My time at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) is near its end, and I have been looking back at that year wondering what, out of the many skills and insights I’ve picked up, would be the one most important lesson. And what kept popping up in my head was ‘the power of archives’.
Frankly, I didn’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 ‘history’, the way I read and absorb information. I feel much more aware of the way historical narratives – so ultimately the reality around me – 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 can’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 – from right after the Great Fire?’ they ask, looking at these fragile old pages with awe.