Voices from the Voices of the Textile Team

Launched on 10 March 2022, Voices of Textiles is a digital exhibition aimed at honouring women’s use of textiles to express personal voices and political activism. In April, I sat down with the team behind this successful exhibition to talk about the planning and preparation that went on to realise this project, and how they felt throughout this process. If you enjoyed the exhibition, here’s your chance to learn about what went on behind the scenes. If you haven’t yet accessed the exhibition, this will almost certainly pique your interest!

For those who haven’t yet accessed the digital exhibition, can you please briefly describe what the exhibition is about?

Lauren: The Voices of Textiles exhibition highlights communities formed around women who work with textiles. It showcases textiles which have been used to convey personal and political messages. For this project, we worked with the University’s Centre for Research Collections (CRC) to select a number of objects from their collections that we thought fit this narrative that we had identified. The five items we have are four textiles and a painting of women working with textiles. Other than the digital exhibition, we also organised the Craft Your Voice social media campaign to build our own little community of women who use textiles to share their voices, and a roundtable discussion to offer insights on our exhibition objects.

How did the idea for this exhibition come up? Were there any particular inspirations?

Elin: As part of the MScR Collections and Curation programme, we are required to put together an exhibition. We wanted to focus on female history in Edinburgh. Initially, we just looked around to see what is available, like the Edinburgh Seven and the Newhaven fishwives. It took us a couple of weeks to finally narrow down our ideas and settle on textiles as the theme.

The digital exhibition is dedicated to women’s use of textiles to express personal voices and political activism. I am sure that the CRC houses more than five items that are related to this theme. Were there any other selection criteria when it came to choosing what to exhibit?

Sofiya: Women’s marginalised voices and women’s silenced histories are a key part of our theme. We wanted each item to showcase how textiles have been used as a medium to amplify women’s voices in times of when they could not really say what they want to. Therefore, we chose objects which contain subliminal messages from females.

Lauren: We also wanted to have a wide range of representations, so we included objects from different groups of females, then and now.

Now, let’s do something fun! Can each of you tell me your favourite piece from the exhibition and describe it in three words?

Lauren: My favourite has to be the Processions Banner. I would describe it as ‘colourful’, ‘loud’ and ‘individual’.

Elin: Mine is also the Processions Banner. The three words I would use to describe it are ‘storytelling’, ‘heartwarming’ and ‘unity’.

Leia: The SCOT-PEP banner. “Bold, unapologetic and powerful.”
Sofiya: My favourite is the Suffragette belt. I would say it is ‘anonymous’, ‘intricate’ and ‘pioneering’.

Greer: For me, it is the Banners of the Banned. I would describe it as ‘political’, ‘innovative’ and ‘though- provoking’

Benedict: The Suffragette belt. “Delicate, determined and community-based.”

Before we move on to talk about the Craft Your Voice campaign, can you tell us what you really want people to get out of this digital exhibition? What is the take-home message?

Benedict: In short, the importance of a community. These objects do not only show women creating textiles, but also how they created communities through textiles. The important role women play in creating communities, then and now, is irrefutable. We hope that by tying into communities in the past, our own communities of women can be created in the present.

I saw that you have had many entries for the Craft Your Voice campaign. You had responses from all over the world the UK, the US and Canada. All these people have a story of their own that is related to textiles. How did you feel when you read about their stories? Was there any particularly memorable submission?

Sofiya: It was very emotional and humbling to see that people are excited about the project and want to be a part of it, and to see the way textiles have been a part of almost everyone’s life – whether they make them or interact with them. I think this just almost validated our approach. We were scared of tapping into women as a theme and textiles as a medium because there have been so many exhibitions surrounding these subjects. However, seeing all these stories really showed that there is not too much of textiles. By curating such an exhibition, we can give these people a voice, and because these stories are so personal, we really have to put them out there to show that they exist. This was a very important part of our project. For me, the most memorable submission has to be from Sue. She submitted 4-5 entries, telling different textile-related stories at different stages of her life – when she went to fashion school, when she made a costume for her grandson, when she made a dress for a wedding and more. Textiles seemed to be that one thing that grounded her, and it was really inspiring to see how she is so dedicated to the craft.

Greer: Laura’s submission is a memorable one. She lost her husband, and has had cancer. When she told her story on Mumsnet, people from the UK got together and made a blanket for her, in memory of her husband. Her husband was an astronomer, so the blanket had patches of stars and the moon, in his favourite colours. I could feel the love from those who knitted for her.

Here’s a more personal question. How has organising this entire project – the exhibition, the social media campaign and the roundtable discussion affected or changed you?

Lauren: It felt truly amazing, reassuring and uplifting to be surrounded by these communities in Edinburgh. It is also heartwarming to know that communities of women did not only exist historically, but also presently. The cool, smart and interesting people that I came across with while preparing and launching this exhibition – the CRC staff, the programme leader, these five other people who are here with me today, I have felt so close to them. By building something and bringing attention to something important together, I truly feel a strong sense of community. As someone who is relatively new to Edinburgh, this has really changed my outlook.

Finally, is there anything else you want to share?

Leia: We really want to highlight the work of the CRC. It was an honour to work with the items available there. We also want the exhibition to be a useful digital resource for people.

Elin: Other than our exhibition, the Art in Mind exhibition, focusing on mental health and wellbeing, is also worth checking out.

Speaking to Sofiya, Lauren, Elin, Greer, Benedict and Leia was such a fun and insightful experience. Having taken a second look at the exhibition objects, I realised that it is the people and their stories behind these textiles that are the stars of the exhibition. Just like how stories can be told with words and paintings, textile is merely a medium for these people to share their stories – it is indeed the voices of textiles.

Written by Huey Ying

Young Artivists

Following the success of Capturing Lives 2020 and The Power of Public Art programme in 2021, it was not surprising that the University of Edinburgh initiated another Arts Awards programme this year. This time, the project was an opportunity for participants to either achieve their Silver or Gold Awards. The Young Artivists programme began last September, with the goal of helping each participant improve their art skills through making art, reviewing it and talking about it. The importance of communicating and understanding social issues through their work was another facet of the programme.

As a mentor, I was once again given the privilege of observing the creativity and the tenacity of the young artists as they pursued their Silver and Gold awards. They actively participated in the weekly discussion sessions, came up with fantastic workshops that they ran themselves in March and committed themselves to learning new skills such as zine-making, lino-printing and embroidery (to name a few). I was constantly in awe at the way each participant demonstrated their leadership and their teamwork skills throughout the workshop planning process.

Once again, the Young Artivists programme is proof of the importance of investing in outreach programmes that encourage young people, regardless of circumstance, to pursue their artistic impulses and develop their skill set. Some of the participants of Young Artivists have been a part of the Arts Awards programmes since 2020, and there is a clear progression present not only in their art but in their critical thinking and leadership.

While I could write article upon article about the hard work of not only the participants but the supportive staff and mentors, I thought I’d share the spotlight with one of the participants, Tatyana:

“During the second lockdown, I learned about the Young Artists programme by chance. I was in my 1st year of high school, and one night I was checking my school’s team page to make sure I had submitted all my assignments when I came across a link. I clicked on it because I was generally intrigued. The Bronze Award appealed to me because it allowed me to experiment and gain hands-on experience with several art materials while remaining at home. It was ideal, and I wasted no time in applying for the programme.

It offered me with innumerable experiences, skills, feedback, and opportunities as the weeks progressed, but during a pandemic, it also provided me with much-needed serenity. I was able to participate in the creation of little constructions out of clay, as well as the creation of art using paint, chalk, and plaster. Now that I’m completing the gold award, I’ve been able to organise, create, and host a workshop open to the public. It has opened my mind to consider other mediums of art and I also conducted work experience in the film and television sector.

My favourite component has been gaining a sense of accomplishment for which I am grateful to the mentors for. They are extremely knowledgeable and eager to assist you which makes this programme excel and highly recommended.”

Written by Tessa Rodrigues and Tatyana Emmanuel.

Podcast Transcript: WGHBU9, Part Seven

University Histories Internships, Part Seven – Thoughts on Archival Records; Reflections on the Project and Advice for the Future

THIS IS A TRANSCRIPTION

Graphic: Podcast Image

YOU CAN LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF ‘WE’VE GOT HISTORY BETWEEN US’ ON ANCHOR OR WHEREVER YOU USUALLY GET YOUR PODCASTS

Graphic: Transcription Content

Participants: Lorraine McLoughlin; Ashlyn Cudney; Samantha Carrie and Lily Mellon

Date Span of Content: Focus on July-December 2021; Reference to historical events; Reference to the past ten to twenty years

Transcription Key:

  • ‘-‘ – denotes an abrupt or lack of end to a word
  • ‘…’ – denotes a pause in speech/separation regarding the thought being constructed (or provides a disconnect/separation that would benefit a reader rather than a listener)
  • [] – denotes when someone else interjects very briefly in the conversation or when a small clarification is required

Episode Length: 20 Minutes Approximately

Part Seven: Episode Nine
Graphic: Episode Intro

MUSIC (NO SPEECH)

Graphic: In This Episode

HOST (Lily Mellon): Hello and welcome to We’ve Got History Between Us.

We have reached the final part of Episode Nine.

This episode was split into seven sections, all of which were designed to make sense if you listen to stand alone episodes or take things out of order. We do however recommend that if you’re jumping in here, that you go back to the past six parts of Episode Nine to understand fully the University Histories project and the work that the interns undertook.

Everyone who has joined us on this seven part journey so far, knows that this episode has been about an internship project from 2021 – one that the CRC hopes will continue into the future with a new set of new interns and new objectives as this project develops.

In this episode, Lorraine and I discuss descriptive metadata, or more specifically for this context, what goes into an archival record. You’ll be able to tell quite quickly, that for the remainder of this episode, we’re wrapping up. Lorraine looks back on what these interns have achieved and I ask Samantha and Ashlyn to give advice to their hypothetical successors.

Graphic: Main Transcription

Lily Mellon
I’m realizing now would you be able to, just for the audience, just perhaps if they’re not that, kind of, well versed in in the archival context, to give a few words on what metadata would typically include?

Lorraine McLoughlin
Yeah, for- for an archival record specifically?

Lily Mellon: Mm.

Lorraine McLoughlin
So with an archival catalogue the way that it functions or it’s foundational structure is hierarchical, so you want to, like I said before, go from the general to the specific or the collection level description or title… down to the more granular level. You know a correspondence file or single letter, whatever it is.

So within your catalogue resource or your collection level record, you have a number of series which then describe the different categories within that collection that might be relevant to a researchers work…

Whether it’s collection level, covering hundreds and hundreds of meters of- of- of boxes of material, or it’s a single letter, the metadata for in archival record consists of the same fields. Many of them are not mandatory. Only a few are mandatory and I think it’s- it’s six fields are mandatory- six or seven, but basically it’s a reference code, a title, a level, which says what level the material is that within the collection. Dates, creators, scope and content [LM: mm].

I’m missing one out there I think, but basically these- these five or six mandatory fields, will give a basic structure that creates an archival record and everything else is extra.

If we don’t have, you know, an identifying code or title for the material level where it’s placed and dates, for example, we can’t really be is secure and definite in its identification, but once we have that, those things down, we can then start to build on their records, so giving it a deeper scope and content, or an Archivist note around any comments to do with the material, it’s status in terms of whether it’s- it’s access restricted or any reasons behind that… its ownership, it’s administrative history, and like we were talking about before, what other materials or collections that might be related to that are really, really important to understanding that specific collection so, in- in- in creating the internship projects reviews that all three of the internships looked at- I’m not sure how, for example, how essential it was to Project Two and Three that they the reviews in the same way as Project One did, but crucially we wanted to have those basic mandatory archival fields included, when records were found so that if this was our only chance to make a description, to create a description for previously uncatalogued material, then we’ve got the basics and then we can go back at a later date and create something more substantial.

But yeah, for metadata in- in Archives, identifying materials uniquely and confidently is, is the number one reason behind those, those metadata fields. I’ve just thought of the last one. Its’ extent.

Lily Mellon
(laughing) Nice. You’ve passed the test.

[both laughing]

Yeah, yeah, because of- it’s just how much time it takes. You know, people have to be realistic about the goals that can be achieved in a certain time frame when it comes to how many decades it would take to catalogue the material, in the CRC alone.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Well, yeah, I mean, we actually have a report on that [LM: (laughing)] and that was the impetus behind the creation of my post and our Cataloguing Archivist, Aline’s post and another post that came out of their rationalization project.

But there’s a, uh, a really incredible Archives consultant named Janice Tulloch, working with other consultants Collections around the UK and in 2016 Janice did a- a- an overview of the collections at the CRC, along with Alex Richie and found that there is a 30 year backlog in archive cataloguing at the CRC within that kind of 6 or 7 kilometres of material that we have.

So without wanting to bore you for another hour, just about things like that. The level of detail within the cataloguing makes a difference. For example, you know sometimes it just a box listing is a certain level of cataloguing, whereas that deeper level with all the fields, is something that would come later.

But, even though we have a 30 year backlog we’re actually doing way better than lots of other places or what I should say is, that’s not unusual, to have such a backlog and in many places it’s- it’s much more and I think it’s important to be honest and open about those backlogs, because often, Archivists feel the kind of tedium of the- or the mountain of work in front of them, across their careers, and they can feel that weight as a very personal thing and actually…. you know, there’s no kind of superhuman time busting skills that we have, it takes to a measured, considerate sit down over time and catalogue the material. And so the more people know how long it takes the better, I think, and they’re kind of more improvements we can make on our- on our backlogs.

Lily Mellon
Mm.

Graphic: Musical Interlude

Lorraine McLoughlin
I was enormously impressed- impressed by all three of the interns and so relieved that they had such specific expertise in their own areas as well. So I knew that there were good quality information and good quality stories were being recorded and- and highlighted and that was almost like one task that I then didn’t have to do, which I was delighted by. So I found that their- they produced such a sense of confidence that the data would be good, that I just let them fly with it and said go- go forward and prosper (laughing).

Lily Mellon
Yeah… Yeah, it’s- it’s so important when you see people caring about- about their jobs that they’re undertaking… It’-s it’s one of the ways that these underrepresented people are- are going to be represented.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Mhmm.
So that’s it, I- I’m really grateful to you, Lily, for asking me to do this… Which is a great exercise and good practice for me coz I’m going to have to start talking a lot more in my new role than I’ve ever done before (laughs)

Lily Mellon
Mm…okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, no, don’t be sil- I’m so grateful for you to take all this time to- to do it and put it all on record. It’s really nice.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Good, [LM: I think] good.

Lily Mellon
I think one of these things is… and actually I touched on it with Samantha as well… People don’t know how to start these conversations, and they’re too scared of saying something wrong, so they just don’t say anything. And I’m- I would like to think that… bringing these things up- I know that there’s people out there that are just as interested in- in talking about these things or, you know… starting somewhere or will potentially understand Archives more… as a result of it.

Lorraine McLoughlin
I think yeah you’re know you’re- you’re absolutely right. That’s- that’s exactly it. And I think that makes me feel better about my own nervousness then as well, because I’m- I’m fairly confident talker, but there’s something about the thorny issues of Archives that feels really nerve wracking sometimes… and- and- and really emotional. I don’t know what it is, but… I think- aw, I often think it’s the weight of other people thinking… could they do a better job and are you making the right decisions. So you’re always alert to… the scrutiny of people who don’t work with, you know, directly with Collections and you hope you’re doing the right things, which, I tell you what…. We- we usually are [both laughing]

Lily Mellon
[laughing] If we do say so ourselves.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Yeah [both laughing]

Lily Mellon
Yeah, it’s like what you’re saying about disposing of things. I think people are so scared that, you know, it’s something that you can’t go back on, but you know, that doesn’t mean that these decisions don’t have to be made.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Yeah, and I was really conscious even saying that because you wouldn’t believe the vehemence- the anger that people come- come to us with and they realize that anything goes in the bin like how dare we put, you know, bordered paper like I was saying, in the bin. Maybe a little school wants that or an art class or whatever it is and of course, if something has any value, we try and we try and do that, but also timewise we can’t have… I suppose like jumble sales with Archives and things like that, we just sometimes have to get on with the work, but it’s… the reason I know I’m- I’m a good archivist is because I feel… I feel that. I feel that responsibility to make sure it’s not in any way valuable or useful because it- it actually pains me to destroy anything from an Archive, and I think maybe that’s to do with my ar- background in art as much as anything else, because I can see that anything could be interesting to someone or- or valuable to someone and so trying to make those really cut-throat decisions, if you’re at ease with cut-throat decisions, you’re the wrong person to be doing appraisal. You know, it should be quite hard in many ways.

Lily Mellon
Yeah, yeah. Same as this sort of thing. If you know, like, if you’re not nervous to kind of start big projects or something like that or if you stop becoming nervous, then something might have gone wrong because you always should be… it’s a good thing. (chuckles)

Lorraine McLoughlin

Yeah… one of the- one of the scary moments for us, I think with this particular project was the fact that it’s so high profile and it’s in the media and there’s a lot of political… to-ing and fro-ing as well about how to handle these issues.

So because it’s such a new way of working for us and as a separate data gathering at this really early stage and we’re asking these specific questions that we think are right, but we’re not sure…. Then it’s important that people feel that they’re able to work on it without it being scrutinized by people who don’t understand the complexity of- of- of the work. So I was very- and still am very protective of, of everyone working on the project to make sure that they- they don’t feel exploited or assessed publicly.

Graphic: Musical Interlude

Lily Mellon
Yeah, despite the kind of differences between the three projects, it really is all about accessibility and future conversations and oh- but yes opening it up to the research community and the students, but also the wider community as well.

Samantha Carrie
Yes, and I think in terms of the research that I think, I don’t know about your projects, but certainly we’ve been trying to ensure that it’s not just about subjugation, subordination and prejudice, we’re wanting to try and get these really positive narratives out there as well.

We don’t want to kind of get rid of culture, traditions and dialects, were wanting to really ensure that we, we have to acknowledge that… but w- the kind of oppression, but we really need to ensure that we’re getting these kind of positive stories that students can either relate to as well. So that has kinda been a key goal for us as well, I mean mostly what we’ve had to try and do is kind of buil… define these connections because the kind of prejudice and financial well… lucrative financial means of some of these architectural endeavours have not been discussed. So that’s going to be our the majority of our work, but it’s also kind of important ensuring that we’re trying to reach as many different audiences as possible.

Lily Mellon
I was wondering… I mean this, this project… The CRC has been talking about the fact that this is the very early stages of something that’s gonna continue for years, and it’s hopefully a decade long project.

Do you have any kind of advice for… hypothetical future interns on how to maybe like pick up where you had left off?

Samantha Carrie
I think definitely approach this… in terms of like the database that we have created, take this by a theme by theme basis and I think… don’t… keep, keep an open mind… don’t kind of take research methodologies that you kind of have ingrained from other courses or research projects.

You’ve got to really be flexible because you’re not really sure what you’re going to expect. I think as well just utilizing as many sources as you can. National Records is an absolute must up in terms of the variety of sources but also just form really good communication with your Archivists.

I mean I had Lorraine and they- their specialist knowledge is really, really important in terms of being able to really get into the depths of the Asrchive and really picking out quite niche but important things that could open a completely… another door completely.

I think things we’ve said is kind of maybe something that our Archive could work on is certainly maybe research guides… for kind of students and scholars of this period because I think we came into contact with so many unexpected hurdles. You’ve got things like in terms of accessibility, but you’ve also got things of what’s deemed a miscellaneous source, what’s deemed an important source, so in terms of kind of notions of colonial archives and things like that and colonial information. I think also one of the main things I would say is take everything you read with a pinch of salt.

Don’t trust everything, question every- anything (both laughing) some of these descriptions in these documents have not been updated at all, [LM: mhmm] and so… as I’ve kind of mentioned is that they do need a kind of updated…  kind of biographical context alongside its historical context.

As a result, there may be kind of particularly things like if it’s press related or if it’s government papers, there may be a slight agenda, so treat everything you read with a pinch of salt and basically just read… read as much as you possibly can outside, read secondary material, read primary material. The more and more you read, the more complicated your narratives going to be, but I personally think complicated means accurate and complicated is good, and that’s kind of the… the process that I’ve been following is, simple is not good enough. It doesn’t make sense, and it probably means that there’s something missing.

Lily Mellon
I mean thank you for speaking to me for so long about everything. I was thinking before we kind of wrap up… I was wondering is there… based on the fact that there’s likely to be more people on the project that you’ve started working on and working with this data that you’ve done a lot of base work on, do you have any advice for some of these hypothetical interns in the future?

Ashlyn Cudney
Certainly. So I have a wish for them, I hope that they’re not working in the pandemic conditions that I’ve been working in so they get to get to go into the Archives more because that will be… that’s the next step [LM: mm].

My advice for them is to take this information that we have produced and to… to go into the Archives and to get their hands dirty with, with actually looking at these sources and being able to tick the boxes on if they’re related, if they’re not related and then that that’s really the… the next, that’s the juncture we’re at now is that’s the next step. That in our research we… we weren’t able to get to just because there was so much to do but we did with what we had and so that’s my advice is to get excited about getting your hands dirty and get… and getting into the sources that that we had listed as potentially related.

Lily Mellon
Nice yeah.

Graphic: Episode Summary

HOST (Lily Mellon): This concludes the seven part series created on Project One of the University Histories Internships which began at the Centre for Research Collections in July 2021.

Thank you to all the listeners who joined us on this journey. As we suggested previously, we encourage anyone who was interested in these topics to get in touch with VOiCE and keep the conversation going.

Similar to volunteering with the CRC, we recommend keeping an eye on the CRC social media and the Unitemps website if you’d be interested in interning with the University Collections. Announcements will be made when interns are being hired with instructions on how to apply. As the Information Services Group focuses on hiring from the student cohort, internship positions often occur over the summer inbetween the academic year, but opportunities are arriving al the time.

VOiCE wants to thank the guests – Lorraine McLoughlin, Ashlyn Cudney and Samantha Carrie, for their time and consideration of all the questions posed to them. We wish Lorraine all the best with their work in Dublin, Ashlyn with her PhD and Samantha with their Masters. VOiCE also hopes that in the not too distant future, there will be updates to bring you on the progess of the University Histories Project.

Graphic: Episode Outro

MUSIC

HOST (Lily Mellon): You’ve been listening to We’ve Got History.

