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
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.
Lights, Camera, Action! Introducing the Richard Attenborough archive
12 June 2018
By Eleanor King
Following an 18-month cataloguing project, the archive of Lord Richard Attenborough, former Chancellor of the University of Sussex, is now accessible to the public here at The Keep. The archive came to the University’s Special Collections based at The Keep from Attenborough’s home and offices in Richmond in November 2015. Two archivists and one graduate archive intern were employed to organise, appraise and catalogue the collection of papers, photographs and memorabilia that span Attenborough’s life and career from his early days as a drama student at RADA to his final film project Closing the Ring in 2008; nearly 70 years.
Whilst much of the material pertains to Attenborough’s film career, both in front of and behind the camera, the collection also covers his other business and personal interests, including his involvement with Chelsea Football Club and Capital Radio. Attenborough was also committed to many charity projects throughout his life, which feature predominantly in the business and personal correspondence that can be viewed here at The Keep. As one might expect with a high profile figure such as Attenborough, there are many famous faces and names (including his brother Sir David Attenborough) scattered amongst the collection’s vast correspondence, and throughout the 25,000+ photographs. Frequent correspondents include Sir John Mills, Bryan Forbes and Sir John Gielgud, as well as political figures such as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and royalty including Prince Charles, Diana Princess of Wales and Queen Elizabeth II.
Fittingly, one of the largest series in the collection is the material relating to Attenborough’s film epic Gandhi. Although Attenborough’s 20-year journey to make the film is already fairly well documented, what one learns from this archive is the true scale and scope of this project, how close it came to being made in both the 1960s and 70s, and how very different a film it would have been. Examples of the scale of the project include ‘Call Sheet 55’, the call sheet for the day of filming Gandhi’s funeral procession, also known as ‘Operation Rajpath’. For this sequence, over 300,000 extras were used, and perhaps unsurprisingly in this day of CGI, this scene still holds the record for the greatest number of extras used in a film. Attenborough’s personal commitment to the project is also striking, and he directly sought the ear of Indian and British Government officials. Long-running correspondence between Attenborough and figures such as Lord Mountbatten, Pandit Nehru and Indira Gandhi are indicative of the respect and admiration he inspired throughout his life.
The material relating to Gandhi is just one example of the scale of this fascinating collection, which offers a unique insight not only into the life of Richard Attenborough, but also into Britain in the 20th century. Alongside his personal career as an actor, producer and director, Attenborough was also a pioneer of the British film industry and worked tirelessly to promote and save it. Largely overlooked in most biographical writing, Attenborough also maintained a career in broadcasting and journalism throughout the 1950s, focusing mainly on music journalism. He supported many charities, with a focus on access to the arts for those with disabilities, and was a lifetime supporter of the Muscular Dystrophy Group, becoming its President in 1971. As well as his commitment to charity work at home, he actively supported civil rights causes abroad such as the release of Nelson Mandela and an end to Apartheid in South Africa. In short, this archive offers a unique view of a changing time.
Attenborough’s list of accolades and achievements is impressive, but among the documents relating to these, and the celebrity names and faces, there are also letters and correspondence from fans, listeners, viewers and the public in general, and these have proved an equally enlightening record of this man’s life, work and achievements. So now you can come and discover ‘Dickie’ for yourself – there really is something for everyone in this collection. ‘Keep’ an eye on our website for further updates from the collection and also activities and events that we will be holding in connection with this truly remarkable archive.
Delving into Mass Observation – what the 12th May Day Diaries can tell us about health
24 April 2018
By Kirsty Pattrick
The joy of the day diary is that it catapults the reader into someone’s life for that brief moment. With a fascination of people, their lives and behaviours, this always feeds my sheer nosiness. The 12th May day diaries come from people of all ages across the UK, and they always leave me wanting more. All we know of these writers is their age and gender; that is our only request for the purpose of this collection, although some give further biographical information. I read of the mundane to the life-changing and utterly personal, feeling touched and richer from the experience.
