In May, History Begins at Home was launched. This national public-facing campaign delivered via social media – Facebook @historybeginsathome and Twitter @beginshistory –uses archives to improve wellbeing by encouraging new audiences to explore the past they are directly connected to.
The idea behind the campaign is to encourage people to connect or re-connect with members of their family, friends and neighbours, through conversations about the past, discovering previously unknown facts or stories, sharing memories, experiences and expertise, and capturing these conversations and findings for future posterity. We also want people to continue the conversations by sharing stories online.
Central to the campaign is the aim to actively support mental health and wellbeing. The campaign embodies the principles of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing (Connect, Be Active, Keep Learning, Give, and Take Notice). Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental wellbeing was a major issue; now it is more important than ever.
Archive services can help to address many of these challenges – we all appreciate the benefits that can come from connecting with the past. History Begins at Home provides a great way of engaging in a positive way not only with current archive users, but also with future audiences. If you spark an interest and they want to find out more, they will need to explore their archive.
Based on a series of themes – coming soon fashion, which will no doubt include some clothes we have been trying to forgotten – each fortnight we will encourage followers to start a conversation about it, engage in an activity relating to it, record something about it and, if they like, share what they’ve found out on our Facebook or Twitter feeds. We will also have a website – www.historybeginsathome.org – where we will keep prompts for questions from each campaign and top tips for capturing the conversation. Although we are promoting a new theme every fortnight, we want to keep all the conversations flowing.
History Begins at Home is a campaign promoted by the Chief Archivists in Local Government Group and the Archives for Wellbeing Network. Primarily it is there to deliver a public benefit – everyone needs to look after their mental wellbeing – but it also about proving that archives can make a positive contribution to an this incredibly important agenda. Archives provide an opportunity for sustained engagement with a past with which people have a personal connection. This wellbeing benefits of this can last a lifetime. Engaging people through History Begins at Home can only help.
A few months ago, through a series of coincidences, staff at Suffolk Archives discovered something remarkable.
Amongst the records we hold for the Suffolk Regiment is a bundle of 41 long-lost letters. The letters were written during the retreat to Dunkirk, and for those who did not make it home they may well be their last messages.
These letters, however, never reached the loved ones they were written to. They went astray in France and were discovered in an abandoned post van by a German officer. They spent the next three decades in the officer’s loft, before he handed them in at the British Embassy in Bonn in 1969.
From there they were sent to the Suffolk Regiment, who tried to deliver them to the people they had been intended for 29 years earlier. Alas, most people could not be found at the addresses on the original envelopes, and 41 of the letters were returned to the Suffolk Regiment, and are now safely kept at our Bury St Edmunds office.
When the letters were re-posted in 1969 they included this cover letter which gave some explanation about what had happened to them (Suffolk Archives/Suffolk Regiment Museum)
The letters are full of personality. Many try to be reassuring, some more successfully than others. Many are full of longing for home, and the countryside that would be so beautiful in the May sunshine. One or two (written to girlfriends or would-be girlfriends) border on the risqué. Authors urge their family and friends to write as often as they can to stay in touch.
During work to digitise the letters a few months ago, a staff member started to research what had happened to their authors. Who had made it home, and who hadn’t? Many survived Dunkirk only to end up as Japanese prisoners later in the war.
A flirtatious letter from Private Leman Martin to Miss Pamela Howels (Suffolk Archives/Suffolk Regiment Museum)
And now we get to the most remarkable bit of the story. Another member of staff took a look at the letters and saw that one, sent by Private Harry Cole, was addressed to a house in the village where she lives in east Suffolk. More than that, she recognised the family name. She was quickly able to establish that the Mr Cole she knows is the youngest brother of the author of the letter, who died during the retreat. This was his last letter home, and his family never received it.