These episodes were recorded in December 2021 and March 2022. This was part of episode nine.

The guests were Lorraine McLoughlin, Ashlyn Cudney and Samantha Carrie.

Episode hosted and edited by Lily Mellon.

EPISODE AND TRANSCRIPT ENDS

Podcast Transcript: WGHBU9, Part Six

University Histories Internships, Part Six – Discussing Vocabulary; Archival Humour and Cataloguing Backlogs

THIS IS A TRANSCRIPTION

Graphic: Podcast Image

YOU CAN LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF ‘WE’VE GOT HISTORY BETWEEN US’ ON ANCHOR OR WHEREVER YOU USUALLY GET YOUR PODCASTS

Graphic: Transcription Content

Participants: Lorraine McLoughlin; Ashlyn Cudney; Samantha Carrie and Lily Mellon

Date Span of Content: Focus on July-December 2021; Reference to historical events; Reference to the past ten to twenty years

Transcription Key:

  • ‘-‘ – denotes an abrupt or lack of end to a word
  • ‘…’ – denotes a pause in speech/separation regarding the thought being constructed (or provides a disconnect/separation that would benefit a reader rather than a listener)
  • [] – denotes when someone else interjects very briefly in the conversation or when a small clarification is required

Episode Length: 35 Minutes Approximately

Part Six: Episode Nine
Graphic: Episode Intro

MUSIC (NO SPEECH)

Graphic: In This Episode

HOST (Lily Mellon): Hello and welcome to We’ve Got History Between Us.

In Episode Nine, which is split up into several parts, VOiCE is letting you get to know more about a 5 month internship that concluded at the Centre for Research Collections at the end of 2021.

This is Part Six and we’ll be talking terminology, key words and cataloging items. In the very first part of this podcast episode you heard Samantha Carrie introduce the project alongside Ashlyn Cudney but for that section I cut Samantha’s piece short.

Here’s the full section to remind you of the beginning as we start to talk terminology and description.

Graphic: Main Transcription

Samantha Carrie (GUEST): Project one was looking at the University and city links between slavery and colonialism. So this project was in relationship to Edinburgh Council’s slavery and colonialism review, led by the activist Sir Geoff Palmer, who’s now also Chancellor of Heriot Watt University and… long story short basically, we were given this list of monuments, streets and themes that we split up amongst ourselves and we had to research and create this database of sources.

So this is kind of early days of this kind of research in terms of Edinburgh’s connections. So what we were trying to establish is, is there material that can be researched? Is there material there that is, you know, we could say quite confidently is related to these themes, but also kind of developing a research guide for future scholars, in terms of what kind of issues we were coming up… in terms of research methodology. So one of the main things and I know for a fact Ashlyn and Nuzhat will agree with me, we had a number of conversations about this was vocabulary.

Is vocabulary is never the same. So for instance, a merchant could be totally innocent, but if you have a record from the Port of Leith, saying a merchant who on his boat has cotton, or, you know, there’s no context- that- but the dates are right as well, say 1700. You’re probably going if that’s cotton, and that’s going to Amsterdam, then… which then goes to the West Indies. There’s a good chance that that is somehow related to slavery, but you may also have a merchant that is dealing in fairly natural… like common resources, maybe food stuffs. So that kind of ambiguous vocabulary quite difficult.

I mean one of the other things we also deal with unfortunately is letters relating to [unclear] plantations, some of the, kind of, vocabulary can be quite derogatory, and attitudes that wouldn’t be acceptable now. They don’t use the legal terms stipulated, which is slaves or enslaved persons, it’s much more down to implementing that authority through racism… Being able to kind of find those sources when that vocabulary is being used is quite difficult, so that is kind of one thing that we had to try and get our heads around in terms of, how do we advise future scholars to do this as well.

And that was kind of information we were feeding back to Sir Geoff Palmer is well and it was interesting for us to see, kind of what themes were really… he was really keen for information to come out of as well.

I mean he was interested in everything but there were certain things that he would really… that they needed information on because these hadn’t been researched before, so that was kind of our main goal.


Lily Mellon
Nice, exciting. From my perspective or my project, I was working quite a lot into in the early female students and especially whether there was LGBTQ+ individuals and again the vocabulary and it was so ambiguous and so difficult to conclude on, and there… I had been using a lot of the national record stuff and death records were… there was quite a few that had registered the death from an intimate friend, and so two female women and you think… I was going back through a lot of vocabulary trying to work out whether intimate friend in this context at that time meant that they were in some form of relationship together, or whether it was just the language required legally to say I have… I have enough knowledge of this person to know that the data that I’m giving to you about who there- what their maiden name was, and everything like that is correct and things like that, so it’s… different, it’s off topic, but I feel yeah, the same about the whole… how much you can get into this sort of thing, and how much has changed over time in terms of the vocabulary that people were using.

Samantha Carrie
Definitely. I mean, I think we spent so much time discussing kind of, what are the kind of keywords that are getting results in terms of building this data, but also just some of the difficulties as well… I mean one of the key things that we had with Project One is that we’re not just dealing with… we’re kind of dealing with different layers as we’re also dealing with kind of mixed race individuals as well.

So who’s say mother was a sl- was an enslaved person, but say father was plantation owner and dealing with kind of difficult things like with that, because not only are you dealing with quite horrific themes kinda things like assault and things like that, you’re also dealing with issues of how these individuals integrated into society… compared to, say, other enslaved individuals, so the vocabulary can also shift.

Some people are les… have less of an issue, and then some people do have much more of an issue, so it kind of… there was no set research methodology for us. It was really had to go with the flow really, depending on what theme you were dealing with [LM: mm].

I mean, I dealt with largely… I think the medical associations and so that was at Royal Infirmary, the old medical school at Ed- the University, as well as the New Town associations… I also dealt with kind of, Court of Session and legal papers as well which was really interesting, kind of looking at the vocabulary used there in terms of what constitutes an enslaved person over in Scotland following abolition.

That was kind of difficult in terms of basic looking up kind of, legal, vocabulary as well, but it was kind of… it’s kind of expected from the kind of research we were doing, [LM: mm] but it actually it made it more interesting as well ’cause you didn’t quite know what to expect.

Lily Mellon: Yeah, and there’s so many big conversations happening at the moment in terms of, not wanting to… wash over or eliminate what language was being used at the time, but having the appropriate conversations about why…. How we might be describing it, how we might be presenting it.

Samantha Carrie
Yeah, I mean I think- so Geoff Palmer has been quite vocal about this as well. I think there was conversations. The National Library of Scotland are having conversations at the moment in terms of how they’re cataloguing their records in terms of slavery and colonialism, and I think there was a- I think, an inaccurate article, I think put out by the Times, which kind of was designed to stir up a bit of a mind of… kind of sensationalism, basically and… it’s kind of, I think the written- the vocabulary and etymology of some of these sources are just as an important record in themselves [LM: mhmm] and about the kind of culture, attitudes and prejudice that is occurring during this period… but equally I think it’s… what isn’t helped and one of the things that we were describing is that when you look at these sources you don’t have sometimes effective biographical context as well.

So sometimes you’re looking at these sources completely as isolated factors, you don’t really understand their connection to everything else, and I think that’s something we’ve kind of submitted in our report to the Council is that we would like to encourage kind of research funding to go to, kind of, archival systems as well in terms of research into very specific letters or documentation that could maybe provide a bit more biographical context that not only… that helps put that vocabulary in a more contemporary context in terms of its ramifications, its legacies, and just bringing in as many perspectives as possible just to make that… make sure the reality is clear, but also ensuring that we can understand why this document or source is problematic as well.

Lily Mellon
Mm, yeah, there’s almost like two separate but connected conversations going on at the same time and as important as that is… it also you don’t want it to take away from the actual source material as well.

Samantha Carrie Absolutely. I mean, we’ve we’ve had a lot of, I think, number of sources, that have issues with this. I mean, particularly for my research into the medical associations.

Graphic: Musical Interlude

Lily Mellon
Okay, so one of the topics that came up when I spoke to Samantha and Ashlyn from Project One was vocabulary and you kind of mentioned it a little bit already. When we’re dealing with underrepresented communities in the Collections and Archives- for example, LGBT students, international; BAME; female students, we quite often quickly come across outdated vocabulary in sources, as well as some of the kind of historical descriptions that surround this data.

It’s quite an ongoing debate, as you’ll know about how we deal with this and when it comes to the display of items or the interaction with the source for a researcher. I don’t know if you had any thoughts on the subject of… whether the Archive team has about policy surrounding it?


Lorraine McLoughlin
Yeah, we do. I mean, we don’t have, a written policy, I should say. Which, I think for in some ways is a positive because really our policy is to deal with the situation as it arises because… it is a complex one and it’s difficult to have kind of black and white rules around how whether or not to change vocabulary.

But yeah, it’s- it’s I mean it’s an ongoing issue for Archivists and we deal with it all the time and really the, the core issue is… how do we document and catalogue and describe material without taking away from the authenticity of the record, if that material is offensive or cruel or represents someone completely incorrectly.

So there is that constant dichotomy between… not affecting or changing the record based on our current societal attitude towards certain terminology, but also wanting archival research and research of collections to be a safe thing for people to do if they are faced with really difficult terminology and language, especially that- about themselves or their own- their own community, Then that’s- that’s not okay. 

You know, so, we- we deal with this all the time and actually one of the strange things about being an archivist is that- in trying to protect and understand and serve researchers, we’re kind of in the middle between the material and the researcher and so we often have to face this language ourselves. Or, for example, graphic imagery or discussion about really violent crime, without there being any- any filter or any protection between us and the material. And so we often will discuss that- certainly in the- in our own team in the- in the CRC, but it is something that’s discussed across the sector.

How do we support each other in dealing with harmful visuals or language in collections ourselves or trauma based Collections and then also how do we make sure that people have access to- to these materials without, without changing the record. There are some really simple, long standing… oodles of guidelines and standards around how to deal with certain topics but really, even the simple syntax of putting double quotation marks around a title in the file is an indicator that the title is a direct transcription from the material, and the archivist hasn’t derived that title.

Saying that, if it’s something that is really… too awful to have in the catalogue, of course, we have to change it. So we will change the language on the file, but explain that there is terminology within the file or the collection that could be offensive. And in that way, we’re trying to add a layer of protection to the researcher, without… just having a- a run of the mill disclaimer, either, because it’s not really just about saying it’s your own fault if you look at the material we didn’t, you know, we- we can’t do anything about it. Please don’t say anything to us if we don’t like it. [both chuckle]

We really we really want to do is- is try and care for the user care for the researcher and say there are some difficult things in these records… be aware of them. But then it’s also, “be aware” of them… and we will support the researchers to use these materials, but we don’t want them to have to not see them where we want ever close a file just because we think some will be offended because it’s- it’s everybody’s right to see these materials if they- if they need to for their research.

So, just to say a bit more about that coz I feel like I’ve only just touched a bit on it and I need to be more specific… I think the really good example of changing language is in something, like you said, the LGBTQ+ community or with medical records, specifically around descriptions of women. So if you take an example of maybe 100 years ago, looking at descriptions of women and mental health, you’ll often see you really derogatory explanations or descriptions of women and, across the board, whether it’s women and men, when it comes to mental health, you’ll see where it’s like, idiocy and lunatic and different words like that. So we don’t reproduce those words in descriptions, but we will label the catalogue data at a lower level so that people know that they’re there and then of course people can just go ahead and- and read the material.

When it comes to description and legacy changes but there- okay, so there are there are two different channels that we have to work within when we’re dealing with their con- Collections and trying to address problems or issues with vocabulary and terminology. The first is right now with new accessions, with new materials, how are we describing them? And what sources are we using to describe them and are we being inclusive enough in terms of the sources that are out there around how we describe individuals and communities.

And so, it is a policy now where our Archives team, to look for sources, thesauri, indexes, anything that we can find that are produced by the Community themselves and have been a kind of agreed upon and are, kind of, accepted within the community and make sure that we look to those sources when describing newer accessions and- and- kind of, newer donations.

Now, that’s something that a question of kind of stop the rot, you know. It didn’t- It didn’t happen in the past. We can make a change now with new incoming accessions. And so we can do that, and that’s actually relatively straightforward. And one of the examples is a thesaurus called Homosaurus, which I think I sent around to the Project group before, but if I haven’t, I’ll certainly share it again, which is just terminology that is agreed upon around describing, people from different LGBTQ+ communities and what is the meaning behind those terms. The other side of things or the other channel that we have to deal with is legacy descriptions which is much more difficult because- not because we can’t make the changes, but because there- we don’t know they’re there half the time unless somebody’s requested the material.

So that’s a much more a case of- of having a kind of core practice in place among core archivists where we have time put aside over the course of a whole working year to address and making changes to catalogue descriptions, which has been highlighted to us as offensive or abusive or unacceptable in some way. Now that we can do, but still making the decision about what does constitute offensive or abusive language still has to be made, and so although we want to be told generally by our users, if they have come across material that they don’t like, the description or language of, we also have to do that within reason.

So someone might not like the description, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an accurate and (chuckles) fair description if you know what I mean. [LM: yeah] So, so we don’t have a hard and fast rule of if someone complains about the language, we definitely change it and neither do we- neither do we have a hard and fast rule that we don’t… but like appraisal and like being accountable and you know are iterative process for decision making. Changes in language and terminology and vocabulary are something that is we regularly discuss, that Archivists has professionals all over the world regularly discuss and all we can do is keep making slight changes here and there depending on the era we’re living through and the communities that are emerging and the individuals response to the collections when they find them.

So yeah, the more I talk about it, the more I realize that there is a skeletal framework that archivists work within in order to get their work done, but really there is- there are very few situations where a hard and fast rule can be applied to every donated material or every collection or every- every bit of material, and so it keeps you thinking… at the very least.

Lily Mellon
Yeah, yeah. And let you say, you know, you might not want to policy on it because it- these things can’t become a tick box exercise.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Exactly… Yeah.

Lily Mellon
It’s kind of connected as well, coz we’ve already talked about historical descriptions and metadata and- and catalogue descriptions. Would you say that it’s an Archivists job to increase available keywords, or the researchers job to kind of utilize what’s there?

Lorraine McLoughlin
Oh, I think certainly it’s the- it’s the responsibility of the archivist but equally of the researchers. So it’s another one of those kind of ideally it’s a collaborative relationship. And I think that that’s an incredibly important part of the practice of being an Archivist as well, that there’s only so much that you can automate, only so much about the process that- that is mandatory or compulsory or automatic, and the rest of it is all about relationships. So certainly where… we have the time put aside. What we’d ideally love is that catalogue descriptions are forever being improved upon and that terminology is being linked between different related materials, related collections and individuals who have had an effect on each other across time, communities, etc. And the more keywords or the more search terms that are linked to the right materials, the better.

But as- as I was saying before, unless we’re physically working with the material and spending you know, really long periods of time, looking through each record or each- each file in- in- within a collection, we often don’t get a chance to see that, so the ideal is that, if the archivist is working or has a working relationship with the researcher, who is looking at a Collection more, more longer term than- than we would have the chance to, then we would collaborate and build up together.

Certainly the archivist would- would implement the changes or do the work to change the catalogue, but any help from users and researchers and the wider community that we can get, we use… it’s a massive part of the Archive sector is working with academics, researchers, citizens, volunteers, interested parties to help us change the record or improve the record- the catalogue records that are there because basically, once we have properly identified archival material by giving it the things it needs, like a reference code, title, dates, etc… we can actually leave the description of that archival record fairly scant, as long as we have links to certain authorities, like individuals or events or people or other collections, and- and that’s the creation of access points.

So again, we have a kind of a- a skeleton of- of- of information that we need to have in there to identify it correctly, whatever that item is, whatever that file is or that or crafting material, and- and beyond that, we- we can only guess at the perspective which users are coming to the subject from. We can’t always know what terminology they have in their minds when they’re trying to find certain records, so the- the more key terms we have, the better and the more other people can tell us what their access points are, the better.

Lily Mellon: Yeah, yeah, like way back. You know what, what’s the value or where my materials set within a specific collection. You don’t know what someone is going to come in and which angle they might be taking.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Absolutely. I’ll give you a really specific example more recently. Obviously, we’re looking to, you know, alongside the internship project we’re- we’re looking to, find more material related to different groups that are not so represented by, you know, across the board and the most obvious example is women, and we have tried to search our catalogues to say, you know, give us give us results for all the- all the collections or all the materials related to women, we get virtually nothing. But if we search the Collections looking for words like she suddenly things start to come up- or Mrs… things start to come up, you know, (laughs), so we have to look at it from the perspective of the times of the thing- that the material was- was catalogued in and try and figure out what might be the- the key term at that point.

And of course they didn’t have, back in the day they wouldn’t have had any idea that search terms that linked data like- like we have today would be so important. So yeah, I think that the focus is actually going, a little bit further away from a long winded descriptions and certain arch- archival fields, to trying to relate as many key points are key terms and search terms as possible to the one record so that at least somebody is brought to the record and then they can see for themselves whether it’s relevant or not… and that is actually a compromise, a direct response to the need to compromise on a kind of a full form archival catalogue, which is, which is really the ideal, and all, I don’t know if all Archivists would say that. I’m sure they wouldn’t, but really, what an archival catalogue tries to do… is give identify identifying information, but also information in the background, like their custodial information, administrative information, the biographical information for the material and all of that can build up a really big finding aid, that not everybody has time to go through.

The opposite of an archival catalogue is a Google search, and there were- so we’re dealing now with the last kind of 30 years with researchers who are having to go between getting data or answers at, you know, within a percentage of a second or a fraction of a second, and then going back to work on Archives and thinking, oh my God, this thing is so clumsy and I can’t get into the- the content quick enough.

The reason we don’t just scrap the format of the archival catalogue is because, a key principle in Archival theory and the management of Archival Collections is context, and so the act of drilling down into the information from a higher level and upper level and going deeper and deeper into the collection as opposed to somebody just arriving directly at the granular level means that there is integrity maintained as to where that, you know, information came from and all the other content- contextual bits of information that- that record is linked to, so it’s important from a truth telling perspective and a contextual perspective to- to- to filter down through in archival collection and see where it sits before you decide whether it’s the information that you want… so that’s the kind of compromise that we’re dealing with at the moment.

Lily Mellon
Yeah. Yeah, it’s getting that full story of, you know, how- how many people say that they’ve read something and actually they read the title of an article [LMcL: yes] and that might have been clickbait and you they never clicked into and it’s just getting a fuller picture, that fuller story.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Yes. Absolutely. A fuller picture and a fuller story, but also just making sure that they have identified the right individual because if you can imagine… throughout the centuries, especially when there are businesses or organizations which have multiple generations of people or relationships… you have to be absolutely sure that you’re talking about the right “John Smith” before you say it was this John Smith that said, you know… so, exactly as you say, it’s making sure that something isn’t just a sound bite that doesn’t give con- deeper context from above like- like a title, but also crucially, that that granular level, that unless the person is forced to cite correctly, no one else is going to check that, you know, no one else is going to say, what did you go back through all of the other series in that Archive and make sure that it was the- the right connection they were making. So we- we kind of- in a bold way, we make the researchers do that wherever we can.

Lily Mellon
Mm.. but whilst promising credibility and- and high levels of accuracy in terms of the research and the work that’s been going on, you know, you are, instead of a Google search, you’re getting to reference and source credible research or credible sources.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Credible sources exactly, credible material and also, I just think in a much more philosophical sense that… taking the time to understand the material and to- to- to read it is beneficial to any research endeavour.

And in a way, archival research is slow research, and it’s… not always convenient. In fact, 90% of the time it’s very frustrating that it’s so slow, but… I’m kind of proud of the fact that the field tries to slow things down and have people pay attention to the content and understand that a bit better, and they might actually figure out, you know, they- they might take ages looking at archival catalogue and think they’ve done all the work. And then they realize, oh…. I actually have to look at the collection now and that could take another few months and so it’s good to realize that a lot of, attention needs to be paid to some, some more complex collections.

Lily Mellon
Yeah, yeah. These conversations that we’ve been having or touching upon are just, you know, they- they don’t lend themselves to immediacy. It’s nice how much… So much of this goes back to kind of realizing- it’s going full circle and just about everything we’re talking about coz we go into vocabulary and the debate about kind of, how to represent material without upsetting or insulting, and, you know, you see how it can bring in what you were talking about before about community and community archives and accessibility and making people feel welcome and also encouraging people to come in and do what is all this really time consuming work of… working out what keywords might be there and then- and then building up from it or bringing people… I guess it’s that thing of if we’re talking about the fact that there’s all these underrepresented communities or people or human stories… That the- the solution to that can’t be to eliminate or hide material or vocabulary, or “the past” in a way… It’s not- that would not be addressing the balance.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Absolutely. Yeah, you’re right. And I think as well, if the task of addressing that imbalance is, is it kind of just on the table of the Archivist or in front of the Archivist, then we actually won’t make enough progress or the progress that we need to make. I think it’s a- it’s that- in order to address these issues, we need to be much more collaborative across different fields and start to work together at a much closer level. You know practicalities, as well as theoretical discussions around how to handle certain situations until we build up a new set of guidance or guidelines around how to handle cultural artifacts and be they archive collections or- or other objects or other types of materials.

Because basically, I mean it goes back to the idea that in order for something to be found… and this is a kind of small bugbear of archivists, but we often see article saying that something was found in the archive [LM: (laughing) it suddenly appeared and we think to ourselves, like God, I wonder how it got there, [both laughing] you know. So the whole thing is that…

Lily Mellon
Someone moved the dust

Lorraine McLoughlin
Yeah [both laughing] somebody swept away the dust in the kind of Indiana Jones warehouse and- and there was the Holy Grail and actually what we’re really trying to do is with very- usually very few resources, just make sure in the first instance that we’ve got it, we’ve got the stuff we, it hasn’t disappeared, it’s not been lost irrevocably. We just have it in the first place. And so there’s an awful lot of work that goes into… trying to get material, whether that’s physical, analog Collections into our repositories, or in fact, obviously more recently… digital materials into our digital preservation, management systems that, a huge push has to be- has to happen in order to get the material in and then we need collaboration with people. We need funds for, you know different project sponsors, we need people to be interested in the material so that it raises the profile and it’s- it’s with the collaboration that we can start to really preserve the material appropriately… appraise it so only the- the really important relative material is, is kept and then crucially provide access to it. If anything, as archivists we are well aware that there are massive backlogs when it comes to creating access points, but even to doing basic cataloguing.

