Friday, 2 October 2015

From Paper to Virtual Worlds: Hannah's Year of Transforming Archives

Digitising the Grand Tour diary of Francis Johnson, the architect

It has (unfortunately!) come to the end of my Transforming Archives traineeship at the Hull History Centre and I have explored architectural archives, illustrated letters, digitisation, digital preservation, social media, outreach activities…. and there’s still much more! 

It is quite a challenge to summarise an entire year in one blog post so I thought I would begin with a reflection on my first post where I was newly ‘accessioned’ (archives pun there!) to the practical aspects of working in archives and how the service works, attracts new audiences, and also organises, preserves and manages the material. I came to the History Centre from a more general heritage background which included history of art, architecture and the use of digital technologies such as videogames, content management systems and websites. Because of this I began the year with an open mind, eager to learn all aspects about the role of archives and see where I could apply my previous knowledge in an archives context.

Conservation work to strengthen a WW2
poster
Over the following months I was trained by the very knowledgeable History Centre team in all aspects of working in archives - from cataloguing in CALM, document retrieval, awareness of the range of questions users asked and collections management - I even had a go at conservation work!

My two specialisms for my traineeship were digitisation and outreach, so I had many opportunities to work with the overhead camera capturing images of maps, plans and documents. I spent a week at The National Archives where a highlight was shadowing the digitisation team to see their digitisation process for capturing images and creating metadata for mass quantities of material. 

Another brilliant aspect of the traineeship was the opportunity to undertake a long distance module with the University of Dundee. I studied 'Digitisation and Digital Preservation' which has given me lots to think about regarding the lifespan and accessibility of digital media - from now on I will certainly be thinking about the longevity of my own digital files in future work!

Being amazed by Minecraft creations at our
Bring Your Own Device event
One task I particularly enjoyed was developing learning resources for use by children and families at our History Makers Summer Sessions and Minecraft Bring Your Own Device events. For these I researched a historical theme (Hull architecture!), digitised relevant material and created resources to engage and inspire creativity. Taking part in the sessions themselves was a fun experience, and it was rewarding to see participants building architecture from the resources I created!

My traineeship has allowed me to combine existing interests with new experiences such as architectural history with digitising the architect Francis Johnson’s Grand Tour diary, and bringing forward my videogame passion into HullCraft (recreating Francis Johnson’s architecture in Minecraft).
I have really enjoyed trying new experiences - for me this was presenting to academics and professionals at conferences such as 'Northern Collaboration: Developing Archives', writing an article for The Space (BBC & Arts Council England) and also working with young people in a workshop environment.

Victor as a worm,
detail from Vicky
illustration U DX165/43
 
I have found some of my favourite images from cataloguing the illustrated letters of Victor Weisz which he wrote to his fourth wife Inge in the 1960s. I particularly enjoyed cataloguing the illustrations which feature himself and Inge as animal creatures or literary characters, such as drawing himself as Shakespeare’s 'Hamlet'. He is known for his political satires, yet his witty sense of humour and ability to turn his everyday routine into clever, personal cartoons are what makes these letters fascinating to work with. You can browse thumbnails of his illustrations in the catalogue I created for Vicky’s letters to Inge (U DX165). 

Another highlight from the year was meeting Jeff James, Chief Executive and Keeper of The National Archives and Keith Sweetmore, The National Archives Engagement Manager (North of England) at the launch of the Celebration of Architecture exhibition. Alongside the projects of local architects, the exhibition showcased Claire Weatherall’s exciting work on the Francis Johnson archive which has provided the springboard for several projects and activities I have been working on this year - from History Makers to HullCraft.

Claire Weatherall, Simon Wilson, Jeff James, myself
& Keith Sweetmore. Photo by Lee Fallin.

This year I have seen that archives are an inspiring trove of untold stories where material can be searched, reinterpreted, and communicated to audiences in many different (often surprising) ways- through lectures, books, websites, art and even videogames. I have also enjoyed the personal aspects of archives, offering windows into people’s lives who possibly never imagined that their work would be preserved or looked at by others!

Goodbye!
Detail from Vicky illustration U DX165/254
I’m very much looking forward to what the future holds. I am very eager to continue my work in archives and have loved working at the History Centre so much that I don't really want to leave!
Thank you to the brilliant team at the Hull History Centre who have supported me throughout the year - I am going to miss the endless supply of cake! 

Also, thank you to Emma Stagg, Transforming Archives Project Manager, for leading from The National Archives front and putting up with all of the travel paperwork which comes from me being at the far end of the M62! 

Lastly, good luck to the next trainee who I’m sure will enjoy and benefit from the History Centre team and the community spirit of the Transforming Archives programme as much as I have! 

Hannah Rice
Transforming Archives Trainee (Cohort 1)

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