Thursday, 26 September 2013

A Grand Week of Activities

I've been pretty busy this week and I'm going to write a round-up post of various events that have filled my week!


Firstly, I attended the TEDx Albertopolis at the Royal Albert Hall.  This was an afternoon of firsts - my first TED and my first trip to the Albert Hall.  Neither disappointed.

Royal Albert Hall
 Many speakers presented on a wide variety of topics, all of which were closely or loosely related to the geographical area, the Albertopolis.  I won't go into details of each but I'll mention a few highlights:

  • Julia Lohmann, the head of the department of seaweed at the V&A, commented that every day we make nature into artifice and that we must ensure that the artifice is worthy of the nature from which it came.  An interesting point when you consider that she makes art out of kale
  • David Braben, a computer science and Raspberry Pi man, pointed out that there are rules in every piece of art, even in the structure of the Albert Hall.  It is these rules that make the world beautiful.  This got me thinking about the rules that archivists have when they catalogue a collection and, in a way, by cataloguing it and lending it some coherence and structure, we give it a sort of beauty
  • Hannah Redler, the head of media space at the Science Museum, talked about the focus of the museum on creativity in the interpretation of science.  They don't want to preach at visitors but facilitate their understanding.  I went to the Science Museum lates last night in fact and there was so much creativity that you almost forgot where you were.  I particularly enjoyed Punk Science, a comedy duo dedicated to making you think in new ways about science

I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon, especially because the talks were short and to the point and on a variety of subjects to suit everyone.  I was rather drained afterwards but I certainly had a lot to think about and I'd recommend future TEDxs to people.

Jenkinson Lecture

Paul Conway from the School of Information at the University of Michigan gave the annual Jenkinson Lecture at UCL on Wednesday.  The title of the lecture was 'Traces and Transformations: A Case for the Archival Nature of Digital Surrogates'.  

Paul focussed on Google Books, since this is related to his research at King's in London.  97% of the books in the HathiTrust Digital Library (the 12th largest research library in the States) are from Google Books and, from that statistic alone, we can gauge the importance of his research.  He is looking into the errors in the scanning of these books and how these are corrected.  The main thing that stood out for me was the high number of pages, which show errors but are re-scanned and submitted to the HathiTrust without the HathiTrust knowing what changes have been made to the ebook version.  It becomes impossible to know which version scan you are looking at and you may not be able to return to a scan that you had looked at.

Paul argued that new archival thinking is required.  Surrogates should be considered as a separate entity with new and transformative value over and above the original.  The integrity of these must, therefore, be protected.  I have never thought about this idea before but completely see where he is coming from.  I imagine, though, that it all comes down to money and whether institutions can afford the funds and man power required to keep all versions of digitised works.

CreativeWorks London: Working with Archives

This conference was held at the National Archives in Kew and this was my first trip to the TNA!

The National Archives

CreativeWorks London are a knowledge exchange hub funded by the AHRC and they focus on the connectivity and collaboration between research bases and business.  This was a useful conference to find out what various archives are up to but also to see how they are engaging with practitioners to create new work.

I'll discuss a couple that really stood out to me.  Kate Wheeler of the National Archives told us an interesting idea that was passed to her from an archivist at the BBC - that archives are about eavesdropping on history and providing an insight into something that you might not have been meant to know.  When she worked in media, she used archival material from the BBC about Enid Blyton to advertise a new Blyton programme.  The main star could not promote the programme so they turned to creative use of the archive to show the public the letters between the BBC and Blyton, telling her that her stories were not suitable for television(!).  This otherwise unknown snippet left the public with a taste for the hidden and the programme got the highest number of views for any drama on BBC4.  This shows that archives should capitalise on their less mainstream contents.

Kissley Leonor, the Creative Industries Marketing Manager from the British Library told us about how the library attracts creatives to their collections and encourages them to use these materials, which are now out of copyright, as inspiration to make new work.  They then advocate the Business and IP Centre, which can offer valuable help when setting up a business and marketing yourself.  The BL is offering the full package here.

Again the Singing Hypnotist came up, I feel like I'm stalking him. I spoke about him here and have seen him several times since, in shows, in audiences, at work etc.  He will be returning to the NT Studio in october to continue work on a new piece so I will pin him down and have a chat about his creative use of archives!

All in all I feel like I have learned a lot this week and am full of ideas for how the NT Archive can grow and engage creative users...I just need to get the catalogue working first!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Shakespeare and his Porcupine

Last week I had the chance to visit Stratford-upon-Avon for the APAC (Association of Performing Arts Collections) meeting.  I have never been to Stratford before and was interested to experience a rather Shakespeare-heavy day full of Tudor buildings, plays and records from way before the National existed.

We started off at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, bypassing the queues of tourists waiting in the rain to nip in the library entrance (a much appreciated perk of the job) and had a tour of the library and archive.  Here we were shown many treasures including the parish register for Shakespeare's birth and death as well as the absolutely massive book of signatures from the American donors, who provided money to rebuild the burnt down Shakespeare Memorial Theatre.  A particularly beautiful book was a version of 'As You Like It' with set and costume designs by Salvador Dali - it was as spectacular as it was bizarre.  Two very interesting items were books written in the seventeenth century, one of which documented animals, real and fictitious.  Among tips such as the benefits of feeding your dragon lettuce, there is an entry for the porcupine.  The 'fretful porpentine' of Hamlet Act 1 Scene 5 has often been used as evidence that Shakespeare did not write his works since how could he possibly have encountered a porcupine or travelled to all of the places he mentions?  There was also an early atlas with lengthy descriptions of various countries, among them Illyria, the setting for 'Twelfth Night'.  Shakespeare may well have been using 'facts' from books such as these.

We then moved to the Shakespeare Institute, a research library attached to the University of Birmingham.  This is an unusual library since it is, at once, a special collection but at the same time a research library.  They have decided that for every ebook they buy, they will buy a hard copy for the collection so that they maintain the expansion of the special collection.  The Institute also collect versions of the Shakespeare plays and the most bizarre one was a graphic novel by Nicki Greenberg!

It was very interesting finally to find out how all of the Shakespeare institutions interlink - Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Shakespeare Institute, Royal Shakespeare Company, Open Air Theatre Regent's Park and The Globe.  Even though all of these places are Shakespeare focussed, they are still busy with the same sorts of activities as we are - oral histories, anniversaries, outreach, internal requests etc.  It reinforced my belief that archiving as a profession prepares you for work in any institution where you can then learn about that history.  The amount of people who think that you need to be a theatre boffin to have my job is amazing - sure, knowledge of the shows is incredibly valuable, but if you don't know how to catalogue or answer enquiries, then, really, what role do you have?!

A note from the archive...

The National Theatre Archive is insanely busy at the moment with the anniversary looming in October.  Take a look at the 50th Anniversary website and know that the Archive has been involved in almost every project on there, in particular the exhibitions, timeline app, Gala and all documentaries.  I'm incredibly lucky to be part of the National at this exciting point and I am learning A LOT.