Iqbal Singh, Outreach Team, The National Archives 

Featured image credits: Three Trains at Kasur 1947 by Pins, copyright Bhupinder Singh, 2020

In anticipation of the 75th anniversary of Partition, The National Archives is currently preparing to launch a series of activities in 2022. At the heart of the programme will be a focus on Partition education.  

To help design our programme for young people we are consulting with teachers and others on how they are currently teaching the topic and where there are gaps and where The National Archives can usefully add value. The consultation will continue until autumn 2021 and below is a link to the survey: 

https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/JOB4Q5/

The programme for the 75th anniversary will build on the work The National Archives has been doing for a number of years to address Partition education and outreach. In the past The National Archives has produced an online bundle of records under the title ‘The Road to Partition’ for teachers and others to use that cover a wide range of topics. We have also in the past done an oral history project – Panjab 1947: A heart divided – that records first hand testimony and provides a balance to the high politics of our collection. More recently in 2017 we worked with Bhuchar Boulevard as part of the 70th year commemorations to support an excellent adaptation and production of ‘Child of the Divide’ based on a short story by Bhisham Sahni. We also worked with Let’s Go Yorkshire on an innovative regional project. In addition, in 2017 we held a document display event at The National Archives. And in 2020 we featured Partition as part of our Refugee Week programme with a podcast and blog, including an art commission by the artist known as Pins responding to one of the more harrowing accounts of Partition in our collection.

Our focus more recently has turned to how we can talk about and support learning around Partition both for adults and young people. Working with therapists we are developing a strand of work under the project title ‘archival research and therapeutic practice’ that addresses not only the facts but the feelings that come from looking at difficult or problematic areas of our collection. And Partition has featured as one of the case studies. At a recent event held online and hosted by the British Museum, we talked about how research around Partition was the catalyst for an innovative project. We are also looking at ways in which our approach to drama and the archives that seeks to deepen and widen our understanding of the past can in future address topics such as Partition in creative ways. 

We acknowledge that Partition is a very complex and multifaceted story and we have written about this before (see link to the blog ‘Remembering Partition: official records and community voices). Our efforts to devise a new programme of education and outreach activities wants to be particularly mindful of how to teach and engage both younger people and adults. To this end we will be working with academics and therapists to reflect on our approach and not just the content of what we share. 

Each anniversary offers new opportunities to reappraise events in the past through the eyes of what is happening today and to think about what is really important to focus on. There have been many calls for us to look at Partition as a core part of British History and to study and talk about it within that frame. There is much to credit in such an approach and something we will seek to support further through our outputs. There have also been calls to not just focus on the very troubling aspects of the Partition story but to see the period in its wider context: as a time when the dream of freedom from colonial rule was being realised and when the whole world was being convulsed into new and unchartered territory at the end of the Second World War.  

For the over 3 million people of South Asian Heritage in this country and for many others an understanding of these pivotal moments in world history are important to understanding our modern world: how it has been shaped and what the consequences can be of momentous decisions. 

Please keep a look out for Partition related programming in 2022 via The National Archives social media channels and website. 

Further Links 

2017 blog on Partition – https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/remembering-partition-official-records-community-voices/

2020 blog as part of Refugee Week – https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/refugee-week-2020-we-were-the-lucky-few/

2017 blog on collaboration with Bhuchar Boulevard – https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/partition-british-india-engaging-new-diverse-audiences/

Panjab 1947: A Heart Divided – https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/panjab1947/

The Road to Partition – https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/the-road-to-partition/

British Museum video: Archival Research and Therapeutic Practice – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHeoDKc-OIo

The National Archives Outreach team project pages: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/outreach/projects/  

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