Issues of health and wellbeing arise in so many of Mass Observation’s collections. These diaries capture the minutiae; the small, the repetitive, the routine. Yet what I see in a number of them is how daily events and actions are led by or the result of people’s health and wellbeing.
‘Today was a typical day as far as the last three months is concerned but not for my “normal” life. I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in December 2016. This time it has spread to my neck. The oncologist arranged for me to get a three-week course of radiotherapy. Since then I have suffered greatly with fatigue and can quite easily sleep for 16-18 hours a day.’ Female, 49
In The Keep’s Reading Room, I’m moved as I read of grief, loss and healing, of the value of friendships, of family and loved ones shared. The reflectiveness of those who wrote last year and the changes their lives have seen. For some, life can turn on its head far too quickly.
The 12th May 2017 was a Friday, and a wet day for many. Getting out into the garden was seen as a hobby for some, but a form of therapy for others; for health, for healing and for the serendipitous fun of seeing what food-growing skills they can master. Something I definitely identified with, reflecting on my sweetcorn harvest and cauliflower failure.
‘Life became unbearable due to his alcohol abuse and entanglement with someone else. My garden is my slave and I, its slave – a willing one.’ F,70
I saw similarities in routines: our use of media, commutes to school, work, exercise classes and duties of care, as well as food shopping, diet and financial worries. Yet within this ran a thread of how our daily lives impact on our health, and how our health has an impact on our daily life; from those in bed with colds and coughs, to injuries and then those managing illness, for some life-limiting and life-threatening.
My friend ‘has dementia and over the past four or five years it has resulted in a personality change, sad. She forgets what she has ordered by the time it arrives, and actually thought she had already had lunch. He is very patient and calm, and lets some of her wilder statements pass.’ Female, 87
I read of cancer, the NHS, carers and the managing of medication along with the exploration of alternative therapies; the hope, the fears and the lifelines given.
‘My husband gave up work 16 years ago because of ME so he holds everything together at home and keeps the ship sailing while I go to work.’ Female, 55
Conversations with family, friends, groups or the local shop owner range from everyday actions, providing pleasure and happiness, to feelings of burden, frustration or an upset. For some, these events provided a beacon of support and a boost of mood.
My friend ‘wanted to introduce me to another friend whose child is self-harming and has recently made a suicide attempt. My older child did the same 5 years ago, so we chatted about that and what had helped in my child’s situation. It was all quite ranty and sweary, and much more fun than its sounds as we were all pretty honest about some quite difficult subjects and it felt quite cathartic.’ Female, 45
‘I sit on a table with three ladies who always make me laugh. I needed that today because my overall mood today was down. I woke up missing my children and my mum and I know I will go to bed feeling the same.’ Female, 55 Sutton Park Prison
‘I wake up at 6. I was feeling pretty low last night – stressed, poor and stretched in multiple directions – and it still weighs on me this morning. I try not to let it show. I sit on the sofa with my two-year-old and dutifully read through the first “Where’s Wally” book (my own childhood copy, it must be about a quarter of a century old)’. Male, 31
The diaries provide multiple windows of observation on the lives of individuals, families, communities and groups on the same date across Britain. They can give an insight into how people’s health and wellbeing, their feelings and emotions can guide their day and their actions. Ways of managing, overcoming and avoiding health issues are explored and explained; from medication and meditation to exercise and regular companionship.
The parallel lives recorded on this one date are compelling. We share a lot of love for porridge, for morning exercise, tea in bed, and for hiding back under the duvet. We are also habitual in grabbing for our devices before we rise, checking the news, emails and Facebook. It was the end of the week for a lot of our writers, and pizza was on the table in quite a few households. Concerns and worries were heavily linked to politics, to the next general election and to Trump’s presidency. In the evening, there were also thoughts and reflections upon the NHS cyber attack that had taken place earlier in the day.
