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!
Family History and Beyond – talks and courses at The Keep
30 July 2018
By Kate Elms
One of the perks of working at The Keep and, in particular, being involved in the planning and delivery of our public events programme, is having the opportunity to attend most of the events themselves. I’ve learnt a huge amount from the fantastic speakers who have given talks here, and also from colleagues who have helped curate displays of relevant original archives, enabling us to showcase some of the remarkable material in our care.
Family historians are among our most dedicated users, and earlier this year, we were delighted to collaborate with the Sussex Family History Group (SFHG) on an introductory session for those inspired to start tracking down their ancestors. SFHG volunteer Roy Winchester gave a presentation that covered all the basics, from how to draw up a family tree to how to interpret the data to be found in census returns and parish records, as well as shedding light on alternative sources of information that can be found at The Keep, such as electoral registers, street directories and newspapers. The event concluded with coffee and biscuits and a lively question-and-answer session.
For those hoping to go ‘beyond the family tree’, we recently piloted a six-week creative writing course led by author and life historian Shivaun Woolfson. A group of ten participants met on Saturday mornings to share their ancestors’ stories and explore different ways of presenting them. Finding a balance between historical accuracy and storytelling was important; within families, much can be left unsaid – for all sorts of reasons – so using contextual information and personal experiences to fill in the gaps is part of the process. Many of the writers were inspired by a family heirloom – an object, photograph or letter – and the course included advice from The Keep’s conservator on caring for family collections as well as research tips and guidance from our archivists.
The participants read their work aloud at the last session, to which friends and family were invited. Each story was unique and personal – and all the more powerful for that – but the issues touched on were universal, from infant mortality, the impact of war, poverty and life in the workhouse to marriage, loss and the position of women. There was a strong sense of place, too, with locations ranging from Vancouver to Victorian Rodmell. The final morning concluded with a plea for us to repeat the course next year, with longer sessions and more of them! Watch this space…
Anyone interested in family, local or social history should make a point of delving in to what archivists refer to as the ‘parish chest’. We were thrilled earlier this month to welcome Elizabeth Hughes back to The Keep to share her expertise on this subject and to draw attention to some of the little-known gems in the parish archives.
Parishes were the main unit of local government until the mid 19th century, and Elizabeth highlighted material relating among other things to education, charity and, in particular, relief of the poor. These records illustrate vividly what life must have been like for those with no wealth or status who were dependent on the parish when they fell on hard times. Rigorous settlement examinations, for example, were recorded with care and can provide extraordinary detail about the lives of named individuals who would never have appeared in the history books. The process itself – of trying to establish the right to settle in a particular place and quite frequently being refused – has uncomfortable parallels in the present day, making it more relevant than ever.
The Keep holds an extensive range of material to support family history research, and volunteers from the Sussex Family History Group are on hand at from 10am – 4pm, Tuesday to Friday, to provide help getting started. For more information about future talks and courses, please see the Events page of our website. If you would like to receive news of forthcoming events, you can sign up to our monthly e-newsletter via our website.
Meet the Volunteers: Sam Allen, Beyond Boxes ‘buddy’
30 November 2017
‘When I began volunteering for the Beyond Boxes project, I did not know what to expect. However, I have since learned that it is about far more than helping service users with registering or using our services at The Keep. The Beyond Boxes project allows people to explore their own stories, histories and interests, with a helping hand nearby should they need it. As a volunteer, I feel enriched by my time spent at The Keep, not just in terms of guiding users through how to use the catalogue or interpret historical documents, but also in getting to know our users and their stories.
I believe the key to encouraging access to the collections at The Keep is getting to know our users, by exploring what they are looking for in the archives or simply by listening to their stories. Everyone who comes to The Keep has a story or is looking to fill in the blanks of one, be it of their family history or to aid academic research. In this way, I believe that the Beyond Boxes project sits hand in hand with Mass Observation. It appears that people are increasingly looking to inform their own knowledge of the past. As a matter of observation, it is interesting that people of our time are interested in looking back as the world is getting bigger through technology. As part of that process, I am more than glad to lend a hand where I can in helping people to find and record their stories, even if that simply means showing them how to access software on a computer or helping hunt around the Reference Room for a book or index.