Because it would take absolutely decades, decades to- to catalogue the materials that we have, even in just one- one repository. And so yeah, I think what we’re trying to do with projects like this internship project and other projects that are coming in the pipeline for the CRC, and other places, is to change our method so it’s not just the Archivist working in in a very [dayed?] way on cataloguing, but that we get communities, individuals, sponsors, different people to help us to collaborate to increase those access points.

Graphic: Musical Interlude
Graphic: Episode Summary

HOST (Lily Mellon): Part Six of Episode Nine is drawing to a close. In the seventh and final section of this podcast, I chat more to Lorraine about archival records and descriptive metadata before concluding this conversation with a final topic, a throw back to Ashlyn and Samantha, to discuss the future of this project and any advice for the hypothetical future interns that will come on board to grapple with University Histories.

Graphic: Episode Outro

MUSIC

HOST (Lily Mellon): You’ve been listening to We’ve Got History.

These episodes were recorded in December 2021 and March 2022. This was part of episode nine.

The guests were Lorraine McLoughlin, Ashlyn Cudney and Samantha Carrie.

Episode hosted and edited by Lily Mellon.

EPISODE AND TRANSCRIPT ENDS

Podcast Transcript: WGHBU9, Part Five

University Histories Internships, Part Five – Memorable Narratives and Useful Databases

THIS IS A TRANSCRIPTION

Graphic: Podcast Image

YOU CAN LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF ‘WE’VE GOT HISTORY BETWEEN US’ ON ANCHOR OR WHEREVER YOU USUALLY GET YOUR PODCASTS

Graphic: Transcription Content

Participants: Lorraine McLoughlin; Ashlyn Cudney; Samantha Carrie and Lily Mellon

Date Span of Content: Focus on July-December 2021; Reference to historical events; Reference to the past ten to twenty years

Transcription Key:

  • ‘-‘ – denotes an abrupt or lack of end to a word
  • ‘…’ – denotes a pause in speech/separation regarding the thought being constructed (or provides a disconnect/separation that would benefit a reader rather than a listener)
  • [] – denotes when someone else interjects very briefly in the conversation or when a small clarification is required

Episode Length: 35 Minutes Approximately

Graphic: Episode Intro

MUSIC (NO SPEECH)

Graphic: In This Episode

Hello and welcome to We’ve Got History. We’re up to Part Five of Episode Nine and by now you’ll know we’re discussing Project One. It’s part of a long term plan regarding University Histories to understand what narratives and evidence of under or mis-represented communities can be found in the material that the CRC holds.

Three interns – Ashlyn, Samantha and Nuzhat delved deep into documentation concerning historical connections between Edinburgh University and transatlantic slavery. All seven sections of Episode Nine are designed to make sense if you listen out of order or pick and choose the topics you want to hear about, but we do recommend starting at the beginning, to fully understand what the internship Project was all about.

In this part, you’ll be hearing some of the stories and connections that were uncovered during this internship.

These involve the mention of themes that some listeners may find upsetting. For example, the medical experimentation during treatment of enslaved persons, lack of consensual relationships and discussions surrounding the value placed on human lives, although we don’t go into detail on any of the descriptions mentioned.

In the second half of Part Five of Episode Nine, the conversation moves to detective work, to airing on the side on inclusion of data, the realities of working during COVID restrictions and the prospect of dealing with a topic that is divisive in the media at present.

Graphic: Main Transcription

Lily Mellon (HOST):

I was wondering do you, did you have a favorite find or kind of, story/narrative that was unpicked during the internship?

Samantha Carrie (GUEST):
Oooh, there were so many, uhm, I think I was- I mean, I was quite interested in the legal documentation. I think there were some cases of… there’s a famous case Knight versus Wedderburn, which was all about kind of looking at, the notion of slavery and then perpetual servitude.

So long story short, Wedderburn brought over this- an enslaved person from Jamaica. So basically when Knight came over to Scotland he stated that he no longer had to ‘legally’ be enslaved. Wedderburn still wanted Knight to work for him and argued legally that he had to work under the notion of perpetual servitude and it’s this back and forth of kind of legal vocabulary and this legal am-… kind of ambiguity… and this kind of continues in some of the other notable legal cases. I mean, there’s another case involving a Dalrymple which involves the role of baptism and enslaved persons in terms of does baptism, notions of baptism and liberty.

So that was kind of… of real interest, but I think the Royal Infirmary was definitely a really interesting one. I dealt with a letter, which again is one of those sources we have no idea what the context is, it mentions an individual Mr Fife… Dr Fife who we knew is a benefactor of the Royal Infirmary and benefited from slavery, but this is an individual to a Henry Cullen, related to William Cullen, is kind of mixed race but isn’t and is incredibly good at what he does and they want him to get a senior position within the Royal Infirmary.

As part of this trade, he is willing to offer, as a replacement, a female, enslaved person “that can breed”. That is the wording. We have no idea how… what the connections are, what the plantations involved are here.

The institution that this is one that really, really needs research. So that’s kind of one that I found probably the most shocking out everything we found, but kind of the one that’s, kind of informed, more my own research has been Robert Rowan Anderson, the architect, who- he built the old medical school on Teviot Place and he also submitted… he was asked by the government to submit a design for the Imperial Institute in London. Now his design didn’t win because it was deemed to hospital like, so it was related to the old medical school, but this institute came to exhibit Collections from India and the colonies and in- in- done so in a, kind of, derogatory way.

It was designed to kind of, influence… make these nations inferior to the British Empire. This was a kind of period of economic depression and things like that, so it was really the British Empire needing to strengthen their authority by kind of subordinating the colonies further.

So it’s kind of interesting to see, kind of, the universities possible influence on th… this kind of huge imperial infrastructure. So that’s also being kind of a notable source that came up.

But definitely I would say the medical one has been the more, probably the most interesting for me in terms of notions of medical experimentation, quite scary things which I didn’t and I mean you hear about, but in terms of having a direct connection and hearing the University had kind of these links, is certainly I think something that probably should be looked into further.

We’ve got a couple of letters from… notable academics within the University Medical school, so we’ve had Joseph Black and William Cullen. And they had a number of correspondences with plantation owners and merchants.

I mean, Joseph Black slightly more complicated because there was one, we know of a letter from a merchant back to him, but we don’t know if this is purely anecdotal or if this is offering some kind of medical advice.

So for context, in this case, this was an indiv… a merchant called AG Alexander and he was asking- well telling Black about a medical experiment on the tropical disease called Yaws and the European practice of dealing with Yaws was using mercury.

They basically thought it was some kind of similar mutation to syphilis, but local doctors had a much more natural, kind of approach, which was a lot less it, which was much more effective and fundamentally didn’t result in fatalities. So basically they start this medical experiment where they take groups of enslaved persons with this disease, the European doctors tried- trial theirs, the native doctors trial their… kind of treatment and fundamentally the native doctors end up doing much better but that’s the kind of tales that are coming out of that.

But it’s difficult because you don’t want to ultimately say is Joseph… Black was 100% involved within the Atlantic Slave Trade ’cause we don’t know, we don’t have his response back, we don’t know if that is purely offering advice, as I’ve said, so that kind of… in terms of defining those relationships can be quite difficult.

William Cullen was a lot clearer because he, the medical school, was deemed that kind of medical magnet of Europe. It’s hugely important. I’ve just written a paper and William Cullen taught a number of students who later went into the plantations and he kept in contact and he kept registers… which the CRC have.

It’s a great resource, and he speaks to one of his students asking for flowers of zinc. It was a delivery of flowers of Zinc to treat an enslaved persons epileptic fits and we don’t know if William Cullen actually sent this, but we do know he does have connections and does give medical advice to some of these kind of colonial doctors as well. That relationship is a lot clearer, but that kind of defining kind of these connections and what kind of ramifications they have whilst ensuring that these documents and this information is at the forefront of that discussion has kind of been our key aim. You’ve got to be quite sensitive, but ensuring you’re getting all the right angles and all the right perspectives in there.

So there’s definitely lots of opportunity for further research in the future for scholars and students.

Ashlyn Cudney (GUEST):
So it’s, it’s a really horrible, unfortunate story, so I would like to share the story of Agnes Maclehose and so she had what we now think might have been a very, overly friendly affair with Robert Burns. And so she… they, they have quite a few very friendly letters back and forth. She was was his Clarinda, which he then went on to write poetry about, and so she, her husband, had worked as a lawyer and a publisher, and he was in Jamaica.

And they were separated for quite some time. She stayed in the in Scotland with her children and she had decided I am ready now to try and reconcile with my husband and so she got on a boat. She went all the way to Jamaica without letting him know and when she got there, she found that he had been engaging in a- I don’t want to call it a relationship because I think that that… that doesn’t give enough credit to the lack of consent in this relationship, but, but had taken a woman who is a slave as his mistress and had multiple children with her. And so she said, heck no, and she stayed a hotel and she got on the next boat out a month later and she- they and she ended up having a lot of issues trying to get her children back.

And there was a lot of issues between contacting her husband in Jamaica and trying to get her children back to her in Scotland because he wouldn’t let the children come back for quite some time, and that’s… it was a horrible discovery, because like I said, I think calling it a relationship isn’t giving it thee… isn’t giving it the nuanced that it requires was clearly this wasn’t a consensual relationship. However, I thought that was a pretty horrible story, and when you talk about, when we talk about the relationship between Agnes and- and Robert Burns, you… we certainly don’t… we certainly don’t discuss her connections or his Robert Burns his connections with transatlantic slavery.

[LM: mm]. Robert Burns himself was connected with transatlantic slavery. Not necessarily directly, but he had the intentions he had wanted to go work for a plantation owner as a bookkeeper at some… one time in Jamaica and we have- I discovered letters between him and a friend him telling his friend I’m doing it. I, you know, I’m going to Jamaica. I’m done living in Scotland now and then about two or three years later I found another, later, another letter where a man said don’t go to Jamaica, stay in Scotland. This is where your place is. This is where your home is. Don’t go to Jamaica and become a bookkeeper, which clearly influenced his decision ’cause he never decided to go.

Lily Mellon
Mmm… Can’t trust those tax collectors [both laughing]… interesting, yeah.

Graphic: Musical Interlude

HOST (Lily Mellon):
This project it’s sort of, I guess, kind of in the early stages, like the internships as a whole, the CRC you’re talking about, you know, years in the future and a decade long project and as you say, you’re assessing what documents may be relevant here in the CRC, but also in regional stuff and international stuff, was… there a place that the relevant documentation was heading towards. You know, were you focusing on future access, future study… general knowledge?


Ashlyn Cudney
So what I was focusing on was, what we were really advocating for is future study and not just people like us who have these, these terminal kind of positions that you know after six months your, your jobs up and you have to kind of put your hands in the air and hope that somebody else is able to take it up. But somebody who’s a postdoctoral researcher or a… or a PhD student who’s able to really spend years focusing on this information and able to create something substantive out of it. So that’s really what, well what I was putting in mind, because when you’re looking at-

The big challenge I, I would say of this research was when you’re looking at online archives, not always is the information… Is there enough information to make a good judgment call about if it’s related or not so often times I erred on the side of inclusion. So if it’s correspondence, then I- I’d hope that perhaps there might be something related and included, but I can’t always say because it just says correspondence between date A and date B, but it doesn’t tell you what it’s about. I mean, and that’s just… That’s the bugbear of being in archives in general, because they I mean archivist job isn’t necessarily to write down every word of the document [LM: mm] but now in the age of COVID, I think things are changing a bit on that front, but a lot of times when you’re looking up archival metadata like that, it doesn’t include enough information to be able to make very specific judgment calls. So we aired on the side of inclusion in the hopes that one day another feature researcher will take this up. Who has years of their lives to put into this, and will be able to create great research, a book perhaps out of- out of what’s going on.

Lily Mellon
Oh excellent, yeah. It… yeah almost like a relay, the Council provided you with the 12 subheadings and very, you know, small bullet point information. You’ve added to that and then yeah someone… someone else to take up the mantle.

Ashlyn Cudney
I would say probably on average I had, I believe, four or five of these subheadings and I had over 300… I think it was 380 potential connections to transatlantic slavery that I had documented. So certainly if the other two researchers on the project had, and I know they did similar amounts, then that’s, that’s quite a bit of so we did quite a bit of the legwork on the research that somebody would be able to have going forward.

Lily Mellon
So exciting, yeah yeah yeah, the initial detective work [AC: yes]

Ashlyn Cudney
Absolutely, so part of my research was Samantha and I made presentations to members of the Edinburgh City Council about our findings and what we think should be done with those findings in the future and when I was going back through some of my earlier data, I was like I’d- I hadn’t been thinking about that in a while, that’s really interesting, it was time as part of like rediscovering it and rediscovering my- my passion for certain… for a number of these topics to share with them what I think were the with the best avenues for the discovery of more..  more sources and more connections.

Lily Mellon
Yeah, excellent… in a way that was one of the reasons that I wanted to kind of speak to all the interns a bit for the podcast because I feel like when stuff is maybe stilted funding wise in terms of we don’t know whether future interns are or maybe when they will be coming in and where we might be across the world by that point is, you know you, you dive in for months and there is a wealth of knowledge in your head that overtime is going to start to not disappear entirely, but certainly maybe get a little bit more bumpy and shaky. And then, you know, perhaps they’re diving in and doing similar stuff to what… what you had already done.

Ashlyn Cudney
Yeah, I mean, I hope that what happens when it’s taken up by somebody else is that that there’s… that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel, so that the Excel sheets that I produced and the descriptions I made were… were good enough and were thorough and detailed so that they don’t have to go back and re discover things that have already been done. And I, I think that that was my biggest focus was to do this detailed and thorough so that somebody can take this as a jumping off point instead of having to start from the beginning.

Lily Mellon
Nice yeah, and like you were saying before about being inclusive about what you have at the beginning ’cause you don’t know everything that’s maybe in these Collections still.

Ashlyn Cudney

Absolutely I erred on the side of inclusion. It’s better to… to have and not need than to need it and not have it because it’s easier to, to find to, to look at a source and then decide it’s not worth it then to… to the likelihood of you coming across something, perhaps is less so than if I would have just included it in the first place.

Lily Mellon
Mm yeah, I, uh, I debated that myself a little bit, and then I… when it came to kind of documentation by the end of things, a lot of the people that I’d found in maybe census data or whatever it was that I couldn’t confirm for sure. But had all this information and it was that thing of like, I really want to say it is. I’ve got that gut feeling, but technically I cannot say for sure. But here’s all the information. Here’s the reference numbers and indexing because you can you know if more information comes to light in different stuff later on, maybe that will be the… the tick box that you need to say, like, yes, both born here blah blah, you know something like that.

Ashlyn Cudney
Absolutely, and that’s what I did. As well, the… the greatest database that I think was the most useful for all of us and I think we would all agree was the University of College London has a database called it’s like, legacies of British slavery and you can go in and just type somebody’s name and all of the information and everybody who has had any type of involvement in transatlantic slavery will pop up and it was so useful and it showed how much money that they had involved and… and what land they had and it was it was just a- a wealth of information in this database. It was absolutely the… the impact of that was immeasurable to this research.

Lily Mellon
Yeah, I think there’s a lot to be said for how many hours can go into research, and I mean, without wanting to speculate how much… information that you can get without the ability to conclude with all this absence of evidence kind of situation.

Samantha Carrie
Yeah, I mean, I think that was the kind of the blessing and curse of COVID is that when we started this internship we were still fairly under- under lockdown [LM: mm]. We’ve not been able to go and access the Archives, to the extent that we would like, so we have really been going off the digital descriptions of these sources, so the, the negative side of that is there’s context that probably we could have…

We needed to kind of rule out or consider further some documentation… but the plus being I think we got through so much more material than we would have done. I mean, I definitely spent at least two weeks looking at Court of session. I got 1500 results. I remember one search and I spent about two weeks just going through all of them and that was in the midst of lock down and I think being able to have that time to actually sift through thousands upon thousands of hits was really helpful and it hopefully means that the Council and future academics have a lot more material to work with and to sift through and- but as I say, I think there’s probably Collections that we’ve gathered that we generally don’t know the connection.

So for instance, I know Nuzhat was dealing with Henry Dundas and all of us all came into contact at some point with the David Laing Collection and CRC, coz David Laing was chatting with everybody, like notorious gossip, honestly, there’s so many letters [both laughing]. He came up in absolutely everything. We’ve still got no clue how he is connected, if he is connected, but because he’s speaking to all these like notable, either individuals or individuals who have benefited from colonialism or slavery, we’ve kind of thrown this into the database and gone, this is probably worth some kind of analysis and thorough examination.

So… so COVID has kind of been good in some ways, I think we would have liked to have more access into the archives, I’m sure, I think all of us would have, but I think for the material that we’ve got, I think we’re very happy with the kind of the results that we’ve been able to find.

Lily Mellon
Nice yeah yeah totally, were you able to get on site much or at all?

Samantha Carrie
We didn’t manage to get on site at all. I mean, I was lucky in terms of- with my course, there was a couple of documents that we actually got to see which were actually in the spreadsheet, so I was kind of- so I was lucky to see a couple of them, but we didn’t manage to get in at all but I mean we were quite lucky as well because we were able to use as many Archives as we liked.

So CRC was kind of the starting point, National Records was critical, but I think particularly for my research in terms of the New Town, which is much more about financial subsidisation… thee British Library and the National Archives of the UK were really important, but they have a collection called the T71 Catalogue, which is about… it’s enslaved person reparations. So basically when abolition went through, those who owned plantations could file a claim to get some kind of financial reparation for the significant loss of not only land and profit… which is kind of not really talked about as much. It’s kind of abolition is kind of, seen as this kind of cut off once it’s there, that’s it, it’s done but actually these individuals were not didn’t face any kind of consequence.

They actually got financial… kind of… validation for what they were doing. It’s a really, really important catalogue for understanding where people made their money, how much money people got, and it’s actually formed the basis of University College London legacy of Slavery Database which we all used.

Basically it’s a great website. You just type in a name or location, a plantation. It will give you all the data and it will give you the sources that we used to support that data. The T71 catalog being the most important, but unfortunately that is, totally physical archive. It’s a huge, extensive thing, but it’s… nothing is digitized. That is a Collection I would really like to see digitized because I think so many people could benefit from that Collection because it covers Jamaica, Grenada… Granada, it’s everywhere.

It’s really, really important in terms of kind of financial reparations, but it’s also got kind of documentation in terms of what plantations look like, but also enslaved person registers.

Knowing how many kind of individuals were on these plantations and important lists as well. But yeah, I mean largely we were just dealing with, kind of thee description or the title and going off of our experience as we went along to determine whether these were relevant or not.

I think the only digital collection I came into contact with was Frederick Douglass Literary Collection in the Library of Congress, which has about, I think it’s about again, about 3000 documents. All digitized letters and it’s his wife, it’s his daughter. It’s a huge collection, but that was really the only one we could really get our hands on properly, which was a shame, but I think I, as I say, I think the sheer amount of material we gathered as a result of lockdown I think, makes up for that.

Graphic: Musical Interlude

Lily Mellon
When there’s so much material, or when you’re one of the people sort of starting the beginnings of something and the basis of something… did you find it- I don’t know, maybe intimidating the amount of material that you were working with…or is it sort of that excitement?

Samantha Carrie
I think it was def… it was definitely exciting. I think there is material that because some of this had never come to light before or had not been seen or just being stuck in a box for years. It was really, really exciting. I mean, I had the responsibility of looking at the Royal Infirmary and that was incredibly exciting because this was something that was noted by…

I mean, within our meeting with Sir Geoff Palmer, he was really quite keen to find out as much as possible about that and I think CRC have actually start funding a PhD now on the Royal Infirmary and, kind of, Lothian Health Services… institutions.

That collection is literally a cardboard box full of financial papers, medical records, servants. Things like that. It has not been sifted through and being able to go into then the National Records and find a couple of benefactors who may be or may not be linked was really, really exciting, but I think with this as well… there is an element of- you have to be careful, much of this experience has been about self-education…

I kind of started engaging with kind of colonial imperial narratives last year when I did a course called Global Architectures of Colonial Latin America and it completely changed the way I explored sources and research and basically, I never had an education in the British Empire or French Empire or anything like that, and actually being able to see where this bias has been coming from, some of these narratives, and seeing that actually the complete opposite is the case has made me kind of question absolutely everything.

So it’s a great research exercise in terms of you want a healthy dose of paranoia, it’s great [LM: (laughing)] It was… you do have… you do worry about it because I think you want to be as respectful- you want to ensure that you’re getting all that data across in an accessible a manner as possible.

I think also because this is being spoken about in the press. This is kind of also being spoken about in Parliament and there’s kind of extreme views. You want… you’ve got to kind of have an informed argument. You need to ensure that you know your stuff… but I think you also need to kind of block out some of the kind of criticism as well. Whether that is, kind of, biased interpretation or just designed to kind of create sensationalist argument to stir up hate or antagonism for the sake of it.

So it’s I think having now dealt with it for a year, I’m much more comfortable and having these conversations by dealing with this kind of contentious and often quite horrific material. But I think… I certainly my research wants to go further and exploring kind of these routes to ensure that I’m learning as much about the manifestations of Empire and it’s kind of ramifications, and it’s kind of methods of colonization as well in terms of emotional manipulation. Things like that to really understand how this infrastructure works and ensuring how that persists and why it’s relevant today.

Lily Mellon
Mm… It’s certainly a topic that’s become very prominent in the media recently when grappling with a with a topic that’s become kind of say it sensationalized and divisive in many ways, or quite antagonized for traction… in the media. Did it feel like a daunting prospect knowing you were, kind of, about to grapple so closely with these types of topics and representation?

Lorraine McLoughlin
Uh, absolutely 100% it always is and, yeah, to deal with our decision making so publicly or to… yeah, to try and pull out information from the Collections and know that it is so topical, that it will be poured over- the process will be poured over and how- how the the work was done.

So yeah, we were all a bit nervous about that. But rightly so. It’s important, I think, in- when dealing with these types of themes like structural racism or symbolic annihilation or the lack of representation in organizational memory that if there’s any discomfort to be felt by those managing the collections that we should just feel it and move on and as I said before, just do the work anyway.