Having secured permission from the owners of the letters, the Suffolk Regiment Museum, we sent a copy of Harry’s letter in the post to his youngest brother and hoped it wouldn’t be too much of a shock. Fortunately the family were thrilled to receive the letter, though the discovery is of course tinged with great sadness.
The whole collection of letters is due to be part of an intergenerational project with Suffolk Artlink focused on communication, which would have been well underway at the moment were it not for the Covid-19 lockdown. With the project postponed we still wanted to do something to highlight the letters in 2020 to mark the 80th anniversary of the evacuation from Dunkirk.
We decided that the best way to share the letters was through an online display on our website. Our website is not really built to do this, so we are making the best of the built-in features that it has and using other platforms to help make the content more interactive, in this case especially the design tool Canva.
The online display was accompanied by a press release which told the story of the whole collection of letters and focused on Harry Cole’s letter being delivered 80 years late as a headline. The story has had quite a bit of media interest, appearing in national as well as local news, such as this piece on the BBC website.
There may well be other people out there with connections to the letters, and the online display includes a list of all of the authors and recipients; hopefully some more families will be traced and be able to read the long-lost words of a loved one.
The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (RAS) was established in 1823 as an independent organization for promoting research and public interest in the histories and cultures of Asia. Many of its founders had been members of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, founded in 1784 by the famous linguist Sir William Jones.
Why was the RAS founded? In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, greater numbers of Europeans moved to live and work in different parts of Asia, as diplomats, merchants, and soldiers, as trade increased and the British Empire rapidly expanded. But there was still very limited understanding of Asian cultures in Britain, or elsewhere in Europe. The RAS sought to improve public knowledge about Asia, including by supporting translations of classic works of literature; and tried to make it easier for scholars to access books, art, manuscripts, and other objects relating to Asian cultures. The Society’s members often donated their own collections to aid this purpose – ranging from Persian manuscripts to Indian paintings to Japanese ukiyo-e theatrical prints – and most of these collections are still with us today, forming the core of the Society’s holdings.
Today, the RAS is a charity which provides free public access to all its collections via its Reading Room service, and we keep looking for new opportunities to make cultural history available to as many people as possible. We want people to know what we have, and we also want people to know the stories behind the collections. In addition to promoting new study of Asian cultures, we want people to know how British people in the past have studied Asia. Many British people who spent time in India, China, Persia or elsewhere collected art, manuscripts and other objects, to better understand local histories and cultures, or from simple aesthetic or intellectual interest. Today, there is wide public awareness that some cultural artefacts were acquired by Europeans in Asia during or after military conflict. But private scholarly collections, many of which were later donated to libraries and museums, often entered European hands legitimately, in much more mundane fashion: typically purchased on the market, or acquired as copies, commissioned by European enthusiasts, of original paintings and manuscripts.
Digital technology is a great way to make collections accessible to people who live outside London and who, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, might have found it difficult to access our collections. Online access is particularly relevant to the Society because many of our collections originate from Asian countries and may contain much of interest to people who live thousands of miles away. Thanks to digitization, it’s much easier for people living in Nepal, Malaysia, or anywhere else to see what we have.
Although only a portion of our collection is digitized, this amount has grown dramatically in recent years. We have now put hundreds of manuscripts, paintings, and early photographs online, as well as the archive of Thomas Manning, one of the first Englishmen to study Chinese and a close friend of the Romantic author Charles Lamb. The Society aspires to digitize and make available online as much of our collection as we possibly can, and in recent years we have been grateful for opportunities to collaborate with partners including the National Library Board of Singapore and the Internet Archive. Now, the Society can provide direct access to its digital collections through its Digital Library, which was launched in 2018 with support from the Friends of the National Libraries. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant our building has been closed since mid-March, and so we have been especially grateful that the Digital Library means people can still access some of our most important collections. We have tried to add new digital collections to the platform since we have been closed, and we will continue to do so in the weeks and months ahead.
