I learn more and more, archival trips always pose challenges and opportunities. Beyond the difficulties of actually getting to the archive, I quickly realised that five days was not enough time to go through all the material. So, working with Karl and getting advice from my sports history mentor, Dr Heather Dichter, I prioritised the 1930s to the 1960s material. This tactic proved fruitful as the University of Stirling have digitised the 1970s Edinburgh Games essential materials and intend to do the same for the 1986 Edinburgh Games. I will be able to access this remotely and could, therefore, maximise my time at the archives in a more productive way.

Reading room and archive
A glimpse into the amount of material the University Archivists gathered for me.

A highlight during my research trip was the unintended finds! I had not anticipated the Scottish collection having material on the other UK hosted editions of the Games. However, to my surprise (and joy), there were snippets of materials on the 1934 London/Manchester Games, then a fantastic amount on the 1958 Cardiff Games. The 1958 ‘village social and entertainment programme’ brought to life an aspect of my research, including planned trips to the industrialised areas of South Wales. Again, I had not anticipated this Welsh material being in Stirling. As I returned from this trip with over 650 photographs from over 90 different parts of the collection, I may have gotten slightly carried away. Alas, I think it was hugely successful.

I am now finding the time during 2022, and the year Birmingham hosts the seventh UK hosted edition of the Commonwealth Games to collate, write up and present this project. At the moment, I will speak at the following events:

Then, I am speaking at events connected to sports diplomacy across the next 12 months, including submitting an abstract to present at the BSSH 2022 conference. I will also attend the PGR/ECR day and use this as a vehicle to get advice on publishing the first article from this project. Beyond speaking engagements, the short trip to Stirling generously funded by BSSH has provided momentum for my broader project and support for other larger research applications. Unfortunately, none of these has been successful, but I will continue developing this research project and using the BSSH network to help secure future funding and dissemination pathways.

A huge thank you, again, to Karl and Heather. Then other colleagues at De Montfort University and elsewhere who have listened, reviewed, offered guidance, written letters of support the past three years or so. I am very grateful for the monetary support and even more thankful for the collegiate support shown by friends across the BSSH and sports history network.

For more discussion from me, please listen to the BSSH Sport in History podcast hosted by Dr Katie Taylor https://soundcloud.com/bssh-london/kt-and-verity-postlethwaite or follow me on Twitter https://twitter.com/verity_pos

VPos

View of a sunset
View from the University of Stirling reading room; at the end of the day, I was treated to a delightful sunset.

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