One of the things that we are acutely aware of is lack of diversity- racial diversity in our team. The archives team and the the CRC team more broadly, and there’s only so much we can do on the spot it made to- to change that… in the kind of first instance. But what we- what we can do is- while the kind of, lack of diversity in the sector is being dealt with across the board in many organizations. We wanted to make our own effort to address lack of representation in our collections while we could. So.. So yeah, it’s- it’s nerve wracking because we’re aware of the fact that most of our team- all of our team are white and relatively privileged in sense of being educated and having the opportunity to work in the University, for example. And so, we’re… that’s what makes us so conscious of looking outward to other resources and two other discussions and debates around this topic and to try and pull in as much information as we can about changes that we could incorporate.

Lily Mellon
Mm, yeah.

There have been shifts regarding an Archive being a place that is, kind of, closed off to the public, I guess it’s a different kind of closed off to what you were talking about just there, but it’s beginning to open its doors and provide more and more access to what it’s preserving and safeguarding and bringing many more people or cultures into the conversation. Can you speak a little bit more to that?

Lorraine McLoughlin
Uh, yeah, I think this is something- an area that absolutely fascinates me and I, even though I’ve been an archivist for 10 years, I- I don’t know as much as I could do about it because it’s a long standing field, but basically, the field of community archives and how community archives have developed over many decades is- is fascinating and also really important to this issue of- of Archives being closed off.

So… There are some organizations, like Universities, like banks like, schools… Libraries… where only a certain few have been able to access materials traditionally, because they’re the ones that have access to education or to- or to even to physically to these sites.

And so, Archives have been kind of every enigmatic, mysterious place for many, many people. They’re not- They’re not something that the average citizen spends a lot of time in… or even the average student in the University.

The library is much more, I think, a library, generally is like a- a public service that a lot of people get a lot of- a lot out of it and you have things like in a Public Library like mother and baby groups or safe spaces for people who haven’t got access to other resources and things like that… but because of their rarity, and they kind of uniqueness of Archives, there has been a real- traditionally, and I mean this still exists, and rightly so, but a real focus on the security and preservation of the materials and the consistency of the experience within the space, because that’s important so that we can know what happening to the material and how it’s being used.

More recently, I think there’s been and absolutely- more recently, communities that aren’t- aren’t traditionally represented in Archives or haven’t been part of the long established organizations that have archives, even, they’ve started to establish their own cultural memory, their own histories, their own archives, it- based within communities and obviously the real purpose of an archive is or- or how people use the material and benefit from it.

So if you’re creating a community archive, it’s essential that the community themselves can be part of that process and- and use the material and- and also be thanked and- and be kind of respected for being part of that process.

So I think that’s a very kind of large memory Institutions like state libraries and Archives or huge, long established University Archives and Libraries have a lot to learn about access in terms of making the space inviting for people who are actually the subject of the- of the Collections.

So traditionally, what would happen is if- if a- if an archive, if a collection was seen as being really rare and valuable then it would be taken from a community or an external situation on accessioned into an Archive so that it could be preserved long term in our specialist repositories. Now that’s a- a really noble and- and good work that we need to do that because we want to make sure that the collections are safe over many, many years, many decades but it’s often at the expense of people who were actually in the archives being able to access them because they’re not part of that memory organization or they’re not part of the- the community that is feels comfortable in that space.

So there is a much bigger drive totally established by the- or instigated should I say by the Community archives… Community [both chuckle] to open up the Archive and bring people in and if people want to sit down and have a cup of tea or have discussions that aren’t in a completely silent, you know, environment or be next to the material and feel things about it… then that’s- that’s what they need to do.

So I feel like there’s kind of future of archives is a collaboration between these really large memory institutions that have certain- a certain environment in place and certain resources to hand and Community archives, which have- are self-establishing and self-running and could really benefit from some of the resources that larger institutions have and that this should work together to make sure that they archives are accessible as opposed to larger organizations just taking the material from the communities and storing it away- away from them.

Graphic: Musical Interlude
Graphic: Episode Summary

HOST (Lily Mellon): As we come to the end of Part Five of Episode Nine, we have two parts remaining.

In the next episode, we discuss some common jokes in the archive sector and the backlog in cataloguing that every institution faces today.

The seventh and final section of this episode looking into this internship project will deal with the question of what information should be included in an archival record and I ask the interns for advice for some hypothetical future interns that would take over this project.

Graphic: Episode Outro

MUSIC

HOST (Lily Mellon): You’ve been listening to We’ve Got History.

These episodes were recorded in December 2021 and March 2022. This was part of episode nine.

The guests were Lorraine McLoughlin, Ashlyn Cudney and Samantha Carrie.

Episode hosted and edited by Lily Mellon.

EPISODE AND TRANSCRIPT ENDS

Podcast Transcript: WGHBU9, Part Four

University Histories Internships, Part Four – Spotlight on Ashlyn Cudney

THIS IS A TRANSCRIPTION

Graphic: Podcast Image

YOU CAN LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF ‘WE’VE GOT HISTORY BETWEEN US’ ON ANCHOR OR WHEREVER YOU USUALLY GET YOUR PODCASTS

Graphic: Transcription Content

Participants: Lorraine McLoughlin; Ashlyn Cudney; Samantha Carrie and Lily Mellon

Date Span of Content: Focus on July-December 2021; Reference to historical events; Reference to the past ten to twenty years

Transcription Key:

  • ‘-‘ – denotes an abrupt or lack of end to a word
  • ‘…’ – denotes a pause in speech/separation regarding the thought being constructed (or provides a disconnect/separation that would benefit a reader rather than a listener)
  • [] – denotes when someone else interjects very briefly in the conversation or when a small clarification is required

Episode Length: 30 Minutes Approximately

WGHBU9: Part Four
Graphic: Episode Intro

MUSIC BEGINS

Teaser One:

Lily Mellon (Host): Yeah, this little episode can be an advert to anyone who’s trying to work out what their PhD subject might be [both laughing]

Ashlyn Cudney (Guest): Try to have it so all your sources are published [both laughing] online. Yeah, I study early modern Scotland so I’m certainly… I certainly don’t take my own advice.

MUSIC

Teaser Two:

Ashlyn: I wanna make sure I’m pronouncing this correctly, d’you care if I google real quick to make sure I’m saying this

Lily: Oh no, of course, go for it, for for it

Ashlyn: would be shameful if I don’t get it right

Lily: Gotta do right by Agnes

MUSIC

Teaser Three:

Lily: I certainly… there was a lot that I had messed about with and started with in July within University Calendars and then of course went off and were working at these other databases and stuff like that and when I came back to making sure that everything was on the spreadsheet, it… it, is one of those things where you kind of, suddenly it’s like, it’s all uploading in your brain again and you’re like ‘Oh my God, yeah’, you know this was weeks of… of these people and these things and totally different and it’s amazing how quickly some of that can be… not necessarily forgotten, but not, not at the forefront.

MUSIC

Teaser Four:

Lily: Oh d’you know what, I meant to ask this already [A: yeah]. Is your name pronounced Ashlyn?

Ashlyn: It is, Ashlyn yeah

Lily: okay, nice.

MUSIC ENDS

Graphic: In This Episode

Hello and welcome to Part Four of Episode Nine of ‘We’ve Got History Between Us’.

So far we’ve introduced you to Lorraine McLoughlin, to Project one, to Samantha Carrie, so now it’s time to hear about Ashlyn Cudney and her PhD in Scottish history.

I was excited to chat to Ashlyn because of my own research. If you remember from previous episodes and Lorraine’s explanation of the themes in Part Two of this episode, this internship was named Project One because two separate but connected projects were running simultaneously and I was an intern on Project Two.

Where Ashlyn, Samantha and Nuzhat were getting to grips with connections to transatlantic slavery, I was pouring over University Calenders and student records in an attempt to find hidden narratives from underrepresented communities in Edinburgh University’s historical alumni.

I focused on early female students, meaning Ashlyn’s own research into gender and her previous experience evaluating gendered language were things I really wanted to pick her brain about.

Our conversation turned to nuance, to vocabulary and to bias, so in the second half of this episode we hear from Lorraine again, as we discuss archival theory and whether archival work can be considered free from bias.

Graphic: Main Transcription

GUEST (Ashlyn Cudney):

Lily Mellon
Okay, so I’m thinking, before we get into the, kind of, internship at the Centre for Research Collections, I wanted to get to know you a little bit better, so I was wondering where was it that you grew up?

Ashlyn Cudney
Yeah, of course. So I grew up in the USA. I’m from Indiana and I’m from a very small, college town called Green Castle.


Lily Mellon
Nice… and studying at Edinburgh was that… was that the sort of thing that it was, kind of, straight out of school, or did you kinda get a longer pathway… A gap year?

Ashlyn Cudney
No, so I started in my Undergrad at DePaul University in Indiana. And so I’ve kind of done the traditional route, I’ve gone straight through school and then that’s first where I was exposed to early modern history and the study of gender history and social history, which is what interested me in coming to Scotland, so that I went on to do my masters at the University of Saint Andrews. And then after that,  where I really decided that I wanted to study Scottish history and become a Scottish historian, which led me to the University of Edinburgh. So I could work with some of Scotland’s leading Scottish historians like my supervisors, Alistair Raffe and Julian Goodare.


Lily Mellon
Nice nice. okay so you start off your Undergrad in America, when… when was it that you started getting interested in Scottish history?


Ashlyn Cudney
Yeah, certainly so I- … in the USA education system, we don’t do a lot of history pre Revolutionary War, so I had never really been exposed to early modern history at all which is what I study. So I had taken a couple early modern history courses with my supervisor and my advisor at the time Barbara Whitehead and she taught a class on the witch craze in early modern Europe. Which is where I first became interested in Scottish history through the Scottish Witchcraft database and studying Scottish Witchcraft trials in the, the witch crazes is in Scotland, which is where I was first exposed to Scottish history specifically.

Lily Mellon
Nice… and so did you specialize in it once you were at Saint Andrews type of situation?


Ashlyn Cudney
Yeah, so I did early… I specialized in early modern history at Saint Andrews, but I did my dissertation on women in the Kirk session in Dunfermline in the 17th century, so I focused on gender double standards and prosecution and punishment in the… in the ecclesiastical church system in Dunfermline in Scotland.

Lily Mellon
Oh magic okay, so interesting. My department actually does a course on, well it’s supernatural world, so it involves witch and witchcraft, but it is a bit bigger as well… okay so what’s the title of what you’re studying here at Edinburgh then?


Ashlyn Cudney
Yeah, certainly so. I’m studying gendered social control on the island of Bute in the latter half of the 17th century. So once again, I’m focusing on gender history, but even more broader. I’m looking at ecclesiastical and secular court cooperation, so how these secular courts and the ecclesiastical courts work together to… punish person/person in Scotland and to ensure specific forms of beh-… of good godly behaviour. But then I’m also interested in, in country and rule defied and how that affects different forms of behaviour in different types of social control. At its most basic, I’m looking at the gender double standard once again and interested in how far it works, how far it works in different areas like town and country, and how much… how much geographic area affects the type of punishments and disciplines and the type of prosecution that’s involved.


Lily Mellon
Mm… fascinating. Is there any reason why you picked the Isle of Bute?

Ashlyn Cudney
Very practically. They…. Well, there’s two very large reasons. First of all, practically they have all the records that I want. [LM: (laughs)].  They do [LM: nice start] have what I call an all courts perspective. You have to have records from both the ecclesiastical and the secular court systems that are affecting the communities at the exact same time. So very practically they had both of those available, which is rare for early Modern Scotland, because oftentimes the Kirk session records survive but the sheriff’s court doesn’t, so the… a miracle happened and they all happen to be, happened to be available to me, but then also I’m very interested in differences between lowland and highland when it comes to individual behaviour, because in Highland Scotland we don’t have the same kind of wealth of records to be able to understand the type of gendered social control that perhaps we can in lowland Scotland. So I’m interested in the way that the merging of Highland and lowland culture and… and norms affects different types of behaviour.

Lily Mellon
and before thee internship, had you been interested in the heritage sector and in Collections and Archives?

Ashlyn Cudney
Yeah, absolutely so, during my Undergrad career I had volunteered and been a fellow for the Peeler Art Gallery’s at DePaul University, where I curated multiple galleries and did research for the archivists there. One on African history. It was called Rethinking African history from traditional to contemporary which was in the Emison [admissions?] building there and then another called ‘Infinite Splendor, Infinite Light’ which was about Tibetan history and about, specifically Tibetan art and thangkas and then I did another on Russian art as well, and so that was all during my Undergrad career. And then I also worked at the DePaul University in Indiana Methodist Church Archives as an archivist assistant for about a year during my, my final year during Undergrad and then when I was at the University of Saint Andrews during my masters, I volunteered for the Museum of the University of Saint Andrews, to work for their program called Baby MUSA, which was a like a children’s education program which was about once a month where we put together activities in the museums and led different activities, brought out different objects to teach them and to get them involved in the museums. And then I also worked as a volunteer registrar for the Scottish Fisheries Museum during my masters as well. Registering objects, taken care of objects and working to do an exhibit on the Great Tea Race.

Lily Mellon
Nice nice, cool well that is a definite yes then.


Ashlyn Cudney
Yes, yeah.

Lily Mellon
Exciting


Ashlyn Cudney
Absolutely, that was a really big project that I worked on. I was a summer research fellow at the time and now that that, that gallery space actually travels to different museums in different universities across the US so they can rent it out for a specific, for specific time period. So that’s really it’s really nice to know that my research that I did during that year actually is getting to live on and getting to travel with the with the exhibit itself.

Lily Mellon
Oh cool yeah, yeah it sounds like you’ve done quite a lot with exhibitions in a way…
I’d sort of said before that it felt like it linked to your studies. I… I won’t just say that I’ll, I’ll ask you. What, do you feel that way? Do you feel it was linked to your studies?

Ashlyn Cudney
I think I’m content wise, not necessarily, but the skills that I have gained during all of.. during all of these experiences of absolutely linked to my studies. I mean being able to work in the archives absolutely set me up for first of all, just knowledge about how to navigate archives [LM: mm] because I think that as an early researcher it’s intimidating walking into an archive and figuring out how to discuss these things with Archivists and looking them up on your own, so it really gave me the confidence to be able to do that on my own. You know, as a researcher. But then also just learning how to write concisely, learning how to present information for a wider audience that these skills that I gained during all of… during all of these heritage and research sector experiences have absolutely helped tide to my.. my current research.

Lily Mellon
Nice yeah yeah. Lots of experience of sifting through documentation and formal documentation and things like that. Yeah, I guess, and that can all be brought to the internship going on here at the moment, ’cause it feels like that’s a lot of what we started off with…
Nice, had you come into the into contact with the CRC before maybe through work or just being a student there yourself.

Ashlyn Cudney
Yeah, absolutely. So the, the only time I’ve had the opportunity to come into contact with the CRC was as a student. So whenever I’ve had to request or read rare mat- rare books and materials that aren’t able to be taken out of the library.

Graphic: Musical Interlude

Lily Mellon
I so… it’s interesting that you kind of… you’ve already picked up on the idea of nuance. I feel like that was a running theme across all three of the projects in a way and kind of what we were talking about a bit before of like what is going to happen with this data in the future. Where is it going? I was wondering based… well based off the internship that you’ve been working on for the past few months and beforehand, working in previous different places, the Exhibitions that you worked on… I was wondering if you did have some words on the potential of archival and collection work, or indeed, the nuances of some of the language, some of the ways that we’re describing the people that were finding stories about.

Ashlyn Cudney
Absolutely. So first and foremost, I think I have something to say about the way archives code their data. [LM: mm] I worked on a project with the School of Informatics and the Group of Data, Culture and Society where I worked as an annotator looking at archival metadata descriptions and I was analyzing them for gendered language. And there’s quite a bit of that where you’ll refer to a man as James Buchanan but then his wife is Mrs. James Buchanan. Or Mrs. Buchanan and she never has a first name or using quite coded language like businessmen and or workmen instead of just the gender neutral like workers or whatever, and so I think that moving forward, first and foremost, I think we need to go back and rewrite a lot of metadata description to, to allow for research to be done because so much- because I wouldn’t think… I found an instance where instead of calling a woman and author they called her an authoress.

What’s an authoress!? [both laughing]

I mean I would I would have never thought of saying that in my entire life and so… so she would have if I was looking up authors I would have never found this woman, ever, because I wouldn’t think of using gender terminology that way because we don’t.. like in mod- you know, modern archival research we… we don’t use language like that.

So I think first and foremost there’s a responsibility to on the part of archivists to go back and re-code data because it will allow for future research to be done, not just for gender, but also for the research that I was doing, there was quite a bit of very racially insensitive language in the Archives, which I think that when you’re verbatim explaining exactly what they’re talking about is one thing, but when you’re describing the data, it’s another. So I think there’s responsibility to go back and look at things like that. But then also… I, I’m very passionate about recontextualizing public history, and we have wealth of information like what we have here for this project that did the responsibility to, to go back and to look at how we’re… how we’re presenting public history to- to tourists and to the people of Edinburgh in Scots in general, and to and to think about not only putting your best foot forward but, but an accurate depiction of the involvement and the political and the military and the economic involvement in connections with the rest of the world. Be that positive through, through good natured trade, but then also through transatlantic slavery and military conquest as well. So really, my hopes for this project is that it’s taken up by somebody, or better yet a group of somebodies who are able to really spend years pushing this forward because it’s as wonderful it is that we were able to do this legwork. It… it only takes it so far. It really takes somebody else to look at all this data and to create… to create an action plan.

Lily Mellon
Yeah, oh totally nice. Yeah I… I guess… it’s such a long term responsibility and it’s such a long term shift in terms of the ways that Archivists so often used to try and describe themselves as impartial which is almost impossible, or is impossible for humans.

Ashlyn Cudney
I think it’s difficult because I I think that we tend to be… we just, we tend to have more gender neutral language now [LM: mm] or tend to be more comfortable using it. Whereas when you’re looking at old metadata description, which might have just been copied over really quickly to get into like the on- the database of the online databases, you often see quite biased language.

Lily Mellon
Mhmm, yeah yeah, and not just a rewriting in terms of whether you would wish to change some of the description, also just adding to the description, adding to the key points like you say, about, you know, maybe not being able to search or find that person because they weren’t under author.

Ashlyn Cudney
Absolutely. My- my biggest qualm with like archival online databases is, with as much effort as archives are trying to do in this, in this modern age, especially a post pandemic world trying to put things online so they’re more accessible they… and they do a great job in a lot of things, but in some of their older materials that perhaps aren’t looked at quite as often there’s just nothing. Not to call them out, but the National Records of Scotland, I’m constantly looking at things I’m like, this is great, but I don’t know what’s in it. You know, I’m glad that they have this… these commissary court records from 1600 to 1800 but I don’t know where the gaps are. I don’t know how much… how many pages it is. I don’t know how much information is in it, so it’s so it makes it a lot… It makes it very difficult to to work from home like we’re having to do right now.

Lily Mellon
Totally, yeah yeah… I feel that. [laughs]

Ashlyn Cudney
Yes, [chuckles] I’m sure you do.

Lily Mellon

The internship started remotely, obviously a lot restrictions pandemic wise, but then can’t kept changing, were you able to go on site as well?

Ashlyn Cudney
I was not. I was not able to go on site. But to be fair, most of my research with this was online anyway so it didn’t necessarily affect the quality and the content of the research that I had.

Lily Mellon
Oh yeah, totally. And you had said that you were looking at stuff with the National Records. Did you go on site there?

Ashlyn Cudney
No, the national records they’re by appointment only right now [time of recording] because of Covid. So we… so unless you absolutely have to go in, they want to keep you online as much as possible.

Lily Mellon
Fair yeah, the reality of current circumstances. So you didn’t see any kind of objects and questions in person, it was. It was very much a digital kind of deal.


Ashlyn Cudney

It was. I was able to look at some of the documents online that had been published online, but those are kind of few and far between. I know that I’m right now. A lot of archives are working tirelessly to, to publish online as much as they possibly can, but the reality is that a lot of works are copyrighted sometimes and they can’t be published online. Or where they just haven’t gotten to them yet because they’re working on the… the collections that are most popular and so- which makes sense. So I was able to see some but not, but not the majority.

Lily Mellon
Fair, yeah, yeah, yeah.
For me working from home, spending five months on it… There were so many things that, you know, perhaps in an office you would have come across that bit of information and… and, you know, distracted whoever was next to you type thing- Listen to this or I found this or something like that, so no it wasn’t going anywhere per say, it was just whether there was something that kind of… I guess, I guess there’s sometimes like a lonely aspect to doing all these research and finding or like filling your head with all these stories to then sort of be… at home [A: Yep] and working remotely.


Ashlyn Cudney
Well, I’m, I’m more than happy to talk about how, how we do collaborative research projects with, you know, in the new age of working at home. So we had a Teams chat obviously, where we could go back and forth and we often did, sharing different archives that we found really useful or different sources that we found interesting, which was a great way to begin. We had a biweekly, I believe, conversations with each other just checking in about if we had any questions or just to share this kind of information but my husband knows quite a bit about- about Edinburgh’s connections to transatlantic slavery now, just by the virtue [LM: (laughing)] of sitting next to me while I was doing the research.

But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think that if I had been working in an office I might not have shared all of that information with him and if the point is to get… to get this information to the public, then, then that’s how we…. Then that’s how we do it. Researchers are often criticised for only sharing information with each other, [LM: mm] and so this, if this facilitated, sharing more information with you know my… my coworkers with their, with their roommates or their friends that I think that’s an absolutely a benefit of this of working from home on this project.

Lily Mellon
Oh, certainly yeah, yeah. Well likewise I… in family group chats and things like that, you know, everyone will be swapping news and I’d be like… let me tell you about Elsie [AC: (laughing)] because I’ve been thinking about it all day.

Ashlyn Cudney
Yeah, one of thee Archivists just emailed me at one time randomly was like would you like to tell me a story about like something you found interesting in your research and I was like do I want to tell you a story? [both laughing] Certainly I do.

Lily Mellon
Settle in.

Ashlyn Cudney
Yes, we did find ways to… to talk about these things, but you’re right, absolutely. If I was working with somebody right next to me, I would just turned to them and told them about what I was finding and… and working from home does take away that… that kind of team feeling a little bit.

