Over the last year the other Opening Up Archives trainees and I have blogged on everything from Richard III and ice cream to medieval archives and LGBT history month. We’ve created a Polish Community Project, apps, trained archivists on the digital preservation process, and one of us even ventured outside to an archaeology dig. As our traineeships are coming to an end we’ve picked some highlights and interesting archives for one last blog post.
Julie Thomson – Leicester and Rutland Archives
Women’s Legion, Land Army, and factory and munitions workers
It’s been a busy, slightly wacky, but overall rewarding year of digital preservation training! The best part is that I was able to throw myself into the day-to-day functioning of my host Record Office in a really hands-on way, and at the end of it all feel like I’d made a significant contribution to preserving its holdings. I also hope my work (both digitising large numbers of items and helping to create an accessible, commercially viable online image library) will ultimately generate some real revenue for the Record Office, as well as promoting local heritage to a global audience. I’ve genuinely enjoyed learning about my colleague Kasia McCabe’s Polish Community Project too. Archives are definitely looking like a viable career path, especially with regard to digital technology.
Personal favourite archive item? That is a tough one. We’ve had Richard III material, Isaac Newton’s property rolls, and a lot of interesting medieval documents. But the photography collections are especially rich, and dealt with exciting material from throughout the 20th century. One of my most abiding interests is the role of women on the home front during the First and Second World Wars. I’ve cheated and made a collage because there are too many good ones!
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Medal roll of Samuel Ostroi
In October 1917 Russia withdrew from the First World War. One consequence of this withdrawal that you may not be aware of is that Russian nationals living in Britain suddenly became eligible to serve in the British Army.
Throughout 1915 there had been what was referred to as the ‘Conscription Crisis’. Too few men were enlisting in the forces to meet the needs of the industrial, mechanical nature of the First World War. In January of 1916 conscription was brought into force to meet the demand for men.
On 14 April 1916 the Home Secretary, Herbert Samuel, sought an amendment to Section 95 of the Army Act which imposed limitations on the enlistment of foreigners into the Army. He was hoping to encourage more aliens to join the British forces, or at least the territorial force. It was decided that foreign nationals who wished to join the British forces could do so as long as no more than 2% of the fighting force was made up of aliens.
The exception to this rule related to nationals of Allied countries. There was an agreement in place that all French, Belgian and Russian subjects living in the UK who desired to fight in the War should be compelled to return to their own country to join their respective armies. Since Russia was no longer a belligerent after October 1917 the government felt that this agreement no longer applied. Mr Samuel especially considered it unfair that Russian shopkeepers should remain exempt from service, profiting from the absence of British shopkeepers who were serving in the Army.
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The conservation of MH 47 in preparation for digitisation has been an intriguing and engaging experience due to the nature of the content and variety of paper-based materials within this group of records. The records are primary sources regarding conscientious objectors and appeals of exemption for the First World War.
Repairing a MH 47 record
While the majority of the records are standard forms of the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal, the group also includes minute volumes and hand written letters and photographs submitted by applicants as evidence of their claim. Thanks to the exceptional efforts of volunteers, the forms and letters pertaining to the appeal of each individual applicant have been sorted and placed in separate folders; this enables greater ease of handling, increased efficiency in completing conservation treatments and appropriate housing for long-term storage after digitisation.
Like many others I have spent the summer in awe at the courage and dedication of the Olympians and Paralympians, sharing in the national pride of the incredible achievements of TeamGB and ParalympicsGB. I’ve been equally inspired by the outpouring of support and appreciation for the volunteers who helped make both Games such a great success.
Africa Through a Lens (Reference: CO 1069/135)
The National Archives has a very long and successful relationship with volunteers, stretching back over 20 years. Traditionally, volunteering has taken place at Kew, making an invaluable contribution to our work, helping to catalogue and conserve thousands of records. In more recent times our focus has broadened beyond paper and parchment to online records. In 2010-11 we delivered over 120 million records to over 20 million online users, and for every document delivered in our reading rooms at Kew, 200 were delivered online. This wider notion of participation, combining traditional volunteering activities with virtual collaboration, is at the very heart of our newly published approach to engaging with volunteers.
A long and successful relationship
In 2011, volunteers from the Friends of The National Archives completed a lengthy cataloguing project of record series WO 97, WO 119 and WO 121, resulting in the addition of more than 20,000 soldiers’ records to the catalogue. We’ve worked with volunteers from the National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS) since 1997. NADFAS volunteers have contributed around 2,500 volunteer hours per year to conservation activities such as ordering, numbering, dry surface cleaning, encapsulating and re-housing. 200 project volunteers, from across the country, came together to describe poor law records in our record series MH 12, adding 4.6 million words to our catalogue.