The conservation of MH 47: Preparing military tribunal records for digitisation

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.

Due to the use of poor quality materials such as acidic wood pulp in the commercial production of many papers, both past and present, most of the MH 47 records have become quite brittle with age and require repair to stabilise the document prior to digitisation. Repairs are completed using re-moistenable Japanese tissue coated with a 3% gelatine solution. The tissue is first coated and then dried, small repair strips can then be cut from the tissue and the gelatine reactivated with minimal moisture provided by dampened blotting paper. Each strip is then applied to areas of damage to provide strength and prevent further damage.

There are many advantages to using the re-moistened tissue, including a minimal use of moisture compared to traditional wheat starch paste repairs, ease of application and short drying time. Further, any corrosive staples, pins or fasteners are removed from the documents and planar deformations are reduced mechanically or with the localised application of low heat. The goal of each treatment is to ensure that the document has been stabilised and that all pertinent information is visible for the scanning process.

Coated tissue repair strip

Prior to conservation treatment, a survey was completed to determine the approximate timeline for completion of the project. Each box of records has been provided with a target for completion facilitating a successful workflow between conservation and scanning to ensure that the public will soon have access to the digital records.

Often, while completing conservation treatments on these records, it is quite easy to get caught up in the fascinating narratives that these documents reveal. Enabling greater access to these records and the stories that they tell, the conservation and digitisation of MH 47 is an exciting project that I am proud to be a part of at The National Archives.

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