Once upon a time archive research took place in hushed rooms, with dusty boxes and a pair of white cotton gloves to hand.
Nowadays with developments in digitisation and social media archive material can be accessed online as fast as the speed of your local broadband connection.
I’m at the age where my own memories have already become part of recent history.I remember following the procession for this Carnival in 1972, having just moved into a flat on Wilbraham Road.
Television programmes have helped dispel some of the mystery too. We see celebrities trace their family history. Arts and culture programmes make wide use of archive sources in the form of documents, photos and film. Ken Loach recently made his film about the birth of the Welfare State, Spirit of 45, using archive film. There are radio and television programmes made specifically to explore sound and film archives.
If you use social media you will know that there is a fascination with old photographs on facebook, twitter and tumblr. You can explore where you lived, remember toys you had, sweets you ate, clothes you wore, schools and colleges you went to, all through these archive images.Homes and shops as well as public buildings are all represented in archives.
I think many people don’t make the connection between the traditional image of an archive and these shared glimpses into the past.
This is all part of the work of archives. To preserve, conserve and make available these pieces of evidence from the past, whether they are centuries old church records, Victorian council committee minutes, hospital records, military records, census returns, school log books – the list goes on.
As I see it, the opening up of archives started with the growing interest in family history. Once computers got involved this interest took off in ways that couldn’t have been anticipated.
Collections of films and photographs, documents, recorded interviews and films can all help us connect with the last century.
Now it’s the recent past, living memory, which needs to be captured and recorded before it’s too late.
Each decade brings new understanding and interpretation as fresh connections are made between the past and the present.
I’m part of a scheme called Opening Up Archives. This works two ways. I get the chance to train in archive work, so it opens up for me. Part of that work involves getting out there and spreading the word about the fantastic information held by archives, opening them up to the public.
I went to a workshop called Exploring Your Archives recently. It’s part of a national scheme to create Story Boxes to reach out to a new audience. There were people there who work in county record offices, for businesses, in university collections – traditional types of archive collections.
There were also people there who are hoping to capture records of the recent history of the HIV and Aids story, only 30 years old.
There are hidden histories everywhere as well as the ones we think we know.
This is a revolution. Archives can give us both an overview and an understanding of where we come from and where we might be heading.
They can also spark creativity, providing inspiration for writers, artists, filmmakers and photographers, musicians and designers.
At Archives+ we have been going out to events, tailoring what we take to the audiences we hope to meet. Have a look at our blog for all the recent activity.
Once we move back into Central Library we will be doing this on a daily basis and the public will be able to come in and explore a wide range of collections.
Exciting times! Archives are developing a whole new image.