The government lockdown has revealed how embedded digital technologies have become throughout our daily lives, not least because so many people have remained productive while “working from home”. But the lockdown also reminds us how much of our cultural heritage is now available to see online, from home, while libraries, archives, and museums are shut. Of course, what is online is still only a fraction of our country’s rich heritage collections; and staff and users alike are keen to see heritage institutions safely re-open, so that our cultural life can begin to return to normal. But, thanks to digital technology, the past decade has seen a dramatic change in the accessibility of collections, and now, even a small institution like the RAS can have its own digital collections platform.
When libraries and archives strive to deliver valuable content to their users, they look at the example of what their colleagues have achieved elsewhere. We can imitate what has worked well in other cases, and try to avoid repeating mistakes that have been made before. In the process, while we are pursuing our own priorities and the needs of our users, we are also contributing to a process of selection, and helping good ideas to become more widespread. In this way, piecemeal innovations across different services can be unconsciously coordinated and lead to general improvements in services across wide areas, in ways nobody could have foreseen, until even small libraries and archives ultimately benefit from sophisticated applications and techniques developed by people more expert than us.
Heritage professionals everywhere are looking forward to the re-opening of archives, libraries, galleries, and museums, and are working together to solve the challenges which that involves. When we think about future goals and ambitions, it can be helpful to reflect on how we have responded to challenges in the past. In doing so, we can reflect on the processes that have served us well, and which have allowed the ingenuity of our technically-minded colleagues, the care and diligence of archivists and curators, and the imagination and passion of creators, scholars, and collectors, to help create the rich heritage environment we enjoy today.
WGH Transportation Engineering was a specialist company operating between 1989 and 2016 from their headquarters in Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Their business focused on the supply of amusement rides to the leisure industry and specialist transportation, such as inclined lifts and automated passenger transportation systems, to the wider sector.
WGH was founded by Andrew Howarth, John Martin and Tony Brown, the Managing Directors of Gyro Mining Transport (GMT). GMT specialised in the supply of some of the most sophisticated narrow gauge locomotives and large inclined rope-haul transport systems in the world to the coal mining industry.
Anticipating the suitability of their existing products to the amusement sector through the application of creative and innovative engineering and design, they adventured into this industry almost seamlessly upon the decline of the British mining industry in the 1980s.
Through its history, WGH worked with some of the biggest names in UK leisure including; Jorvik Viking Centre, Cadbury World, Legoland, Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Alton towers and Dreamland. Additionally, they delivered international projects in the Middle East, Europe and East Asia.
WGH’s first significant project was the suspended monorail at the New Lanark Visitor Centre in Scotland. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001, the ride built for The Annie McLeod Experience combined engineering with the Pepper’s Ghost illusion and it remains one of the site’s key attractions to this day.
This project was followed by the Ebbw Vale Garden Festival funicular in South Wales in 1992. The first funicular to be built in the UK since 1902.
Some of the company’s most prominent projects were the design of the automated platform for the London Eye in 1999, the inclined lift in the Urbis Centre in Manchester for which they received the “Project of the Year 2003” award, the mechanical systems for Alstom’s linear motor accelerated unmanned aircraft launcher in 2008 and the concept for the Vectus PRT project.
Vectus PRT looked into innovative ways to provide intelligent and environmentally friendly, personal public transport for the 21st century and was first tested in Sweden in 2006.
The concept was based on providing autonomous vehicles to carry passengers between designated stations and several installations followed, including one in Suncheon Bay Ecological Park in South Korea in 2010.
In the leisure industry, WGH created a long list of iconic rides such as The London Dungeon boat ride, Wallace & Gromit at Blackpool Pleasure Beach and the dark ride for the Titanic Experience in Belfast. They also recommissioned the UK’s oldest rollercoaster at Dreamland, Margate in 2014 as part of the £18m restoration project to reopen the park.
WGH stop trading as an independent company in 2016 when it was acquired by Stage One Creative Services Ltd.