Recently we welcomed a group from Blind Veterans UK to The Keep, and their enthusiasm for our collections and resources was warming and enlightening. In a recent acquisition to meet user needs in terms of accessibility, The Keep has installed a wide range of IT equipment designed to enlarge, filter and enhance our digital resources to meet the needs of visually impaired or partially sighted users. It was exciting to hear what the Blind Veterans group thought of these new innovations, and it was also an education for the buddies and staff present. The whole day was a great experience for everyone involved, as tales of lost relatives and past experiences were shared and explored. Better still was that these endeavours were led by the Blind Veterans themselves, all of whom I hope left us with a healthy appetite for what The Keep offers (beyond the inter-session tea and cake). Many that I spoke to eagerly shared their plans to return.
My hopes as a volunteer and participant in the Beyond Boxes project is to share and reflect the excitement that our users bring with them to The Keep, particularly those who may not normally seek out our services. Often, it is in the experiences of these users that the most interesting stories are found. These contemporary voices shape our local and cultural history, and each and every one deserves to be heard, recorded and celebrated.’
If you would like the support of a ‘buddy’ volunteer to access the technology in use at The Keep, please contact us by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or telephone (01273 482349) to make an appointment. If you are interested in volunteering as one of our buddies, please email Suzanne Rose (Suzanne.Rose@sussex.ac.uk).
Observing The Keep in action!
2 November 2017
By Antida Mizzi
‘My name is Antida and I came to the University of Sussex Special Collections at The Keep on an Erasmus programme for staff training from The University of Malta library. On my first day, as I entered The Keep, a particular quote caught my eye: ‘Safe keeping the past to inspire the future’, and this is exactly what my stay here was all about. Unfortunately I was only here for one week, but I got a taster of many of the things that take place at The Keep, such as the German-Jewish project and the Old Bailey project, and I also spent some time with colleagues from East Sussex Record Office. My little project for the week was sorting through the University of Sussex Student Union (USSU) papers.
‘What impressed me the most is the relationship that the staff here have with lecturers, and the way they engage with students. The teaching and learning programme here is just amazing. I was able to shadow some of these sessions; students come to The Keep with their lecturer and, through a video, are introduced to the world of Special Collections and the handling of archives. Students then handle and study documents which would have been selected for them in advance.
‘The success of these sessions is due to the good relations between the staff at The Keep and lecturers, who contact staff in advance and prepare these sessions with them (which I also had the pleasure to shadow). This is a fantastic way of making students feel welcome within such institutions, where archivists and special collections librarians are no longer viewed as ‘gate keepers’ of knowledge, and archives are not those daunting places reserved only for scholars. This explains why the quote at the entrance of the building struck me on my first day.
‘And last but not least, the success of my week is due to a lot of nice people here at The Keep, who made me feel welcome amongst them. Thank you lovely people! ‘
My work placement at The Keep
29 June 2017
‘We have to educate ourselves on the past in order to move on into the future’
‘My name is Rachel Wooley, and I recently completed a placement at The Keep. I study History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton, and my placement was part of a module my course offers me in which the students can undertake a placement at any of a number of museums and archives across East Sussex. I was particularly pleased that I was granted the placement at The Keep because I am passionate about the way that The Keep stores, protects, and disseminates its material, and the mission of the archive.
I consider myself to be a community-conscious individual, and try to maintain an outward-looking, open-minded approach to all aspects of society. I value projects that attempt to help marginalised groups, and make a difference in the local community. The Keep, in these respects, is absolutely perfect. There are several projects and processes in which the staff engage consistently to help the archive be accessible to everyone, with no exceptions. Often I found staff going to prisons and community groups in order to continue their outreach programmes, and I also found myself engaging in school sessions. There are many facilities and practices throughout The Keep that maintain this incredibly inclusive, accessible approach that is so valuable to those who use the facilities.
