Opening Up Archives, now in its second year, is a collaborative project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, The National Archives, and a number of host organisations across the country. You’ll be hearing from most of the 13 trainees in the coming months as we share our thoughts about what we’ve learned working and training within the sector.
Part of my role here as a trainee at Nottinghamshire Archives is to investigate how digital media can be used to bring the public closer to some of the archival collections we care for, and Nottinghamshire’s history more broadly. To that end, I’ve been tweeting as a frustrated 18th century spinster, developing an online presence for a youth heritage conference, and coding away at things which I hope to share very soon. I’ve also been learning a bit about the importance of digital preservation, but there are more knowledgeable people around here who can tell you about that.
Working at the intersection of old records and new technologies, I’ve been thinking a lot in recent months about how digital culture is changing the world of archives, and I was surprised to learn that these changes aren’t entirely unanticipated. In 1910 Paul Otlet, a man described as ‘one of technology’s lost pioneers’, envisioned a ‘city of knowledge’ that the Belgian government soon offered him funding to build in a wing of the Palais du Cinquantenaire, which he eventually named the Mundaneum (there’s a museum dedicated to it today in Mons). Otlet and his friend, the Nobel Prize winner Henri La Fontaine, used the Universal Decimal Classification that they had already invented to sort and store some 12 million index cards and documents at the Mundaneum, although this vast quantity of material called for an increasingly large number of workers to curate it.