Posts Tagged ‘archives’

Histories of Home
‘The necessity of clear expression’ home-grown writing, organisational learning and the library staff magazine in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century
Professor Alistair Black (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)
3 July 20

Magazines to read (Photo credit: Longzero)


Abstract: Unlike staff magazines in private enterprises, which pre-date them by two decades, library staff magazines of the early-twentieth century were more truly the product of employees, operated as they often were by staff associations. The library staff magazine provided opportunities for employees to write – as a pastime, as a form of organizational learning and networking, as a contribution to labour solidarity, and, finally, as a vehicle for personal professional advance and identity formation, though one which contained an element of “othering,” of the public as well as junior and female staff.

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Archives & Society
Private Minds, Public Collections: Exploring the Public use of Mental Health Records
Julian Pooley (Surrey History Centre)
7 February 2012


What happens when an archive receives a freedom of information request from the BBC concerning a sensitive subject such as institutional records dealing with mental health patients?  Julian Pooley discusses this and other stories concerning the Surrey History Centre’s mental health records and documents.  The archives contain a wealth of documentation from before institutions were closed down in preference to care in the community.  Pooley looks at the reactions to mental health both then and now, and to stories of the patients themselves from the early eighteenth century right through to the present day.  In conclusion, Pooley looks at ways to improve communication with the public and to promote an archival collection for better public understanding.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Conversations and Disputations: Discussions among Historians
17 June 2011
Kate Chedgzoy (Newcastle), Andrew Hiscock (Bangor), Alexandra Walsham (Cambridge), Andy Wood (East Anglia)
Cultures of Memory in Early Modern England: Round Table and Discussion
Chair: Kate Hodgkin (UEL)

One place of enacting memory – Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London

What do we mean when talking about ‘memory’ in an historical context?  How can we provide evidence that represents an accurate understanding of memory without losing the historical context?  Can using ‘memory’ become too broad to serve a useful purpose as a concept?  This ‘discussion among historians’, focuses on England in the early modern period, asking and attempting to answer some of the questions posed above.  Chaired by Kate Hodgkin from UEL each speaker is given approximately 25 minutes to present their thoughts before the session moved on to a lengthy discussion around the topic.

Andrew Hiscock uses Shakespeare’s Tempest as his starting point emphasising the symbolic practice of memory that it enacts.  The conversation is between Prospero and Miranda and recalls both selective remembrance and the drawing out of alternative scenarios:


The hour’s now come;

The very minute bids thee ope thine ear;

Obey and be attentive. Canst thou remember

A time before we came unto this cell?

I do not think thou canst, for then thou wast not

Out three years old.


Certainly, sir, I can.


By what? by any other house or person?

Of any thing the image tell me that

Hath kept with thy remembrance.


‘Tis far off

And rather like a dream than an assurance

That my remembrance warrants. Had I not

Four or five women once that tended me?


Thou hadst, and more, Miranda. But how is it

That this lives in thy mind? What seest thou else

In the dark backward and abysm of time?

If thou remember’st aught ere thou camest here,

How thou camest here thou mayst.

Hiscock argues that the early modern reader was encouraged to consider the past in terms of memorial and as symbolism for the present.  What should be remembered?  This is the key question that early modern writers grappled with.  John Foxe, for instance, sought out a revised knowledge of the past; one where the Roman Catholic religion was repositioned as a foreign enemy and heretical groups – such as the Lollards – recast as true followers.  Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene emphasised the training of memory for the pursuit of memorial.

Alexandra Walsham next reflected on an emerging historiography looking into the relationship of memory with landscape and the upheaval in memory caused by the reformation.  Walsham argues that the process of remembering was intricately linked to the physical environment and it is for that reason that the reformation was also a period of iconoclasm and erasure of physical monuments that had previously been imbued with a sense of a past that Protestants now wanted forgotten.  Religious change acted as a critical juncture in the sixteenth century for memory.  The Protestant regimes were trying to obliterate one version of the past with another.

In the seventeenth century, Walsham tells us, memory became fragmented between the rival Protestant and Catholic camps and, in addition, an embarrassment concerning early-reformation iconoclasm began to emerge.  Writers began to express regret about their lost heritage and realised that much that had been good had also been lost.  The struggle to deal with poor relief during the seventeenth century was seen as a direct repercussion from the loss of older forms of relief provided by the church that had been swept away in religious fervour.

