Ask An Archivist Day!

During the Covid-19 lockdowns we challenged our staff, volunteers and researchers to the 60 Seconds With… challenge! For #AskAnArchivistDay we are looking back on some of the answers from the Archivist here at Gloucestershire Archives.

Check out everyone’s full answers here: https://www.heritagehub.org.uk/60-seconds-with/60-seconds-withcontributions/

Heather Forbes, County Archivist

  1. What first brought you to Gloucestershire Archives?
    • An interview for the role of county archivist in 2005.  I was not expecting to succeed but wanted to give it a go as it represented my dream job.  
  2. What would you say to encourage others to use Gloucestershire Archives?
    • There’s a wealth of interesting information for the curious, and a friendly welcome.
  3. What’s the most exciting thing you’ve discovered at Gloucestershire Archives?
    • Granville Sharp’s transcription of an 18th century Barbadian slave song (now inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World register).
  4. Why is history important?
    • To provide context and help understand the present.  Also to learn from what worked, and just as importantly, what didn’t.
  5. Is there one invention from the past that you wish you’d created?
    • The bicycle – an environmentally friendly means of transport, and good for keeping fit too. 

Paul Evans, Senior Archivist

  1. What do you plan to research next?
    • Not until I retire obviously, but then I want to go back to the subject of my MA thesis, the Great Game between Britain & Russia in Central Asia, and work through all the documents GA holds generated by British officers and other people in India & Afghanistan in the 19th & early 20th Centuries.  We seem to have a particularly good collection of these, so expect to see me on the other side of the counter in years to come!
  2. What’s the most exciting thing you’ve discovered at Gloucestershire Archives?
    • The most exciting thing is how interesting the lives of ordinary people are, something I hadn’t particularly thought about until getting involved in our community projects.  I’ve really enjoyed listening to, collecting and making accessible people’s memories and developing skills around this.  I enjoy sharing this material with others and get satisfaction from seeing them also taking pleasure from listening to the memories.
  3. What particular period of history are you interested in, and why?
    • Difficult to narrow down to one period or even place.  I’ve been interested in the history of the American West during the 19th C since boyhood; a general layman’s interest in Chinese history followed soon after, and during my time at University I also developed interests in the Great Game in Central Asia, and in Japanese history, particularly pre-20th C.  The fantastic English language documentaries on the NHK World channel I particularly enjoy now for insights into aspects of the latter.
  4. If you could meet any historical figure who would this be, and why?
    • Define historical.  The person I’d most like to meet is my Grandfather, Sergeant Richard Frank Evans of the RAF, who was killed, aged 30, in December 1942, and who is remembered on the Gibraltar memorial.  I’d like to thank him for his sacrifice, and to ask him to tell me about his life, so I can have a better understanding of him.
  5. What historical mystery would you like to solve, and why?
    • Simple – what’s the truth behind the Robin Hood legend.  Who was the person or people who inspired the earliest Medieval ballads, and how much do they reflect the actual activities of a real person or persons?

Claire Collins, Collections Development Manager

  1. What particular period of history are you interested in, and why?
    • Early Middle Ages
  2. Can you recommend a good historical novel?
    • Oooooh, tricky. Not quite ‘historical’ but Josephine Tey’s ‘The Daughter of Time’. Or a childhood favourite, Rosemary Sutcliffe’s ‘Song for a Dark Queen’
  3. Why is history important?
    • ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’ – George Santayana
  4. Do you think there’s a future for archives, and why?
    • I think there will always be a future for archives – just look at the International Council on Archives campaign #AnArchiveIs
  5. Which TV or radio historian do you like the most, and why?
    • Tricky – Dr Janina Ramirez (because she’s my period!) But I also really enjoy listening to Dr Annie Gray on The Kitchen Cabinet (BBC R4), she’s very funny, and so enthusiastic about cooking recipes that are very different to our modern tastes.