Historical objects and documents are so vital to our success as an on-going, progressive community, because we have to educate ourselves on the past in order to move on into the future. They can inspire a passion for history through the reality of touching and seeing real-life artefacts, and can bring new dimensions not only to our research, but also to our imaginations. I was lucky enough to meet two authors (Bethan Roberts and Allie Rogers), who had undertaken research in order to set their novels in a past – set in Brighton – rooted in fact. For me, this cemented the idea that research, especially in archives like The Keep, can be absolutely vital to whatever work it is that you’re producing. The artist in me was continually inspired by the drawings in many of the diaries for Mass Observation, by the beautiful and hilarious descriptions of daily events in the 12th of May day diaries, by the posters and leaflets created for LGBT activism in Brighton’s history, and by the work that others had created with direct inspiration from material at The Keep.
As a student, I often find myself writing essays and seminar papers that need to be centred on original sources, and The Keep offers a plethora of these. There is such an unbelievable amount of material kept at The Keep that it’s extremely difficult to find a topic or word that can’t be found within their massive collection. If you are conducting research on any subject, it is more than likely that you will find something within the archive that will help you. With a dissertation looming on the horizon, I am thankful to know that The Keep has my back; I can use the facilities for free in order to further my research and produce a piece of work that is educated by my contact with original material.
If you are someone who is considering using The Keep, I have some advice for you: go. Go and conduct some research, even if it doesn’t amount to anything. Even if it just involves you looking at some artefacts you find interesting, but don’t intend to do anything with, it is my personal opinion that you should do it anyway. If you want to go but you have no idea what to look at, I would recommend looking at the Mass Observation directive on Eurovision. And if you are someone who works at The Keep, or actively uses the facilities, “Keep” up the good work.’
Meet the Staff: Suzanne Rose, Education and Outreach Officer for Mass Observation
23 September 2016
‘Sometimes young people walk into The Keep without any idea of what an archive is. ‘Is it a castle?’ ‘Is it a crypt?’ That’s where my job begins!
‘Tapping into an archive informs and enhances the lives of individuals and communities. My role is to make the Mass Observation (MO) archive as accessible as possible, introducing it to schools, students and community groups. The MO archive itself is only one of scores of collections which are stored on the shelves behind the scenes at The Keep; it’s basically a huge collection of the diaries, opinions and experiences of ordinary people that were written during the Second World War, and continues to the present day. Most archives are finite collections – they are consulted and put back on the shelves – but we often ask people working with MO to feed back their own responses and experiences so it grows as a historical resource for future generations.
‘As soon as I started here I applied for funding for a project called ‘Mass Education’ and was fortunate to get a two-year grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Over 2013-2015 we worked with hundreds of kids, using the MO archive to deliver learning sessions. We went into schools and the children came to The Keep. These sessions were geared towards history (the Second World War), literacy (keeping diaries), and research and study skills (observing and recording). Our learning sessions are available to schools visiting The Keep and more information and learning resources can be found on the MOA website.
‘Partnering with local organisations is really important in my work. MO is currently a heritage partner in a joint project with Photoworks called Into the Outside. Young people taking part in the project invited their contemporaries at Brighton Pride weekend to share their experiences of LGBTQ+ life. This worked positively for all those involved; it informed their sense of community, it gave their lives and lifestyle choices recognition and their work will form part of a new Queer Youth archive at The Keep. The photography from the project will be exhibited as part of the Brighton Photo Biennial in October. We also partnered with The Nimbus Group on a project called ‘Giddy Brighton‘, where young people from Longhill School interviewed older residents of Brighton on what it was like being a teenager in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. They went on to develop a location-based app which can be used by anyone walking through Brighton – you can just stop and listen to the memories associated with that particular place. It’s wonderful.