Lily Mellon
Yeah, yeah it can’t do on certain occasions.
I think as well, perhaps from people who are coming at it from, you know, maybe they’re interested, or, or maybe they’re not quite sure what’s in this, in the Centre for Research Collections, in the National Records, they… People don’t always understand how much time this takes. You know you were working on something for five months and ended up with close to 400, kind of, links and entries, which is incredible. That must have taken hours and hours.


Ashlyn Cudney
It certainly did. I think that having things online- my… I’m the biggest advocate for it because of accessibility. I think oftentimes for family historians or people that perhaps aren’t… or haven’t been involved in Archives or in museums or large libraries like this, that that research like that can be intimidating and so on, you know, through these online databases it’s your first entry point and when it’s difficult to understand what you’re looking at, or there’s just not a lot of information that just adds to the difficulties that that people have to, to really start researching, but there’s some great archives out there. Scotland’s People does an excellent job of posting their stuff online. I took a I did a lot of training in palaeography, and the first time I looked at Scotland’s People, I was humbled [both laughing] by the handwriting and by being able to read it so, but I think that in general they do a really great job. So certainly this is this is not me digging arch- I love archives… I think… I think that by putting things online, it just makes them more accessible.

Lily Mellon
Oh totally. Yeah. I think the majority of the stuff that I ended up doing once I’d found what data was available for myself with the female students, I went to Scotland’s people and I was trying to find them through birth data, census data and that – you know so much work has been put into that but then it’s a paid for service, if the hours are going to be provided on… on the amount of time it takes, then… I think a lot of people presume the internet is just, you know, it can be found if you look hard enough, but actually it- so much of it is still behind closed doors.

Ashlyn Cudney
Yeah, the… the pay gates that are, that are involved with archival research, I think is really unfortunate. When, when I worked at the archives with through DePauw was always… I loved working through the archives in DePauw, but I was always horrified by the amount that it costs to, to scan research to come to other, recent to scan sources to other researchers. I was- that there is a… there is a huge cost to doing research.

Lily Mellon: Yeah, yeah.


Lily Mellon (HOST): In previous parts of Episode Nine we’ve already heard Lorraine talk about the recent impetus to put issues such as representation and balance at the forefront of an institution actions plan and that’s across the Heritage sector as a whole. How this shift, that will take decades and generations to unfold, is a long time coming…

… and Ashlyn’s example of an authoress stood out in it’s simplicity. The description placed on this person, their job and the material placed in the Archive has directly effected how researchers may interact with this evidence in the future.

Google the word authoress and it sits under headings such as dated and old fashioned – I was really hoping google might say ‘did you mean author’ – but some dictionary definitions also included the word derogatory.

In a way it doesn’t come as a surprise that the interns came across outdated terminology during their in-depth research into minority communities and transatlantic slavery. It would be entirely fair, if not realistic, to prepare yourself to deal with insensitive and/or outdated language. We know that history implicitly and explicitly displays evidence of discrimination and a lack of equality in our society.

But you also wonder, how, as we look back in order to look forward, what things might come as more of a surprise than we were expecting or hoping. What we may need to examine in our own blind spots, our own perceptions, so that when we look at more complex cases than the author versus authoress example that we’d be able to spot them as quickly.

In earlier parts of Episode Nine, Lorraine and I discussed the fact that we, we as in anyone, can get comfortable presenting material that has come before, that has been celebrated and promoted without always considering the lens that it was presented from or the ramifications that the events within factual information would have had.

Which University student hasn’t heard their lecturer digress into a rehearsed spiel that you’ve definitely heard them roll out before and smiled before glazing over. It’s easy to stop actively listening or to tune back in for what you consider the personal highlights.

As Ashlyn says, we can a responsibility to recontextualise history and as Samantha suggested last episode, that’s not to re-write, to hide or to shy away, it’s to make it more accurate. It’s to actively listen, question and consider.

Any material, once placed in an Archive, begins a new pathway in it’s storyline, one that the institution that it was placed in is a now a part of.

As Lorraine suggested, we cannot know what or how many secondary values will become attached to the material or the discourse that begins to surround evidence in the CRC Collections. So after discussing topics like gendered language and archival coding with Ashlyn, I wanted to get Lorraine’s take on the topic of subjectivity and bias.


Lily Mellon: Would you say that archival work can be considered unbiased?

Lorraine McLoughlin
The short answer there is- is no. No it’s not, it can’t be.

This, and I have touched on it before, but basically yeah, comes back to… my own ethos, but that is an ethos that is shared by the archives team more widely and other Archive professionals in different sectors and- and different organizations that we- we can’t remove ourselves and we can’t remove our own histories from… how we make decisions and how we catalogue and how we make value decisions around archives.

And so in a sense, although we have to be as straight down the middle as you can possibly be, we also just have to accept that we’re human beings and we have perspectives and- and that as long as we can be accountable for those decisions and describe why we’ve made those decisions then that is really the best we can do with the moment.

Saying that, I do think it would be interesting to include as much archival theory, or, y’know, as much theory as possible to do with culture and memory and identity like we were saying, we had already touched on this, but as much learning as possible when training to be an archivist, around how different communities, different cultures and different individuals have different perspectives on- on life, on rites of passage, on education, on representation, and really that up as long as Archivists are open hearted and open minded to that, to the importance of learning about power, memory and identity in records, then… That’s all we can do really, to try and counter biases.

Lily Mellon
It’s like any researcher practicing reflexivity.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Mhmm.

Lily Mellon
Just understanding you’re part of it.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Absolutely. Yeah, it- it is. I suppose that’s why it’s important as well for us as archivists to communicate with other academic areas and- and to kind of reassure people that we’re aware of of things like subjectivity and lack of objectivity that is entailed with archives.

But really it’s been a kind of an evolution as well of archival theory. So obviously archives have existed for thousands of years, but the field of archival theory is only around 100 years old.

Prior to- to that there is a, you know, a long succession of individuals or groups of people who just archived in a particular way and make sure it made sense and then kind of moved on to the next thing. But really, in the last century and certainly last 30-40 years, archivists as a kind of an international group are really trying to make efforts to- to be as nuanced as possible around how to archive while being consistent and using agreed guidance and standards where possible so that there’s a legibility.

Graphic: Musical Interlude

Lorraine McLoughlin: Have I left that hanging?

Lily Mellon: No no no, I don’t think so, I couldn’t hear… was that a question to yourself before? I couldn’t quite hear what…

Lorraine McLoughlin
Oh no, sorry. That was me talking to myself, yes [LM: yeah]  Saying… I was gonna- I was gonna put (laughing), I was thinking, I was- I hope I made a point there [both laughing]… did I actually get to the end?

Lily Mellon
I remember when I recorded the first one of this, I had such a strong memory of everything that the other person had said, but I had to listen back to what I’d said coz [LMcL: yeah (laughing)] I had- I’d had an out of body experience at everything that was happening, especially ’cause it was live, yeah.

Lorraine McLoughlin
When I start on a big long ramble about something, at the very beginning, I know exactly what I’m going to say, and then by the end, I’m like… was I talking about something very specific there? [both laughing] So do please tell me if I’ve left something completely in the air and haven’t made a point, if you notice.

Lily Mellon

(laughing) No, no, totally. No, everything’s been fantastic and I think the thing about so many of these things is there’s not… There’s not one thing to say or there’s not an end to the conversation. It’s… it’s all these massive, massive kind of topics.


Lorraine McLoughlin
Yeah, yeah, actually, I just wanted to… I remembered now what I was gonna round up about that point about archival theory and- and- and everything. And, you know, in the past, people doing it a certain way. 100 years ago, now, there was kind of Jenkinsonian, Hilary Jenkinson, and Jenkinsonian theory, which is that… the archivists should have absolutely no say in what goes into the Archives and should make no judgment calls basically on- on what is recorded.

And of course, with the huge volume of material and the Historiography that’s in danger of happening there. Archivists said, well, no we can’t really, you know, we have to be in some way involved in while comes in and then came… later theories around being, you know, directly involved and what comes in and how it’s described and- and so anyway, the fact is that methodologies and… around decision making around value around who is making the decisions and why they’re doing making decisions is constantly changing [LM: mm].

To try and address things like bias.

Lily Mellon
Yeah…

Lorraine McLoughlin
It’s like…

Lily Mellon
Yeah…

Lorraine McLoughlin
It’s an iterative process. It will never be over. We’ve kind of accepted that we’re not neutral and so we are going to have to constantly question our- our decisions and review what’s been decided before and change based on what’s necessary.


Lily Mellon
Mm, yeah, the very presence.

Graphic: Episode Summary

HOST (Lily Mellon):

We’ve now got to know the background of the interns and their line manager. We’ve talked bias, symbolic annihilation, addressing imbalance and the power of ordinary individuals lives and stories.

In the next episode, I ask Samantha and Ashlyn to talk about a memorable narrative that they uncovered, or material that stuck with them even after this internship concluded.

After five months of researching people’s lives in detail it was important to me that when I sat down with Ashlyn and Samantha that we didn’t just talk about this material on a surface level. I wanted to hear names, places, important moments for them on this five month journey.

Still to come are episodes on how we describe people, on descriptive metadata and advice for future interns.

We hope you’re enjoying every part of episode nine of ‘We’ve Got History Between Us’ and encourage you to get in touch with us about the topics we’re raising in these episodes.

Graphic: Episode Outro

MUSIC

HOST (Lily Mellon): You’ve been listening to We’ve Got History.

These episodes were recorded in December 2021 and March 2022. This was part of episode nine.

The guests were Lorraine McLoughlin, Ashlyn Cudney and Samantha Carrie.

Episode hosted and edited by Lily Mellon.

EPISODE AND TRANSCRIPT ENDS

Podcast Transcript: WGHBU9, Part Three

University Histories Internships, Part Three – Spotlight on Samantha Carrie

THIS IS A TRANSCRIPTION

Graphic: Podcast Image

YOU CAN LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF ‘WE’VE GOT HISTORY BETWEEN US’ ON ANCHOR OR WHEREVER YOU USUALLY GET YOUR PODCASTS

Graphic: Transcription Content

Participants: Lorraine McLoughlin; Ashlyn Cudney; Samantha Carrie and Lily Mellon

Date Span of Content: Focus on July-December 2021; Reference to historical events; Reference to the past ten to twenty years

Transcription Key:

  • ‘-‘ – denotes an abrupt or lack of end to a word
  • ‘…’ – denotes a pause in speech/separation regarding the thought being constructed (or provides a disconnect/separation that would benefit a reader rather than a listener)
  • [] – denotes when someone else interjects very briefly in the conversation or when a small clarification is required

Episode Length: 35 Minutes Approximately

Spotify: Episode Nine, Part Three
Graphic: Episode Intro

MUSIC (NO SPEECH)

Graphic: In This Episode

Hello and welcome to We’ve Got History Between Us.

Episode nine is split into seven sections, all of which are designed to make sense if you listen out of order or pick and choose the topics you want to hear about, but we do recommend starting at the beginning to fully understand what the internship Project was all about.

For this episode I got to know Samantha better. We discuss her passions, studies and upcoming dissertation. In the second half of this episode we chat self-education and uncovering complex narrative. What did it mean to Samantha to research, to understand and to delve deeper?

But similar to Lorraine, we start simply, I asked her where she grew up…

Graphic: Main Transcription

(GUEST) Samantha Carrie:
I grew up in Fife in Scotland, so literally just across the water and, basically, I’ve been interested in history, well practically for as long as I can remember. Absolute, classic cliche, Horrible Histories Fan, obsessed [LM: yay] and basically had never grown up since that [both laughing].

I just, I can’t imagine doing anything else really. My interest has always been in kind of how, kind of, regimes and power authorities kind of, manifest themselves, and, really the built environment as well. So I’ve always kind of had this awkward balance at school when I wanted to apply for history, but I was equally interested in buildings. I was tryna find the degree for me, and when I was literally filling out UCAS paper and the last course that I applied for, which literally just came up on “suggested for you” on University of Edinburgh website was architectural history. I thought right, okay, this has to be for me [LM: nice] and so really, kind of, my upbringing in Fife, as well as like my family is quite Arts based, so my grandfather was an architect and we all kind of- my uncle works for Historic Scotland. I’ve had this kind of Conservation and History background, so I’ve had some experiences with places like in Stirling Castle, Edinburgh Castle that others may not have had so I’ve been very lucky in that regard.


(HOST) Lily Mellon:
Nice. Keeping the family tradition going. I think that Horrible Histories and probably Blackadder as well, are my main basis for how… any understanding of history that I have nowadays.


Samantha Carrie
Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, Blackadder obsessed as well. I mean you can’t go wrong with Blackadder, I’ve been just [LM: (laughing)] Honestly I think my friends are sick of me talking about Blackadder. I try and indoctrinate anybody. [both laughing] Watch Blackadder and Horrible Histories content.

Lily Mellon
It… there’s a lot to be said- if it makes you laugh, then you’ll probably remember it better.

Samantha Carrie
Absolutely, absolutely.


Lily Mellon
[laughing] Okay, so you chose Architectural History at Edinburgh, was that the sort of like, straight out of school kind of thing, or did you take a gap year or anything like that?


Samantha Carrie
It was straight out of school, yeah. I think I had- … quite unusual. I kind of wanted- I knew what I wanted to do quite early on, but I always was kinda interested in curatorship in terms of Collections and then when I kind of got into Undergrad and I think the lovely thing about the Architectural History course is you cover everything. We’ve covered everything from ancient Egypt all the way to the present day over a number of geographies and time periods… that, I think that kind of switched a wee bit to more academia research and understanding how primary Collections kind of influence that research.

That was really the selling point for me, where some of the other courses that was applying for were kind of like modern history focused or medieval history focus. I thought I just want to kind of have a clear slate, kind of, from school I had studied… I think the wars of Independence about three times and the Jacobites about the same. [LM: (laughing)] So it’s like, I just want to see what else is out there and what else I can delve into. So that was definitely my real focus was just trying to broaden my horizons a bit in terms of knowledge.

 
Lily Mellon
Nice, oh it’s nice to hear that you had, you know, y’know like an idea of what you wanted to do and something sorted ’cause I feel like for many people it maybe takes a few years or… or by the end of their degree they suddenly find their thing type of situation.


Samantha Carrie
Absolutely. I mean it’s quite difficult as well. I mean I remember it, at school when I mentioned curatorship to teachers they didn’t really know what to advise… in terms of what kind of courses you should be taking. It was very kind of independent research on my own back, of what you should be getting your… your qualifications in, where you need to be going, what experience you need. So I think in terms of like Collections Management it can be quite difficult going from a school… envisaging that trajectory early on. It does require quite a bit of research and kind of contact with the Universities beforehand and, but I think definitely. I mean, I would recommend anybody that is kind of going in that trajectory, start out with something very general and Architectural History is a really, really good way of doing that ’cause of the scope you cover before specializing.

Lily Mellon
Nice yeah, yeah… and the thing is, in your early years of Undergrad and things like that, you still get all these opportunities to go to different departments, to do different courses. It’s not like you- by picking something very specific that you aren’t kind of… yeah, keeping… keeping eggs in the basket.


Samantha Carrie
Yes, I mean I did… Classics modules and History of Art modules… so I was… again, I never did like the Romans at school, so I really wanted to do Roman history and again now completely Rome obsessed. So… that was definitely an excellent decision on my behalf and what else… History of Art was really good. I think just examining, like visual culture, it really contributes really nicely and sits well with Architectural History, so it’s… it’s kind of a no brainer. Definitely. If you’re doing Architecture History to kind of go down that route. And I think I’ve… I’ve done things like Roman Art and Archaeology. I’ve looked at Early Modern History. I’ve done a really wide range of kind- of kind of similar themes in terms of visual culture, but they all kind of go off and slightly different niche areas which say Architecture History may not necessarily touch on, but they all kind of benefit each other. So it’s… it’s a really good course for branching out into different departments as well.

Lily Mellon
Nice. What year are you in by the way?

Samantha Carrie
I’m in fourth year now.


Lily Mellon
Nice.

Samantha Carrie
So Dissertation galore [both laughing]

Lily Mellon
I was gonna ask, is there maybe like a University History based Project that you’d like to talk about it a little bit or anything like that, I don’t know if you want to give a little spiel about whatever you have decided for your dissertation?


Samantha Carrie
Yeah, so I am doing… well basically a study of a German Neoclassical architect called Karl Fredrich Schenkel, who I think is pretty cool [LM: (laughs)]. He is quite unusual in the sense that he has been, there’s basically been many variations of Schenkel.

He has been appropriated by many different regimes since the kind of 1800s, so he was kind of working around about the 1820s. The Nazis appropriated his work, the socialists… that kind of- when we had the Berlin split-  the Government. The Socialist government took over his work as well. The current GDR government are also now using his work to kind of create a kind of, coherent urban centre, following the kind of destruction from the Second World War and the kind of financial recession. I went to Berlin for the first time in 2019, and it’s such a… compared to other European cities, it’s still in many ways trying to figure itself out.

There’s still a lot of work that’s needing to be done. It’s still kind of dealing with the ramifications of sound… of the destruction of the Second World War and the Berlin Wall. So really, what my dissertation is looking at is the role of national memory… is how Schenkel is being used to help modernize the city and how his buildings are kind of thee central axis for further development.

So it’s kind of a bit of a cultural analysis in terms of historiographies, so I’m having to go back and look at Hitler’s main architect, Albert Speer, who was a big fan of Schenkel and kind of appropriated some of, his kind, of main features. So for instance, Schenkel created these victory monuments for the Napoleonic Wars and topped them with an Iron Cross, and that was actually the medals used for thee Prussian Army.

But the Nazis then took that symbol and then used it for their medals and used it for some of their monuments. So that’s kind of one of the examples that you’re kind of having to deal with, when looking at historiography. So it’s kind of looking at these kind of negative and now positive appropriations of his work. So there’s things now, and I think it was only a couple… few months ago, Berlin opened up their museum island and U Bahn station. It’s based off of Schenkel’s stage set, which is kind of, it’s covered in a blue, kind of starry night sky, and the U Bahn station ceiling is lit with little LED lights painted blue to kind of replicate that, and that’s right underneath his main public museum, the Altes Museum.


Uh, so that’s basic…yeah, really what I’m exploring, kind of positive kind of new developments that are happening in the city and how Schenkel the 21st century resurgence of Schenkel is really important to not only…


…the globalizing effect that Berlin is starting to have in terms of one of the biggest European economies, but also it’s kind of importance in gaining some kind of its own identity back. Having dealt with so much urban trauma following the Second World War in this kind of analysis, kind of feeds into some of the imperialist and colonial stuff that we’ve been looking into in the internship as well. Kind of looking at how land that has been exploited or buildings that have been exploited, have kind of been re appropriated, or ultimately, how do you build upon land that may have negative connotations? So for instance in Berlin they’re planning to do, to construct a reunification monument in 2026. That monument is going on the site of a stat… of a previous statue to Kaiser Wilhelm, who obviously was important in terms of World War One, as there’s been lots of kind of negative comment… like media coverage, in terms of… is this appropriate, is this acceptable? This happens with practically every single building that goes up any kind of development in Berlin, but this is kind of how all this interrelates and my interest in imperialism and colonialism with my Germanic neoclassical interests.

Lily Mellon
Fascinating, that all sounds so interesting. Yeah and like you say so many kind of links to the themes that were being brought up or the conversations that the CRC is trying to start to have.

I had the most amazing 9 days in Berlin. I had planned very heavily to just walk around as much of the city as possible and see everything, yeah and… you know…

Samantha Carrie
It’s… it’s so rich and what you can go and see and I think the unique thing about Berlin is you make it what you want it to be in terms of your trip and I think that’s really what I’m arguing in my dissertation is that there’s not a set urban experience. Say if you go to Rome for instance, you could follow the old pilgrimage trail to Vatican City, which is very set from Piazza del Popolo. Follow the obelisks, you reach the Vatican… and you’re kind of directed and oriented, where Berlin still has that, but it works to the extent that they’re having to cater to a much greater audience in terms of some of their memorials.

For instance, Berlin had an issue with- … Schinkel has a structure called the New Guard House. It’s now known as the National Monument. When that was first kind of rehabilitated in many ways and restored to be the leading National Monument, it was going to be the sole monument in the city and there was a lot of criticism by American powers, British powers as well as I think NATO had stipulated some guidance for them in terms of Germany and how it rehabilitates itself, that you can’t commemorate thee German losses with also allied losses, the Holocaust losses. How do you ensure that… that is encompassed in one monument?

And really now the fact you’ve got the Holocaust Memorial, we’ve got the reunification memorial coming up, I think there’s unreal understanding, but ultimately your audience is much greater, is that you can go to Berlin, you can go and see all three memorials and feel that you’ve seen what you need to see. But equally, if you were an individual who was directly targeted by… say under the Nazi regime, you can go purely to the Holocaust Memorial. You could purely go to the National Monument, so I think that’s really how clever German urban design has been in the past kind of 20 years is it’s really thought through how people receive and respond to their city and their capital.


Lily Mellon
You seem very prepared, [SC: I…] especially for semester one.

Samantha Carrie
I’m very… well, I think there’s honestly so… so much material, I’m having to like read, there’s is a lot of kind of bias material because you have the Nazi propaganda and then you have like different interpretations. There’s literally different variations between East Berlin and West Berlin. So it’s going through all this primary material just to make sure everything is kind of in place, so it’s such an interesting place that I absolutely love it, so I’m en-… I’m actually enjoying it, how I will be feeling next semester when I need to write this up will be interesting, but at the moment it’s… it’s really interesting, I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

Lily Mellon
Well, I mean, I think there’s a lot to be said for when it’s so interesting and it’s- it’s based deep in your interests, I think you’re you’ll probably be okay. I really loved my dissertation and enjoyed the topic that I was doing and watched friends, get angrier and angrier about whatever they had picked. I think by the end of it and hand in, I was… I was still enjoying it and I was thinking is something wrong … Should I… should I (both laughing) be worrying by this point? But yeah, hopefully the same will be the case (laughing) for you.

Samantha Carrie
Definitely. I think I’m… I’m quite lucky because I wanted to kind of continue, hopefully into a Masters qualification with some research surrounding Schenkel again and kind of neoclassical architects and comparison with Edinburgh and London. So Edinburgh is often compared with London and Paris quite a bit, and I think there’s actually some connections that can be made with Berlin, so, I’m in this for the long run, so I’m… I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it so far though, so I… hopefully. this will be maintained, fingers crossed.

