ArchI’ve Learnt: Thinking Outside the Box and Encouraging a Sense of Place – Ravana Eagleheart

Ravana gives us an overview of a number of interesting outreach projects shared at the recent ARA Scotland event, ‘ArchI’ve Learnt: Engaging with Archives’, held at the University of Dundee

‘ArchI’ve Learnt’ featured presentations from Jackie Sangster (Learning Manager, Historic Environment Scotland), Douglas Roberts (Education Development Officer, Scottish Council on Archives), Dr Jan Merchant (Senior Archivist, University of Dundee), Tessa Spencer (Head of Learning, National Records of Scotland), and Lorna Steele (Community Engagement Officer, Highland Archive Service).  

A sample box used by Lorna Steele for her work as a Community Engagement Officer

While each speaker had very different experiences and projects to share, I found that there was one key theme from each presentation; encouraging and fostering a personal connection to archival materials. As a student, I would have loved to have been able to take part in these projects, and it is through these types of activities that we can remove the idea of archives being untouchable and inaccessible.

The day began with Jackie Sangster’s talk, “SCRAN – Archival Ingredients for Learning,” highlighting her experiences with primary students on a variety of projects. Most interesting to me was the use of aerial photographs of the local area from SCRAN—a platform that provides access to digitized visual and audio media and detailed metadata from a variety of repositories around the UK. Despite limited contact time with each class, it was clear that students felt a personal connection to the materials shown, and they were able to locate themselves and the materials within their lived environment.  

Douglas Roberts discussed “The Dramatic Archive” – using archival materials to inform and shape dramatic productions put on by school children. The SCA Education Pilot Projects, 2012-2014, allowed for the engagement with archival materials through theatre productions. In all projects, he spoke about the impact that the archives had on the students—drawing parallels between people within the archives and their own lives. The dramatic experience also allowed the students to gain in confidence more generally.

In the afternoon we heard from Dr Jan Merchant: “Inform, inspire, illuminate: using archives in university teaching,” who discussed the University of Dundee’s experience of working with different faculties to create course assessments that used archival materials in innovative ways. What really stood out for me was the wide range of subjects that the archive was partnering with—nursing students looking at mental health records; arts students creating illustrations of items; and graphic design students being assigned a box and having to ‘sell’ what is in their collection.

Tessa Spencer then discussed the Forth Bridge project in her talk: “Go Forth! Digital learning resources: from glass plates to 3D scans.” She spoke about the vast quantities of data which was gathered for the project—from glass plate negatives to 3D modeling of the building of the bridges. As a visual learner, I found the ‘Go Forth’ game interface very interesting; following a young rivet catcher as he climbed the bridges as they were being built. The game presented information about the project to students in an accessible way, creating an emotional link to the creation of the bridges that are currently standing.

Going forth…Tessa Spencer introducing her talk on the Forth Bridge project

Our final speaker of the day was Lorna Steele, discussing “Mining the Archives: inspiring creative writing in Highland schools.” What really stood out for me was the use of archival materials as creative writing prompts, linking historical documents with students’ personal experiences. One project focused on using asylum records, and other records with potentially ‘taboo’ subject matters. It was clear that these records helped students to open-up and perhaps feel less alone with aspects of their own lives.

I am passionate about working with the public to encourage a deeper understanding and engagement of archives. It was encouraging to be introduced to a variety of archival projects that engaged physically, emotionally, and mentally with users, a trend I wish to see continue in the future.

Ravana Eagleheart Standard Life Aberdeen

8 comments

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