Thursday, 29 November 2018

World Digital Preservation Day - some reflections

I am currently working on a reflective report capturing the experiences and lessons learnt in creating an archive of Hull City ofCulture 2017. By its very nature this has involved looking back at things we said and did along the way, so to mark World Digital Preservation Day 2018 I thought I would reflect on Hull university archives digital preservation journey over the last eight years. 

2010-2012 AIMS Project
Our first forensic workstation in 2011
It is fair to say that in 2010 as far as digital preservation was concerned it was something that other archives did but we did not. The opportunity to collaborate with colleagues at the Universities of Stanford, Yale and Virginia was not something we hesitated over. The project allowed me to be seconded as Digital Archivist and to immerse myself into all things digital preservation. There was a steep learning curve with a lot of activity to keep abreast with. 

Things really began to make sense when we started to practice what we were learning – capturing our learning in the AIMS White Paper. It gave us the confidence to initiate discussions with depositors, admittedly with mixed and sometimes unexpected results (no because of Wikileaks being one that springs to mind) but learning is an important part of the process. At the end of the secondment I returned to my substantive role and tried to maintain the interest and momentum the project had created.

During this period we continued to talk to other archivists and more depositors and our holdings increased gradually, but we were very aware that we had no technical infrastructure inplace and the files were stored on our non-networked forensic workstations. 

Between March 2015 and September 2016 colleagues at the Universities of Hull and York collaborated on a JISC funded Filling the Digital Preservation Gap project to look at Archivematica and its appropriateness for research data management. I took the opportunity to join the conversations to consider how different the scenarios and situations were compared to born-digital archives and while there were some differences there were far more aspects we had in common.

2016-2018 City of Culture archive project 

Hull was announced as UK City of Culture 2017 on 20 November 2013 and ideas about “archiving the City of Culture” emerged shortly after. We had no real idea of what to expect - which turned out to be both a hindrance and an opportunity.

Ideas were developed and crucially funding secured to appoint a Digital Archivist (Laura Giles) to collect records (primarily digital in format) and Laura has been sharing her experiences in this - speaking at the British Museum conference and DCDC18 to name just two. 

We have collected c150,000 files so far and a parallel piece of activity working with CoSector has been to join-up the dots including Box (digital storage); Archivematica (digital preservation activities); CALM (collections management software); Samvera (digital repository) and Blacklight (discovery layer) to ensure we have a robust solution for storing, preserving and sharing digital records. We will be talking about and demonstrating this joined-up solution in 2019...

NDSA levels in Feb 2017 - to be revisited Feb 2019
In reflective mode this journey appears to be a natural progression but the reality is far from that - more akin to a series of steps than a straight line. There have been many other aspects along the way including NDSA levels of digital preservation, Archives Accreditation, hosting Transforming Archives and now Bridgingthe Digital Gap trainees. These personal reflections are mine but the achievements and progress has only been possible because of other people's time and support along the way - for which I continue to be grateful.  

If you are just starting your own journey my biggest tip - is do something practical - whether identifying what born-digital materials you have, setting-up a forensic workstation or playing with DROID on some sample files. It may seem a daunting journey but you are not alone and help is out there.  

Simon Wilson
University Archivist

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Basecamp at The National Archives

We are delighted to announce a new member of staff, Jack Quinlan has joined the university team as part of The National Archives’ new Bridging the Digital Gap traineeship. Jack’s first blog for us delves into his experiences of travelling down to the National Archives for a three day intensive introduction to the world of archives:

Before I started working at Hull History Centre, I had no real idea how an archive operated. I knew they kept records, an odd photo or two, or maybe a map, but that was it. But now I have a much firmer grasp on the scope of archives and some of the challenges they face. Bridging the Digital Gap, an incentive to broaden the pool of talent available to the sector, has just started training their eight new trainees last week in a course held at The National Archives. The three day training event was an introduction to the traineeship and digital archiving as a whole.

Basecamp, as we called the training event, was a brilliant experience. I’ve never been to The National Archives before - an all too unassuming building nestled away among quiet houses, no tall buildings to mark its location over the city landscape, it just appears.

Entrance to TNA

I got to know my fellow trainees over a coffee icebreaker. We were encouraged to introduce ourselves, which host organization we were representing, and a little known fact about it. What became apparent over the day was just how diverse our individual skill sets are, though all following a similar line of “aptitude for technology”. Each trainee has worked with computers, data sets, or data processing in some official capacity - for myself I have a background in media production, video editing, and some experience in scientific data handling. Suffice to say we all had a lot to talk about.