‘Our latest project called ‘Beyond Boxes’ is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. It will enable us to reach out to diverse, perhaps more marginalised community groups, who might find accessing the archive more difficult. We are working with Blind Veterans UK and Brighton Housing Trust to offer sessions at The Keep and outreach sessions in the wider community. We’ll also be delivering sessions in Lewes Prison, where we hope material from the archive will inspire prisoners’ creative writing and develop literacy skills.
‘This is a part-time job so you can understand that it’s never done! And the teaching bits can be quite challenging. I worked with 150 Year 8 children during one day just before the summer holidays – that was memorable! But the reward is seeing people access this public service, who wouldn’t normally find it easy. And the great thing is, once people have visited in a group, they can come back on their own, knowing that The Keep offers a friendly welcome and a chance to explore the archives.’
Interview by Lindsey Tydeman
Education and Outreach: Political activism and Magna Carta
11th December 2015
The Keep is currently hosting the Magna Carta and Parliament exhibition as part of the de Montfort project, an outreach programme run by the Parliamentary Archives during 2015, which looks at the impact on communities of members of both Houses of Parliament.
The outreach activities related to this project included a visit to The Keep from 13 students from Pestalozzi Village, based in Sedlescombe on the 29th November.
At The Keep, students had a tour of the building where they had the opportunity to look at letters, postcards and photographs in the Pestalozzi archive which documents the village’s first days and the students and staff that have been a part of its history.
The workshop consisted of an introduction to the Magna Carta and Parliament exhibition by a member of the Parliamentary archives team, Kirsty Fife, followed by exploring the life and environmental activism of MP Tufton Beamish who actively campaigned for the Protection of Birds Act which was passed in 1954.
After examining original documents from Tufton Beamish’s archive, the students talked about environmental issues in their own countries- India, Butan, Nepal, Gambia- and the importance of campaigning, governmental responsibility and the rights and responsibilities of the civil society.
The group will be heading up to London today to visit the Parliamentary Archives and enjoy a guided tour to Victoria Tower. This will further the insight into Tufton Beamish’s environmental campaign and in response to this will create their own campaign poster or video clip.
Education and Outreach: Learning to build paper aeroplanes
By Kirsty Pattrick, Mass Observation Project Officer
One Wednesday back in October last year, I was downstairs at The Keep, with paper aeroplanes flying overhead. A retired Engineer was impressively demonstrating to a group how to make a fast, high-flying aeroplane. I was full of attention hoping to impress my young son.
This was actually a reminiscence session, part of an 8-week programme delivered by the NHS Memory Support Service in partnership with The Keep, to support those recently diagnosed with mild to moderate dementia. The sessions took place weekly, for a few hours, on a Wednesday mornings.
The aim of the partnership was to introduce The Keep, its archives and the services we offer not only to those taking part but also to their carers and family members. Each week a different staff member visited the group, with items from their collection related to a particular theme. From original newspapers and social survey responses to school records, photographs, personal diaries and theatre programmes. For all of those taking part, the building and the people were new; however, by the end of the programme great laughs and a familiarity with the space were seen.
So, in late November I found myself listening to vivid stories of speeding down steep Brighton hills on toboggans, riding around the streets in homemade orange box go-carts and playing ‘tabs’ in the street. These were some of the memories being recalled in the last session of the reminiscence series. There was much laughter and shared experiences as people looked at photographs of local schools and teachers’ reports. For many, their school days were spent in Brighton, so the material was particularly poignant.
This partnership enriched the reminiscence programme with a different dimension, introducing original archive material to spark shared memories and life experiences. It also provided staff from across The Keep’s collections with the opportunity to support a new outreach programme, for a new audience in the first year at The Keep.
I will of course, take away with me, my new skill in making paper aeroplanes.
The NHS Memory Support Service provides group interventions for people who have recently been diagnosed with mild to moderate dementia. Those who use the service are referred through either their GP or The Alzheimer’s Society. This service does not extend beyond East Sussex.