The Long Journey Home: Edith Cavell and the “Cavell” Van
27 November 2018
by Emily Manser
The Recording Remembrance project is aiming to record all world war one memorials across East Sussex. Volunteers across the county can record the condition, physical nature and inscriptions of memorials and report them to the website: Recording Remembrance Website.
Memorials recorded by the project can be crosses, plaques or more unusual objects such as the Cavell Van found at Bodiam Railway Station, commemorating Nurse Edith Cavell.
On 15th May 1919, a South Eastern & Chatham Railway Van left Dover on its way to London, carrying a very important passenger. Her name was Edith Cavell and, after a long and arduous war, she was finally being brought home to be laid to rest.
Edith Cavell was an English nurse, working in Belgium at a Red Cross hospital. Between 1914 and when she was arrested on the 5th August 1915, she had helped over 200 allied soldiers escape. She was shot by firing squad on October 12th 1915. She was 49 years of age.
Following her journey home from Dover to London, railway vans of the same type became known as “Cavells”. The fully restored railway van now sits in a siding at the rear of Bodiam Station. Inside, a single coffin sits in the centre, an eerie reminder of the cost of war.
This memorial, along with many others, is recorded on the Recording Remembrance database. With the help of the public, we are working hard to ensure that these physical representations of the sacrifice of war are preserved for future generations.
For more information on this, or any other HER record, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
German-Jewish history and identity: exploring the Ehrenberg-Elton Papers at The Keep
24 September 2018
by Anika Wagner
‘Alles Erleben ist eine Episode. Auch Hitler war eine Episode. Daß er nur eine Episode bleibt, liegt an Euch.’
‘Every experience is an episode. Even Hitler was an episode. That he remains just an episode is up to you.’
Eva Ehrenberg, Sehnsucht – mein geliebtes Kind, p67
I’m a Librarian Master’s student from Berlin/Leipzig, Germany and, earlier this year, I joined The Keep for a nearly nine-week internship. This is not my first time abroad; during my apprenticeship as Library Assistant and my Bachelor study I’ve already been in London, Baltimore and Vienna to work in different libraries. So the procedure in preparation for this internship was nothing new to me. In November 2017, I started to write to lots of different libraries in the UK, asking for the possibility to intern with them. Luckily, I got a positive reply from the University of Sussex Special Collections at The Keep. After this, I applied for financial support from ERASMUS+ and my University’s Friends’ association (both of which I got, hooray), booked my accommodation and finally the flight as well.
Still, it was exciting: a new house, a new city, a new workplace and new colleagues. Everyone was really welcoming and tried their best to make me feel comfortable! During the first few days, I was introduced to all the staff here (unfortunately I’m not good at remembering names), had a tour of the building and got familiar with the collection I was going to work with over the next few weeks.
My work here focused on the Ehrenberg-Elton Papers. I checked the collection box by box, folder by folder. In six weeks, I got through the first 33 boxes, which contain a lot of different materials, from letters, photographs, passports and medals to newspaper cuttings and even hair. With each folder, I compared the catalogue entry with the real material. Was everything in the folder? Was the number of pages identical? Did the description match? Sometimes I had to give the material a new title to make it more meaningful. Last but not least, I tried to fit the material into a new, revised classification. Some objects needed new packaging, so I got new folders for them or wrapped them in tissue paper and made a label with their reference number and title on it. It felt a bit like wrapping Christmas presents.
While doing this, I had the chance to read the odd letter or literary manuscript. This was really fascinating and I had to watch out to not just read all day long. With every folder and box, I got deeper into the Ehrenberg family. When I reached the boxes with the family’s photo albums and loose photographs, I already knew so much about the people, what their past had been and what become of them in the future. It’s saddening when you read next to a portrait the simple caption ‘Hans im Konzentrationslager’ (Hans in concentration camp), although you already know he survived. I got most emotional about the photos of Eva Ehrenberg in her later years, as she reminded me of my grandmother.
I was told me on one of my first days that I may need to write a family tree while working on that collection. First this advice puzzled me a bit, but soon I did so. In the end I had at least five family trees interweaving different strands of the Ehrenberg family.
