Spring has finally sprung! 🙂
I’m enjoying passing the rows of blossom trees on my ‘once-a-day’ permitted exercise and I was reminded of a photograph from the archives of the campus in spring. I’m surprised by how different the library looks pre-renovation! Is anyone else having library blues?
Both draw heavily on the University Archives in order to broaden our understanding of its history, reveal hidden narratives and through doing so, engage new audiences.
So, what are the projects? Who’s involved? And how have they continued working during lockdown? I put on my reporting hat, and spoke to Elizabeth Blood and Charlotte Stokes to answer these questions…
The University History Project
Interview with Elizabeth Blood (Research Associate)
Hi Liz! Tell me more about the project…
“The University History Project is an ongoing initiative by Archives & Special Collections in connection with the School of History, Politics and International Relations to rediscover and maintain a good depth of institutional memory.
Up until the 1950s, the University College (opened in 1921) had a reasonably good memory of its beginnings and its development. This was largely due to a number of very long-serving staff, ongoing relationships with alumni from the earliest years, and through the researches of the Professor of History, Jack Simmons, who published New University upon the gaining of the Charter of Independence in 1957.
Since this time, the University has lost many of its early staff and alumni. Its huge expansion in the 1960s and beyond has changed its priorities and its campus, as well as its academic structure and the nature of student life. Today, the University would be almost unrecognisable to someone who knew it before the Second World War.
Of late, some of those early memories have consequently been lost”.
What’s your role?
“As a Research Associate, I am delving back into the University’s archives and its living memory to bring this long history back into focus. What’s more, I am working to reveal the ‘hidden histories’ that may not have been well-known or celebrated before. The history of our international students (going back to 1922), the origins of our Alumni Association (originally called the Old Students’ Association), and the lives and careers of our students and staff through the decades are all coming into view”.
One of our first international students,
thought to be either Aigi Tajiri or Tamotsu Shishikura,
from the Class photo for 1923-24
How have you adapted your work during the lockdown?
“Obviously, my work is heavily dependent upon access to the University’s Archive, some of which is held on campus in the Library, and some of which is in off-site storage. Due to Covid-19, we are unable to access either venue, and so my last few days of work before campus lock-down were spent quickly photographing as much of the archives as I could lay my hands on! Photography and scanning of the archives is an ongoing process, but what has been done before amounts to only a very small fraction of the whole collection. Thus, I am now working with limited access to the original material, using the photographs. On my last day, I was also able to take some boxes of our handling material home (this is duplicate or secondary material that does not need to live in secure, environmentally-controlled conditions), and so I have a bit more to work with there, including issues of the University student newspaper, The Ripple.
In this new situation, I have been focusing on creating timelines of different aspects of the University’s history, such as departments, buildings, student numbers, etc., and also on writing up some of the stories that had already been identified. One of these, happily, is involving looking back on the life, career and University history research of my predecessor, Professor Jack Simmons. As a man with the University’s story at heart, I am sure he would be pleased to know such efforts were being made in time for our 100th birthday next year.”
“As the University approaches its centenary (on 4th October 2021), keep an eye out for much more soon!”
The University crest over the decades
‘So That They May Have Life’: University Heritage Project
Interview with Charlotte Stokes (Engagement and Outreach Adviser)
So Charlotte, tell me more about the project. Why the fancy title?
“Plans were announced in 1917 for a new college of higher education in Leicester, as a memorial to the sacrifices made by local people during WWI. Funded by donations from local benefactors and bereaved families, the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland University College opened its doors in 1921 to a small number of students drawn from the local area. The College took the motto, ut vitam habeant – ‘So that they may have life’. Our community heritage project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, will tell the story of the early history of the University of Leicester”.
What’s your role?
“My role, as Engagement and Outreach Adviser, involves supporting volunteers who are participating in the project, as well as organising activities and events throughout the project”.
How have you adapted your work during the lockdown?
“At the start of the project we set out to work with volunteers in order to: improve preservation and access to archive material; research the foundation and development of the University; conduct oral history interviews with alumni from the 1940s and early 1950s; run training activities; and organise events to celebrate our achievements and discoveries. With the library closure, the project team now work from home and have adapted the project in order to be able to continue to meet these objectives.
As we are no longer able to facilitate volunteering onsite, we have launched remote opportunities instead. Remote volunteering opportunities include: remote archive volunteering; remote research volunteering; and sharing this work through a series of outputs utilising different technologies. Archive volunteers will work with digitised archive material, to ensure documents are better described and more accessible. Research volunteers will work with digitised or photographed material from the archives to capture information about a number of different research themes.
Eleven volunteers were able to ‘attend’ our first online meeting, and we discussed changes to the project in light of situation and work we can do from our homes. Since then, the volunteers have been working on a photograph metadata project.
The purpose of this task is to enhance existing descriptions of images on Special Collections Online, to make digitised collections more accessible to a wider audience and more useful for research”.
“If you’d like to become involved in the project please contact us through firstname.lastname@example.org!”
Newspaper cuttings of graduation in 1934 (ULA/PCB2)
Thanks Liz and Charlotte for your updates!
Our final post next week looks at the other NLHF project:
‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’, so make sure to keep an eye out!