One thread that runs through is the action of recording, of writing, sharing and reflecting. The process itself is cathartic, therapeutic, purposeful and productive for many. As closing time hits the Reading Room, I spend time reflecting on the diverse lives I’ve shared today and, as ever, am in awe of the time our writers dedicate to Mass Observation.
If you’d like to meet the Mass Observation team and hear extracts from 12 May Day Diaries dating back to 1937, do join us on Wednesday 9 May for an afternoon talk, Recording Everyday Lives. You can also bring your friends and family to The Keep on Saturday 12 May, for Writing Your Day with Mass Observation, a hands-on morning of activities. More details and booking info can be found on the Events pages of our website.
Mass Observation has teamed up with Action for M.E. for this year’s 12 May, with the aim of capturing everyday lived experiences of people living with M.E., or those caring for or living with them. Find out more about the project and how to take part on the Mass Observation website.
What did we watch on Christmas Day 1986?
15 December 2017
By Lindsey Tydeman
In 1986 the research organisation Mass Observation asked its contributors to keep a Christmas Day Diary. Several hundred people responded, and sent in hour-by-hour descriptions of their day. Each respondent was given a letter and number, to preserve anonymity. They wrote about food, drink, presents, their families, their dogs, and, of course, their televisions. Although many families made the decision to ‘switch off’ on Christmas Day, for others, watching television together after the present-opening and Christmas Day dinner, was an important element of the seasonal ritual. We’re publishing just a few of their responses below to provide a flavour of Christmas viewing 31 years ago.
Viewers had four terrestrial channels to choose from – BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4 – and the battle for ratings was fierce. The BBC decided to show its popular soap EastEnders in two separate parts, at 5pm and 10pm, keeping viewers on tenterhooks as the marriage of Den and Angie finally disintegrated. It drew in a record 30 million viewers.
9pm At last this is where our celebrations begin. We switch off the lights except the tree lights and put the gasfire on instead of the heating. We get out the wine and chocolates, switch Agatha Christie on the telly then watch a video of Seasons Greetings and cuddle up together – this is the best part of Christmas.
Then comes another debate – about what to watch on TV… the situation has become less calamitous since the invention of the video recorder and the decision is to relegate Miss Marple to the VCR and enjoy The Importance of Being Earnest now.. Since it is shown on Channel 4 it has the advantage of intervals for advertisements which makes it possible to prepare biscuits and cheese for all of us who have only recently sworn that we would not eat again for days.
9.35pm More conversation then more TV as we were all waiting for the day’s second episode of EastEnders at 10pm. We all agreed that the Beeb had been very crafty in cornering the market by two showings of the hit soap. My sister was most indignant when I asked her if she watched the series and flatly denied doing so. Aren’t some folks narrow minded?
A phone call for John from Henry in which he fills us in on the first part of EastEnders. We laugh – but agree to watch Part 2… we watch it with much joking and laughter.
Spent the whole evening watching TV until able to make dignified exit to bed at about 10pm. Thanking Heaven that is over again for another year.
Bloated and ready for a sit-down after clearing up and washing up, we flop down in front of the TV to watch The Queen at 3 o’clock. Most of the men folk seem to think this is ‘a bind’ and want to watch something else. But I like to hear what she has to say. I wish she could relax a bit more. This year’s speech was OK, 10 minutes is too short though!
Dinner over we settled for the Queen’s speech, ten minutes later neither of could remember what she had said! What we did remember was that we found the horses distracting and that there was a group of children round her. We both agreed that we much preferred to see her sitting at home to speak to us instead of in the royal stables or wherever it was.
We were watching Only Fools and Horses and it was truly dreadful, we all decided to turn it off. (After Christmas I read a critic’s assessment of this programme who described it as ‘brilliant’. I can’t believe that he and I were watching the same programme.)
