Community Archives and Oral History
I have just started a year traineeship called 'Transforming Archives' with the National Archives and have been based here at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre for just over two months. I am working on the HLF funded Lacock Unlocked project focusing on community engagement and collections development. My task will be creating a community archive and producing oral history interviews for the village of Lacock which is what I want to talk about today and about how you could be a part of it.
So, what are community archives?
Community Archives are becoming an ever more prominent feature of the archive field. They are a collection of materials that tell the story of a local community, organization or group. These can include documents, images, diaries, etc. which form a vital part of the community's memories. They also provide an alternative method to the traditional archive system and provide a format for local memories to be recorded by the communities themselves - essentially a living archive! Our hope is to create an engaging and sustainable archive for Lacock and the surrounding areas. We are creating our own website (picture below) where the community history of Lacock can be uploaded to, viewed and commented on. We are hoping that the community will engage with this idea and help create, and eventually run the archive. If you have any memories or photos relating to Lacock then please do get in contact!
A visit to Rodbourne Community Archive
In order to gain a better understanding of community archives I visited members of the Rodbourne Community Archive in Swindon. Their enthusiasm for their local community history was infectious and the wealth of knowledge they had concerning Rodbourne was remarkable. Their project originally started out as an outreach programme by English Heritage in 2003 but has since grown into an independent non-profit organization with thousands of documents and photos relating to the local community of Rodbourne. All of these are online and accessible for all via http://www.rodbournehistory.org/. We hope to follow Rodbourne and create a successful community archive for Lacock.
An example: Brighton and Hove Community Archive
As part of my project I have been researching different online community archives and what strikes me the most are the comments left by visitors on various photographs. These have ranged from general comments, to memories of people living upon a certain street or going to a local school. The picture below, a relatively innocuous view of a street in Brighton (from http://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk) has sparked massive interest with over sixty comments from various individuals. These have ranged from personal memories of when they lived there, various changes that have occurred and enquiries regarding family members. Within these comments were posts from people who had emigrated to Australia and Canada and shows the wide ranging potential that a community archive has. This, in my opinion, is the most exciting aspect of community archives, where individuals can engage and interact with others regarding a specific place from all over the world.
I think Brenda Basset, who spent her childhood in Brighton before moving to Australia, sums up the impact that a community archive can produce.
'My Internet is bringing memories back to me.'
Brenda Basset, 06/11/03 http://goo.gl/4654by
Photo by Jack Latimer 24/10/2002 http://goo.gl/4654by
Why is Oral History Important?
I have been researching the wonderful history of Lacock and as part of this I have been listening to Lacock oral history interviews that the National Trust compiled in 2005/06. Oral history provides another alternative method of recording information, especially to provide an insight into the 'everyday' life of a person. History tends to focus on important events and figures and often ignores the large majority of people. This does not mean that their stories are not interesting, in fact completely the opposite with fascinating stories often shared. I discovered stories about the life of evacuees in Lacock, the Homeguard, and general life in the village. These would be unknown and lost to history if not for these interviews and shows why oral history is so important. In conjunction with the community archive we are planning on producing our own oral history interviews, within Lacock, and for extracts from these to be shared on the website. These will be a useful historical reference for those interested in local history but will also help preserve the memories of the village for future generations.
We are currently looking for volunteers to participate within this project and to assist with the oral interview process, management of the site, and other tasks with the community archive.
Transforming Archives Trainee