Karen Davidson, Senior Archivist

  1. What first brought you to Gloucestershire Archives?
    • A job interview! I was the graduate trainee at Gloucestershire Record Office (as it then was) for a year in the late 90s, and then after I had qualified as an archivist I came back for a one-year contract to begin converting the typescript catalogues into a database. 20 years later I’m still here, and still wrangling the database, which is, of course, now the online catalogue which holds descriptions of all of our holdings!
  2. What’s the most exciting thing you’ve discovered at Gloucestershire Archives?
    • Working in the Collections Management team, and having catalogued many collections and worked with the catalogues of most of the others, I have a list as long as my arm (or I would if I could remember them all!). For example, a letter from Grace Darling (she of lifeboat fame), a cache of late Victorian Christmas cards, letters home by a member of a county family on safari describing her adventures, a class photo from the 1920s which our longest-standing researcher pointed out to me included himself aged 9, an entry in a school admissions register proving that a member of the Windrush generation was educated in Gloucester and therefore entitled to remain here (that one was a team effort!), and the very first one I made, practically on my first day, that Gloucestershire’s first female police officer came from the same tiny village in Suffolk that I do…the list goes on and on.
  3. Can you recommend a good historical novel?
    • Anything by Sharon Penman. Her research is meticulous and her characters are incredibly realistic – she really brings the medieval period to life. Particular recommendations: The Sunne in Splendour about the Wars of the Roses, with Richard III as the main protagonist (so he gets a more sympathetic hearing than usual), and the trilogy about the last days of independent Wales Here be Dragons, Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning.
  4. If you could journey back in time to any period of history, what would this be and why?
    • I am quite happy in the 21st century! I have equal rights, am able to work, own my own home, have access to plentiful food, medical care and sanitation, and am free not to conform to society’s expectations. Even 20 or 30 years ago I would not have some of the rights I have now.
  5. Why is history important?
    • History offers us endless opportunities, guidance and examples to learn from in dealing with our everyday lives as well as events more generally. As the famous saying goes, those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. Also, if we look closely enough, it lets us hear the voices of people who weren’t listened to or considered important at the time: archive collections are particularly good for this, because they contain a much broader range of stories than published accounts, whose contents will have been chosen for how they illustrate the points the author is trying to make.

Ally McConnell, Senior Archivist

  1. What particular period of history are you interested in, and why?
    • I have always been interested in the 19th century. This started as a genuine liking for novels of the period – but I am also fascinated by the amount of invention that took place in this century that really paved the way for what we are able to do now, and there is fantastic evidence of this in buildings, bridges, railways and other feats of engineering.
  2. If you could meet any historical figure who would this be, and why?
    • My favourite author, and general favourite person – Wilkie Collins. I’d love to sit with him and a nice glass of wine and chat about his novels and the people he knew. I think he’d be a lot of fun.
  3. If you could journey back in time to any period of history, what would this be and why?
    • I’d love to go back to the Roman era in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, and see them actually build their wonderful aqueducts, bridges and villas.
  4. Do you think there’s a future for archives, and why?
    • Yes, although they may not be in the form people understand at the moment. People are always going to want to learn from the past (whether through formal education or not) and archives are, directly or indirectly, a way to help this.
  5. If you could write a letter to any historical figure, what would you write and who would you write to?
    • I’d write to Isambard Kingdom Brunel. I don’t know what I’d write – probably something similar to a mad fan-girl comment that we’d do today with celebrities – but it would definitely gush over his wonderful bridges and other designs. I’d also ask him to say hi to my great great grandfather, who was also an engineer and worked alongside him at times.

