Updated 18th May 2016
Our project has developed real momentum since January, a period which has seen us engage with over sixty community participants through a staged series of events (nine to date), split between Training Events, Archive Events and Creative Events. During this time, our participants have accrued confidence and skills in both using archives, and developing creative ways of expressing their archival discoveries.
During our Training Events we collaborated with the Woodhorn Museum and Northumberland Archives (Ashington) to design a full day of activities. The activities were “concentric” insofar that we started each day in the broadest possible terms by discussing what an archive actually is, how holdings arrive there and how they are organised and cared for. From these very broad beginnings we progressed through more focussed activities until, by the end of the day, we were concentrating closely on the experience of the individual researcher. At this stage we were tutoring participants in, for example, how to take effective notes, how to develop effective search terms, and how to create personal research plans that would enable them to follow their particular interests (including oral histories).
Our Training Events proved so popular that we ran our activities day at the Woodhorn Museum a total of three times, and this prepared our participants for a full month of Archive Events. During the Archive Events (which fell largely in April 2016), our participants had the opportunity to practice their newly minted skills by visiting four different archive collections in the region. The project Research Associate (Paul Wright) stationed himself in a different archive every week to support participants as they made inroads into their areas of interest. Some of their findings are extraordinary: the rarely researched diaries of Ruth Dodds, a prominent Gateshead politician, author, playwright, historian and munitions worker, describe the increasing urgency with which she sought out leisure time in Northumberland’s rural landscapes as an increasingly desperate tonic to the pressures of war. This included, at one stage, an agonising wait for news of family members who (successfully) crossed the Atlantic during the week that Lusitania was sunk. We have also uncovered fascinating changes to how choirs and choral societies were run during the war, and how women gave over their leisure time to causes that combined politics and education – women were especially significant in the early years of the Workers Educational Association in the North-East.
These significant findings are very much owned by our participants (we are privileged to share in them), and we want to make sure that this ownership continues when it comes to expressing and publicising them. This is the idea that underpins our Creative Events. During this stage of the project (which commenced recently and runs through early to mid-summer 2016) we are providing carefully designed platforms from which our participants can create lively, imaginative expressions which do full justice to the scope of their findings. The first such platform, Digital Storytelling, introduces our participants to digital image and audio recording/editing. Equipped with these new abilities, they are producing illustrated spoken word accounts of their work on our project. The second of these, Performed Archives, invites participants to work with a local theatre group to devise, script, and perform short pieces of drama to meaningfully express something they have discovered in the archives – be that an event, a particular person, or a wider scenario.
Project researchers collaborating with participants to produce a travelling exhibition on Women and Leisure during the First World War – Dates to be confirmed.
Further events in the pipeline
HLF application workshops and a grand launch event (late summer) – Dates to be confirmed.
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