MERL collections to be given a human voice

As you will have gleaned from previous posts, a really important aspect of the Reading Connections project is to make the MERL and Reading Museum collections accessible so that they have the potential to be viewed and used by as large an audience as possible. Partly this has been achieved through the creation of digital resources (such as the Memorial Book flickr site which details those who had connections with the Reading University College and who lost their lives during the First World War). As 2014 gets underway, however, an additional oral history strand will come into force which will provide another way for communities to engage with the collections.

Oral history (or the the conducting of interviews with people who participated in or observed past events and whose memories and perceptions of these are to be preserved as an record for future generations) has been increasingly used in museums as part of their interpretation.In particular the last 20 years, which has witnessed the reinterpretation and the democratization of museum spaces, has also seen an increased use of oral histories in heritage settings. For many museum professionals and visitors, this has been a welcome change. Mark O’Neill (Director of Policy and Research for Glasgow Life) describes that: “museums are places where people go to think and feel about what it means to be human”. Oral testimonies can provide a human voice, increase relevance and can capture aspects of life which are informal and unwritten and which might otherwise disappear without trace. We are now in a position where more museums than ever are taking notice of the things that people remember.

In MERL we are lucky to have an extensive Evacuee Archive which comprises, among other things, interviews conducted with evacuees during the Second World War. The interviews were carried out by the Research Centre for Evacuee and War Child Studies at the University of Reading. The collection mainly relates to evacuation schemes within Britain and the British children who were sent overseas to Canada, the USA, South Africa, and Australasia. As part of the Reading Connections project a group of volunteers have formed a Transcription Group and will transcribe the interviews in full. These transcriptions will then be catalogued and made publicly available. Also as part of the project, we will be conducting new interviews. These interviews will complement the different themes of the Reading Connections project including: Reading at War, Craft, Local Collections and Village Communities and we are set to interview a range of individuals from craftspeople to members of the Women’s Land Army. These will go far to further enhance our collections.

Phillippa Heath

Reading at War Project Officer, Museum of English Rural Life


Reading Connections – the half way point

The project has reached the half way stage and the project team have achieved a lot so far:

Reading at War

Phillippa Heath and, project volunteer, Jeremy Jones have been to talking to Tony Blackburn on BBC Radio Berkshire, and have been interviewed by the Reading Post about the World War I Memorial book held by the University.  People have been discovering the Flickr site and adding more information on the people in the memorial book enriching the information already held.

Zoe Watson and Danni Mills hosted a visit from the Berkshire World War I project.

The Evacuees Archive is now available for research use.

Project intern Laura Farrell has been researching using the Evacuees Archive, and Huntley and Palmer archive for performance pieces by Dr Teresa Murjas.

Ian McDonnell Jessiman_10r

Ian McDonnell Jessiman evacuated to Vancouver, Canada in 1940 (D EVAC A/2/23)

Village Communities

Dr Ollie Douglas and with Dr Bridget Yates recently gave a talk entitled Looking for Lavinia: An American collector in 1930s in Berkshire, which generated good feedback and some new leads to follow up on.

Craft

Greta Bertram recently gave a successful talk to Southcote Library.  She has now finished cataloguing all clay, leather, metal, stone and straw crafts (leaving just textiles and wood crafts to go), and has enhanced craft catalogue records by adding images to them.

Historic World Objects

With photography work completed over the summer, all 600 objects selected for the online catalogue now have at least one high quality photograph. Research is well underway, with project officers Felicity McWilliams and Adam Koszary having fully researched 120 of the 600 objects so far. Plans are also underway for museum ethnography specialists to visit the collection and offer advice about its potential for further research or community engagement.

Local collections

Danni Mills has reached the milestone of digitising 4000 images, and has catalogued 2 500 images from the Collier collection.  Sophie Fitzpatrick has been working on Reading Chronicle glass plate negatives, and approximately 500 images have now been researched and prepared on MODES out of approximately 2000, with the help of project interns Sarah Beattie and Evelyn Williams.