Andy Wood moved the discussion towards archaeology and anthropology as a method for examining early modern memory.  Wood is concerned that the focus is too heavily concerned with the memory of ‘elites’ and does not try to rediscover popular memory and its connection to the local region.  Citing authors such as Daniel Woolf, Keith Thomas, and Adam Fox (and now in addition Walsham), Wood retells the history of historical study into memory from its conception as collective memory in the inter-war period, the focus on politics of memory in the 1970s, and finally onto memory as identity as expressed in the 1990s.  Using an anthropological comparison to Latin America, Wood suggests that memory often views the past as an aspect of the present.  Rather than modern perceptive of time evolving and constantly changing, early modern men and women, as also identified in areas of Latin America, experience time as static and largely unchanging but with moments of rupture and change (such as the reformation).

Finally Kate Chedgzoy focused on the archive and how memory could be drawn out from documents where it is not obviously there.  For Chedgzoy’s own studies – women history and the history of children – the archives rarely give the limelight to such evidence.  However, if one looks closely and from alternative perspectives evidence can nonetheless be amassed.  Children’s history is a case in point and one where Chedgzoy has identified a problem with current studies.  Historians tend to look at children as the subject of their study rather than ask the question of what children thought or what they saw as their own memories.  Of course, the main reason for this is that the archives do not easily give up such information.  However, stray references to what parents of children write can help to give a partial picture as can adults memories of their childhood.  One particularly striking example is a 1670s manuscript by Nathanial Friend who wrote a memorial to his boy who had recently died.

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Archives & Society
Advocacy for the archive sector
Marie Owens (Archives and Records Association)
8 May 2012

Marie Owens has a long standing knowledge of publicity, communications and PR related to libraries and archives.  Owens strongly believes that the archive sector needs to speak out and explain more strongly what it is that it does.  In this talk Owens discusses the changes over the last few decades in communications emphasis and the tools that are now available to do so.  Owens talks about strategy but also advocacy.  Advocacy, Owens argues, sits on top of good communication and is a call to action.  Often made to influential people, advocacy allows institutions and professions to rehabilitate themselves or promote themselves in a particular light through ‘champions’ who will discuss and further their call.  Owens notes the case of the new British Library off Euston road.  In 1992 the work was behind schedule and popular opinion saw the venture as a failure.  However, by its opening some five years later advocacy and a clear communication strategy had turn this opinion around and it is now a successful hub of scholarly work.  Owens makes a case for the use of advocacy in the archives sector; what that might look like; and what they might want to say.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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From time to time the IHR research seminars not only provide up-to-the-minute research in the History profession, but also find a relevance that goes beyond the profession and focuses on events that are happening in the world right now.  One such occasion is the London 2012 Olympics.  Three seminars over the course of the last two years have focused on the summer games two of which provide alternative viewpoints on the potential of legacy.

Representing the Olympics at Stockton-On-Tees (June 2012)

“Legacy” is certainly a word that has been thrown around quite regularly in the lead up to the games and has become quite a political buzzword.  At times it feels like any kind of meaningful legacy will be lost and squandered due to the down turn of the economy and recession, at other times a more optimistic view prevails.  There are, of course, the obvious improvements to east London, where the stadium, parks and transport connections have vastly improved.  Then there is the focus on youth where attempts have been made to inspire and encourage sport and exercise.  Then there are the background financial benefits of hosting the games.  Numerous contracts have brought money to Britain in preparation and for the Games themselves.  Whether these benefits outweigh the negatives only time will tell.

Back in November 2010, Professor Michael Collins (University of Gloucestershire) certainly had concerns that the current and previous governments of the UK have failed to come up with a truly lasting legacy.  In his paper From “Sport for Good” to “Sport for Sport’s Sake”: Reversing into the Past for the Sport and Leisure History seminar, Collins argued that the 2008-11 strategy for Sport England was a backward step made worse by coalition budget cuts.  Collins believes that the ambitious targets designed to attract more British citizens to sport does not fit the available budget or the actual activities of government.  Whilst the 2012 Olympics has the capacity to have a positive effect on the nation’s health, Collins suggests that once over it is unlikely to have the desired long term benefit due to overambitious and poorly funded policies.

The archival legacy looks brighter however, as described by Cathy Williams (The National Archive) in February this year.  In a paper presented to the Archives & Society seminar on the topic of The Olympics, documentation strategy and the Minnesota Method, Williams described the complex task that the National Archives was confronted with in order to record and capture a one off event such as the Olympic Games.

The mass of text, images, video, audio, and objects that have been created in preparing for and promoting the Olympics is staggering.  Archivists at the National Archives in Kew alongside the now-defunct Museums, Libraries and Archives council (MLA) have been developing frameworks, making or extending connections with businesses, government, charities and other bodies with some form of involvement in the event not only from when the bid became successful, but from the very moment (or as near to as possible) that the idea of bidding for the 2012 Olympics was written down.  Thus archivists have been dealing with the Olympic archival legacy for at least a decade.

