Explore Your Archive week

This blog post is part of a series for Explore Your Archive.

It’s been a memorable week.

Explore Your Archive began on 16 November. And, just as we had all hoped, there really was something happening in an archive just about everywhere in the UK and Ireland.

Caroline speaks at the Houses of Parliament launch of Explore Your Archive on 21 November

Caroline speaks at the Houses of Parliament launch of Explore Your Archive on 21 November

On my patch in the north west there has been lots of varied activity, from interactive story boxes about Lancashire and its food (Lancashire Archives – who also lit up the outside of their building with images); to the history of tea ‘from plantation to pot’ from the Co-operative College in Manchester, to Liverpool John Moore’s University focus on The Beatles (of course) and Rita and Shirley, Willie Russell’s icons.

I really enjoyed Cheshire Archives Story Box about Dr Haygarth an 18th century surgeon  – and an accompanying lecture at the University from the Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI who showed just how bad we are at statistics: for example we  estimate that on average 15% of girls under 16 get pregnant each year, when only 0.6% do;  we think £24 out every £100 of benefit spend is claimed fraudulently, but it’s actually 70p; and we think crime is rising, though it’s been falling for years!

The early numbers about this first year of Explore Your Archive are very good. There were at least 200 archives where activities took place. There were open days, exhibitions, talks and the campaign idea of a Story Box really took off. My favourites included:

  • Story Boxes from the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham which focussed on their famous (Made in Dagenham) history of trade unions and shone a light on how the working conditions of local people have changed and improved, as well as reflecting on contemporary issues and threats
  • Wrexham Archives, who embraced their pantomime collection – He’s Behind You! – and worked with both the local theatre and with local schoolchildren
  • A box of Dr Livingstone’s medical equipment is the centrepiece at the School of Oriental and African Studies
  • Derbyshire Record Office embraced their Jane Austen connections and  produced a Regency Story Box to tie with the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice
  • Denbighshire’s Painted Book was one of the Campaign poster images. Colleagues there used 17th century Painted book to encourage children to develop their own coats of arms
Campaign ambassadors cut the Campaign cake: Professor Joanna Bourke, Dr Hywel Francis MP, Dr Gus Casely-Hayford and Professor Lisa Jardine

Campaign ambassadors cut the Campaign cake: Professor Joanna Bourke, Dr Hywel Francis MP, Dr Gus Casely-Hayford and Professor Lisa Jardine

The #explorearchives hashtag was buzzing all the time – more than 2,000 tweets. It’s a bit early to judge the press coverage, but it’s already clear that the local press really embraced their local stories.

Yesterday Dr Hywel Francis, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History, sponsored a celebration of the campaign at the Houses of Parliament. This London formal launch followed sister launches in Wales and Ireland. This was a moment to relish: we had a successful campaign under way with much to build on; as a profession we could stand proudly at Westminster – and indeed anywhere – and be listened to; and so many wonderful stories from archives were out there, being marvelled at.

Yes, a very good week. Well done everyone. I hope you had fun too.

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This week saw 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.

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