Highlights from our Archives live chat

Yesterday we hosted an engaging live chat about archives, with a host of expert guest who have worked with everything from photos and glass plate negatives, to sound recordings, and even seal blubber stove smoke-stained diaries, maps and letters!

It was great to hear about the variety of routes into archvies, the variety of materials held in archvies, and of course the huge potential for exploring archvies and creatively interpreting and responding to the items they contain.

“I absolutely fall in love with all the collections I work with because you get to know so much about so many different things. You get to know about people’s lives, different points of view, different experiences, ways of living, you get to appreciate so much more when you know more.”

We've rounded up some of the key highlights and comments from the chat, below:

Tips for applying for a HLF grant for an archive project:

  • Plan! Give yourself enough time to really make sure you’re making the most of the opportunity - especially if it’s a partnership project, because guaranteed that not everyone has the same priorities and timetable as you.
  • Particualrly for first-timers, talk to people running community archives as much as you can - ask passionate archivists! Ethos is as important as content. Think about who will benefit from the archive.
  • Spend time considering all the potential ‘what ifs’ whilst planning the project, making sure that alternative provisions - and budget to do so - can be made if needed.
  • If you’re thinking of doing something which includes professional services, then consult them in the planning stages - they can advise you on what you actually will need to do with the archive and therefore how much money and time you need to apply for, and it’s a lot easier to get started if you already have someone on the books instead of trying to find someone afterwards.
  • Apply! Be prepared for it to take longer than you expected and always remember to present the information in the way the HLF ask for it.
  • (And once you've received funding) Start on a new progress report as soon as you submit one, as you can keep adding to it, it keeps things fresh and you don’t have to scrabble around trying to find information on an event you may have undertaken months ago.

What's so great about archives:

  • Archives are evidence. They are evidence that supports a story that we tell ourselves is history. And everyone has a different history.
  • One of the most important things about archives is their ability to change the way we understand the past, by subverting mainstream narratives and revealing hidden/suppressed histories of real people.
  • Archives don’t need to be old or very 'important'; their value lies in their use to future researchers. Archives are tools of understanding and giving us a fantastic insight into the past.
  • Archives are a mine of historical evidence, inspiration and beauty but they don’t reveal this without a little bit of work. You need to know where to look and some archives need expert interpretation. HLF projects can do that by interpreting, explaining and inviting people to join in.

Highlights of archive exploration:

  • “I had a bit of a moment when I first started working at Royal Northern College of Music as they have original Tchaikovsky letters and I was just sat on the floor in the archive holding them - the hand that wrote the Nutcracker, and Serenade for Strings & the beasty giant that is the 1812 Overture, I was holding those. I was just sat alone in the basement having a moment. It was just wonderful” - Heather Roberts.
  • “Being able to read drafts of Roald Dahl's stories and his private papers while setting up the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre. It was a huge privilege to hold the original papers and there is something very special about holding the original document and seeing his handwriting” - Sue Davies.
  • “Exploring our glass plate negative collections at the St Helens Community Archive has been fascinating. Seeing the images for the first time was very special, then to reveal more about the images through outreach with the public was great. An image of ‘a man in a clothes shop’ suddenly became ‘Gordon Crosby displaying the tie rack he had invented at Tyrer’s department store’. Similarly, ‘passport photos of two women’ became ‘passport photos of Josephine Dolan and Eileen Isherwood, getting their first passports after winning a holiday to Paris’”  - Victoria Brokenshire.
  • However, “Sometimes it's pretty heartbreaking. Working with archives of race relations and reading some of the horrible things people have gone through. Those kinds of archive projects require a lot of tea breaks just to reset yourself” - Heather Roberts.

List of resources:


As we get ready to join in celebrating Explore Your Archive week (which starts tomorrow) we'd love to hear from our grantees, and anyone else working in the sector, about tips for running archive projects, what you find so fascinating about archvies, and highlights from the archive collections you've been involved with. 

View Amy Freeborn's profile Amy Freeborn Nov 17 2017 - 12:32pm
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