The Ehrenbergs, especially Eva, were in contact with so many different people that I easily got lost. Even if it turned out that they were related, I still had to work out which side (Eva or Victor) they belonged to. Luckily there is already material about that in the collection itself. One of my most exciting objects in this collection was a book about an old German legend (I had never heard of before) which was dedicated by the late Kaiser Wilhelm II to Eva Ehrenberg’s father Siegfried Sommer.
In my last two weeks, I did some research in preparation for a collaboration with the Leo Baeck Institute in New York. They also hold material by and about the Ehrenberg family, which they have already digitised. I checked their digital archive to see if what they hold is also in the Ehrenberg/Elton Papers collection at The Keep, so it can be later linked into the catalogue.
As The Keep is a partnership of different institutions, I was introduced to their staff, their work and their different kinds of materials. I also had the opportunity to join a lot of sessions and events of different kinds. These included a workshop called ‘Refugees in Times of Crisis, 1938-2018’, which reminded me that history sometimes repeats itself, and the 12 May Day Diary, with fun activities like badge-making. I didn’t know that so much could be done for outreach in an archive. Most of the sessions were for students to show them what an archive is and the kinds of materials are held here. It was really impressive to see how enthusiastically the colleagues spoke about their work and collections!
I’m really sad that my time in Brighton and The Keep ended so quickly. I would have liked to spend more time here and finish my work on the Ehrenberg-Elton Papers. Whilst working here I learnt a lot: about archives in general and The Keep’s collections in particular, about British life, emigration and identity, and about German-Jewish history. Of course, in school we often talked about this dark episode in German history but my own country’s history became more graspable to me, working with all these authentic and personal materials. Especially at a time when right-wing populists are regaining power in so many countries, it is important to know the history and prevent repeating it.
I would recommend to anyone who is interested in the work of archives to join The Keep for an internship or work experience. It was my most enjoyable internship, and I’ve done eight so far!
A Digital Woolfian ‘Ode’
24 July 2018
By Dr Bryony Randall, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, University of Glasgow
Just over a year ago, on 14 July 2017, an innovative new digital edition was launched of a short work by Virginia Woolf, rejoicing in the name Ode Written Partly in Prose on Seeing the Name of Cutbush Above a Butcher’s Shop in Pentonville (surely the longest name Woolf gave to any of her works). The six-page typescript of this work is one of the most fascinating items in the Monks House Papers, the archive of Virginia Woolf’s papers held by the University of Sussex Special Collections at The Keep, and was selected for republication by the New Modernist Editing Network, or NME.
The NME (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council) brought together people involved in or with an interest in the scholarly editing of modernist texts, including academics, publishers, editors and book artists, in the light of the many new editions of modernist writers currently underway. One of our aims was to produce an interactive digital edition of a modernist work, and to showcase some of the issues and challenges faced by the editor of a modernist text by handing over as much control as possible to the reader. The new edition, produced collaboratively between Network members, can be found here, and we would be delighted to get feedback from anyone who’d like to explore it!
This digital edition of the ‘Ode’ shares many features with existing digital editions of literary texts. For example, we were able to reproduce facsimile images of the original typescript, alongside a transcript. This was particularly important since, in common with the vast majority of the short fiction Woolf wrote, the ‘Ode’ remained unpublished during her lifetime. So we are not dealing with something that Woolf necessarily saw as a finished work, and we wanted to convey this to the reader. What’s more, Woolf’s typing was not particularly accurate, so her editors often choose to ‘correct’ the typescripts they have quite substantially in published versions. By presenting the facsimile and interactive edited version side by side, the reader can clearly see – and if they wish, disagree with! – the editorial ‘corrections’ made.
Another feature common to many digital editions is the presentation of explanatory notes as pop-up windows which appear when you click on an underlined word, rather than having to turn to the back of a book as one would with a printed edition. But we also used this feature to show a range of alternative possible readings of Woolf’s handwritten insertions, some of which are more or less illegible – even to experts with years of experience of reading Woolf’s handwriting! In addition, Woolf herself revised the typescript in both ink and pencil; the digital format means that readers are able to view a transcript showing the pencil revisions only, or ink revisions only.