We are looking forward to achieving even more by the end of the project.

Zoe Watson 

Project Archivist/Project Manager

Intern Laura Farrell writes about her research


I have spent the last few weeks at MERL carrying out research for two unusual exhibitions which are to be mounted by MERL in collaboration with Reading Museum in the Spring/Summer of 2013. The exhibitions, which will involve elements of film and/or live performance, will be produced by Dr Teresa Murjas (Associate Professor in Theatre & Performance), James Rattee (PhD film-maker) and Sonya Chenery (PhD performance-maker) from the Department of Film Theatre & Television at the University of Reading. The research I am carrying out will form the basis for their two interactive, installation-based pieces.017

Postcard from child – D EVAC

My first area of research is the Evacuee Archive – MERL holds a very large collection of film, photographs, press reports, correspondence and documentation of all kinds relating to the evacuation of civilians during World War 2, as well as hundreds of interviews with evacuees (and, occasionally, with those who played host to them, taught them or otherwise played a part in the vast and complex operation of evacuating over three million people).

What has struck me most is the diversity of the evacuee experience. Like many people, I have long been familiar with the classic image of evacuation – large groups of small and bewildered children, probably from the East End of London, shepherded onto trains with gas masks in hands and labels tied to their coats to be billeted with strangers at an unknown destination. Delving into the MERL archive reveals the experience of less well-documented evacuee groups – the many who were “privately” evacuated to family and friends both in Britain and overseas, those sent overseas as part of the government’s CORB (Children’s Overseas Reception Board) scheme, the smaller children evacuated with their mothers, and the many who spent the war in temporary boarding-school -style “camp schools”. The evacuees’ stories range from the touching (happy days helping on the farm, lifelong friendships made with loving ‘second families’) to harrowing accounts of neglect and abuse, and everything in between.

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D EVAC A/1/384

My second area of research is the archive of Reading’s famous Huntley and Palmers biscuit factory, with particular reference to their role as a major supplier of army biscuits to the forces during World War 1. Reading Museum has an intriguing collection of original army biscuits (some still in excellent condition after a hundred years, which gives some idea of their hardness) which were carved, decorated, painted, written on and sometimes sent home as mementos, love tokens and even picture frames by bored Tommies at the front. The Huntley and Palmers archive at MERL sheds light on the manufacturing processes involved in producing thousands of tons of the biscuits, with handwritten recipes, correspondence with the War Office, and a great deal of documentation showing how the company struggled to fulfill their orders as ingredients and even packaging became more and more scarce and a significant proportion of their workers left to join the forces.  I hope the exhibition will shed light on this period of Reading’s industrial history, as well as giving the public a chance to see some truly fascinating objects.

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Ref: HP306

Laura Farrell

Reading Connections Intern

Evacuee archive now available

The Evacuee archive (ref D EVAC) has now been catalogued and the majority of the collection is available for consultation in our reading room.  Some parts of the collection are closed to the public, because of Data Protection issues.  Please contact us if you would like to know more about this.

It is a fascinating collection and is already being used by a PhD student, and Laura Farrell, one of the Reading Connections project interns  has been researching the collection, which will form the basis of a piece by Dr Teresa Murjas for the project. There will be a blog post about this very soon.


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A pair of moccasins, probably from an evacuee who was evacuated to Canada, although there are no details with them ref D EVAC K/2

Zoe Watson

Reading Connections Project Manager

Internship Blog Post – Sarah Beattie

I am just over halfway through my internship at Reading Museum, and I’m really enjoying the experience so far.  Having always loved history, and particularly the way that objects are able to bring it to life, I am hoping to make my career in museums, and the experience I have gained at Reading has been invaluable.