The WGH archive is held at the National Fairground and Circus Archive at the University of Sheffield Library. It provides a new perspective to the history of the popular entertainment industry through technology and design and together with the Orton and Spooner and the Savages of King’s Lynn collections, it covers over a century of ride manufacturing history and practices.
By Arantza Barrutia, Collections Manager National Fairground and Circus Archive
Explore Your Archive in Ireland will be
launched on Thursday 21st November in the Irish Architectural
Archive, Merrion Square in Dublin. Kindly supported by the Irish Manuscripts
Commission, the launch will kick off a week of events in local and national
organisations in Ireland, to celebrate Explore Your Archive. ARA, Ireland will
also be launching their new website on the night: https://araireland.com/
The campaign ambassador for Ireland this
year is Fin Dwyer: historian, author and creator of the Irish History Podcast. Fin
commented: “I was delighted to be asked to be Explore Your Archive ambassador
this year. Through my own work as an historian and in my podcast, I recognise
the importance and value of research and storytelling. But it’s also important
that archives are for everyone, not just historians or researchers. You don’t
need to be an expert to use archives; you just need a keen interest and
curiosity in Irish history and heritage.”
There’ll also be plenty of featured
archives from Ireland, including ‘A Christmas Spectacle: The Story of Panto in Dublin’ about the
exhibition in Dublin City Library and Archive; and ‘To
be Taught Everything Necessary…Discover 19th Century Childhood
through Loreto Boarding Schools’ about the IBVM (Loreto), Institute & Irish Province
Kemmis collection is a small collection of film reels ranging from the mid to
late 1930’s. The reels, stored in an old suitcase came from Moyaliffe House, which
was home to the Armstrong family from the seventeenth century to its sale in 1999.
Winona (Jess) Armstrong inherited Moyaliffe following the death of her only
brother, William in France in 1917. Jess married Captain William Kemmis of
Ballinacor, Co. Wexford in 1927..
suitcase was given to a local family some years ago and brought in to Tipperary
Studies in 2018. While the films could
not be viewed locally, a brief index on some of the boxes suggested the
contents might be of social and cultural interest.
16mm film was converted to digital format by the DVD Centre, Dublin and with
the kind permission of family descendants relevant material was placed online
in our digital archive.
the years 1952 and 1953, the English artist Nevill Johnson, supported by a small Arts
Council grant and using a second hand Leica camera, shot a series of
photographs depicting the people and places of the ‘real’ Dublin of that time.
As an outsider looking in, he captured a valuable social record of the city
before it changed irrevocably.
in 1981 by Academy Press Nevill Johnson’s book ‘Dublin : The People’s
City’, a collection of these photographs, won an award at the Leipzig
International Book Art Fair.
purchased the full collection of over 1,500 negatives from Nevill Johnson in
1979. Since then RTÉ Archives has
digitised the collection on two occasions, firstly in the mid 1990s, and again
in the mid 2000s. The images were originally scanned as 18 MB JPEG files using
the once cutting edge, but now defunct Photo-CD technology.
RTÉ Archives is currently rescanning the Johnson Collection with the assistance of Grants Advanced PhotoLab and Digital Bureau. This time the resulting scans are 300MB TIFF files. Whereas previous digitisation attempts saw the collection reproduced with a certain gloom and dullness, great care is being taken to select an appropriate tonal range for each frame.
date approximately one third of the collection has been rescanned and the
results show a collection completely enlivened by the digitisation process.
This is most apparent in the faces of the Dubliners captured on film over 60
Johnson Collection can be viewed online as JPEG images, and we
expect the entire rescanned collection to be fully available by the end of 2019.
Discover 19th Century Childhood through
Loreto Boarding Schools
be taught everything necessary …..’; these were the instructions of the
parents of Ellen Hart, 28 Watling Street, Dublin, when she enrolled as a
boarding pupil in Loreto convent Navan in 1838.