However, one important feature of this text makes it particularly intriguing and distinctive as the subject of a new digital edition. Although the use of the term ‘Ode’ in the title, to some extent the quality of the language, and the layout of the type on the page, may collectively indicate that this text was intended to be set out with line breaks like verse, there is also evidence to the contrary. For a start, the title indicates that the text is indeed ‘partly in prose’. In addition, a number of Woolf’s typescripts from around the period that ‘Ode’ was typed have a similar appearance to this one, with a very wide left hand margin taking up almost one third of the width of the page. For that reason, we felt that the question of whether to preserve the line endings of Woolf’s typescript remains moot, and invite the reader to experiment with the effect of each version – whether presented as verse, or as prose.
In the year since its launch, this edition has been used for teaching in a number of universities across the UK and beyond. We’re delighted that it’s proving useful in introducing students to some of the issues facing the scholarly editor, and hope it piques further interest within and beyond academia. The idea of ‘textual editing’ might evoke images of the solitary scholar buried in a dusty archive ploughing through arcane manuscripts; our hope is that this digital ‘Ode’ not only showcases Woolf’s own lively and dynamic writing, but does so in a way that brings out the lively and dynamic aspects of the work of the textual editor!
Mary Dring – an 18th-century businesswoman from Brighton
11 July 2018
By Madeleine Dickens
To mark the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which extended the franchise to some women, we have been looking at some of the extraordinary women represented in our archives, both before and after the suffrage campaign. Genealogist Madeleine Dickens discovered records relating to Sussex-born Mary Dring (née Widgett, later Kirby) while working collaboratively with one of her clients, Wayne Jackson from Canberra. Here, she tells her story.
Mary Dring was a successful businesswoman in 18th-century Brighton. Although remarkable in her own right, her success was not unprecedented; she was one of many enterprising, determined women with ambition to succeed. By her own assessment, ‘[she has] by her care and assiduity established a considerable share of custom by which she has been enabled to support herself and her three children by her late husband William Dring.’
Baptised in 1747 at West Tarring, Sussex, Mary married William Dring on 12 October 1770 at Finsbury St Luke, London. They had several children, including a son John, before moving to Brighton, where they ran a grocery business. They had several more children, of whom only two, William and David, survived infancy.
Mary was one of four siblings and the entrepreneurial spirit clearly ran in the family. Her sister Elizabeth ran Miss Widgett’s Library on the Steine up to about 1779, publishing a guide book to Brighton in 1778. Diarists of that era referred to her as ‘the milliner and library woman’. Another sister, Ann, was almost certainly the Miss Widgett who, in partnership with Miss Wayte, opened a Boarding School for young ladies in West Street in 1785.
William Dring died and was buried on 27 September 1779 at St Nicholas’ Church in Brighton. Despite her loss, a week later Mary advertised that she would continue to run her late husband’s grocery business. By 1784, she had added the running of a ‘house, coach-house and stables’ to her portfolio in North Street, Brighton’s principal trading street. According to rating valuations, her properties were among the most valuable in the town.
One of the documents held by East Sussex Record Office at The Keep details the debts incurred by William Dring that Mary settled following his death, and gives an idea of the standing of the family. The debts incurred and settled amounted to nearly £2,000 (modern day equivalent, at least £250,000). There are also several inventories of her possessions and stock (drawn up at the time of her husband’s death) which give an even clearer idea of her relative wealth.
Mary married for a second time to John Kirby, in St Nicholas’ Church on 20 July 1784. It was the Deed of Settlement she had drawn up prior to this marriage that marked her out as an unusually independent and determined woman. It could best be described as an 18th century pre-nuptial agreement, and suggests that Mary was aware that the law at that time would not allow her to retain control of her business on remarriage (it was only with the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act in 1870 that married women were granted any legal rights to their own property).