Lily Mellon
I mean, you were sort of talking about curatorship a bit before. I was wondering before the internship had… had you been interested in the heritage sector and in Collections and Archives?

Samantha Carrie
Yes, so I have had like a couple of experiences with the heritage sector, so I used to volunteer for National Trust for Scotland while I was at school…. and that was just basically being a volunteer guide round Falkland Palace in Fife, which is a great property by the way, if you’ve got free time go. It’s kind of like a French chateau-esque holiday- royal holiday home, basically, it was the Balmoral of its day. Mary Queen of Scots fans… It’s thee place to go (exception to Holyrood) and that was kind of my first experience with the Heritage sector in terms of understanding how the charities work, and particularly a charity is really interesting because you have sort of greater business pressures so you have to… cater to greater tourists markets.

One of the things that I had to do was… deal with like holiday packages, so because Falkland’s fairly close to Saint Andrews… we had a lot of kind of golf holiday packages, that would be… Falkland would be part of that. So it would be basically ensuring that we could expand thee commercial market of the charity but also it was just basically sharing knowledge with as many people as possible and ensuring that your material was accessible. And I think that balance was really good, going from Uni and having the Heritage sector, because I think sometimes you really want your academic material to be as accessible as possible to a number of different age ranges, and I think the stuff that we’ve been doing in the internship as well, that’s of critical importance.

In terms of some of the other things I did, I also did a work experience with Historic Environment Scotland. It was a week looking at… kind of the conservation work they do. So at one point I was stuck on the chimneys at Stirling Castle, looking at (laughing) what they’re kind of the restoration work they were doing there… for the record, they were very wobbly. I am awful with heights, so that was an interesting afternoon.

Lily Mellon
Oh wow.. yeah yeah yeah.

Samantha Carrie
It was really interesting though. It was really, really good and it was kind of looking at kind of traditional methods of restoration and kind of the… the traditional materials they use. I also did Edinburgh Castle and we looked at kind of some of the areas that the public didn’t get access to in terms of how you exhibit spaces and ensure, particularly with their the Crown Court and where the house obviously the crown jewels, it’s quite an… awkward network of spaces funnily enough ’cause it’s the old… one of the older bits of the castle. It’s kind of a… it’s quite narrow and quite difficult to navigate. So how do you ensure an effective Exhibition of Collections, paintings and board material and context.

I got involved with some kind of laser scanning, understanding kind of the, like the material that they get, in the 3D printing and also looking at kind of projects of Scottish 10 where they sent a number of conservationists over to areas including Sydney to scan things like the Sydney Opera House and basically being able to understand the level of deterioration in some of these buildings but also ensuring their preservation. Having a digital record. So this is this kind of technology is particularly beneficial and places like… unfortunately places like Iraq, Iran, Syria where you have say religious iconography or religious structures which are being destroyed… being able to take a digital record of these that ultimately can be kept for posterity for future study… Or possibly, even future reconstruction. That’s kind of part of the discussion, as well in terms of colonialization and imperialism, which could be used as well… in terms of what else… but yeah, that was kind of my main interaction with kind of the heritage sector, was just kind of looking at the notion of conservation, heritage and basically being able to further gain the funding to ensure that that work can be done and… kind of working for a government body as well as a charity, it was particularly interesting to see that contrast.

Lily Mellon
Mm, yeah. Exciting. Had you come into contact with the CRC before as well, even just maybe as a student?


Samantha Carrie
Yeah, I think in my Junior Honours years we went to see, I think it was William Playfair’s drawings. So I did a course called Architectural History and Heritage in Practice which is basically, Architectural Conservation, so looking at listed buildings, how you preserve them, filling in, kind of, planning applications. So currently I’ve got a volunteering the Architectural Heritage Society for Scotland and that’s working with the Forth and Borders cases panels. So what we do is we get applications we… for listed buildings and we comment whether the proposals are acceptable.

So that kind of work… worked into kind of the CRC because we looked at some of these listed buildings and were trying to develop like statement of significance. So to say why it should be listed, why it’s important so that could be notable architect. It could be notable architectural features, so some of the stuff in the CRC we went to see included, as I say, William Playfair drawings, so we did kind of, a statement of significance surrounding that and I also did a statement of significance for Adam House. So I came into CRC a couple of occasions to look at some of the [cenatus?] documentation, the minutes, because that building was quite tied into the kind of aesthetics of Old College, despite being a fairly modern building.

So that, that’s kind of where my research initially happened in Juniors Honours and then my Honours years, I’ve just been taking a course called Landscapes of Empire, which has been kind of, looking kind of, imperial context of architectural appropriation/exploitation, and one of the things we did- we looked at…. Resources that look at Sierra Leone mines and so looking at the press British press coverage saying that you know these individuals were rebels going into the mines, taking resources, where ultimately the actual reality of government papers say something quite different. So it was kind of showing the imbalance of factual accuracy in two different sources and one of the other notable sources we looked at was a enslaved persons record in Grenada in… I think it was about 17… was it 1718… I think, from off the top of my head and that was kind of looking- it was basically… a register of different individuals, of different enslaved persons on this plantation. Looking at… amongst other things, age, height, health and also value, sadly, as well. It’s a really important document. It’s actually really unique. I’d actually recommend anyone to go and see it because it’s a really, really interesting document. So that’s kind of my experience with CRC prior to the internship and then kind of whilst I was doing the internship as well, was kind of looking at these through the context of my courses.

Graphic: Musical Interlude

Lily Mellon

Do you have? I mean, do you have words or opinions, kind of, on the current discourse on the conversations being had.

Samantha Carrie
I think, my opinion is this needs, this discourse needs to happen. There are there are narratives in terms of the British Empire in particular, which are still very much designed to subordinate the views of ex-colonies.

I personally think there are individuals, and I think it’s reflective in the colonialism review, that need to be re-evaluated in terms of their reputation… in terms of in the history books they’re squeaky clean.

William Pitt’s statue is one and it’s one we know has taken a bit of criticism. Telegraph has written two articles about this already. Basically on the basis that the narrative is he was thee Prime Minister, youngest Prime Minister, that also led the abolitionist movement. But we also know his ministry for war was a certain Mr. Henry Dundas. And he asked Dundas to send a military enforcement to a… basically a slave revolt. It’s about, I think it was about 300,000 or something like that. So that is something that kind of needs to be brought to light in terms of that, the notion of abolition, does not mean you are a squeaky clean character. We’ve seen this with Thomas Jefferson, for instance. That abolition was kind of used as an excuse for, kind of a beneficial justification for racial cleansing to stop the international market of enslaved persons coming into America. He could then replace that market with white Europeans. So the… the kind of free enslaved populations were then sent to the Caribbean, because Jefferson felt pressure from European authorities to, kind of, create a very pure, inverted commas, was his words Nation and, and that it was kind of based off of kind of French philosophy as well.

So questioning these kind of terms of abolition doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got good intent. It could be to get yourself into power in the next election. It could all be all those things, I think, kind of my advice in terms of dealing with the kind of current conversations is definitely read as much as you can. I know reading is kind of in terms of time and what people have to do, it can be difficult, but just take what you’re reading with a pinch of salt.

I think a couple of the articles that have been criticising the work of Edinburgh Council have not been entirely accurate and have kind of been designed to definitely create some kind of antagonism. But I do think something needs to be done. I think education is key in terms of not only accessing at university level, but at school level as well.

There are narratives that I think are slightly outdated or need further scope. For instance, in the Scottish education system you have a module on Scottish impact abroad, particularly in places like Canada, Australia and New Zealand and it kind of looks at much more of the positives, kind of, I think, introduction of the Presbyterian Church. You’ve got things like… I think at one point we looked at that in Australia that the Scots invent, a Scot invented Speedos. You know that was one thing, but the negatives are kind of minimal compared to the, the much greater positives and so that balance kind of needs to be addressed.

But I think in terms of an Architectural History perspective, we need to kind of be developing an approach of how we deal with monuments associated with slavery and colonialism. Is it… Do we take them down? Can we recontextualize them? But not just thinking of these structures as individual entities. You have to think about access and you have to think about spatiality that these monuments speak to everything else. What are the consequences of removing something on the greater urban environment? But equally does it have any ramifications as well.

So I mean, that’s something we’ve been talking in my landscapes of empire class, about Melville monuments in, you know, in Saint Andrews Square, which has obviously been very topical at the moment. How on Earth we deal with that, I don’t even have a an opinion on that as of yet, that’s one I’m kind of reading into at the moment ’cause I think it’s one of those issues that it’s not only about linking Edinburgh’s built environment. Those kind of columns were also designed to link United Kingdom cities as well. So I think it’s necessary. I think it needs to happen. It needs… it requires a lot of reading. It requires a lot of research. I encourage anybody to pick up any book. There’s loads on Amazon. There’s like Empire Land, there’s Native. There’s things like that. Just pick up something and read it because you will have a completely different perspective and I think just also have the guts to challenge these narratives as well. It can be quite intimidating to do so, particularly the backlash I think that’s been happening down South with National Trust for England and I think some of the kind of… I think war on wokism, I think has been described by some Members of Parliament and I think we are… We are doing the right thing. We need to be doing this, it’s necessary, but just have the confidence to engage with these conversations. It’s about self-education more than anything else.

Lily Mellon
Yeah, yeah totally and ties so nicely into what you were saying before about the… as a narrative gets bigger and more complicated, there’s a hope or a gut feeling that it’s becoming a lot more accurate. And there’s whatever has been left off on the peripheries previously is maybe getting a bit more inclusion now, but that.. in terms of confidence for people talking about these things and be able to bring these sorts of topics up is a major thing, you saying y’know you’ve spent, sort of… or you feel like you spent over a year of self-education in these things. For many people, I think there is a fear right now that, you know, to engage in, in this, and and say the wrong thing type of situation.

Samantha Carrie
Absolutely. I mean the atmosphere around this topic is, it is… it is toxic, gets really it’s quite a scary thing to get yourself involved into and I think the main thing that I can see it is I don’t know. I am no way an expert. I am still learning a lot. The module I’ve done this semester has been looking at kind of empire across the board, so I’ve been looking at Dutch, French, British, I’ve been looking at British India, I’ve been looking at Jamaica, all over, so I know bits and pieces of different areas. But really my main advice is, it is, it is purely research. It is reading, it is just trying to understand as many perspectives as possible and I think the thing is we’re not trying to get rid of any history, we’re not trying to rewrite history in any way, we’re just trying to make it more accurate. We’re just trying to bring in as many different perspectives as we possibly can, that is lived experience, that is imperial experiences that is subjugated experiences as well, but I think…

Yeah, the main way is to try and engage within these kind of research… being able to actually ask those difficult questions as well. Too maybe those who have had some kind of lived experience. I mean that it’s been one thing. I mean, having the pleasure of working with Sir Geoff Palmer his perspective on certain, research has been particularly beneficial and kind of looking at things in a slightly different light. Some of the readings I’ve done in my coursework as well, looking at and those who had… their parents lived in British India or have kind of these group of… this kind of experience of prejudice is particularly beneficial, being able to see from that perspective. So the main thing is, ask those questions because if you ask those questions, you’re going to… that will break down a barrier in itself, but it’s, it’s encouraging self-education is the main thing and that not only has to be an independent effort but I think that is something that has to be seen at a governmental level. In terms of educational legislation, both historically, but I think in kind of subjects like Modern Studies which looks at law international relations, and I think even in things like climate change when we’re talking about kind of climate legislation, particularly after COP 26.

When we’re having conversations about, say, plant… planting large swathes of rain forest or trees to stop deforestation I think was one of the conversations that we’re having, my automatic response to that is well what land are you planting on… who, who owns that land? Who’s there? Are we displacing anyone? Is this neo-colonialism? In many ways… are we doing, you know?

It has ramifications for everything and being able to understand how far this seeps into political; social; climate concerns impacts all of us and that’s why I think we need to be looking into this further.

Lily Mellon
Oh it’s all so interesting, we could talk about this for ag…ev.. forever (laughs). Yeah, no I think it’s nice as well…there must be so many students out there at Edinburgh University or beyond who are want… wanting to have these conversations, wanting to be part of it or wanting to start and don’t know where to… and so it’s just ex-I think it’s, it’s very good that that these internships have come along and started something there regarding all of this.

Samantha Carrie
Absolutely. I think it’s a great experience in terms of being able to engage with material hands on, and I think being able to see both say colonial narratives and also hidden narratives side by side it is quite a unique experience. You don’t always see that [LM: no]

But yeah, I think, they’re definitely… I mean, I’m very, very lucky, the Architectural History Department is quite forward. It’s been quite progressive, quite forward thinking in terms of looking at colonial narratives. We’ve been looking at trying to bring more female narratives as well, think we’ve been definitely more successful and kind of bringing in the colonial elements. Particularly, I think, it- it has to be done because of Edinburgh’s connections. It’s the New Town developments are fundamentally linked and funded on these principles. So I mean, we… we are very lucky but I know other departments are not as fortunate, so I would really encourage, just anybody to join, get into these internships and it’s great experience, I mean you get, and the Archive team are lovely so yeah, it’s great, it’s great fun and it’s actually, it’s actually really nice. Just actually being able to have a look through the Archives and seeing what actually University has. It’s great to see, kind of what the university likes to put out there and exhibit as well. The Exhibitions are great as well so. It’s definitely worthwhile.

Graphic: Episode Summary

HOST (Lily Mellon): This was the third in a seven part series discussing an internship project from 2021 at the CRC.

The themes and conversation brought up here will return in later parts of Episode Nine.

Next time is similar, we’re going to get to know Ashlyn Cudney and see how her studies, into gender and control take these topics in a different direction.

Graphic: Episode Outro

MUSIC

HOST (Lily Mellon): You’ve been listening to We’ve Got History.

These episodes were recorded in December 2021 and March 2022. This was part of episode nine.

The guests were Lorraine McLoughlin, Ashlyn Cudney and Samantha Carrie.

Episode hosted and edited by Lily Mellon.

EPISODE AND TRANSCRIPT ENDS

Podcast Transcript: WGHBU9, Part Two

University Histories Internships, Part Two – Complex Aims, Diverse Objectives and Symbolic Annihilation

THIS IS A TRANSCRIPTION

Graphic: Podcast Image

YOU CAN LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF ‘WE’VE GOT HISTORY BETWEEN US’ ON ANCHOR OR WHEREVER YOU USUALLY GET YOUR PODCASTS

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Graphic: Transcription Content

Participants: Lorraine McLoughlin; Ashlyn Cudney; Samantha Carrie and Lily Mellon

Date Span of Content: Focus on July-December 2021; Reference to historical events; Reference to the past ten to twenty years

Transcription Key:

  • ‘-‘ – denotes an abrupt or lack of end to a word
  • ‘…’ – denotes a pause in speech/separation regarding the thought being constructed (or provides a disconnect/separation that would benefit a reader rather than a listener)
  • [] – denotes when someone else interjects very briefly in the conversation or when a small clarification is required

Episode Length: 40 Minutes Approximately

Spotify: Episode Nine Part Two
Graphic: Episode Intro

MUSIC (NO SPEECH)

Graphic: In This Episode

HOST (Lily Mellon): Hello and welcome to We’ve Got History Between Us.

You’re listening to Part Two of Episode Nine. In this episode we’re going
into more detail about the five month internship that concluded at the Centre
for Research Collections at the end of 2021.

Project One is part of a long term plan regarding University Histories. To
understand what narratives and evidence of under or mis-represented communities can be found in the material that the CRC holds.

In this part you’ll be hearing more from Lorraine, about how the three internship projects that were created to deal with University Histories. We’ll go in-depth on Project One, the staff that came on board and we discuss the
realities and the ramifications of under representation.

Three interns – Ashlyn, Samantha and Nuzhat delved deep into documentation
concerning historical connections between Edinburgh University and
transatlantic slavery. So the second half of this episode we discuss the review
that they created and how this material might be the beginning of addressing
imbalance in the Archival context.

Graphic: Main Transcription

Lily Mellon (HOST):
Well, I wanted to get a bit into the kind of internship project that we were going to talk about. A group of six interns started at the end of July 2021, regarding the University Histories project. But taking it back before then… before the interns came on board. I’m imagining that there’s quite a lot going on and and you’d suggested that you were quite heavily involved in the project. Would you be able to say a little bit more about… about that, about how the project was devised?

Lorraine McLoughlin (GUEST):
Well, actually behind the scenes I didn’t have that much involvement long before the internship project started. So I was- I was really involved closer to when it started on in selecting the, you know, the people who would be involved in the type of work we’ve done.

But all I can say really about how it was devised and what went into that, is that… I think in many institutions and across the cultural heritage sector, across universities and, and in other organizations, there’s been a much greater focus on trying to draw out the stories and the kind of evidence of underrepresented communities or things that might have been bypassed before, including the way that thee collections have been described and, and how they’re used. So generally across the organization, there was a a greater impetus to d- to deal with this kind of imbalance and how it collections material was being dealt with and, and how heritage collections were being… utilized.

So after our Head of Special Collections, Daryl Green, and Archives Manager, Rachel Hosker and many others across the CRC and the, the senior management in the University,  got together to try and do practical work on our collections where we could really address some of these issues. And as far… as as far as the planning goes, the planning of the project, that’s all I know (chuckles) in terms of how, how they came about. You know, I think really what… often happens in the University setting is there’s a, a great idea and they want to go with it and the best thing to do is try and set up something like an internship project, just get it started, get people in and get the subject talked about and see how we get on, basically. And so I feel like that’s how that’s how we ran.

Daryl Green could tell… tell you much more about the, the discussions with the City of Edinburgh, for example, around how the Collections at the University would link in with the, the review that was done by Edinburgh City. [LM: mhmm]

But really, when I came on board, a couple of months before the…  a month or so before the project started, and it was really to kind of get down to the nitty gritty of what work will the interns be carrying out.

So going from a really good theme and idea or intention to pull out these stories and actually turning that into practical work, that could be done day to day. And that could be legible and usable by yourself afterwards to try and affect change in the rest of the collections.

Lily Mellon
Nice. Yeah. Yeah, and you took the lead on starting the three projects. You were the line manager for Project One. You also brought on the Cataloguing Archivist Aline on board and- and thee New College and School of Scottish Studies Archivist Kirsty for the other two. Would you be able to kind of give detail on what each of these projects themes were?

Lorraine McLoughlin
Yeah, sure. I mean, just a tiny bit more background about why I suppose I was asked to, to lead as well is…. is, is again that experience in collections reviews that I had been developing over the previous five years and that, was really that, you know, using the methodology is in place that we had to review any collection, that we would start to review these materials along with the with the interns but to review these materials with a specific questions in mind and the prospective being drawing out these particular types of issues.

And so we wanted to make sure that, because the themes are so difficult to pin down, really in a [inaudible] sense that we would basically make an effort to describe our findings but also incorporate basic appraisal/cataloguing structure and different kind of mandatory fields that we would need to identify the Collections and identify the records and locate them properly and assign open or closed status for example, and basically to…

To get them up to the standard where we could actually use them and so one… of the things I’ll just mention here about dealing with these materials is that a lot of our Collections like in any archive, or, or library or, or repository around the world really, a lot of the collections are unprocessed or they haven’t had much work done to them. They’ve been acquired or accessioned, but then really detailed project work is needed to get a Collection from the point of accession to the point of access by, by readers and researchers.

So a lot of the reviews that I carry out our on materials that have never been looked at before or processed before or processed is another Archival term that is a loaded term.

It involves a lot of different tasks, but it’s basically getting the material listed and identified and to understand more about its extent etc [LM: mhmm]. So, it was really important that with all of this unprocessed material that we try and identify it reliably, while also describing the content and- and- and why it was done- had been chosen for this particular type of project work.

So it was decided, or sorry first of all, I was asked to lead it because of the collections review methodology, but basically just I knew that both Kirsty and Aline, my colleagues – archive colleagues would be, incredibly kind of dedicated and useful, as- as mentors in this, in this project or- or documenting all three of their projects really. And that we knew- we- as well it would be… it would be in a central for us all to be able to work together really closely to figure out step by step as we went along how to do the next bit, because this is actually quite a new- a new type of project work for the CRC and I think further afield as well [Lily: mm]

The projects were all remote and so that was something that, although we had a little bit of experience, love and had to learn remote working ourselves over the past couple of years having, you know, consistent, relatively long term projects where the entire- entirety of the work was with remote it was- it was new to us as well. So, we knew we tough to communicate on a regular basis about what to do next… so…

They kindly said they’d come on board and together we- we thrashed out, We spent a couple of days really in in now one of the teaching centres in in the CRC trying to say right, this is the theme. How do we do that? How do we actually get people to find material? But I think, yeah, we did a we did a fairly good job in a small space of time. So, so from the upper kind of upper level themes that were identified, we devised three separate projects and that was basically, Project One was identifying the universities links to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade and where we could see this in our collections at the CRC, but also across the city if- if we could incorporate that.

The second project was specifically to look at student records and explore the underrepresented narratives that might be there that needed to be pulled out and hadn’t been… hadn’t been seen before and the Third Project was to look specifically at the student community and pulling out underrepresented stories from the student community records and specifically published resources. So we could see one of three different focuses there where there would be relatively different types of work, but in order to keep track of all that work, we wanted everybody to work in a relatively similar way by working into the Collections Review and tell us telling us about the sources they were using and also writing a report to tell us about their findings.

Lily Mellon
Mm yeah, kind of, what you were saying before about you don’t quite know what might be… coming up or in demand 50 years later. Recently there’s been so much in terms of uncovering ordinary people’s stories, what has been captured of real lives or- or… minority communities, in a way that hadn’t been in the past couple decades.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Yeah, I mean I- I think… There’s a there are several issues there. First of all, there hasn’t been or there wasn’t before 2020, a real impetus to place these issues at front and centre in most organizations.

We, as an archivists and conservators and librarians, etc, we’ve known that they were there on really tried to work on these issues as much as possible, didn’t have the chance to, as I said, put them front and centre and when we spoke to each other as an archive team, we said this is our chance to really address things like language, terminology, subjectivity and… making choices around which records were given time and resources [LM: mhmm] or which collections were given time and resources… Which can be difficult.