What curriculum included ‘everything necessary’? What was Ellen’s
experience of boarding school in 1838? Explore the world of 19th
century childhood through a unique collection of boarding school records and
memorabilia, held in IBVM (Loreto), Institute & Irish Province Archives.
Discover a world of childhood illnesses and
remedies exemplified in the letter of M. Frances Teresa Ball IBVM to Mrs Irwin,
Rathmile House, Tulsk, Co. Roscommon, on New Year’s Eve 1829, describing her
daughter Margaret’s recovery from scarlet fever. Look out for the prescription
for wine! Explore school dress codes in an age before school uniforms, captured
in the Loreto Kilkenny class photograph of 1897; lace collars and cuffs proudly
on display vie with prominent ‘Children of Mary’ medals for those in senior
classes with unblemished records! Uncover the transition from standard
classrooms to laboratories and kitchens as students began to study science and
home economics, conduct experiments, study catering and dressmaking skills. Rediscover
19th entertainments through hand painted lantern slides with moving
parts, providing entertainment in a world before radio, television or Wi Fi. View
the world through the eyes of a young woman captured in her diary, jottings and
autograph books such as this from Loreto Wexford.
“City and College
should stand, shoulder to shoulder, facing the problems of life together”
These words were written by a member of the Cardiff University Settlement in 1906. The settlement was a radical experiment in education and friendship between the University and its immediate neighbours. 113 years later, these words still sum up why we are committed to working with audiences beyond our walls.
Over the last year, Cardiff University Libraries and Archives has been researching how to make our services and collections more appealing, accessible and useful to audiences outside academia.
To test some of our ideas, we’ve been running a number of pilot
projects over the summer, aimed at creating opportunities to:
Enjoy our libraries and archives
Encourage responses to our collections
Link people and resources
Here’s a look at what we’ve been up to:
Bringing Edward Thomas’ Archive to the Senedd
As an academic establishment, it’s so important for us to
show how archives and libraries can spark creativity and reflection, as well as
research and education.
As part of Literature Wales’ Holy Glimmers festival, we were joined by literary critic Jafar Iqbal and pupils from Fitzalan High School. Together, we explored letters and poems from Edward Thomas’ archive – discussing Mental Health, Family and Conflict in the poet’s work and creating original works, including poetry and literary criticism.
We presented this work to a welcoming crowd at the Senedd
some weeks later. The class were given a special tour of the Siambr, and also
took the chance to have their say on the Welsh Youth Parliament’s wall (pupils
wanted less homework, and for us to be kinder to refugees).
This programme of work was a small example of how libraries
and archives can be catalysts for new creative work – and that we can share
that new work with wider audiences when we can collaborate with institutions
like Literature Wales.
Library Escape Room
One of our aims for our Civic Engagement programme is to
create opportunities for people to enjoy using our libraries – to encourage
them to feel comfortable and confident when using our services and spaces. It’s
also key that our staff get a chance to try something new, beyond the ‘business
as usual’ of working with students and researchers.
The Escape Room was developed to encourage young people to
take up space in our libraries, to enjoy exploring them and to build their
confidence in using our services.
Cardiff University First
Campus joined us to trial the activity – solving a series of locked puzzles
to get their hands on a prize. First Campus holds summer schools for your
people with Autism Spectrum conditions, and young people with experiences of
the Care Sector, and the Escape Room activity was designed to be adapted
according to the needs of each group.
It was a fun and successful trial – we will be adapting and
refining the working model, with the aim of offering the Escape Room to
secondary schools on a regular basis in the future.
Fake News with JOMEC and Media Wales
One of our biggest strengths as libraries and archives is
our ability to match people with resources. We developed our Fake News project
to enhance our Libraries’ role as a space for connection – by answering a
genuine demand from our community by enabling access to expertise, equipment and
We worked with English and Media Studies students from
Fitzalan High School to create a project to take us out of the classroom and
into newsrooms, broadcast studios, and to Cardiff University’s brand new
journalism campus. Staff at JOMEC – Cardiff University’s School of Journalism,
Media and Culture – and Media Wales were very generous with us, as we landed in
their workspaces full of energy and questions!
