'The Design Archives at the University of Brighton: A resource for business historians’ in Business Archives: Sources and History 96 (November 2008) ISSN 0007-6538
Business Archives: Sources and History is one of two refereed titles published by the Business Archives Council (www.businessarchivescouncil.org.uk/). This piece contextualises holdings within the University of Brighton Design Archives against a generally gloomy picture for the preservation of business-related records. In the past the threat to record retention has primarily emanated from costs associated with storage and generating accessibility; or the ever-pressing tide of mergers, closures and takeovers. Increasingly, however, it is associated with the perceived threat of future legal challenge. Given this often demoralizing scenario, the material held by Brighton is introduced as a content-rich collection of undoubted interest to business historians.
Focusing on one archive in particular, that of the Design Council founded in 1944 by the UK government’s Board of Trade, Whitworth argues that while this might most obviously seem to offer the potential for a business history of design consultancy, the sheer number of companies, and manufacturing and other sectors with which the Council had contact and nurtured relationships over the several decades of its existence (and ongoing) suggests rich pickings for the researcher of key aspects of business practice.
The distinct strengths of the Brighton archives are drawn out, and relevant aspects of collections other than that of the Design Council are indicated. The ‘live’ nature of the ongoing engagement with extant bodies of international significance such as the Design Council, ICSID, and Icograda (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design and International Council of Graphic Design Associations) is confirmed. Means of navigating one’s way through the varying kinds of material (for example documents, publications, photographs, ephemera) are described, and connections to bodies of material in other archival repositories are also indicated.
The article notes that scholarship in the public arena inspired or informed by the Design Archives has tended to follow the contours of existing debates within design history and cognate disciplinary areas such as cultural history, media studies and visual culture. Thus far, business historians are under-represented in the user group. It concludes, however, that, ‘Taken together, the Design Archives have the capacity to illuminate a wide range of business and creative practices especially where these are related to product development, marketing and promotion’ (p.80).