The rest of the day included a contextual overview of the course, including module breakdown and what is expected of us on a bi-monthly rotation, speakers from different archive and digital departments on how the digital landscape is changing their position, and then an actual breakdown of what a digital archivist is expected to be able to do, and the roles they can fill. The first day can be best summarised as “Digital Archiving, what is it?”. For the second and third day we were a lot more active; we were given tours of the archive and repositories, delving into the history of The National Archives, how far back the archives go and just how the building came to be. We secured reading passes and had our first instance of requesting a specific piece of archived information, and had a look at the more hands on side of archives: the conservator.

Fabric patent book

“Restoring the past” is how conservation was first described to me, and was something we explored first hand at TNA; converging over a large open book, this was my first experience with something so old. A several centuries old patent record, filled to the seams with blackened fabric, faded sketches and diagrams. The cover, once tightly strapped in leather and metal stripes, was now slack, and falling apart, the leather flayed and metal rusted, the processes of preserving it would certainly be very long.

In another room, an experiment with light and parchment was underway, showing the degradation of different inks within certain conditions, and using a very high intensity light to speed up the process. In the same room, we got a demonstration of 3D printing, the uses of which became apparent, as while the demonstration was going on, a replica of certain rat was produced. Both of interest of digital archiving in some respects, and learning about them now will allow for an easier introductory period further down the road.

I joined the Hull History Centre team on October the 29th and only a week later I was hurtling my way down to London to visit the UK’s largest archive. Things were moving fast and even now each day I am presented with new challenges that I did not see myself undertaking a year ago. I don’t see this pace slowing down either, and I am thankful; looking forward to each week, learning new skills and even interesting subject matter, there are few positions which offer this.

Parchment estate plan

My expectations are high, there’s opportunity here and I want to make the most of it. I have taken an interest in digital archiving at a very interesting time, the landscape is changing and I am been trained at the forefront. By the end of my traineeship I imagine my perspective will have changed, but my determination will be just as strong as when I started.

Jack Quinlan, Bridging the Digital Gap Trainee

Monday, 19 November 2018

Explore Your Archives 2018

This week we are celebrating ‘Explore Your Archive 2018’. This national campaign is designed to raise awareness of archives and to encourage everyone to use them.

You don’t have to be an academic or a professional researcher to use archives. People come to us every day to look into an endless number of different questions they might have.

We’ve had it all: ‘Can I find out where my grandfather was buried?’; ‘When was my house built and who used to live there?’; ‘What businesses were there on Holderness Road in the 1920s’?; ‘What did the old town walls look like?’; ‘What was it like in Hull during the Blitz?’; along with any number of other questions.

Recipe for medicine against the plague, 1665 [C DIAM/1]

Whatever aspect of local history you might be interested in, archives can help you explore it. So to help you get started, this installment of the blog will guide you through the process of searching for archives. We hope it is helpful.

How can I explore archives?

The best place to start is with our online catalogue. You can access the catalogue from the comfort of your own home (or phone) and it can be used to search descriptions of what we have. If you find something that looks interesting and you want to see it, make a note of the reference number as we will need this information to find it for you when you visit us.

If you can’t find anything on the online catalogue, or you are having trouble getting started, the best thing to do is pop in to see us. Staff can advise you on the resources available to help you answer whatever your research question might be. Before you come, have some specific questions in mind and allow yourself a good amount of time to get lost in what you might find.

What’s in the library area?

Library area containing part of the local studies collection

You can of course just wander around the library area and see what you can find. There are loads of interesting book titles amongst the open access collection on everything from architecture to zepplins. We have microfilmed copies of the local newspapers going back to the late 18th century, which can be browsed at leisure or used to look up a specific date. OS maps are available for various dates from the mid-19th century through to the 1960s and these can show you how the town has changed over the decades. Monumental inscriptions can be consulted for the municipal cemeteries, and burial records can be searched on microfilm, allowing you to look for deaths of ancestors. There are also electoral registers for the town and other family history resources such as FindMyPast and Ancestry, which can be accessed for free.

What’s in the searchroom?

Using archives in the searchroom

Whilst you need a ticket to use our searchroom, this ticket is free and it opens up a world of historical records to you. We have court papers including testimonies from witnesses and statements made by the accused, which can help you discover whether there are any black sheep in the family. There are personal diaries which document every-day life during some of the most significant moments of history including WWI and WWII. The letters of local personalities such as Philip Larkin, Winifred Holtby, and Stevie Smith can be read by anyone, and give insight into the inner thoughts of these figures. Photographs document the changing look of the town since the late 19th century, you might even be able to find old images of your own house or street. We also have building plans which allow you to see how individual buildings have changed over time, is your childhood home amongst them? Of course, this is just a very small selection of the over 2800 collections.