Sarah blog photo

My main role is helping Sophie, Project Officer, with the digitization of the Berkshire Chronicle collection. As Sophie mentioned in her previous post, she has selected over 2000 images highlighting key themes in the collection, and we have spent the last month scanning these and adding the images to our internal database. This in itself has been valuable for the museum, as now these photographs can be viewed without having to touch the delicate glass plate negatives, but I am very excited to move into the next phase: shortlisting the most interesting images and researching the stories behind them, with the aim of making them accessible to the public in an online catalogue. We will be scouring microfilm copies of the Berkshire Chronicle to match the photographs with their stories, as well as conducting wider research on the people and places of Reading, and I’m really looking forward to finding out more about the images we have been working with.

As well as great images of evacuees and landgirls, local events ranging from school sports days to galas at the Town Hall, and famous faces such as Enid Blyton and Alec Guinness, there have also been lots of images of the quirkier side of Reading life – a cow on the loose in a shoeshop, nuns performing synchronized exercises and Father Christmas arriving by helicopter, to name just three!  It is amazing to be part of making these images, many of which have not been seen for over 50 years, available to the public. The online catalogue should be a great resource for anyone interested in the history of Reading, or 20th century history in general, and I’m sure Sophie will keep you up to date with progress on the project.

When I am not helping with the Chronicle project, the staff at Reading Museum have been incredibly helpful and generous with their time in letting me get involved with many aspects of museum work, from leading store tours for Heritage Open Day to helping with the installation of the museum’s upcoming portrait exhibition ‘Making Faces: Tudor to Modern’. I have developed skills in marking objects, store cleaning and environmental monitoring, handling and packing objects and working with the museum database, which I’m hoping will be really useful in my future career.

 

 

Reading Connections – April to July update

It has been a busy few months for the project team – working out what we need to do, how we are going to do it, and then getting stuck into actually doing it.  We have also been skills sharing and recently the team learnt about writing blogs and social media from project team members Greta and Felicity, and Liz McCarthy UMASCS Librarian.

There have been a few exciting new developments we’ve posted blogs on previously – the new camera and the creation of the A-Z list of the archives of Museum of English Rural Life list and two interns starting on the project, one based at MERL and one at Reading Museum.  The interns will post a blog on their experiences on the project soon.

The Brook, Chalgrove

Updates on the project themes:

Reading at War

Evacuee Archive – the cataloguing of the collection is on-going.  We are working to make the archive available by October.  The catalogue will be available on our online database and the archive will be available for consultation in the Reading Room

World War 1 commemorations – Hayley is setting up a Flickr site.  The new intern Ceri will be assisting with adding information for each photo .  The University’s book of remembrance of those members of The University College Reading who fell in the War 1914-1918 is now available on the online database with images attached.  Hayley is also working on a WWI temporary exhibition.

Craft

Greta has been working on cataloguing corn dollies at MERL, so far enhancing 142 records.  She has also been working on craft connections aspect of the theme and connecting with new craft groups and re-establishing links with previous MERL contacts.

World Cultures – Historic World Objects at Reading Museum

Felicity, Greta and Ollie have been working towards the main task of creating an online portal to a selection of 600 Historic World Objects.  So far the target of 2738 objects have been checked, 1000 objects have been long listed and then 600 of these shortlisted.  Felicity, Greta and Ollie have recently had photography training from University photographer Laura Bennetto, and have started photographing objects, photography is nearing completion.

Local Collections – photograph digitisation and cataloguing

Danni has digitised 1386 and catalogued 1067 Collier negatives.  Sophie has been long listing negatives of Reading Chronicle at Reading Museum and has begun scanning them, completing approximately 250 so far.  Danni has also been sharing her digitisation skills with Sophie and helping her to get started.

Village Collections

Ollie has recently been to East Hendred, with Bridget Yates who is working on researching Lavinia Smith.  They have lots of leads to follow up relating to The Lavinia Smith collection at MERL.  There will be a seminar in the autumn series on this. 

Great progress has been made on the project by the whole team. Look out for more posts on different aspects of the project and we’ll give an update again later in the year.

Internship Opportunities

Would you like to gain experience of working in museums and archives or know someone who would?

The 'Ayes' have it The National Union of Agricultural Workers conference

Yes? The Reading Connections project team are looking for three enthusiastic people to join them as interns this summer so you’ve come to the right blog!

