Last week we hosted a particularly fascinating and well attended event called Mining the Archives: A beginners guide to using historical records. This was the launch of a programme of events happening throughout 2013. We have invited writers of both historical fiction and non-fiction books to give a talk about how they have used the archives to research their publications. Each month of 2013 we’ll feature a different writer. Read more about next month’s author.
Posts by Ruth Roberts
The latest edition of The National Archives’ research newsletter will be out on Monday. We’ve decided to give you a sneak preview by publishing one of the articles for today’s blog!
At the beginning of September 2012 the Research Team at The National Archives grew exponentially from two people to three! Victoria Lain has joined us as the new Research and Grants Advisor. I spoke to Victoria about her thoughts on her new role.
What were you doing before you joined the Research Team?
Prior to this position I worked for four years at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History as head of the Teaching American History Grant Department. I worked with school districts across the United States to apply for federally funded Teaching American History Grants from the Department of Education. We would then use the funds from these grants to organise workshops with historians and teachers from the school districts to enable them to improve their content knowledge and, hopefully, pass that along to their students.
Before that, I worked for a financial/publishing company to organise events. These were mostly for investors and financial managers and I got a lot of experience in how to arrange a successful conference. The fact that they took place in Grand Cayman, Bermuda and California didn’t hurt either!
What attracted you to your new role?
The idea of working in the UK grants world was very attractive, as I am mostly familiar with the US landscape for funding, so it seemed like a great opportunity to broaden my own knowledge. The National Archives also has such gravitas, and that was appealing in itself. The broad reach of the role meant that the job would require working with lots of different people, scholars, and organisations which would be a change for me, and something I look forward to.
Colleagues at The National Archives are busy people! Not only are they working hard to select, preserve and make accessible the public record, they’re also carrying out research and publishing it.
Our business plan sets out our core functions but it’s research that underpins everything we do. Research is essential to ensure that we are moving in the right direction and constantly improving and innovating.
Previous blogs have outlined the many different types of research we get involved in. Disseminating research findings can be done in different ways; nowadays websites, twitter feeds, blogs, the media and even Youtube are all used to publicise research. However, staff at The National Archives are dedicated to publicising via the more traditional academic routes too:
- book chapters
- essays or articles in books
- journal articles
- published lectures
- Conference papers
- electronic publications
In 2009, to celebrate and recognise the research that colleagues do, we decided to launch The National Archives Research Prize. The Prize is in recognition of the most outstanding peer-reviewed article or book chapter written by a member of staff.
Over the last few years The National Archives has been highly successful in expanding its partnerships with universities by co-sponsoring a number of collaborative doctoral award students. We currently have four students working with us and two more that will be starting their study next term. Their research covers the disciplines of history, technology and archives and information studies.
Recently the first of our collaborative doctoral students, Jenny Bunn, was awarded her PhD.
Jenny tells us more about her experience…
I’ve just googled ‘how many universities are there in the UK?’ and, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) website, ‘there are over 300 institutions in the UCAS scheme including universities, colleges of higher education and further education colleges that offer HE courses’. I’m hesitant to agree to visit them all but, nevertheless, the Research Team at The National Archives are keen to visit as many as is relevant and practicable to talk to staff and students about the work we do here.
We’ve already visited a number of universities over the past year and have presented on a number of different topics from the history of The National Archives and the Public Record Office to the challenges of developing a new catalogue.
Just a few weeks ago we were at the University of East Anglia presenting at an interdisciplinary post graduate research seminar on ‘The Archive’, in all its aspects from organisational to philosophical and critical approaches. Organisers asked for more information about the ‘Digital Archive’ specifically so we were able to call upon the expertise of colleagues in the Digital Preservation department who came along with us to present.
If you take a look on our website you’ll see that we have a number of boards and advisory groups that work with The National Archives.
One of those groups is the Forum on Historical Manuscripts and Academic Research (a bit of a mouthful). This particular forum is a subcommittee of the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives.
We’re always keen to hear from people about ideas for collaborative working. We regularly hear from academics who want to talk about new and interesting collaborative research projects. Usually, after lots of meetings, phone calls and emails, ideas are firmed up and a detailed proposal is put together.
But, obviously, we have limited resources and, therefore, can’t say yes to everyone and everything and that’s why we have a formal process to sift through the proposals, this is known as the Grants and Academic Support Panel (or, GASP). The Panel, which meets fortnightly, has representation from each of The National Archives’ Directorates (all at Head of department level) and is Chaired by the Head of Research, Dr Valerie Johnson.
As you’ve probably picked up from the themes of the blogs over the last few weeks, the work of The National Archives is extremely varied. In the Research Team we are keen to support new thinking across a range of topics from history and conservation to new technologies and digital preservation.
The Research Team consists of two people – myself and the Head of Research, Dr Valerie Johnson. In autumn last year Valerie and I started thinking about the organisation’s research strategy for 2012/13. We decided to ask the Executive Team’s help in shaping some strategic research priorities to feed into our new strategy. With no constraints or instructions from the Research Team, the Directors were asked to simply come up with the four key questions that they wanted answered within the year. The kind of questions that were keeping them awake at night. They came up with the following:
- What is the nature of the digital archival record?
- How has digital changed the needs, expectations and nature of research and user behaviour?
- How can we develop and exploit digital information extraction tools to help support digital selection and digital sensitivity review?
- Can we develop Open Data models to provide better-quality, authentic and trusted data for use and re-use?
My first post is very timely – the day after this year’s hugely successful Gerald Aylmer seminar.
Everything is associated with a place: people, events, objects, even emotions, so this year we settled on the theme of ‘Locating the Past’. Speakers were asked to consider the changing interface between history and geography and how their field of expertise is being transformed by new approaches and technologies. We heard about everything from the mapping of teddy bears to the mapping of rural land in the South Downs, all in all, a very wide ranging subject.