The extract below gives an idea of the strictures imposed on Mary’s second husband: she had two main objectives – to ensure he met with her exacting standards and to generate the necessary returns to protect her own and her children’s futures.
‘…that the said trade or business during the continuance thereof shall be managed and carried on and all purchases, sales, bill, notes dealings and transactions which shall be made, given or taken for any matter concerning the same to be taken, exercised and entered in the joint names Kirby and Dring and also that the said John Kirby shall bestow his whole time and attention on the said Trade or Business and endeavour by his utmost skill, care, diligence and attendance to advance and promote the same; shall not deal or trade with any other than that of grocer or enter into co-partnerships or engagements in the business or any other with other person/s whomsoever; and that all goods, wares and merchandise monies payments and securities and all dealings relating to the business shall be daily charged and entered by him in proper books to be provided for that purpose in such manner as other persons of the same Business usually do or ought to do whereby the fair and clear amount of the said trade and the true state thereof may appear and in particular that a book may be kept for the said William Gifford, Thomas Hudson and Edward Widgett [the carefully selected trustees] or the survivor/s of them, their executors and ads and administrators, shall be at liberty to resort at all times have the sight, perusal and examination of and to take copies or extracts without any Let or Denial whatsoever. And also that the said John Kirby shall not nor will at any time or times during the time or term of aforesaid without such consent and approbation and so testified become Bail or security for with or to any person by Bond Bill Note promise or otherwise….’
Mary may have had another pressing motivation to have such a document drawn up – it’s likely that she was pregnant prior to her marriage. The couple were married on 20 July 1784 and their first child was baptised on 12 March 1785. A woman who valued her standing in society, however independent, would not have risked the consequences of having the child on her own.
There are many surviving documents relating to Mary’s life and business, but unfortunately the document trail dries up after her second marriage. We know more about her three sons from her first marriage, whose interests she had done so much to protect. Aged 14, John went up to Oxford University (a possibility only the wealthy could consider). He completed his MA in 1794 and took up a series of ‘livings’ as a vicar. William and David went into the grocery business together but were declared insolvent in 1802.
Tragically, all Mary’s sons predeceased her by some years – John was the first to die in France in 1804, William in Brighton in 1806, and David, who had travelled to the West Indies, in 1807. A very sad end to all Mary’s driving enterprise and maternal force. Her only grandchild, David Dring junior, appears to have inherited his grandmother’s formidable character. He became a master mariner who traversed most of the globe, making a particular contribution to the early development of Western Australia and the West Coast of America, both on sea and land.
Sadly, no will for Mary has been located so we have no idea of the estate she might have left behind or the outcome of her efforts to preserve her and her children’s independence.
Untold stories of refugees working in Brighton and Hove’s restaurants come to The Keep
19 June 2018
To mark Refugee Week 2018, Stephen Silverwood of Brighton-based charity Refugee Radio writes about the Takeaway Heritage Project, a fascinating collection of photographs, transcripts and recordings which are now archived at The Keep
‘This was a unique project to capture the untold stories of ordinary refugees and migrants working in the food industry in our local area: the ways in which food became a conduit for social exchange with their new community, and the ways in which they built new lives in the UK. This is an area that has never been properly researched, with the exception of a few investigations of Indian fusion cuisine and the informal adoption of Chicken Tikka Masala as the national dish. Kebab shops and restaurants in particular have been overlooked by academics and researchers as perhaps too frivolous, but they represent a significant change in our high streets, our diets and our demographics.
‘Brighton and Hove has a special zone of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and North African food along Western Road that embodies the ways in which our area has changed because of immigration and the ways that people from very different backgrounds come together, and it was important to us to record the history of that area as it continues to evolve.
‘Whether you are staggering home with a post-pub kebab or sitting down to dine on a Persian banquet, you are taking part in an ongoing process of cultural exchange. We felt that the personal histories of the people behind that exchange would make for a good story, but we learnt a lot more during the project that we didn’t expect, especially about how welcoming and multicultural people found Brighton to be, and about how important family was to the story. We hope that the photographs, transcripts and recordings that we collected will be of interest to researchers and are really excited to know that the stories will be preserved for future generations.’