I came in from the kitchen halfway through the Queen’s Speech and was confused by the horses in the background instead of the (usual?) sitting room. Everybody thought the speech was massively anodyne and blander than usual but watched it just the same because it was Christmas…
Ate Christmas pudding with cream and sauce in lounge in front of the TV. Watched EastEnders with great glee and everybody determined to watch second half at 10pm.
Annie is addicted to EastEnders, the new BBC ‘soap’ that is so enormously popular. So that went on at 6.35pm. I don’t usually watch it and what I saw then will not lead me to do so in future.
10.20pm Watching EastEnders on TV: glad we don’t normally watch it! (And I went to bed before 11.20 because of the diabolical programme choice on television.)
Mac and I flop on sofa and watch EastEnders. Eat chocolate and watch Only Fools and Horses which none of us found particularly funny and find I am getting more and more depressed as the evening goes on.
Second part of EastEnders. We had expected that Den would break the news of divorce to Angie and that Arthur would crack up completely but not that Pauline would discover that Den was the father of Michelle’s baby. The exit of Angie and Sharon from the pub was superb.
The TV diet is unexpectedly good; first a programme about Aaron Copland’s music, which interests me, then a splendid Miss Marple whodunit, followed by the last 2 acts of The Importance of Being Earnest, with Wendy Hiller doing a restrained Miss Marple.
4.40 The film now appears to be Annie, a show I’ve never seen and as I’m not really watching I’m not getting a full idea of the story. Was anybody, I wonder? Why was it on?
Television was switched on to the Christmas Day concert from Amsterdam (BBC2), mostly to ‘warm’ the set well before the Queen’s Speech as it is 12 years old and temperamental.
I put the television on. Mine is just a small black and white portable set which I rent for £3.90 a month. Mother has her own colour set at home. A James Bond film starring Sean Connery was on called Never Say Never Again. Although I hadn’t seen it, I couldn’t be bothered to get involved in a film. EastEnders, a popular soap, was on BBC. We decided not to watch TV.
After watching the BBC News it is decided we all retire to bed, after a drink of warm milk. Educating Rita, a film my wife and daughter wished to see, is put on the video recorder for watching at a later date.
During the past year, I found myself, increasingly, watching more and more rubbish on the television. It seemed to be that, because it was there, I watched it. My television licence expired yesterday and so I did not renew it. I asked the shop from whom I rented the set, to take it back, so now I am in a minority. In my new guise, I settled down and listened to a murder play on the radio until 9.30pm. It isn’t as easy to listen as it is to watch and, although I don’t particularly miss the programmes on the television, I miss Teletext.
Images from the Radio Times are taken from the Christopher Griffin-Beale Radio Times Collection, which can be consulted at The Keep.
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 (email@example.com) 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).
Diary reveals military executions at Hove
29th November 2017
By Lindsey Tydeman
A diary recently acquired by East Sussex Record Office gives an eyewitness account of the execution of two soldiers at Goldstone Bottom in Hove, an area of land which later became Hove Park. In 1795 privates Edward Cooke and Henry Parish were ringleaders of a mutiny which began at Blatchington Barracks near Seaford. Poor food supplies drove 500 hungry soldiers into Seaford where they took supplies from local butchers and traders, as well as stealing 300 sacks of flour from the Tide Mills at Bishopstone.
The writer of the diary, Thomas Harison, a quartermaster attached to the army, drew a plan of the event. He described how, on Saturday 13 June, hundreds of soldiers from 13 regiments were lined up and forced to watch the execution. Cavalry was stationed on the slight rises around the area to surround the ground and curb any thoughts of mutiny.
First, the six other soldiers who had helped to lead the rising were flogged in the centre of the ground and taken away, after which Cooke and Parish were made to kneel on their coffins. Twelve soldiers from their own regiment, the Oxfordshire Militia, then stepped out from a waiting position behind the ranks to carry out the execution. The rest of the regiment was placed close to the coffins and, ‘divided, that they might more conveniently see the execution’. Afterwards, every regiment was made to file past the bodies.
