From letters to Lego, manuscripts to Minecraft

The Hull History Centre in Kingston upon Hull has been my home for the past seven months of my Transforming Archives traineeship. This traineeship appealed to me because of its digital focus and the opportunity to learn more about archives from the fantastic team at the History Centre. Having studied History of Art, Architecture and Digital Heritage at university, the subject of archives had been touched upon however I had never engaged in any practical archives work. My previous work had been in museums so I was interested in the differences between the two areas and to fill this gap in my knowledge.

Here’s a (very brief!) summary of what I’ve been doing and why working in archives is an enjoyable journey of discovery.

HullCraft poster session at MLAG’s The D-Word Conference, 24 April 2015.

HullCraft poster session at MLAG’s The D-Word Conference, 24 April 2015.

Creative outreach and architectural archives

Architectural archives have become my favourite theme as they have so much potential for creative outreach. It was a pleasant coincidence that the History Centre team were already working on a project based on architecture that matched my own interests.

Francis Johnson is an architect who worked on many buildings across the Yorkshire region. Johnson is of personal interest to me as we not only attended the same school, but I also recognise a lot of his buildings from my own childhood. His collection (U DFJ), currently being catalogued by Claire Weatherall, Project Archivist, under a National Cataloguing Grant, features an assortment of fascinating architectural plans which have provided us with an array of imaginative outreach opportunities that I have been fortunate to take part in during my traineeship.

One of these opportunities is History Makers, a monthly family event based on recreating objects and scenes inspired by the archives in Lego and craft. These sessions began with the architecture of Francis Johnson and have evolved into a variety of topics based on the collections held at the History Centre. I have enjoyed being taken nostalgically back to my childhood passion for craft by working with families to create objects from history.

Inspired by the Lego buildings from the archives, I also became involved with a project called HullCraft where the computer game, Minecraft, is used as a fun, educational platform for engaging a wider audience with the History Centre’s archival material.

In HullCraft, participants download one of Johnson’s digitised architectural plans from our website, and recreate his building in our virtual world. I am particularly proud of my contribution to the design of the HullCraft virtual world by recreating the Hull History Centre within the game. From this I hope to introduce younger participants to the concept of archives in an immersive, relatable way.

You can watch my video of a virtual tour  below, and to find out more about the project have a look at the HullCraft website.

My work on this project has led to many unexpected opportunities where I was able to represent the Hull History Centre at conferences. I have presented at Digital Utopias, Games & Learning and Northern Collaboration and have carried out a poster session and live demonstrations at Digital Arts Day 2015.

I have also been fortunate to publish an article in the Archives & Records Association’s ARC Magazine (No. 307- my History Centre build is featured on the cover!) and articles on Play the Past and The Space (BBC & Arts Council England). My traineeship has provided me with exciting prospects to develop my public speaking skills and meet other archivists from around the country.

Online media and digitisation

Part of my specialism in outreach has also led me to be involved with the History Centre’s online presence. I have worked on their Facebook, Twitter, the History Centre blog and created pages for the website which has been a great opportunity to develop my practical skills in Web 2.0 and reaching out to new audiences.

Digitisation has also been a significant part of my traineeship where I’ve been working on several digitisation projects, and scanned images for a History Centre exhibition.

My two favourite projects are the Grand Tour Diary of Francis Johnson (Ref U DFJR/1/1), a large volume where he described and illustrated his journey around Europe, and the cartoons of political cartoonist Victor “Vicky” Weisz to his wife Ingelein (Ref U DX165).

I have particularly enjoyed creating descriptions in CALM for Vicky’s cartoons as they are both comical and touching in nature. You can also read my post on my favourite Johnson illustrations on the History Centre blog.

Architectural wonders: Johnson's illustration of Schonborn Chapel from his Grand Tour diary (U DFJR/1/1)

Architectural wonders: Johnson’s illustration of Schonborn Chapel from his Grand Tour diary (U DFJR/1/1)

What’s next?

This is just the tip of the iceberg of everything I’ve done over the past seven months. I have engaged in a much wider range of activities than I had initially expected covering exciting areas such as digitisation and digital preservation, to outreach and traditional collections work. It has been a great experience to work with the History Centre team whilst shadowing their roles and learning about how archives work, from appraisal to accessioning and cataloguing.

From letters to Lego and manuscripts to Minecraft, my traineeship has offered me so many opportunities to continue my professional development such as undertaking a module in digitisation and digital preservation with the University of Dundee and travelling to training events hosted around the country, including Swansea, London and Durham.

I’m hoping that this traineeship has opened up more pathways into a successful heritage career either in archives or museums. A gap in my experience has been filled and has introduced me to the world of archives by being involved in the planning and running of real, meaningful projects that will benefit the local community, whilst having fun at the same time!


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