Reflections of a Collaborative Doctoral Award student

Over the last few years The National Archives has been highly successful in expanding its partnerships with universities by co-sponsoring a number of collaborative doctoral award students. We currently have four students working with us and two more that will be starting their study next term. Their research covers the disciplines of history, technology and archives and information studies.

Recently the first of our collaborative doctoral students, Jenny Bunn, was awarded her PhD.

Jenny tells us more about her experience…

Is that all there is?

My colleague looked at the article with a mixture of surprise and mild horror.

We were part of the way through an afternoon of Wikipedia training and she had decided to have a gander at the article on Historical geography. Take a look if you like. It won’t take long, it’s only about four paragraphs and that’s a paragraph longer than when she found it – which is the point I’d like to make. When confronted with a hopeless Wikipedia article (and goodness knows there are plenty of those) there are really two reactions. One is to tut, mutter darkly about the deficiencies of crowdsourced knowledge and consider another source of information. The second is to fix it.

At The National Archives, after some consideration, we’ve decided to take the second option. We’re going to train more staff and run more projects across Wikimedia Foundation websites. We’ve already started. Today you can stand next to Domesday Book, scan a QRpedia code with your phone and access information on the book from Wikipedia in 40 languages – a forest of labels we could never produce on our own.

Bend in the Sunday River

The Sunday River (CO 1069/214), from The National Archives and now also South African Wikipedia

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Distress in the cotton districts 1863

Spinning mules from Chambers' 'Information for the People' 1856

A century and a half ago, the American Civil War was well under way, and its devastating consequences for that country are well-known. But the conflict had serious repercussions on this side of the Atlantic, too. The cotton industry in north west England was dependent on supplies of raw cotton from the southern states, and when this supply was interrupted there was real hardship in some places.

This led to the fear of civil disturbances in some towns, including Hyde in Cheshire, where the authorities were sufficiently concerned to swear in a number of special constables to keep the peace. This document (Ref HO 45/7523) comes from the treasure trove that is Home Office Registered Papers 1839-1979, series containing more than 26,000 boxes and files.

AIR 79: Name indexing the records of RAF airmen

When most people think of the Royal Flying Corps, Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Air Force in the First World War, it is invariably of aeroplanes and pilots. Whilst it was possible for a pilot to just jump in a plane and fly off, unless he was very quick and agile when starting his plane, it usually took at least one other person to swing the propeller to start the engine.RFC Airmen (AIR 1/169)

Since the advent of military aviation, all units operating not only aircraft and boats but also radar stations and a myriad of other tasks associated with aviation have always had a complement of officers and other ranks (airmen).

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Pride and prejudice

WorldPride 2012 was celebrated in London last week and so I thought I’d use my blog today to draw attention to an exciting area of research that is truly uncovering some of the hidden areas within the records.

Rainbow flag (CC Source: Ludovic Bertron

Rainbow flag (CC source: Ludovic Bertron

LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) history is a steadily growing research area. At The National Archives, largely due to the nature of the records we hold, research in to this area has been challenging. As true ‘hidden histories’ in the records, it can take a lot of thought and digging to uncover examples of LGBT histories in government files. In the case of gay history, it is often particularly difficult to uncover records free of negative connotations, such as criminal prosecution. This is often a question of the language used to describe homosexuality during different periods, when it was considered a crime or illness (for example ‘gross indecency’ or ‘unnatural practice’), and the interpretation of documents themselves which may or may not refer to gay or lesbian issues explicitly.

Everyone’s talking about Information Management

Information management can be difficult to sell. It shouldn’t be – the benefits are very real and are there to be exploited. The truth is, however, that during busy periods it can be low on the list of priorities for those who are in sitting front of computers creating information.

So the question is, how do you instil a culture of good information management, and how do you reverse the bad habits which have crept in during the digital age? This is the conundrum facing information and records staff across every organisation and, having spoken to many across the UK Government, one answer comes up time after time: Senior buy-in.

Senior management support for information managers is crucially important because to change organisational culture they need influence.

So taking ‘influence’ as the theme for today’s blog, I’ve drawn out for you a few key messages from some of the most influential people in the world of politics, literature and pop culture. Some of these individuals are fictional creations, but hopefully you’ll agree that the messages they can carry are just as important.


‘It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.’ Sherlock Holmes – A Scandal in Bohemia, 1892

Guest blog: Do you believe in UFOs? Part 1 of 2

Do you believe in UFOs?  According to opinion polls a third of us do and the files released by The National Archives today show that belief was shared by some politicians and high ranking military personnel.

The Ministry of Defence first began to investigate UFO reports from credible sources at the height of the Cold War when, in 1950, it set up a ‘flying saucer working party.’ But files at The National Archives suggest MoD ‘s real concern at that time was invasion not from outer space, but from behind the Iron Curtain.

Mapping our collection

Collection Care is often about finding solutions to difficult problems and I addressed this theme in my last post when I talked about a project currently underway treating a particular series of photographs. Well, this problem-solving approach applies not only to our conservation treatments of the collection, but also to how we deal with things on a large scale – how we manage our collection.

What is in all the boxes?

One of the big questions we’ve grappled with as part of this project has been: what do we have? Oh, we know we have 11 million entries on Discovery, 13,000 series of records, etc. But to effectively manage the risks to our physical collection we need to know what types of materials we’re dealing with and how many of each we have. Tackling this question required extensive data gathering and some visual ingenuity.

Coming to the big screen

Still Life timecode clapper

Still Life timecode clapper


On Monday 28 May 2012 The National Archives played host to a feature film crew, who had come to shoot a feature film called ‘Still Life.’

It was quite exciting for me because I have never done anything on this scale before  - The National Archives exterior was once used as a shopping mall in ‘Spooks’ and we came very close to being part of the movie ‘X-Men: First Class’ as an unnamed government building, but those were both before my time.


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