One post will be based at Reading Museum and offer training and supervision of  the handling of museum objects. The intern will be assisting with the selecting of images related to war from the collection under the direction of project staff and looking into the history behind the images using facilities in the museums and library.

Timing: To start 1st August 2013 for 9 weeks full time. Closing date: 1st July 2013. Total remuneration: £2,000

Another will be based at The Museum of English Rural Life and will provide the opportunity to be involved in many areas of the project and gain experience of a wide range of museum and archive activities. The tasks will include assisting with the selecting of images related to war from the collection under the direction of the project staff and looking into the history behind the images. There will also be opportunities to be involved in several other areas of the project.

Timing: To start 1st August 2013 for 9 weeks full time. Closing date: 1st July 2013. Total remuneration: £2,000

The third intern will support the research of Dr Teresa Murjas  Senior Lecturer in Theatre & Performance at the University of Reading on a collaboration with MERL and Reading Museum. They will be looking for information from within the Evacuee Archive held at the Museum of English Rural Life under the guidance of Dr Murjas and the archive staff. The intern will record and file details of the information retrieved from the archive and assist Dr Murjas in the use of the material in a performance to be staged in the Spring/Summer of 2014.

Timing: To start 16th September  2013 for 8 weeks full time. Closing date: 1st August 2013. Total remuneration: £2,000

The interns will work with many members of the project team but also carry out some tasks independently so they must be motivated and keen to learn new skills. The tasks undertaken will provide excellent experience of handling and caring for museum and archive collections, engaging the community through collections and cataloguing and digitising records. Induction and any training required will be provided by project staff.

For more information and an application form please contact: Zoe Watson, Project Manager.  z.l.watson@reading.ac.uk or call 0118 378 8670

The Evacuee Archive

From the album of Rosemary Maud Goddin, a teacher evacuated with her school to Gamlingay, Cambs

From the album of Rosemary Maud Goddin, a teacher evacuated with her school to Gamlingay, Cambs

Zoe Watson, Archivist and Project Manager:

I’m working on cataloguing the Evacuee Archive as part of the Reading Connection project.

It is a collection of memoirs, interviews and material relating to former evacuees and war-children gathered by the Research Centre for Evacuee and War Child Studies at the University of Reading.  The collection mainly relates to evacuation schemes within Britain and the British children who were sent overseas to Canada, the USA, South Africa, and Australasia during the Second World War.

The British Government scheme to evacuate children from cities started in September 1939.  Children, usually without their parents, were sent to areas of Britain that were considered safer from bombing and the effects of war, these were often rural areas.  Smaller numbers of children were sent abroad.  They were housed with strangers, some of whom were reluctant to take them.  Some children did go in private arrangements to friends and relatives, and some went with a parent.  Children received varying levels of treatment from these ‘foster parents’ and some children were kept in groups in hostel-like conditions.  Stories in the archive range from the heart-warming where the kindness of the hosts meant that the children’s new lives in the countryside were as happy as they could be in the circumstances to heart-breaking cases of mistreatment and cruelty. The length of stays varied from weeks to years, and often evacuees had to move billets.

 It is an interesting and thought provoking collection.  I came across this interview with a former evacuee; he was interviewed in the late 1990s and shows the effect on him all those years later.  He was evacuated from West Ham, London to Hemel Hempstead:

‘I recently visited the Imperial War Museum, well one of the lectures was on the psychological aspects of evacuation.  I certainly do not have any bad memories of that time but it has left me with one curious feeling.  All the time I was evacuated I used to tell myself that one day the war would be over and I could go back home.

After the war we were living in another part of London and then I made my way to where I used to live.  The whole area had been completely obliterated in the first few days of the Blitz.  I was quite unable to find the spot where my house once stood.

This happened more than 50 years ago.  I have lived in many other places.  I now have a grown up family of my own, I am a grandfather.  I have a lovely house but somehow I am still waiting to go home.’

Please note the collection is currently closed for cataloguing.  Contact us if you would like more information.