Friday, 25 September 2009

Archives - the [sometimes] forgotton star of the GLAM world

Thanks to Twitter and Gail Durbin of the V&A, for the heads up that National Archives UK have just put up a new version of their award winning education sub-site for schools and colleges, with all manner of lesson plans and activities sorted by curriculum level.

Like most things in the archive worlds, they have been rather shy about telling people. It seems to be a family trait. Which makes it even better that it was a museum colleague that started the Twitter wave on this.

Archives - the real//real oil?
Though arguably the place where the real-real oil is in terms of primary historical sources, national archives, especially online, are often the wallflowers to the more glamorous gallery, museum and increasingly visible national library collections.

Which is a pity. Here in New Zealand for example, the original Treaty of Waitangi lives in the NZ Archives, as do, literally miles/kilometers of other primary sources pertaining to the records of government.

National Archives UK
Up in the National Archives UK they cheerfully assert to having one of the largest in the world, with 11 million records, from Domesday Book to modern government papers. They also have in their collection paper and parchment records, electronic records and websites, photographs, posters and drawings.

Additionally they look after six million maps covering, 'not only the British Isles but also many countries and regions of the world' - the latter no doubt a gloss on the imperial reach of the British empire in its heyday .

My favourite areas
In this UK site, some of my favourite features are the wealth of detail inside the released cabinet papers, as well as some of the archival public service videos, including the seminal Jimmy Saville, Clunk Click, seat belt campaign; and of course, the now totally strange looking advice on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack!

To save you time, I can advise that  much of the latter seems to consist of hanging over your radio waiting for further reports. Well at least they didn't call it the wireless.

More seriously, they big takeout for me from both the main site and the education sub-site is the way  they they have let the primary sources speak for themselves without too much initial commentary. Which of course, in terms of making history - is totally what the big message needs to be.  Have a look, at all this and more, here

NZ War Art
Down here at Archives New Zealand,  I am still a big fan of the lovely online exhibition on New Zealand War Art online exhibition, here

It comprises about 1,500 artworks, including portraits, battle scenes, landscapes and abstracts. It shows those who served New Zealand in times of war, and the places they served in. It  includes works by artists formally commissioned by the NZ  government, as well as  unofficial art works that were acquired by or donated to the collection.

They also have a user tagging feature which I'm told has given Archives NZ some confidence on the whole user generated content thing.  Have  a look  for yourself.  Makes for an interesting Friday afternoon half hour, here?