Lily Mellon
Indeed… Yeah, we’d had some conversation leading up to recording together and you talked about the way that these three themes had something of a common aim amongst… perhaps the interns were going into slightly different collections, even though it was connected to this review, would you be able to speak a little bit more about that kind of common aim?

Lorraine McLoughlin

So yeah. You’re right, all three projects, even though they’re slightly different perspectives or focuses, they did or they do have quite a common name and that is pulling out and highlighting subjects, stories, records, people, communities that haven’t been in the public eye very much before.

There is a danger and this happens in all our organizations, whether they be libraries or archives or even just businesses, or anywhere, where there’s a danger of kind of just repetitive decision making and repetitive behaviours and back can lead in places like archives to a real problem with historiography or saying, well, this is a type of collection that we usually promote or that we usually process and provide access to, so we’ll just do that with all the similar collections that come in or this similar type of individuals that we want to represent or communities or anything else.

[LM: mm] What we’re trying to do with this investigation across the three projects, was to say, those choices can be made just blindly, I suppose, and that if some effort is put into asking the questions of why records have been described in a certain way, why archives have been chosen for certain research projects and- and or- or omitted for certain attention, and then we can start to kind of make a change as to what is promoted and what is highlighted.

So there’s things like the idea that omission from the record, from our catalogues, or from publications to do with our- our research sources, omission from those can be just as damaging or just as dangerous as having incorrect descriptions or incorrect representations of people. So for this it was recognizing the importance of being identified, where possible, and that for people and communities attached to these records, it’s important to be recognized. So, there was the common aims as I’ve just described, but basically…

Along the same timeline, I started attending and co-convening this group, called the Critical Archives Reading Group hosted by the Centre for Data, Culture and Society at the University, but really is just a very informal Teams call between myself, Niamh Moore- Doctor Niamh Moore in the school of Social and Political Sciences. She’s a sociologist there, and Lucy Havens, who’s a PhD candidate in Design Informatics and basically we started to talk about the crossover between archival practice, archival theory and also its effects in Sociology, Anthropology, in Design Informatics in so many different fields and how important representation in the Archives is for people across the world, really, you know.

And it’s not just important for evidence that something happened, but for people to feel a sense of belonging and recognition in the communities that they’re from. So, in some of the readings there, I learned about the term ‘symbolic annihilation’, which I thought was a really fitting way of describing what it’s like when a person or a community or an event is completely omitted from the formal record and- and that can be incredibly damaging experience for people to not be represented in the Archive, specifically, as opposed to other parts of society like- like the media, although it does apply to the media as well. So in a sense, what we’re really trying to do in a- in a very practical way is address that damaging symbolic annihilation that people can feel that when they’re not seen in the Archive.

Lily Mellon
Yeah, yeah, yeah. By symbolic annihilation, we’re talking about that kind of absence and that lack of representation, right?

Lorraine McLoughlin
Absolutely. Exactly that, that… to be omitted from or not mentioned is to be annihilated, basically. Whether that’s kind of, I suppose, in the physical form that’s like nuclear annihilation and then in the symbolic form, that’s like being absent from- from evidence. Absent from a lack of presence, I suppose.

Lily Mellon
Mm, yeah. And what you were saying about, you know, sometimes we can be guilty of getting comfortable in some of the narratives that we’ve already established and have said before and- and the people that are kind of left on the peripheries of that sometimes.

Lorraine McLoughlin: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s so it’s all about perspective. So we’re actually, a lot of the time looking at the same material, the same collections and the same fields of- of research for example, or the same departmental records or donated collections. But it’s slightly shifting the- the way that you’re looking at the material or the perspective at which you’re looking in the material to be more inclusive of different experiences and to interrogate and question the way that people, communities or events have been described.

Lily Mellon: This desire to prevent symbolic annihilation, would- were these aims coming from the hopes of the archive team at the CRC?

Lorraine McLoughlin: I would say broadly speaking, yes. We have been working together and the CRC is unique in a lot of ways because in many organizations and around- in and around the UK, Ireland, Europe, further afield, there’s only maybe one or- or at most two archives professionals working with collections and helping to make these decisions across huge volumes of material.

At the CRC, we’re incredibly lucky because we have, at any one time, a great number of archivists working together and they’re all from different backgrounds, different perspectives, and on lots of projects. Very specific projects, but we communicate very closely and we debate and discuss these topical issues on a regular basis, and as I was saying before, there’s the critical Archives Reading Group which most of the archives team have participated in on a regular basis.

That’s once a month, but we also discuss these issues once a week as a, as a team as well. We’re such a large team- always on the same side about whether or not this is important. You know, so we- we all feel that this is part of our vocation, part of our careers to- to make a positive, if slow, inward step towards making better descriptions on better catalogues and more representative collections. We’re well used to, I mean archives- archivists in general, are well used to kind of having to make very- very tiny bits of progress. When you’re- when you work with Archives, you have to get used to doing huge amounts of work for almost invisible levels of progress, sometimes (chuckles). Because sometimes the- the changes even to one collection can take many years, never mind to the larger field or the sector in general.

So we are used to, as a team, making very slow inroads to- making a difference in in collection development and collection representation. But yeah, everybody was completely dedicated to that and- and still is.

Lily Mellon

It’s like that- I can’t remember the full quote, but it’s about the whole planting trees that you- you won’t sit under the shade of.

Lily Mellon

Yeah, it can be so important or it can be quite lonely work when you don’t have a sounding board like that and it’s not necessarily that you’re not very capable at your job or applying these kind of methodologies that you’ve- you’ve been practicing, but it’s just having those conversations and articulating these things… It’s kind of what we were saying before, it can be so difficult.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Absolutely. And I think it, I mean, you’re- you’re absolutely right there that it’s not even that you’re using a wrong methodology or- or going down the wrong path. It’s that… for many of these decisions, you can make one decision or the other and, you know, they’re really quite similar or they don’t make that much of a difference, or they do, but you just have to stick with it and be consistent.

And, I suppose the whole ethos that I’ve tried to develop around the Collection reviews/methodologies at the CRC and around appraisal is that the work is very hard, but we do it anyway, and this comes directly from my reading of people like theorist Terry Cook in appraisal, which is that you can’t always fix on 100% the right answer, but you must do the work anyway and keep on moving forward. And so for me, we just try to make these decisions. We try to make inroads, but the cru- the crucial element is that we want to be accountable for it and document it in such a way that we can say, well, this is the group of decisions, this is the path of decisions that we made in, in and around the early 21st century at the- at the CRC.

If another archivist, or group of archivists in 50 or 100 years needs to make a different decision, will they have all of this information about why we made the original decision that can help them on their way. So yeah, your- your analogy was perfectly correct there about you know a- a- a tree that takes a long time to grow and you don’t really get to see it flourishing all the time when you’re working on a large scale Collections and Archives that continuously grow because the organization is continuously growing.

But… the… the major- for me, the major issue around why omissions have happened in the past or why catalogues have been developed in certain ways without- without question or why certain language has been used and not other rich stuff that’s more inclusive is because we don’t know why the decisions were made, or who made them, or you know what pressures were on them or whether they thought about these things. And now we’re making sure that we have described where we were and why we thought we thought at this time.

Lily Mellon: Mhmm

Lorraine McLoughlin
Sorry, a final bid on that. Is it always reminds me, I think I said this to you before. It reminds me of process that DNA biologists go through when looking at forensic evidence that they kind of use the same tools or the same methodology’s to get answers around forensic evidence. But because human beings have different perspectives when they’re looking at the same evidence, the process with that kind of forensic evidence assessment is that two people always discuss their findings before making a final decision or it’s never just one person that makes the decision.

So that’s similar actually for archives and for specifically for appraisal and collections review is that the, the final decision or the final recommendations about whether or not to keep something or how to describe it, or what sources to use and the language that you use and everything, we discuss that as a team in a way to double authorize or triple authorize everything that we are trying to achieve to- to- to make sure they were getting a rounded perspective as we can.

Lily Mellon
Mm… yeah, almost creating that institutional memory alongside, the literal work you’re doing.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Yeah.

Lily Mellon
Yeah.

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MUSIC

Lily Mellon
Mm… So the- the interns kind of started in that tangible way of physically going in depth. But with this real idea of looking towards the theoretical… Were you, or perhaps, you know, we’re working towards the many, many PHD’s that could they could come out of this… Were you aware of what resources your interns would be sifting through before the project started? Maybe in terms of all the names that you were getting listed from the Council, or was it question of kind of just finding out what was stored in in the Uni- Uni collections?

Lorraine McLoughlin

I think, just to be totally upfront, there are some Collections that we have where we know there’s going to be certain material that’s going to be really rich in this- in this… this perspective. But to be honest, my focus was on accurate documentation of what they did find and whether it’s from a very, very famous collection of a particular individual or from a collection, or a group of papers that we’d never seen before, they were to treat them in the same way.

So we wanted as much description as possible around collections that were very popular, equally as much description as possible around collections that had never been accessed. You know, to the credit of the interns that they kind of got past the lack of information sometimes that was there and were able to give us a good description anyway, is that, what we said is, if there is not enough information in the catalogues or in… the sources, then just say what is there or what you can describe and move on to the next thing because we wanted to just keep going, basically. So invariably because my role is so usually very kind of practical with the appraisal and collections review focus. I… I make sure that they have a good kind of working ethos around reviewing collections and treating the collections in as- with as much parity as possible basically.

Lorraine McLoughlin

So we decided early on. That we would rather add any mention of these themes that was any way possibly connected, for example, had the right dates, had the right, you know, individuals mentioned or the right locations mentioned and in that data gathering exercise list everything and explain, this is a definitive example of links between slave trade and Edinburgh or this is a possible link. So those things still have to be in the kind of next phase or the second phase of this project or this endeavour, were hoping that this work will be you know on going into the future so that we can do layers and layers of filtering down to understand which are the exact records, which evidence the links at the moment we just have… I mean, it’s still very useful but we have a large body of possibilities for records that show possibilities of links, some of them more definite than others.

Lily Mellon
Yeah… Yeah, I think it was Samantha who was talking about this- there’s some people that pop up so much and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re connected heavily, that means they just love chatting.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Absolutely, (laughing) yeah. Yeah. And it shows… this is something that often happens when working with- with Archives. I know there’s a lot- There are a lot of readers or people who make inquiries of Archivists, and they sometimes wonder, how does how does the Archive- archivist not know the answer to that question off the top of their head… and usually the Archivist will be thinking, well, it all depends. It depends on which bit you want or which type of conversation you’re looking at or which specific piece of information is relevant and so yeah, in this first foray into data gathering, we… populated a review that can be used, I think for years to come now to- to pull out really, really good information, refine it down so it’s absolutely accurate. Where necessary, change our own information around the item for you know, deeper cataloguing, changes in descriptions, more robust records showing what the records are, what the topics and themes are and where they’re located, and that’ll be our work.

Whereas there’s also then the work of the wider research community to- to delve into those records on, on, pull out the connections unless describe those connections in a deeper way than we- we ever could as Collections Managers because, we’re- we’re all working on different perspectives or different aspects of the- of the material, I suppose.

Yeah, so my primary focus, because of my experience with Collections review and appraisal is that- is making sure that the interns have a good ethos and there are comfortable and confident about reviewing the collections, whether or not they’re really, really popular or well used, high profile Collections or whether they are, you know, Collections that have never been seen before. So my focus is always on making sure the information is good, the data is good, so that we can we can use it in the future… to refine.

And that really comes from a-  a very- bit of Archives 101 principle of going from the general to the specific, as long as we’ve got everything down, we’ve got the general as in everything has got, some sort of description and it’s got the information that we need in order to progress… that, that’s what my focus is, because from there on in we can start omitting irrelevant information and promoting or highlighting information that is really, really relevant and also knitting together different materials within the same collections. Also different collections that have never been related before and crucially, our own collections with external collections or papers, so things from around the United Kingdom, Ireland, Europe, the States, that would fulfill a picture. So if you can imagine in most repositories, you usually just have a one sided story and you can, you can grapple together what has happened because you have an idea of the- the contents of one side of the conversation. Whereas I feel like if we do all this data gathering and then we start to make links with the repositories that hold the other side of the story, then we can make real progress here. And I think that is a serious… it’s actually a very simple but serious methods of addressing imbalances in representation. If we’re always looking to review the Collections and the catalogues and descriptions etc in high profile, long established large colonial infor- institutions… then we’re still only looking at one side of the story, and it’s not until we start to make really good, solid, consistent links with repositories that have the records of what actually happened on the other side, that we see the effects of slavery and the effects of transatlantic slave trade. The effect on people who have been colonized, how their lives panned out, how their localities, their environments, their countries were affected by merchant traders, by industry men, by, you know, high profile bankers, by high profile politicians or men from- men from the Enlightenment. We won’t really start to raise up the profile or… address the imbalances in representation until we have links between the records of the high profile individuals and the records of the people they affected.

Lily Mellon: Mhmm.

Lorraine McLoughlin
So included in the review, there are some really high profile individuals…. and industries in Edinburgh and that we are very- are very well known across the world. The evidence of- of their impact in places like Jamaica or Cote d’Ivoire or Ireland or South America, etc. Those effects are less well known and if we can use the function of related materials in our Archives Catalogues, which is going back to the very technical all of sudden, if we can use that as a real… simple method of addressing the imbalance then I think we should, we should do that.

Lily Mellon

Mm… yeah.

Lorraine McLoughlin
I will stop there if it’s not because I’m going around in circles. I thought… almost thought about it too much.

Like lying awake at night, I thought about it. Like 5:00 o’clock in the morning. How are we going to do this? How are we going to… show a different side of the story, because if we don’t have the other side, I don’t know what… committees of academics and professors are going to really be able to do.

You know, I feel like from a very personal perspective, this is my own, my own…. working ethos on my own ethos and just an individual who’s really tired of these injustices… That the focus needs to come away from high profile, high level, high academia… institutions, and look towards the people themselves and what happened.

Lily Mello
They’ve been in charge and have been allowed to construct the narratives… for decades- or centuries.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Yeah. So… Exactly it for decades, for centuries. And so, yeah, I think there’s a really… it’s a really good exercise to try and pull out different types of information from these high profile, historical Collections, but really it’s the same old stuff and it’s the same old perspective.

It’s important, but it’s the same stuff. It’s the same journey and actually, something that is maybe a one liner in a really famous individuals history, you know, like this individual helped to draft a treaty between one island and another, or a trade agreement between two colonies. That sentence has massive ramifications for sometimes tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people and so that one sentence can transpire into the histories of many, many underrepresented people and they’re the kind of connections that I think will really make a difference.

Lily Mellon
Mm… yeah. It’s fascinating and it’s- it’s going to take a hell lot of time.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Oh decades, I mean, again, we talked about this before, but for me I feel like a lot of that work in certainly in appraisal- appraisal and collections review and just in my own career generally… Is laying the groundwork for changes that won’t happen until I’m long gone… until 100 years from now. So making changes to how history is represented in the Archives is not going to take one team of archivists in one University, it’s going to take a a paradigm change across the world, and it’s… all you can do is try and be part of it ’cause we’re not- we’re never going to see the benefits… The kind of benefit to be hope for [LM: mm], before we’re retired or even long gone.

Graphic: Episode Summary

HOST (Lily Mellon):

This has been part two of episode nine, the longest episode in this seven part series.

In the next episode we shine a spotlight on Samantha Carrie, one of the three interns who were part of Project One.

Graphic: Episode Outro

MUSIC

HOST (Lily Mellon): You’ve been listening to We’ve Got History.

These episodes were recorded in December 2021 and March 2022. This was part of episode nine.

The guests were Lorraine McLoughlin, Ashlyn Cudney and Samantha Carrie.

Episode hosted and edited by Lily Mellon.

EPISODE AND TRANSCRIPT ENDS

Podcast Transcript: WGHBU9, Part One

University Histories Internships, Part One – Introducing the Project and the Project Archivist, Lorraine McLoughlin

THIS IS A TRANSCRIPTION

Graphic: Podcast Image

YOU CAN LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF ‘WE’VE GOT HISTORY BETWEEN US’ ON ANCHOR OR WHEREVER YOU USUALLY GET YOUR PODCASTS

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Graphic: Transcription Content

Participants: Lorraine McLoughlin; Ashlyn Cudney; Samantha Carrie and Lily Mellon

Date Span of Content: Focus on July-December 2021; Reference to historical events; Reference to the past ten to twenty years

Transcription Key:

  • ‘-‘ – denotes an abrupt or lack of end to a word
  • ‘…’ – denotes a pause in speech/separation regarding the thought being constructed (or provides a disconnect/separation that would benefit a reader rather than a listener)
  • [] – denotes when someone else interjects very briefly in the conversation or when a small clarification is required

Episode Length: 30 Minutes Approximately

Spotify: Episode Nine Part One
Graphic: Episode Intro

MUSIC (NO SPEECH)

Graphic: In This Episode

HOST (Lily Mellon): Hello and welcome to We’ve Got History Between Us.

In this episode, which is split up into several parts, VOiCE is letting you get to know more about a 5 month internship that concluded at the Centre for Research Collections at the end of 2021.

This internship, which took on three interns, was known as Project One (on account of two separate projects running simultaneously).

Project One was part of a larger and long-term plan which encompasses University Histories. The aim is to understand what evidence, what narratives and perhaps even what gaps exist in the material the CRC holds. Indeed, with more of an understanding of the content that the Research Collections hold, the more representation, diversity and understanding can be provided. Not to mention, more access to relevant resources for research and conversation will become possible.

Project One looked at historical connections between Edinburgh – Edinburgh City and Edinburgh University – and transatlantic slavery. For five months, the three interns – Ashlyn Cudney, Samantha Carrie and Nuzhat Torsa delved deep into the Collections and records.

Over the episodes, you’ll be hearing from two of the project interns, Ashlyn and Samantha, and from their line manager for the project, Lorraine McLoughlin.

To kick off this episode we’re letting you get to know Lorraine, the Project Archivist at the CRC in detail.

And later in episodes you’ll also get in-depth introductions to the studies and research that Samantha and Ashlyn are involved with. Of course, there will be more about the project but importantly, everyone, all the interns and the staff who helped manage them were always talking about a bigger hope for these 5 months of research. Mainly that this was just the beginning. That these were starting points for bigger discussions, for industry debates and an idea of the bigger picture, as well as looking ahead to decades in the future regarding what the Research Collections at Edinburgh University might look like.

For now, we’re starting with Lorraine’s pathway towards becoming the project Archivist, specifically the Archivist for Appraisal and Collections Review at the CRC…

…but of course, that is quite a big topic and we started more simple than that, with an easy question… where did she grow up(?)…

Graphic: Main Transcription

GUEST (Lorraine McLoughlin): Well, as you can probably tell from my accent, I’m Irish, however, I grew up, I was born- I was born and bred in Dublin, so… spent the first part of my life in Tallow, which is City West, just outside the city and second part of my childhood down in South Dublin, in a village called Cabinteely and studied and worked around, around Dublin for… for most of my young life. Yeah.

HOST (Lily Mellon): Nice. In terms of….

In terms of a pathway towards becoming the Project Archivist at the CRC, where was it that you studied?

Lorraine: Well, I studied… my path to Archives in general is a little bit convoluted in, if you don’t mind, I’ll tell you that little story.

Lily: No, I would love to hear it.

Lorraine: Basically when I left school, I didn’t really know what to do. I was kind of working and thinking and hoping to, to do third level, but I ended up actually doing a… a three year degree, a National Diploma in Visual Arts practice at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dublin, South Dublin, and specializing then in printmaking.

So, I absolutely loved that and had kind of Art and Design and everything as part of my upbringing, I suppose. My father is a graphic designer and my sister went into the field. Lots of friends and family are in the field. So that’s why I went and did some fine art.

When I finished that… I felt like I had still had more to do in terms of wanting to kind of explore more academically, and I knew as well that I, unlike some people who train in Art School, I didn’t wake up every morning needing to make art. Y’know I wasn’t an artist in that sense, but that I loved the area and I loved  the culture, art, music, draftsmanship, printmaking, etc. And so even back then I, I kind of, hoped that I would be in the area of looking after that kind of material and… but didn’t, didn’t for many years still so.

So anyway, I went on to study in National University of Ireland in Maynooth and took a double honours degree in Cultural Anthropology and Spanish and that was fantastic. It was a four year degree but a… really life changing in terms of the subject matter and also the opportunity to study abroad through the Erasmus program.

So I spent a year studying both subjects in the Canaries in Spain, which was obviously wonderful for me… when I left, having done that, that degree then, I moved to, to Cork City with my partner at the time who was, who was studying a PhD in UCC… and that’s where I started really thinking well, what do I want to do with all of this academic background and my interest being… in the area of culture really and cultural products, I suppose you could say.

So I actually started a masters in contemporary art in aesthetics. While I was there, I just thought to myself, well, actually I, I love this subject matter in this content, but actually I… at the end of it- I’m not sure I still won’t be sure which direction to go in. So I was down in Cork, knew the campus very well because my friends and my partner were there and it was also… the grounds of Bool Library and also the Glucksman Gallery, which is a fantastic gallery in in Cork City on the campus and I thought to myself… who are they? Who are they? Who are the people who get to be in there and look after these wonderful things and be close to cultural artifacts and art… artists moments and the, the cultural history that brings, brings them all together in terms of who we are.

I was working in retail still, I was working at night as well as during the day but contacted University College Cork Library. I’m sure I annoyed them for, for months, emailing every week asking if there’s anything I could volunteer on or anyone that could talk to me about how to, how to be part of that world and eventually I think I was… I was so persistent [both laughing] with my questions that eventually some someone got back to me and said yes, alright, you can come in and help us with the Archives in, in Special Collections.

So I went in and did very basic work, cleaning and, and basic listing of Archives and that was really my first foray into looking after Collections and understanding all that goes into it and I was still not qualified. I had the, the background, in, kind of, looking at cultural history, but no practical experience of that or- or- or the field itself.

So at that stage, I still didn’t know, kind of curator, curatorship or, or, you know, librarianship or we know in archivist, what doesn’t archivist do? I had no idea really, what, what, what each of those roles entailed and so I was, I was still exploring that.

Looked into conservation and and how… how one would become qualified as a conservator and in terms of… third level fees, that was way out of my league basically. Just being completely (chuckles) forthright here about how… you know my own path.