Kate Maisey, Archives Development Manager

  1. Why are you interested in history?
    • Because I’m interested in people, be they alive or – in the case of most archives- dead!
  2. If you could meet any person from history, who would it be and why?
    • Mexican artist Frida Kahlo to express my appreciation and admiration
  3. If you could journey back in time to any period of history, what would this be and why?
    • Either the Edwardian period or the 1920s- I like the clothes! 
  4. What is the oldest thing you have in your home and why does it appeal to you?
    • The oldest thing I own personally is a small wooden box which belonged to my great, great grandmother. It has her name on the top, on a tiny metal plaque.  I like it because it’s a direct tangible link to one of my ancestors and it’s been handed down from mother to daughter.
  5. If you could write a letter to any historical figure, what would you write and who would you write to?
    • I’d write to Charles Dickens in May 1858 to persuade him not to treat his wife so cruelly. He fell for someone else, fair enough, but he didn’t have to traduce her in the newspapers or prevent her from seeing her (10) children.  I would appeal to his better nature and -in case that failed- would say that posterity will judge it a stain on his character 

Rhianna Watson, Community Cataloguing Archivist

  1. Why are you interested in history?
    • Because I’m interested in people and how they worked, played and lived. I think history gives us a great insight into the lives of many different people, and it is fascinating to see how they lived can compare to people today.
  2. What do you think has been the most significant thing in your personal life history so far, and why?
    • I think what has happened in recent years is going to be the most significant thing, historian of the future are going to look back on this time and make comment on how we fought the Covid virus but also hopefully learn from this time and recognise the amazing people involved in fighting the virus, caring for the sick, and ensuring people still have access to the essential items they need to live.
  3. Is there one invention from the past that you wish you’d created?
    • As someone who has worn glasses since I was 9 months old, I can’t imagine how I would have lived before they were invented. So I would like to have invented glasses as it would mean my invention is helping so many people around the world. Also if I invented them does it mean I get free glasses? Cause they can be very expensive!
  4. Which historical event would you have liked to play a part in, and why?
    • The suffragette movement, because if it wasn’t for those amazing women fighting for the vote a lot of progress we have made in equality for women today wouldn’t have been possible. It would also just be amazing to meet the strong women behind the suffragettes.
  5. Why is history important?
    • I think it is important to see where we have come from and the changes we have made, be them for the better or not. I also think it is important to try and learn from events in history and see how we can tackle similar things today.

Helen Bartlett, Senior Archivist & Customer Services Manager

  1. Which historical event would you have liked to play a part in, and why?
    • I would have liked to have taken part in a Chartist rebellion campaigning for the very basic right to vote. However, I would have tried to discourage my fellow Chartists from burning down the last remaining part of Nottingham’s medieval castle in 1831.  I’ve always felt quite annoyed that Nottingham’s current castle is a Victorian folly and instead we have to rely so heavily on Robin Hood to attract tourists to my home city!
  2. Which figure in history would you like to be for 24 hours, and why?
    • Queen Elizabeth I for her strength, power and influence, her dress and jewels but definitely not her bad teeth or chalky skin tones
  3. Is there one invention from the past that you wish you’d created?
    • Sash windows…it never fails to surprise and fascinate me that the whole mechanism relies on weights tied to rope hidden in the frames…so simple yet so effective, genius
  4. If you could write a letter to any historical figure, what would you write and who would you write to?
    • I would write to D H Lawrence and ask him if he really did, at one time, own and sign my Mum’s battered copy of ‘The Three Musketeers’.  It is signed ‘Bert Lawrence’ – the H stands for Herbert and this is what his family and friends called him. Mum went to school in Eastwood, his home town, so it is plausible but it would be good to settle this Bartlett family mystery!
  5. What is the oldest thing you have in your home, and what appeals to you about it?
    • A letter, written to my grandfather, then aged nine, by his Uncle who was serving on the Western Front in 1916. He died, 3 months later whilst pulling someone out of No Mans Land who also sadly died…a total waste of life. He was recommended for a bravery award by his Regiment’s Commander but at this stage in the War, medals weren’t given posthumously for his lowly rank.  However, as his service record has survived at the TNA, we do at least know how highly he was regarded by those around him and I’m very proud of him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s