My time at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) is near its end, Â and I have been looking back at that year wondering what, out of the many skills and insights Iâ€™ve picked up, would be the one most important lesson. And what kept popping up in my head was â€˜the power of archives’.
Frankly, I didnâ€™t know much about archives before coming into this job. The moment my eyes opened to this vast, wondrous ocean of information was a life-changing experience. This past year has changed the way I look at â€˜historyâ€™, the way I read and absorb information. I feel much more aware of the way historical narratives â€“ so ultimately the reality around me â€“ are constructed. That was the powerful change that archives have effected upon me, personally.
The emotional impact of archives
But I have seen many more ways in which archives are powerful, as I was lucky enough to run many of our adult and school workshops. Archival documents have a fantastic and, I canâ€™t help feeling, somewhat undervalued emotional impact. At LMA, one of our more popular workshops is one on the Fire of London where children get to see documents such as a claim for financial support, presented to the Lord Mayor of London, by a woman who lost her possessions in the fire. ‘This comes from 1668 â€“ from right after the Great Fire?’ they ask, looking at these fragile old pages with awe.