Building Beginnings

Digitising history

In my first ever blog post written in 2010, I wrote about the common misconception of archives as ‘dusty repositories of old documents’. With financial constraints forcing archives and libraries to tighten their belts to the extreme, it feels the right time to consider how archives are digitising some of their unique collections and introducing them to new audiences, from local to worldwide.

Many record offices have made their parish records of baptisms, marriages and burials available online through subscription services, and national records such as the census returns have also been digitised. The British Library is digitising millions of pages of old newspapers which can be searched for people, places and events and provide hours of absorbing reading with many diverting stories to engage an enquiring mind.

Another innovation is the availability of archive films online such as those from the British Film Institute – another opportunity to lose yourself for a few hours. Or how about browsing through the Royal Albert Hall’s catalogue to explore past performances and events, or explore historical court cases at The Old Bailey? The range of archive material accessible is truly astounding: maps, wills, local trade and telephone directories, electoral registers, criminal records, postcards and photographs and collections of all sorts can be browsed online.

But many more reside in local archives and it is only by visiting them that the monumental extent of available material becomes apparent. Most archives have an online catalogue that can help you find materials of potential interest.

Why not make a date to visit your local archive this year and get your hands on some real historical documents? I hope you will find it an engaging experience.

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