But basically I was lucky enough in, in Ireland at the time, this was 2011, to be able to avail of the free fee scheme and grants which were still available for third level postgraduate study at that time. So actually I was the last year in Ireland in 2011, of kind of student court cohort, who was able to take advantage of, of grants for Masters… Masters study.

I had that in mind that I would go on and do a Masters in Archives, and in the meantime had to get my, my experience because it is a requirement and I think in all of the kind of glam fields in like Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, a certain amount of volunteer work or unpaid work is always a really good…

It’s a good idea if you want to show your dedication to the sector I think because it’s it’s… it’s quite a hard and challenging sector to get into as it’s so competitive.

So, I was working on some of the collections there. One of the librarians, Special Collections Librarian, who I became very close to and was a real mentor for me, knew that I had this background in fine art and in handling artworks and dealing with exhibitions and things like that and so asked if I would volunteer working on an art collection that was housed by UCC and that was the collection of artist and writer Tomi Ungerer, who’s a really well loved children’s author and author of many, many books, 140 or so, as well as being a fantastic artist, very kind of political figure in the 60s and 70s, especially in New York and in Nova Scotia. And of course, in Europe as well.

And basically the Ungerer family had settled in Cork in the 70s and had deposited some of Tomi’s artworks at the library for listing and looking after and in that- that agreement is as far as I know, still in place. But basically at the time they didn’t have someone that could be… could dedicate a lot of time to Tomi’s Collection because it was all volunteer based.

So I was put to work on that and that was… absolutely fantastic. A life changing experience again where I gotta deal firsthand with the regional artworks, but not only the artworks themselves, all of the things that go around finished products, finished artworks like, notebooks and scraps of paper where ideas are, are played out and versions of characters from, from famous stories and things like that, and I realized that archives was a very complex and important element of Collections work and research but also very complicated.

So I spent many months working with Tomi’s family, especially the collections manager, his daughter Aria Ungerer- just trying to make a start on this- on the collection and, as I was going through that very practical experience, I realized this is a very yeah… complicated field where there’s a lot of twists and turns, where if you don’t do something right at the right point with a Collection, it takes a lot of time and effort to go back and and change that… So, even things like dealing with coding or version control and things like that.

So, after months and months of working with that collection, I said to myself, I really want to be able to be good at this job, really, really good and not just focus on the one collection. So that’s when I applied for the MA in archives and got a place on the UCD course in Dublin, University College Dublin course.

Actually this is my last few weeks at the CRC, coz after five years here, working with great colleagues and wonderful collections, I’m actually moving back to Dublin, to my hometown, to take up the role of Dublin City Archivist at… Dublin City Library and Archive on Pearce St. So really looking forward to that and although I’m desperately sad to be leaving Edinburgh, I’m- I’m just delighted to be, to be back with the familiar and close to- to family and friends and also collections that I- I know quite well.


Lily: Yeah. Yeah, the CRC’s loss is Dublin’s gain.

[both laughing]

Lily: that’s exciting

Lorraine: So I went to Dublin, and did the MA in Archives and Records Management. There is a kind of a studentship or- or short placement for one archive- one archivist out of the newly qualified archivists course that students are offered every year. And so I got that that year and so my first experience of dealing with my own Collection, post qualification, was to catalogue and digitize a collection of watercolour paintings that were used as teaching aids in workhouse hospitals- three workers hospitals across Dublin in the 19th century.

So these were watercolour paintings of people suffering rare and incurable diseases that were used for, yeah- medical course teaching AIDS, and from there on in, I realized that every- every Collection, or every Archive or every group of material that I worked on was going to be like doing another- another masters or another research project… in a whole new area that I hadn’t seen before.

But I… that was only a short project and then I- I moved then to Galway and set up and archives company, just to be a limited company, so that I could take on a project with Archives Ireland, and that was to digitize the collection of the Abbey Theatre, which is the Irish National Theatre and- and you know, world famous because of- of different writers that are associated with that and different writers over time.

I then, spent a couple of years as Archivist and Records Manager in international law firm in Dublin, and that was a total sea change in terms of the subject matter going from, very kind- materials to the really, really high level legal aspects or legal issues that are su- that surround records and the access to records and retention and disposition of records and information governance. I then went to, the National Gallery of Ireland coz I just wanted to work in the cultural heritage sector and I realized that from my own background with art, that was my real love, was working with artistic materials or cultural materials.

So I worked for just under three years on the Sir Dennis Mahon Library and Archive bequest and Sir Dennis Mahon was an Anglo Irish peer, who lived most of his life in London but had family connections with the Guinness-Mahon Merchant bank family, who had an estate in Westport, County Mayo.

So when he died, he bequeathed his library and archive to National Gallery of Ireland and working with a small team there, we call ourselves the Mahon’s ever since (laughs). There was a rare books librarian and another archivist, Gillian Downing. And we worked through this, the papers of- of Sir Dennis Mahon, who was a collector and the Italian Baroque painting connoisseur and absolutely fascinating collection to work on. And from there, I saw the opportunity to work on appraisal and- and collections review at Edinburgh and decided I’d give that ago. So that’s the trajectory from archive school to Edinburgh.

That was very long winded [LM: (laughing)] to say just how even qualified as an archivist.


Lily: But an interesting journey, and it’s nice to hear sometimes the stuff about when you’re… of course you need the qualification, and of course you perhaps need accredited in certain fields, especially like conservation as you were saying, but to actually get in to a place and be close to objects and to understand the physical and the tangible and just the day to day. It’s where you learn the craft.

Lorraine : Yeah, absolutely and I think that’s the same with a lot of, I mean any… any student of their level course will, will know that there’s a huge difference between completing your assignments, your reading and your coursework and then actually doing the job itself. I feel like with archives the… it’s a kind of a double edged sword. One side is wonderful and one side is quite painful that every time you start a job, it’s totally new. It’s totally different.  You know the basics or the… the skeleton for what ingredients need to be there, but you also have to be really willing to deal with complexity and total difference in comparison to your last project or your last collection that you worked on. And so it keeps you very observant and alert to what you’re working on [LM: mm]. Which I enjoy.


Lily: Yeah, the ingredients is… is for cooking something and not baking it. It’s not exact.

Just out of interest how long have you been at the CRC?

Lorraine: Five years last January. So, so I started in January 2017 and actually it was just on a one year project. Working on appraisal in collections review for very specific, large scale project, the Collection and rationalization project, that was being run more widely across the collections and that was basically we have many, many kilometres of collections of all sorts in the CRC.

They were wanting to bring together a team of people that would assess the holdings, see if changes could be made to efficiencies in terms of where we stored things and how we stored the things and making, making space and making decisions basically about a decade’s worth of Collections that hadn’t really had the chance to, to be reviewed. So that’s how I came on board

and really, I think for myself, with… with any archive project I worked on, we seem to go towards the thing I haven’t done before [both laughing]. I don’t know if that’s always a positive thing, but I had never worked on a project that was specifically aimed at learning more about appraisal and review of collections. And so I thought I’ll give that a go.

Lily: Mm… Well, appraisal and review is, is part of your job title but for the audience who might not know all of what that involves, would you be able to kind of explain a bit more about these words, “appraisal” and “review” in the archival context?

Lorraine: Yeah, sure. Both of those tasks, I suppose, are inherent in every archivists role. It’s just [LM: mhmm] that because of the overarching collections/rationalization project, the real focus that they wanted in this instance was on those tasks of appraisal and review and basically, what appraisal is, is, as you can imagine with uhm… things like auctions or dealerships or just even workplace assessments, that appraisal is assessing the value of, of an item, or the, the benefit of an item or whatever it may be.

In the archival context, appraisal is understanding whether the material in the Collection has future research value and, and those, those values can be separated into, kind of, primary and secondary values. So the primary values and this is already quite theoretical, but going back 100 years almost in archive/archival appraisal theory, their primary values is that informational value that you know you want to prove that somebody was enrolled at the university or you know, show that something happened.

The secondary value is when that doesn’t really matter anymore the, the… The fact of the student being grow enrolled or the meeting having taken place is understood, but the contents then have taken on another type of value. A secondary value which is more based in research and what it can tell us about other topics that aren’t it’s primary focus. So… So when looking at a collection or looking at it as a group of documents or digital files or photographs or whatever it is.

We’ll make a judgment as to whether or not we should retain the item long term, review it so that we say maybe in five or ten years will have another look at this and see if it’s still relevant or still makes sense as part of the overall collection. Or, of course, whether we dispose of it, which is either to destroy the material because it’s has no value whatsoever, or dispose of it to another collection or another part of the overarching repository that makes more sense, for it to be.. to be part of. I should say to the… with this destruction of archives that this is something that really emotional for people, and they find it really hard to understand how we could destroy anything [LM: mm]. But of course, as you can imagine there are, there’s, there’s so much there, that sometimes is transferred over but can be quite repetitive and so if it doesn’t have any kind of extra special unique value, that’s, that’s evidence, then we really have a duty to try and reduce as much of that kind of duplicated or a pet repetitive information as possible. And then there’s also legal reasons why we need to get rid of some material because we don’t have the right to hold it.

So, some cases, it may be that we close files because they contain personal data, but in other instances, for example, if someone has applied for a job… at the university in the- in the instance of the CRC but never ended up working for the for the university and has no other further relationship, then we really don’t have a right to hold their personal data. But- for example their CV or, or their applications and things like that. So we’re obligated then to destroy that material within a reasonable time.

Lily: Mm, yeah, makes sense. Makes sense… There’s so many different ways that you can attribute value to something.

Lorraine: Absolutely and, if anything, quite a, yeah, quite a strange experience to spend five years delving into this really, really thorny subject and very subjective… subject (chuckles). In the sense, that, obviously when it comes to value, every person or a lot of people will have varying ideas of what’s valuable.

So wherever possible, we don’t dispose, if we think that something or destroy should say, if we think that something might be in any way valuable to someone but even if something is in duplicate or just is a rare item, like, for example, printed… lovely printed paper from the 1950s, even if it was, if it was completely blank, we were trying to find a home for that. If we could, as opposed to just destroy it and put it in the bin. [LM: mm]

That’s not always possible, but as I was saying before, the collections are enormous. And so this is a necessary task that really makes sure that the material that is really valuable is accessible and this can be seen when it’s not hidden between a layer of, of material that has no value, basically.

We have about 7… just under 7 kilometres of physical archives at the CRC and around 25 kilometres or give or take a kilometre of Special Collections in general. So we really need to make sure that we keep on top of things like ’cause, appraising and review to make sure we have enough resource for what you know all the incoming material as well.

Lily: Yeah, completely, in terms of kind of something long term… sustainability or just realistically how feasible is to store that amount of material

Lorraine: Exactly

Lily: when you’re acquiring new things, every month as well

Lorraine: The other kind of element of appraisal is that it straddles the two… realms of, of kind of, legal obligation and subjectivity in a really strange way that…

First of all, legislation changes around privacy and records and the kind of information that you can hold, so you have to keep on reviewing and reviewing what rules we have in place. But also, the what might have been considered no v… have- of having no value 50 years ago in terms of secondary value/research value, may have huge value now, when different eyes are looking at the materials and different contexts emerge.

So appraisal is a very forward thinking element of- of archival practice, and always looking to find different opinions and different methodologies for how to deal with assigning value.

Lily: Oh, it’s fascinating. Yeah.

Graphic: Musical Interlude

HOST (Lily Mellon): With Lorraine’s expertise and job role in mind, I wanted to introduce the project for the remainder of this episode, especially as in later episodes we’ll start to go in-depth on a few projects. For now, I hand over to interns Ashlyn and Samantha to tell you more about what Project One involved.

GUEST (Samantha Carrie): So this project was in relationship to Edinburgh Council’s slavery and colonialism review, led by the activist Sir Geoff Palmer, who’s now also Chancellor of Heriot Watt University and…

long story short, basically we were given this list of monuments, streets and themes that we split up amongst ourselves and we had to research and create this database of sources.

So this is kind of early days of this kind of research in terms of Edinburgh’s connection. So what we were trying to establish is, is there material that can be researched? Is there material there that is, you know, we could say quite confidently is related to these themes, but also kind of developing a research guide for future scholars, in terms of what kind of issues we were coming up… in terms of research methodology…

GUEST (Ashlyn Cudney): and what the… what the main thrust, the main goal was to recontextualize public history in Edinburgh. So to look at the statues and the monuments and the buildings, and to provide more nuance to the information presented to the public about Edinburgh’s role in transatlantic slavery. And that isn’t necessarily just what i-… what prominent officials were involved in transatlantic slavery, but also what abolitionists lived in Edinburgh and what their experiences were, and what their contributions were. So it’s to provide more context to objects and to these places and artworks that, that perhaps… people wouldn’t have had otherwise.

HOST (Lily): Totally, yeah, that is quite the mammoth task. Was there kind of a list of tasks to methodically go through, or was it kind of that thing of like? Welcome to the data… go.

GUEST (Ashlyn Cudney): Um, a little bit of both, so there… there was a thought process through this that was presented to us by the, by the head researcher. So what they did was they, they- the Council had presented approx.- I think it was twelve different headings on here are the big topics we want to touch on things like international trade; funding and education; artworks and literature.

But then underneath they had subheadings like, here are the things to focus on. So things like the portrait of Robert Cunningham Graham or Rodney St and then a little bit of blurb, just an introductory kind of few sentences about who they are. So then, then it was go forth and research.

[laughs]

So what we did was, or I did specifically, I’m- I’m assuming my co-researchers had a similar kind of methodology, but what I did was then I did a deep dive of my own research, writing down family members, where they were at certain points in their lives that might be related. And then I went to the Archives. So I started off with ArchivesSpace, because first and foremost Edinburgh University was interested in, what’s in their own archives that are related to these things that maybe they can flag and provide more information for. So I started with ArchivesSpace and then I used that as a jumping off point.

So then after I exhausted all of my resources on ArchivesSpace, I went to the National Records of Scotland, which was just… I was inundated [chuckles] with records to do with all of these, and so at that point, once I… once I was able to go through and exhausted myself with those, I used that as a… as another jumping off point to what other archives might be related.

So if I found that somebody happened to be in the US at some point in their lives I would go to the Library of Congress at that point, or if I knew that they had some kind of correspondence back and forth, especially if they were like a big political figure like John Gladstone, for example, then I would go to Library of Congress. Or, if we’re talking James Buchanan, he lived in Glasgow for point of his life, so then I looked at the University of Glasgow Archives, so I used that as a point to start looking at little regional archives to see what they had, which was usually very useful.

Lily: Nice, Nice, yeah.

Graphic: Episode Summary

HOST (Lily Mellon): This is the first of a seven part series about a University Histories Internship Project that took place at the Centre for Research Collections between July and December of 2021.

In the next episode we get more in depth on the project to talk about what the project aims in more detail.

Graphic: Episode Outro

MUSIC

HOST (Lily Mellon): You’ve been listening to We’ve Got History.

These episodes were recorded in December 2021 and March 2022. This was part of episode nine.

The guests were Lorraine McLoughlin, Ashlyn Cudney and Samantha Carrie.

Episode hosted and edited by Lily Mellon.

EPISODE AND TRANSCRIPT ENDS

Summary of the Archive of Tomorrow Workshop – Health (Mis)Information on the Web 

On the 28th April 2022, Information Professionals across the world met for the Archive of Tomorrow Workshop.  

This event was co-hosted by the National Library of Scotland and the Centre for Research Collections, (Edinburgh University), but the collaboration between different institutions does not stop there. Academics and industry professionals from Oxford, Cambridge, the British Library and from outside the UK are also on board… and this project is only just beginning.  

Launched in February 2022, Archive of Tomorrow will focus on health (mis)information. Have you ever wondered where some deleted tweets about wearing masks might end up? What about retracted COVID-19 papers? Doesn’t the panic surrounding the use of ibuprofen during the pandemic seem like a distant memory now. It’s important to maintain access to these records and memories for future reflection.  

Archive of Tomorrow intends to capture digital records and resources and not always just the public health disinformation itself but the wider discourse, the cultural impact, the reaction to the material as well as the material itself. Indeed, what does qualify as “disinformation” in the first place?

For those of you unable to attend the workshop, here’s a summary of what happened. 

April 28th Kicks Off 

After an introductory presentation from Joseph Marshall, the Associate Director of Collections Management at the National Library of Scotland, the session was primarily led by Sara Day Thomson, the Digital Archivist at the Centre for Research Collections, UoE.  

This half day event consisted of case study presentations;  a Q&A session; an in-depth introduction to the early stages of the project; conversations in break out rooms and a keynote speech from Melissa Terras, (Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage at UoE).  

It was an ambitious schedule to get through, one that expertly kept to time by all involved without the loss of audience inclusion or time set aside to articulate the sort of complex thoughts that require a moment to articulate fully. There was an overwhelming sense that a stimulating conversation was shared by all, one in which the participants weren’t scared to admit that there are currently more questions than answers. I left with a sense of excitement, my head full of different thoughts and dilemmas to those that I’d had when I logged on of a Friday morning.  

Case Studies: No Google of the Past and Plenty of Fish in the Sea 

First to present their case study was Gareth Millward who is interested in histories of the World Wide Web and is working on the BUDDAH project with the Institute for Historical Research/the British Library.  

As Gareth put it, the internet is just one of the many venues of human activity. It’s also one that is relatively new in human history. Gareth advocated for better methodological training (on Web Archives) amongst the research community. This is in the hope of better understanding some of the best ways that a researcher can search for/sift through online sources. Indeed, if we are engaging with a large range of topics and contradicting sources, (even if just on a surface level), then understanding that browsers, databases and search queries require different skills/rituals compared to, (for example), checking physical, printed books out of the library, is rather important.

That goes for the amateur researcher as well as the professional.

Think of how many different debates or themes you can scroll past on twitter in a matter of seconds. Access to stable resources and how to use them feels more important than ever.  

The Archive of Tomorrow project is a clear example of working towards this ongoing shift toward prioritising access to credible sources alongside preservation. As many of us are all too aware, some Archival practices were not necessarily designed with access in mind, and shifts toward objectives such as accessibility and inclusion cannot happen overnight. 

The second speaker, Jessica Odgen, presented Go Fish, a conceptual framework for the challenges of engaging with web archives and web research. Jessica described how using the web can sometimes feel like being ‘thrown in the ocean’. Infrastructure is crucial. Unsurprisingly, similar topics from Gareth’s talk came back up immediately – data access constraints; creative intervention; the challenges of navigating a fast-paced, developing sector and how to extract datasets before they disappear.  

Where conversation for the two case studies really came alive was the following Q&A session. Having already brought up the topics of access and change, questions surrounding security, trust and verifiability appeared hot on their heels.  

The concept of ‘capturing’ versus joining the debates, (and the challenges of actively witnessing) was a fascinating topic. So much so that I would have happy to see the rest of the session spent discussing it, but with so many interesting topics appearing constantly in the lively chat box alongside the speakers, the conversation turned to data mining, AI, internet trolls and I was wrapped up once more.  

There is no doubt that misinformation is a current hot topic. Indeed, bringing together this large audience, from different cultures and varied professions, immediately proved that this topic has a far wider reach that just the focus of Archive of Tomorrow (i.e., Health Information/ (dis/mis) Information). This was clearly demonstrated in the word cloud generated by all attendees when asked what their current research was about. 

Image: Word Cloud generated by attendees of the AoT Workshop. Property of Archive of Tomorrow 

With so many unique and well-informed opinions being shared, I was reminded of how important (and fun) it can be to carve out time to speak to like-minded individuals and professionals from this sector.  

Presentation from Web Archivists 

As we regrouped after a short mid-session break to replenish teas and coffees, the attention turned to the three web Archivists involved with Archive of Tomorrow. Alice Austin (Edinburgh), Cui Cui (Oxford) and Leontien Talboom (Cambridge).  

The audience were encouraged to think once more about how to document, and how to capture. At present, ‘at risk’ material is being prioritised by Archive of Tomorrow, an operating plan which feels quite self-explanatory, but the Archivists have already identified challenges in three major areas from the technical to the legislative and to the more abstract notions such as philosophical obstacles. 

The discussion surrounded ethics, algorithms, anonymity and informed consent. Categorisation and labelling proved to be a complex topic as Leontien evidenced with an example rating system of false; misleading; missing context; no evidence or partly false. It is a quick illustration of how the term ‘misinformation’ is really the tip of a vocabulary iceberg. 

As the in-depth look into what the Archivists have been pondering concluded, the group moved to conversation prompts in break-out rooms. Each group was able to join at least two members of the Archive of Tomorrow Team. Seeing as time flies when you’re having fun, all too soon it was already one o’clock and guests were directed in a new and fascinating direction once again – the keynote speech. 

Keynote from Melissa Terras 

Highlights from Melissa’s keynote speech included her thoughts on digitization of the past; how to provide information/access to huge datasets or assets; sustainability; late stage capitalism theories; the rarity of in-perpetuity funding; pre-emptive responses to crisis; institutional red-tape and the threat of cyber-attacks. 

Additionally, it was fantastic and humbling to hear more about the SUCHO project, (co-ordinated by Quinn Drombrowski), and the 1300 volunteers from across the Archive and Data Management sector that have come together to help archive Ukrainian cultural heritage sites. You can read more about the project here

Only the beginning  

Melissa Terras left us all with much to ponder in regards to her reflections and opinions on the potential of the web-archiving industry. As Sara Thomson wrapped up and thanked attendees, informational professionals were released from their laptops from all across the world. For those of us in the UK, it was to close up the working week and enjoy the sunshine. For those joining from New Zealand, it was to get going with their evening. 

Archive of Tomorrow invited everyone to keep in contact as they are hopeful that progress reports will become a regular occurrence. Anyone with unique and relevant expertise are encouraged to strike up correspondence as soon as possible. It feels like a strong and lengthy dialogue has begun and for the Archive of Tomorrow Team, that their baby is now officially out in the world. 

Still want more? 

To repeat the conclusion of the three Web Archivists involved in the project, “Tomorrow’s Archive needs you”.

You can find more information on twitter under the hashtag #ArchiveofTomorrow, or check out their website and some words from Alice Austin

The team recently spoke at a conference in May, providing more detail on the interdisciplinary and multi-institutional work planned – so keep an eye out for more events and updates for Archive of Tomorrow as they are appearing constantly. 

For now, we wish Archive of Tomorrow all the best with their plans and project development. VOiCE hopes to bring you further information and updates in the near future.

Written by Lily Mellon 

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