Thomas Harison was greatly affected by witnessing the executions. Underneath his key to the plan he wrote: ‘The last time I was at Seaford I went to Friston but was struck with such a melancholy that I could not enjoy a thing for a fortnight or more after it.’
The diary was discovered in a box of documents bought at Gorringes Auctions in September by the East Sussex Record Office. County archivist Christopher Whittick commented: ‘This is a wonderful discovery, albeit a poignant one, and demonstrates that important documents for the history of the area are still to be found. The unprepossessing appearance of the notebook in which Thomas Harison wrote his account did nothing to prepare us for the unique story which it contains.’
The key to Thomas Harison’s plan:
A. Royal Cheshire Militia
B. Dorset Militia
C. West Essex Militia
D.D. Oxford Militia divid’d that they might more conveniently see the execution
E. Hereford militia
F.F. Two Battalions of Wiltshire Militia
G.G.G. Squadrons of the Prince’s Own Regiment of Light Dragoons
H.H. Squadrons of Colonel Villars’s First Fencibles
I.I. Squadrons of Cinque Port Fencibles
K.K. Squadrons of Lancashire Fencibles
L.L. Two Brigades of Artillery Consisting of Four long six pounders on the right of the Cheshire and Four demi twelve pounders on the right of the Oxford Covered
l.l. Horses waggons with Ammunition etc in the rear of their respective Brigades
M.M. Flying or Horse Artillery
m.m. Horses etc in the rear of their respective guns
N. Battalion Guns to the Different Regiments the Oxford execpt’d
n. Horses etc to ditto in the rear
O. The men at the time they were flogged NB. they were reconducted to the guard room immediately after the punishment was inflict’d in an ammunition wagon
P. The main with the advance and rear guards which came with the Condemn’d men from Prison
Q. Men of the Oxford who were to shoot the Condemn’d as placed before the Prisoners Arrived
R. The above as stationed at the time of execution, the prisoners being in front kneeling on their coffins, two corporals in the rear as a reserve and the adjutant on the right who gave the signals by waving his cane
S. An ammunition wagon which brought the two coffins from Seaford
Thomas Harison’s diary, AMS 7241/1/7 is available to view at The Keep.
For more information about the event go to http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/ng995.htm
Meet the staff: Karen Watson, University of Sussex archivist
18 November 2017
‘University of Sussex Special Collections are pretty exciting, and I feel lucky to be their first archivist. They are a wonderful primary resource for anyone studying history, sociology, English or American studies and it’s part of my job to share their possibilities with tutors and their students. People have heard of the well-known collections, such as Mass Observation, which is so important it has its own team of archivists, and the Virginia and Leonard Woolf archives. But these high profile collections are only the tip of the iceberg. We also hold over 80 archival, manuscript and rare book collections, mainly focusing on 20th and 21st-century social, political and literary history.
‘The rare books are particularly beautiful; each of these collections is a history in itself, telling the story of the collector and what led him or her to the books they chose – perhaps the subject matter, author or their beautiful bindings. All these are unique primary sources a ten-minute walk away from the main university buildings!
‘I hold a degree in American Studies and qualified as an archivist in 2010 but I’ve only recently got a professional archivist job. It’s good to be using my qualification in this role as there are always cataloguing tasks. However, the majority of my time is spent teaching and talking; teaching undergraduate and MA students how to access and use the Special Collections, and talking to lecturers and researchers about the resource. It’s a drip, drip, drip approach…!
‘We’re trying to expand the knowledge and use of the Special Collections all the time as there are so many disciplines where they could be used. Recently, for example, I ran a photography seminar for art history students using Special Collections and the archives of the Brighton and Hove Camera Club, which is an East Sussex Record Office collection. This really shows the benefits of being at The Keep. At these introductory sessions, we show the short video we made recently about the store itself, and all the shelving and boxes behind the scenes. This helps to demystify the whole process of engaging with primary sources, as well as helping to familiarise people with The Keep building itself. I love showing people around and seeing their eyes widen when I open the door to the first storeroom.