The documentation strategy employed to capture the London Olympics for future generations is simply called The Record and attempts to capture as much multimedia information and experiences related to the Olympic Games as possible from the inception of the idea to bid for the games, right through the bidding process and lead up, and finally the Games themselves.  The data collected, as with all archival collections, had to be decided upon and gathered in relation to various organisations and groups.  At the heart of any collection are a series of decisions and concessions concerning content, data management, and access.  A good or bad decision early on in the process can make all the difference as to the success or failure of a collection.

In the case of the Olympics the National Archive and MLA were faced with a difficult problem: how do you capture the delivery, managing, and enjoyment of a finite event?  Where is your starting point and where do you stop?  Cathy Williams explains that in this instance the Minnesota method was employed as a framework for drawing in material to the archive: they were interested not just in what they might normally expect an archive to contain, but on what they might normally have missed.  The Minnesota method is basically an archival strategy for appraising materials that combine aspects of collection analysis, documentation strategy, appraisal, and functional analysis. The method attempts to enable archivists to find not only the obvious materials but those that might be less obvious.  Cathy Williams notes that there are relatively few examples where the Minnesota method has been employed in its entirety but the challenge of the London Olympics will become one of them.

The result is the National Archives Olympics website The Olympic Record.  This site is usefully split into two: one option takes you to a beautifully displayed timeline containing archival materials from the first modern games of 1896 (held in Athens) right up to the London 2012 games.  The other option ‘2012 Activities’ brings you straight to the archival collection undertaken by the National Archives and MLA which is already looking like an amazing resource.

I think what is most exciting about this venture is that even when these Olympics are done and dusted, the legacy of the archives continues not only as a collection in its own right but as a way forward for future Olympiad events.  Cathy Williams explained that the process they undertook in developing a strategy for archiving the Games will be handed over to the next host nation and then the next.  The archives for the London Games will therefore be placed within its wider context of the Games history forming part of a much larger and fascinating collection about sportsmanship, competition, and even organisation on a global scale.  The Olympic Record website supports this aim splendidly and is well worth a good delve.

One of the Olympic Games recorded on this site is the 1912 games that were held in Stockholm.  In another of the podcasts retained in History SPOT Dr David Day (Manchester Metropolitan University) looked at the developing role of the professional trainer in 1912 and how that development was looked upon by athletes in Britain and America in-particular.  This session was called ‘A Man Cannot see his own faults’: British Professional Trainers and the 1912 Olympics.

The Olympic opening ceremony 1912

The development of professional trainers in America was considered bad play in Britain, where Gentlemen sportsmen saw fair play, participation and volunteerism as essential attributes and what the games should all be about.  However, as Day argues, the picture in Britain was not quite that clear cut.  Although monetary gain was kept to a minimum many amateur athletes and indeed the Olympic committee for Britain sought the aid of high profile amateur and professional coaches and trainers.  Slowly the desire to focus on taking part over winning was to fade as the desire to win and advance increased with recognition that professional trainers could improve athletic ability.

The 1912 Olympics held in Stockholm saw the participation of just 28 nations and 2,508 competitors (of which only 48 were women).   There were almost half the games of the 2012 Olympics available (14 sports in all broken down to 102 events).  The games saw the debut of Japan and thus represented the first time all five continents participated.  This was also the first time that the modern pentathlon, women’s swimming and women’s diving became a fixture of the event.  There was, as yet, no Paralympics (that would not be introduced until 1960 although an International Wheelchair Games has been held since 1948).  Modernisation was rife in other areas too; this was the first time that automatic timing devices were used for track events as well as the photo finish and public address system.

Links to History SPOT podcasts: 

Sports and leisure History Seminar
8 November 2010
Professor Michael Collins (University of Gloucestershire)
From ‘Sport for Good’ to ‘Sport for Sport’s Sake’: Reversing into the Past
Sport History
6 February 2012
Dr David Day (Manchester Metropolitan University)
‘A Man Cannot see his own faults’: British Professional Trainers and the 1912 Olympics
 Archives & Society
21 February 2012
Cathy Williams (The National Archive)
The Olympics, documentation strategy and the Minnesota Method

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Digital History
20 March 2012
Melissa Terras (UCL); Adam Farquhar (British Library); and Torsten Reimer (JISC)
The Future of the Past roundtable

 Digital History

The first roundtable event of the Digital History seminar had some teething problems behind the scenes.  One of the original presenters, Alastair Dunning (The European Library) wasn’t able to make it but was quickly replaced by Adam Farquhar (British Library).  Then much closer to the event Andrew Prescott (KCL) broke his leg and had to pull out.  Torsten Reimer stepped up to the challenge whilst Tim Hitchcock agreed to read out a short statement from Andrew.  The suggestion was also made that Lorna Hughes (University of Wales) might be able to offer a ‘first response’ presentation.  In the end the event was perhaps stronger for the larger mix of presentations with much food for thought. 

