Why are local history archives important?
A recent report in the East Anglian Daily Times about a local historian’s efforts to find a local home for his substantial collection of local photos, records and books prompted this blog.
Although the issue was that he wanted his collection to stay in the town that was its subject, it does prompt the wider question of why such collections are so valuable and the difficulties of finding accessible places in which to preserve them.
We live in an age where the increase of online sources of information and opinion-forming are everywhere and instantly available, but it could be argued that this has limited both people’s abilities to store information in their memories and has also shortened attention spans.
Records of Actual Events
Original archive materials provide a record of actual events both at local and national level. These archives are valuable as a resource to keep history from being rewritten unfairly. They are a protection against the risk that perspectives get lost as generations pass and memories fade.
So, local archives about local history from the time of events past, can provide evidence for people making assumptions.
But history is not only about prominent, famous and notable individuals. Local archives provide the details of the actual effects of larger events on their populations, such as the impact of different immigrant communities moving into a location or the changes to a local population as a result of the move from a predominantly agricultural to an industrial economy.
Valuable Research Resource
Archived records can also provide a valuable resource for schools in a range of subjects from geography to political studies.
But they also contribute to the wider research of many people, from novelists looking for detail for a work set in a particular location, to journalists needing to put a particular event in its proper context.
They can provide insight into the relationship between local and national politics in a particular period long after those who were eye-witnesses are there to provide insight and also can correct the subsequent interpretations that may actually have been wide of the mark.
Local records of organisations, such as local authorities, hospitals, businesses, churches, trade unions, friendly societies, and charities can also help to support campaigns, for example in respect of current land development, planning and conservation issues.
Local archives, in short, help us examine past and present events.
However, as ever, finding a suitable place to keep them can be a challenge where space is increasingly limited.
In the case of the example quoted at the start, it is unlikely that there is room for the person’s archive to be stored in a relative’s family home. These days, local churches have limited storage space and as a result of the austerity measures following the 2008 financial crash local authorities have been cutting back on services, in many cases putting local libraries under threat of closure.
However, there is a solution and that is using your local self-storage unit, which offers archiving facilities at an affordable cost with the advantage of 24-hour security and access to the archive and in an environment where sometimes fragile materials can be properly preserved and stored.