‘Today, I’ve got a Library Assistant from the University of Malta shadowing me, joining me in a tutors’ meeting and then a staff meeting. She’s finding out how we run the Special Collections and also how our staffing structure fits into that of the University Library as a whole. As the Keep building isn’t on campus, it’s important for Special Collections staff to be represented at library events and in library groups. Today I’ve been in contact with with a former Vice-Chancellor who is going to contribute to one of our largest and most interesting collections, the institutional archive of the University of Sussex itself. Actually, former Sussex students regularly offer us their personal academic collections and we are very pleased to accept them if they complement the research needs of the University or its development as an institution.
‘I like people. That’s the attraction of the job – and sometimes one of its challenges! It’s so rewarding to be able to give visitors access to our collections and I sometimes forget just how unique our archives are. I’ve seen an individual become quite emotional on first reading the hand-written diaries and reports about life during the Second World War from the Mass Observation Archive, for example, or the original letters of Virginia Woolf. Researchers don’t usually engage on such an emotional level with their work, but one can’t fail to be moved by documents that are of such an immediate and personal nature.
‘But I also love reading about the University in the 1960s and 70s, and its development as a new institution. Perhaps not surprisingly, staff members were concerned by the issues which preoccupy them today, namely the provision and cost of food in the staff canteen. And I had to smile when I saw the 1971 invitation to the University’s Open Day. It stated that there would be a rail replacement bus service from Brighton to Falmer. That’s continuity!’
Interview by Lindsey Tydeman
Meet the Volunteers: Julia Wacker, volunteer for the German Jewish Collections
4 October 2017
‘The world is not in your books and maps. It’s out there’, Gandalf (Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings)
‘I wanted to get out of my daily routine, even if it was just for two months. I’m doing a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Besides my studies, I work as a student assistant at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. My weekdays include a three-hour commute between my hometown and Berlin.
The Erasmus programme gave me the opportunity to do the required internship for my Master’s programme in another country. As I wanted to polish my spoken English, Great Britain was my first choice. I contacted many institutions all over the country and The Keep responded with interest. As my native language is German, the German Jewish Collections held by the University of Sussex were a perfect fit. After organising the flights, lots of paper work, a small language test and finding accommodation, I was able to start my little adventure.
My first day at The Keep was 31 July. Everyone here is welcoming and very friendly, and speaking English all day turned out not to be that difficult. I was amazed when I realized how many different types of materials are held here: maps, photos, newspapers, prints – and many more. Considering all the different projects people are working on, I also found it surprising how well staff get on with one another.
I was shown around the whole building, which includes the reading room, the repository for all the stunning archival material, the digitisation suite and a lot more. I got to see the University of Sussex campus, including the library, where I worked for a week. I joined a number of workshops, helped at The Keep’s Open Day and attended a conference, Digitising the Past: Revealing Jewish History, at the London Metropolitan Archives . I also got an insight into some of the other collections, such as the Mass Observation Archive and, for a special treat, learned how to bind my own book in the conservation studio.
The family collections of the German Jewish Collections include really personal mementoes, like watches and Poesiealben (friendship books). During my time at The Keep, I worked continuously on various things. I transcribed a German diary written by an 18-year old girl in 1884 from old German script into modern script, which was sometimes quite difficult because of the handwriting. I enjoyed that very much, because it contained a lot of gossip about a ‘Mr Springer’ and I wanted to know if they became a couple in the end – they didn’t, because ‘Mr Springer’ paid no attention to her. I also processed many digital images of archives so that they can be made accessible to The Keep’s users. Further, I boxed and described books about Rudyard Kipling, and repackaged and listed a new donation for the German Jewish Collections.
All in all, it really was the right decision to leave my shell and to go for an internship abroad. The Keep is full of lovely staff, fascinating materials and many mysterious stories about people from another time that are there to be explored. I will also really miss the gorgeous tea.