The topic was the future and present state of digital history.  It is interesting that as an historical focus, digital history was, not all that long ago considered somewhat obscure as a disciplinary focus.  There was great uncertainty about what should be digital, what that meant, and how research could benefit from such tools and approaches.  I think all speakers agreed that we are well past that point, but there were concerns that we have not yet figured out what ‘digital’ can and should actually do for us.  Digital should be able to transform what we do, yet so far this has not happened.  The extensive and highly important transcription work carried out in the nineteenth and early twentieth century by historians was a nice comparison.  The publication of masses of historical documents alongside analytical and explanatory commentaries revolutionised what historians could achieve and made it possible for us to diversify into other areas such as gender, cultural, and psycho-analytical methodologies.  The same expansion or transformation of History is yet to occur due to digital techniques, yet the tantalising possibility that it can do remains. 

The roundtable began with a statement written by Andrew Prescott but read out by Tim Hitchcock (this statement can be found on Andrew’s blog Digital Riffs.  This was then followed by presentations by Melissa Terras, Adam Farquhar and Torsten Reimer providing insights from the point of view of the scholar, librarian, and funding body in that order.  Lorna Hughes then made first response which was then followed by various questions and answers. 

As per usual the session was streamed live with Andrew Prescott and seminar conveners Peter Webster (IHR) and Seth Denbo (Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities), joining the 20 strong online listeners.  Although the first 30 minutes was affected by an odd echo on the microphone the stream worked well.  The edited version presented on History SPOT combines some of the slide show presentations and cuts out the bits between presentations where possible.  It also (thankfully) cuts out one piece where I appeared on screen to sort out a slide show that at first refused to work. 

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Archives & Society
29 March 2011
Leon Robinson (Positive Steps Organisation)
Unveiling the unknown: archiving the Black contribution to the performing arts over three centuries

“I don’t want any more black artists to pass away without being acknowledged for the great work that they had done.” 

This is Leon Robinson’s driving force for looking into long forgotten black artists from Victorian Britain.  Leon comes from a performing arts background but through his interest in collecting photographs and play bills of Victorian performers has moved into talking about history as a way of promoting what has almost become a lost history for the benefit of people today. “This is British Entertainment History” not just black history, Leon states firmly. 

Our second ever live stream was therefore a lively passionate affair with Leon showing various photographs, advertisement posters and videos.  Leon’s collection derives primarily from postcard fairs and it is now a large and rare collection of known and forgotten performers.  Indeed, Leon states that it was those performers that were unknown that most interested him when thumbing through the dealers stands.  The excitement of the hunt comes through clearly.  Indeed, one of the most interesting parts of Leon’s talk (other than his clear enthusiasm for the subject) is his story of how he collected these sources over many years; how he created his archive himself and learnt about what was out there and where to look.   Uncovering history is however, only part of it – Leon is not collecting for collecting sake he wants to spread the word and let other people know about what he is learning and finding.  Through his Positive Steps Organisation, Leon has created various videos (some of which he shows) about the history of black performers and his attempts to get young people involved through the use of lenticulars of those performers. 

Leon also highlighted a problem in cataloguing systems especially related to finding or identifying the colour of Victorian performers.   As an example Leon discussed a poster advertising a dance group with no images.  On another occasion when Leon went to an archive they told him that they had no materials on black entertainers but when Leon turned to leave he noticed a poster on the wall with the name Florence Mills  which he recognised as being a black artist.  There is a very real problem here of identification especially when there is no visual imagery to give us that identification.   

I was at the session itself and have since reviewed the video and both times I found it hard not to get enthused and excited about what Leon was talking about.  He reaches down to the heart of what makes an historian tick (the excitement of searching archives and discovering new things about our subjects) but expresses that enthusiasm in a way that few historians would allow of themselves.  This of course comes from Leon deriving from a performing arts background.  His interest is in the excitement of presentation of these sources and what they can say more than writing of articles and books.  I think one of the questions that we received from our online audience summed up my thoughts on this: it was great to see the “physicality of the archives emphasised so much”.

To listen/watch this podcast please click here.

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