The person behind the archive

Cataloguing the papers of individuals is a part of my job I really enjoy. By the end of the process you feel as though you have gained a real insight into not only their work but also their personality, motivations and passions. However recently I had an opportunity that – by the nature of an Archivist’s work – doesn’t happen all that often when I got to meet the person whose papers I was currently working on.

Although familiar with Amelia Fysh’s work, as I approached her front door I didn’t really know what to expect – but the bone crunching handshake definitely came as a surprise! To provide a little background, now in her late-80s Amelia had, in the 1950s and 1960s, pioneered learning in an environment that fostered creativity. In particular water play, building materials, dressing up, painting and cookery all became central to the learning environment she created. Amelia also advocated the importance of inclusive education for children with learning and physical disabilities long before the publication of the Warnock Report in 1978. As part of her own academic study she used children’s drawings completed over a period to illustrate how a child’s development was not linear. Today Power Drawing, an education programme of Campaign for Drawing, encourages teachers to follow Amelia’s work.

Amelia reading to children at Beech Green Nursery School (RefNo: AF/1/1/20)

Amelia reading to children at Beech Green Nursery School (RefNo: AF/1/1/20)

During the morning I spent with Amelia we sat talking through her work whilst sorting further papers to add to her archive here at the Institute. What became clear during that time was Amelia’s passion and dedication to her work. She remembered every child – their personalities and development. Her no fuss ‘let’s just get on with it’ approach to catering for the diverse needs of all children to foster a learning environment based on equality, inclusion and good old simple fun, was incredibly inspiring. Having completed our work (and finished the meal she insisted I ate) I set off back to London, with a clear understanding of the person behind that hearty handshake.

Find out more about Amelia’s archive on our web pages.

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