In preparation for their own field interviews, the class
worked with Media Wales on their interview techniques, and learned how
journalists collect and verify information before it is printed. At JOMEC, we
looked at research skills – how to find good quality information, and how to
come up with canny questions that get to the heart of a topic.
On our last day together, we ventured out into the ‘real
world’, using our new skills to create videos interviews with the general
public – asking them about their attitudes towards fake news and the media in
general. Due to a slight minibus crisis, we also got a last-minute trip to
Glamorgan Archives in the bargain – thank you to the staff, who welcomed us all
at very short notice!
Next term, we’ll be meeting again to co-create a digital
resource, using the interviews we collected and what we learned from the
experts at Media Wales and JOMEC. Our hope is that every school in Wales will
be able to learn from our experiences, as we share our resource through the
Welsh Government’s HWB platform.
Plans for the Future
It’s been a very busy summer, and this is only part of the
picture – schools are only one of many audiences we work with, so we’ll
continue to develop our programmes over the years to come, finding new ways to
open up our collections to people across Wales and beyond.
We’ll be publishing our Civic Engagement strategy for
Cardiff University Libraries and Archives in the new year – in the meantime, if
you’d like to find out more about our programmes, and how we work, get in
ARAScotland are delighted to announce that Jamie Crawford, who you may know from BBC1’s ‘Scotland from the Sky’, will be the ARA Scotland Explore Your Archive Ambassador for 2019-2020!
James Crawford is an award-winning writer, publisher and broadcaster. His first major work of non-fiction, Fallen Glory: The Lives and Deaths of the World’s Greatest Lost Buildings was published to critical acclaim in November 2015. Selected as a ‘Book of the Year’ by the New Statesman, the Independent and the Scotsman, it also led to appearances on the Today Programme, Start the Week and Newsnight, among others. In 2016 Fallen Glory was shortlisted for the Saltire Non-Fiction Book of the Year Award. In March 2017 it was published by Picador in the US, going on to feature in the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and the National Post. The Wall Street Journal described it as ‘a book of and for the world’.
In 2018 James scripted and presented the three-part, landmark documentary series Scotland from the Sky on BBC One Scotland (shortlisted for the 2019 Royal Television Society Awards for Best Specialist Factual Documentary). A second three-part series followed in Spring 2019. For over a decade he has worked with and researched Scotland’s national collection of architecture, archaeology and aerial photography, and has written a number of photographic books on its history and application, including Above Scotland, Scotland’s Landscapes, Aerofilms: A History of Britain from Above and Scotland from the Sky, the book of the BBC series. He is also the co-author of Who Built Scotland: 25 Journeys in Search of A Nation, with Kathleen Jamie, Alexander McCall Smith, James Robertson and Alistair Moffat.
He was born in the Shetlands in 1978 and studied History and Philosophy of Law at the University of Edinburgh, winning the Lord President Cooper Memorial Prize. He went on to complete a Masters in Journalism and was a radio broadcast journalist before he moved to London to work as a literary agent. For the past eleven years he has been the Publisher at Historic Environment Scotland – the lead body for the historic and built environment in Scotland – winning the runner-up award for Publisher of the Year at the 2018 Saltire Awards and making the shortlist for Best Academic Publisher at the 2019 British Book Awards. In June 2019 he became Publisher at Birlinn Books.
In 2016 he was elected as Chair of the Board of Publishing Scotland, the network body for the publishing industry in Scotland. He lives in Edinburgh.
The Scottish Explore Your Archive Event will take place this November at the National Records of Scotland, and will feature a talk from Jamie, as well as a presentation from Dawn Sinclair, Harper Collins archivist. More information is available here,