Section of a map of Hull showing German bomb drop locations during an air-raid in 1942

As well as all of the above, don’t forget the annual trade directories dating from the late 18th century which can tell you who was living at a particular address in Hull; or the historic maps dating back to the 1580s which show the old town walls and fortifications. These can be browsed in the searchroom without having to request us to get them out of storage for you.

Is there any further information?

The History Centre’s website contains further guides to collections held at the History Centre, which comprises the University of Hull Archives and Hull City Archives and Local Studies. There are also further thematically arranged guides available on Hull University Archives’ Libguides pages. And don’t forget the History Centre’s own online catalogue.

So now you are all experts, why not come down to the History Centre to see what you can find…

Claire Weatherall, Assistant Archivist (Hull University Archives)

Monday, 12 November 2018

We shall remember them

As we reach the centenary of the 1918 Armistice we have seen a renewed interest in records about WWI and those who experienced it. Here at the History Centre there are many sources for anyone wanting to research this period of our history.

If you have a general interest in local events then we hold a selection of books such as ‘Hull In the Great War’ by David Bilton [L.9.7083] and ‘The Zepplin Raids on Hull’ by Arthur Credland [L.9.7083]. There are books on local regiments such as ‘The Hull Pals’ [L.356] by David Bilton. We also have copies of an edited collection of regimental diaries published by the National Archives. The volume contains reproduced images of dairies kept by commanding officers on a day-to-day basis throughout the war. All these titles are available for loan from us.

A selection of our WWI related local studies books

Over the last four years there has been a national drive to digitised records from the war period, and these can assist you if you are looking for individuals. Hull History Centre offers free access to Ancestry and FindMyPast, both of which sites contain information about service personnel. Army attestation records are one group of records that can be accessed in this way. These records were created by the War Office during recruitment of personnel and contain such useful information as age, place of birth, next of kin and some details of service. Unfortunately, it is estimated that two thirds of the collection was destroyed by enemy action in World War II, but it is always worth looking. Other records available on both sites include Medal Roll Cards which list medals awarded and give details of regiment and service number. A proportion of British Armed Services Soldiers medical records and the Silver War Badge Roll (listing servicemen who were invalided out) are available on Find My Past. Royal Airmen’s Records, Victoria Cross medal listings, and listings of campaign medals awarded to World War I Merchant Seamen, are all available on Ancestry. These are a selection of available records and it is worth looking at the card catalogue on Ancestry or the A-Z index on Find My Past to see what else may help in your search.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is another helpful site, and this is free to access. If a person died during the war then they should be listed on site. The listing will give name, rank, service number, when they died and where they are commemorated. Sometimes family details will be given such as parents’ names and address. Find My Past has a list of British Army Railwaymen who died in the Great War, whilst Ancestry features the British Army Register of Soldier’s Effects. This lists what the army owed to the soldier at the time of their death and next of kin. It can be useful as a way of double-checking that you have the correct person.

The Hull Daily Mail and other local papers can be a rich source of information, and articles can be accompanied by photographs. The HDM can be accessed online via the British Library Newspaper Archive Online. Whilst this is a subscription service, you can access it for free whilst at the History Centre. You can also access images of the papers by using our microfilm collection in the library area of the History Centre. Some years ago, a researcher, Mr Malcolm Mann, indexed all the soldiers mentioned in the HDM. The indexes are available in the library and provide the soldier’s name, edition of the paper, and page number on which the soldier in question features. Mann also collected information about street shrines and rolls of honour, and compiled a volume on the subject. This volume, available in the search room, includes some information on individual servicemen as well as the lists which featured on the memorials. The History Centre has further information on local memorials which was collated by Jack Allerston, and which can be accessed by asking at the History Centre’s enquiry desk in the library area.

Page from the Mann Index

This overview gives just a sample of the material available to researchers looking at WWI, and hasn’t even touched on the rich archival material that is held at the History Centre. So if you are interested, why not come down and get researching. If you get stuck then try our Family History Helpdesk which is held 10am-12pm on the first and third Thursdays of the month. There’s only one session left this year, to be held on the 15th November, but there will be new dates starting in January 2019. 

As an added incentive to visit, we currently have an exhibition about WWII which will be on until the 16th November. You never know what you might discover...

Elaine Moll, Archivist/Librarian (Hull City Archives and Local Studies Library)