Alongside the interviews and photographs donated to The Keep by Refugee Radio are other documents that shed light on the experiences of refugees living in Brighton and Hove and East Sussex. We hold minutes and papers of the Brighton and Hove Refugee Forum, which includes publications regarding refugee women in East Sussex and the experience of Ethiopian refugees resettled to Brighton and Hove under the Gateway Protection Programme 2006 to 2007. We also hold the archive of the Pestalozzi International Village Trust (ACC 10461) which was established at Sedlescombe after the Second World War to house displaced children from eastern Europe. It went on to provide for children from Tibet, Nigeria, Vietnam and Palestine, and still continues to educate children from under-privileged countries www.pestalozzi.org.uk/
Meet the Volunteers: Lara Callaway on working with University of Sussex Special Collections
6 June 2018
‘I applied to volunteer at The Keep because after years of using archives as part of my university degree, I thought it would be invaluable to learn what goes on behind the scenes to make archives the amazing research tool that they are. As a cataloguing volunteer, my primary responsibility is recording and updating information for the archives onto a database, working primarily with photographs taken from the University of Sussex from the 1960s to the 2000s. This is incredibly interesting for me, as being a University of Sussex student, it means seeing how the campus has changed over those 40 years!
‘From each photograph, I find the most important documentable features and use them to create an accurate descriptive record that means it can be easily found by those undertaking research at the archive. This has given me an inside look at how archives work and allowed me the opportunity to work with some incredibly interesting historical documents.
‘Not every week is the same, however, and exciting jobs often pop up that are outside of your volunteering area. For example, I am also working on correspondence between Rudyard Kipling and various other people, including Robert Louis Stevenson and Andrew Lang of Fairy Book fame. I have the responsibility of organizing and identifying their documentable features, as well as reading and enjoying them!
‘I’ve had the best experience at The Keep, getting to work with amazing documents and lovely people, and would urge anyone who is thinking about volunteering to do it.’
Meet the Volunteers: Tim Smith on recording iron sites on the Historic Environment Record
4 June 2018
‘We feel it important that the location of these sites be known to prevent destruction’
‘I began volunteering with the Historic Environment Record Office in 2016 to correlate Wealden Iron Research Group (WIRG) sites with those recorded in the Historic Environment Record (HER) database. The HER based at The Keep holds records of East Sussex and Brighton & Hove’s heritage. My role involves comparing the records held in the WIRG database with those held by the HER and cross-checking these against primary and secondary sources.
‘I am a member of the WIRG, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Past and current members use documented records and field-walking to record the locations of iron sites that date from the Iron Age to the 19th century. We have an online database of some 1,000 sites across the Weald of Sussex, Surrey and Kent. East Sussex has the greater number, with 686 recorded to date and we are still finding more.
‘I spend one day a week using ArcGIS mapping software to locate sites mentioned on the WIRG database. Having located a site, I search WIRG’s online bulletins and newsletters for any information about the site gained from previous field visits, as well as copies of the two ‘bibles’ of Wealden iron, Straker’s Wealden Iron published in 1931 and Cleere & Crossley’s The Iron Industry of the Weald 1995, which, now being out of print, WIRG have had digitised. At The Keep, I have access to the Sussex Archaeological Society publications as well as primary sources of information, such as historic maps through the East Sussex Record Office, which together enable me to check and add information to the HER records.
‘We have few extant remains of furnaces on the Weald, the main evidence for sites being slag – the waste material from iron making – and the bays (dams) that held the ponds for the water-powered blast furnaces and refining forges that first arrived in 1490. We feel it important that the location of these sites be known to prevent destruction, or, if to be lost, that a full archaeological survey be completed prior to undertaking modern work.
‘I started volunteering after retiring from my job as editor of a steel publication and found the work ethic at The Keep familiar to me, even to the extent of having to complete a Health & Safety assessment to use the computers. But I do dispute the answer to the one and only question marked wrong – a backpack is far better than a luggage trolley to carry a laptop in!’
