Archives and History News: First World War collections under threat, Downton Abbey, and digital asylum records

In case you hadn’t noticed, some kind of global conflict thing started 100 years ago. The Tower of London’s moat became a beautiful sea of ceramic poppies to commemorate British soldiers who died during the First World War. The Imperial War Museum re-opened its revamped galleries to much fanfare. Then the government decided to slash the museum’s funding by £4 million! The museum will absorb these cuts by closing its library, slashing or shutting down education services, and cutting jobs. So now we can see exactly how our government really feel about this important aspect of our history. It’s all right for people to enjoy art installations, as long as they don’t start actually, you know, learning anything, doing any research, or finding things out for themselves. Heritage is lovely – as long as we don’t have to pay for it, and everyone involved is a volunteer. This is a shocking scandal. Yes I know we could spend our money on far more worthy things than heritage, blah blah, but it’s the sheer hypocrisy of the thing that makes my blood boil. If you feel as strongly outraged as I do, please sign this petition to prevent the funding cuts. Please also publicise this, and urge others to sign the petition.

The Imperial War Museum

You can see an example of the kinds of research and learning about the war that we could be doing on the Blog Africa in Words. It has started a series looking at The First World War in Africa, with lots of information promised on archives and other research sources.

Nigerian troops during the First World War

In other news, it turns out that standing up for our heritage CAN make a difference. The archive of the Hulton family from Lancashire, spanning nearly a thousand years of history, was put up for sale recently. From plague and Henry VIII’s reformation to the coming of the railways, this aristocratic family and their servants bore witness to it all. Luckily for the archive, it happened to have Julian Fellowes to write a little series called Downton Abbey. The ensuing media campaign has ensured that funds have been raised to keep the archive in the hands of the nation. 

There’s even more good news for the continuing accessibility of our historical records. The Wellcome Library has announced plans to digitize over 800,000 pages of archives of mental health care from the 18th to 20th centuries. This promises to make the records easily available to far more researchers. The Wellcome are one of the few organisations that has a really great digital records management programme as well, so we can be pretty sure that these on-line records will remain accessible for a long time to come.

Artwork by a patient from Chricton Royal Hospital



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