This blog post is part of a series for Explore Your Archive.
I might possibly have mentioned before that The National Archives is part of Explore Your Archive, a really exciting new way to celebrate and open up the value of archives across the UK. Explore Your Archive identifies the many activities that people associate with archives – the actions that give the campaign its identity.
This week is our main celebration week, from 16 November, and the Explore Your Archive website is full of great events and features to showcase a whole range of archives and their stories. I hope you’ll explore it to find out new things, discover local opportunities to learn, to engage and unearth treasures that surprise you. Maybe you’ll imagine something new based on the stories you’ve revealed? (We’ve had an outbreak of archives poetry on this blog lately – let’s have some more!) Maybe you’ll be a history investigator and detect the answers to questions you’ve always wondered about?
It’s a week for celebrating archives, and I have this opportunity and platform to do just that. So I wanted to grab the opportunity: here’s my manifesto for archives.
Archives are history. You probably know that. And they are above all the history of people: past people, who were as real as you or I. As fallible, as fascinating, as tedious and obsessive, as loving and creative. Archives are how we can connect with them. Whether we’re doing that to create something positive and inspirational, or whether we’re looking for evidence of what and why and how people did something dreadful, archives are the key to unlocking that.
No, archives aren’t the only way we can connect with history. There are old buildings and beautiful clothes, books and knickknacks, archaeology and much else from suits of armour to historic ships. But archives are how you find out more. Who built this house? When were these clothes fashionable? How did this factory come to be just buried foundations? Why was this book written? And these are the questions that bring history alive for us all.
Archives can’t always answer the questions. Sometimes archives lie – because they are created and kept by people, and sometimes people lie (yes, it’s true). Sometimes (often) they can’t tell us the whole story because people at the time didn’t think it was important – or people since have decided that it wasn’t worth keeping or should be suppressed.
But the magic of archives is that connection with the past, immediate and individual. You could be the first person to reach back into history and draw out this information. You might be the first person to detect that something has been hidden or lost. You’re very likely the first person to reach back and read this information in the particular way that matters to you.
The archives sector has really embraced Explore Your Archive. I want to end by pointing you to where you can find out more and get involved yourselves. The Explore Your Archive website isn’t the whole story! Lots of local archives are creating a story box for you to unlock on site and reveal the story of people, places and events which are uniquely found in our archives. Events are happening across the country: opportunities to get behind the scenes, to celebrate anniversaries (happy birthday East Riding of Yorkshire Archives!), to see exhibitions, hear talks and find out more.
Our Storify page captures tweets about many activities you might not otherwise hear about. Maybe you want to join in the tweets via #explorearchives – you can get yourself the twibbon too, to show your support on twitter and facebook!
Or maybe you want to comment here and tell us about your own archive exploration. What have you discovered, imagined, created or learned? What have archives unlocked for you?
This week sees the launch of Explore Your Archive, a new campaign for archives, which highlights the value of local, university, business, specialist, private and national archives. Archive services across England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland are sharing inspiring, surprising and enticing stories from their collections. Have a look at the website to find an event near you and be inspired to Explore Your Archive.