To view and download the publications from The Wealden Iron Research Group, please visit www.wealdeniron.org.uk.
The Keep will be hosting a talk by Jeremy Hodgkinson, Vice-President of the Wealden Iron Research Group, on 10 October 2018. Further details will be posted on the events pages of our website nearer the time.
Meet the Volunteers: Emily Manser on Recording Remembrance and the Brighton War Memorial
3 April 2018
I have been volunteering at The Keep since November 2017. I wanted to volunteer was because I have always loved learning about history and believe that in order to understand our present, we must learn about our past. At The Keep I have the opportunity to help preserve that history so it is available for years to come.
The project I have been working on is Recording Remembrance, which focuses on locating and recording war memorials in and around East Sussex. While looking through copies of the Brighton Herald on the Royal Pavilion & Museums Digital Media Bank for mentions of war memorials, I came across an interesting article (pictured right). It described how the parents of a fallen soldier received correspondence from a lady in Occupied Belgium, four months after his death. The parents were Reverend William Teesdale Mackintosh and Ethel Lawrence Mackintosh of Alfred Road, Brighton; their son was Second-Lieutenant Douglas Fraser Mackintosh of the Royal Field Artillery, attached Royal Flying Corps, and the Belgian lady provided a detailed account of his heroic, yet tragic, death. The following is a partial transcription of the text published in the Herald on 23 February 1918;
‘Two British airmen were brought down in Occupied Belgium,
after a gallant fight with seven of the enemy. The German
aviator who claimed the victory descended close to the spot
and said: “What a pity! They were such heroes! They could have
escaped but preferred to die fighting. Never have I met with
such resistance before.” The Two heroes were buried with
The other soldier mentioned was Second-Lieutenant W R Bishop (pilot); they died on 2 October 1917. Second-Lieutenant Douglas Fraser Mackintosh was 27 years of age.
If the story tells us anything, it’s that even in a time of great suffering and horror, there were acts of compassion and respect, even between enemy and ally. At the end of it all, no matter what side they were on, they were all just men thrown into a war that no one fully understood.
Our aim with the Recording Remembrance project is to link people with memorials and fortunately, upon further research, I was able to do this for Second-Lieutenant Douglas F. Mackintosh. His name, along with 2,599 others, 3 of which were women, is inscribed on the Brighton Memorial on the Old Steine. The memorial stands at the north end of the gardens. Built in the style of a Roman water garden, it features a large memorial pool. A fountain in the centre of the pool provides a sense of calm, something that would have been severely lacking on the battlefields of France and beyond.
At one end of the pool stands a U-shaped colonnade made from Portland stone. In the centre of the colonnade there is a semi-enclosed space and within that space there is a stone altar table; a place for remembrance and contemplation. This area is crowned with a small stone dome.
At the north-west and north-east corners of the colonnade, standing like guards at their post, there are two bronze pylons. It is here where the names of 2,600 servicemen and women of Brighton who fell during the First World War are inscribed. Their names forever etched in history. It is memorials like these that stand as a testament to all those who fought and all those who fell in service to their country. That is why we, with the help of the public, are working to find and record all the war memorials in East Sussex; to ensure that the names of those who served and their sacrifice is never forgotten.
We will remember them.
The Recording Remembrance project was established in 2014 to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War. Its purpose is to record all of the memorials located in East Sussex and Brighton & Hove. Currently there are 832 memorials listed by the Imperial War Museum on the website, however many of these have missing information. We are asking members of the public and local history groups to record information on war memorials in their area, including the location, condition, form and inscription. Once the data has been collated, it will be added to the county’s Historic Environment Record.
Information relating to people named on war memorials, such as name, age, regiment and burial place, can also be added to the Recording Remembrance website. Person records can then be linked to their respective memorials, allowing researchers to find out more about individuals.
With the centenary of the end of the First World War fast approaching, we are asking as many people as possible to get involved with recording the county’s memorial heritage.
Further information can be found at http://www.recordingremembrance.org.uk/help
What is the SPRU Oral History Project – and why does it matter?
