Widening the arc of friendship – Exploring the letters from Iris Murdoch and Philippa Foot with the local community

From April 2012-July 2013 Kingston University’s Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies and Archives and Special Collections developed a project supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund relating to our new Collection of over 200 letters from novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch to her close friend and fellow philosopher Philippa Foot. The letters cover over forty years in the lives of these remarkable women and refer to many major events that took place during this time. The letters also explore their friendship as it evolved, continuing when Philippa was based in the USA while Iris continued to work and live in the UK. To celebrate this, the project became known as ‘The Arc of Friendship’.

While the Iris Murdoch collections held in Kingston University Archives are well used by our students and Murdoch scholars from around the world, there is no denying that researchers have predominantly come from academic backgrounds.  The challenge of this project was to open up the collection to those who would not otherwise use it – particularly school groups and local community groups, including Kingston Carers, Mind in Kingston, Age Concern Kingston and Adults with Learning Difficulties Kingston.

This paper showcases this successful project, explaining the preparatory work that took place in order to open up the collection to a wider audience. This work included close liaison with the community groups. It describes the archive visits and activities and also the lessons we learned from the experience. The presentation has a particular focus on our encounter with Adults with Learning Difficulties and how they were enabled to create work related to a literary collection in response to their exposure to the archive. This work was included in the Exhibition at Kingston Museum (3 – 25 May 2013) which formed a public focus for the project.

Katie Giles and Frances White, Kingston University

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