Thursday, 3 March 2011

Let's Hear It For The Archives

The day I pruned the Buddleia and decided to make Archives the framework and the reason for the Sefuty Chronicles, to place ‘Ellen’s Tale’ firmly in recorded memories, it was but a step from one of my soapbox passions.  The archives – wondrous places of excitement, adventure, exploration and revelation.  They are places of puzzles and answers.

I first fell in love  with archives and archival material when I took myself, in my early 40s, to Oxford Brookes University to try my hand at gaining a degree.  The first degree obviously involved libraries (I already loved those from early childhood) but then I moved to Sussex University to do a Masters and, while there, did an extra course on Oral History.  Sussex holds the Mass Observation Archives.  Part of our course involved this Archive – what treasures – I had never realised there were resources so interesting.  A few years later my friend – who by then was into Family History – stirred my interest in this also.  The archives are an essential part of this form of research.

Later still, after retirement, I began a Living History Group at our local U3A branch, it was hard work to interest people, they would insist they had lived such dull lives that no one would be interested in them.  I had to use a lot of persuasion to make them realise they were wrong.  Four years on and they have  produced their own book of memories. Maybe all these memories will only be passed down through family members but, as long as memories of lives lived are remembered history is enriched, and now the memories have been written down they can be archived and are a resource for the future.

I would like to enter a plea for everyone to record in some way some part of their life for future generations.  In the group that I run we have handwritten, typed, Braille and taped memories to show for our months together.  Some are ‘in depth’ life histories, some just isolated aspects of a life. 

Just by chance, on a web search (doing family history in fact), I discovered my father had recorded some interviews back in the early 1960’s.  These interviews of my father had been included in a book.   The reel to reel tapes had been lodged in the archives in Wales and only released a couple of years ago to public access.  His interviews were some of the over one hundred collected in that particular study.  

Primary source material, the glory of all students and researchers, novelists and family history buffs.  Every one of us is an original source of some aspect of life through the 20th century and beyond.  Archives all over the country will keep our memories safe and, who knows, anyone of us could turn up in a piece of historical research, a biography or an historical novel.    

How many of us bemoan the fact we did not ask our parents / grandparents about their lives before it was too late.  Most of us are not interested when we are younger but there comes a time when we wish we had known more.  So a plea from me, please think of recording something in some format to leave to the generations that follow.  For your families or the archives or both. 

PS. The Archives sent me a CD of my father’s interviews. Now how cool is that, getting to listen to him again, nearly 20 years after his death! for details of my books for blogs on various non writing topics for reading and books

1 comment:

  1. Hey Alberta- well, you know I love my archives from my post last week :) The second volume in my story is set during the London Blitz, and I first came across the Mass Observation records back in 1997 when by chance I found a book in a secondhand store that summarised a lot of them. I've yet to find anywhere in Australia where a member of the public can access the online archive, but a Canadian friend was able to dig in and get hold of a stack of records for me through a university there. Love them! What a fascinating way to record history- I guess in the future, the millions of blogs out there may well constitute a similar record of daily life.