16 March 2018
By Ângela Campos
In 1966, history was quietly being made at Sussex University. The Unit for the Study of Science Policy (quickly renamed Science Policy Research Unit) was officially founded thanks to the vision and tenacity of the then Vice Chancellor Asa Briggs and the commitment of a pioneering group of people who thought the ‘Sussex ethos’ and its ‘new maps of learning’ provided the ideal conditions for this project to germinate. Core founders Chris Freeman, Geoff Oldham and Jackie Fuller started their experiment in the uncharted territory of the science policy field. Informing their academic rigour and theoretical and methodological breakthroughs was a simple yet firm commitment to transforming the world into a better place, much in the wake of J. Bernal’s notions of science with a social conscience.
The next five decades are ripe in examples of how successful the founders and succeeding interdisciplinary, international SPRU teams were in implementing and extending such principles, whilst establishing pathbreaking research directions – and in the process putting Sussex University on the map and unofficially becoming a finishing school for generations of policy makers across the Globe.
However, SPRU’s major and numerous contributions to the science policy field are not within the scope of this blog post. Our focus is on the importance of investigating the wider historical identity of this rather idiosyncratic research unit. Is there a tangible SPRU spirit indissociably linked with – and forged at – Sussex? Where can we capture the legendary SPRU collegiality? Catalyse the continuing echoes of inspiring pioneering figures like Chris Freeman, Geoff Oldham, Marie Jahoda and many others? How, from their Sussex base but firmly steeped in a wide-reaching international arena, has this problem-driven unit (able to straddle academia, industry, and policy making) contributed to change the world we live in today? And why does all of this matter now?
In 2014, close to the critical 50th anniversary juncture, Professor Johan Schot, then recently appointed (and current) Director of SPRU, recognised the need to tap into five eventful decades of SPRU history. As often is the case, the Unit’s development and achievements were at points better known from afar than at home, as crucial institutional DNA amassed during decades remained at risk of being overlooked or lost through staff change and archival loss.
Part of the response to this challenge resulted in the development of the SPRU History Project (2014-2016), which encompassed the recording of oral history interviews with a diverse sample of relevant individuals about their SPRU-related experiences. Recently archived at The Keep, the resulting SPRU Oral History Project collection, comprising 26 narrators, over 53 hours of recordings and 105 GB of audio files and supporting documentation, has just now been made available via its Special Collections.
Despite certain acknowledged limitations in representativeness – project constraints determined a focus on the 1966-1986 period – the collection illustrates how oral history is a powerful means of engagement with institutional memory, providing answers to many of the unique questions emerging from SPRU’s trajectory, as well as valuable standpoints for surveying the last fifty years and inspiring the future.
Packed with fascinating research material of unexpected breadth, the SPRU Oral History Project collection encapsulates a nuanced understanding of the vibrant academic and social life of the Unit since 1966. It highlights little-known angles on the development of the science and technology policy arenas in the UK and internationally, as well as the expansion of SPRU’s research and teaching as typically breaching great divides: qualitative and quantitative, conceptual and empirical, constructivist and positivist. The collection also conjures the portrait of a global unit at the forefront of international collaborations (pursuing links with the IDRC, OECD, UN, Harvard University, and many other partners). It includes inspirational reflections on academic leadership and governance, evolving gender issues in academia, and navigates 50 years of highs and lows in higher education from a Sussex perspective. On a human level, we access rich narratives by mostly warm, charismatic personalities interspersed with humour, pathos, inspiration and congeniality – and certainly a lot of fond memories!
What is done with these materials, which lend themselves to such a wide range of research purposes, is up to researchers. The Special Collections team at The Keep look forward to welcoming them to discover why the collection matters!
To find out more about SPRU and outputs of the SPRU History Project, visit: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/spru/about/history).
Ângela Campos is a Research Associate at SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit) at the University of Sussex. As an oral historian, she developed work on the qualitative angle of the SPRU History Project (2014-2017), having collected and processed the SPRU Oral History Project interviews for archiving at The Keep.