Joy of archives

As a nod to Explore your Archive week – (which was 10- 16 November 2014) and in contrast to the practical focus of the last couple of posts on archives, this time I’d like to show the potential excitement (yes excitement!) of finding information in the archives.

Whether you are an academic, student, family historian, writer of fiction or non fiction, there are gems to be discovered.

I still get a buzz when I read an original document relating to a client’s query, or my own research – but don’t just take my word for it. Here are a few quotations and musings about archives.

*  In ‘Q&A: how archives make history’ archivists and academic historians consider the impact of archives.

most people still get a huge thrill from having the original record in their own hands, feeling that there is nothing to beat the touch (and sometimes the smell) of the real thing’. [Valerie Johnson of The National Archives]

**  I found Marta Lonza’s reference to the ‘emotional impact of archives’ particularly striking. She writes about her time as a trainee at the London Metropolitan Archives (which runs a  comprehensive programme of workshops for schools):

one of our more popular workshops is one on the Fire of London where children get to see documents such as a claim for financial support, presented to the Lord Mayor of London, by a woman who lost her possessions in the fire. ‘This comes from 1668 – from right after the Great Fire?’ they ask, looking at these fragile old pages with awe.’

I can almost see the reaction on their faces!

Experiencing that moment of discovery is bound to send a shiver down your spine, and that is something that really makes an impact, really stays with you for a long time’.

Read the full blog post – The secret power of archives.

*** Novelist Sara Sheridan states on her website that:

The fictional part of my novels are often heavily inspired by real life events and circumstances’
‘For me, archive research is like treasure hunting

**** Then there is this evocative line:

Archives can be beautiful, moving, or just quirky, and always connect you to real people in the past.’

Which can be found in a feature on an Oxford college’s Second World War archive.

*****  The city of York archive is Pamela Hartshorne’s inspiration for her novels, as shown in this extract from her blog:

When mulling over Elizabethan names for characters:

‘I unashamedly pillaged the wardmote court records which I’ve been working on for so long.  I didn’t want to name my main characters after real individuals but several of the secondary characters, or those who make fleeting appearances in the story, were real people who lived in York in the 1570s and 1580s: William Beckwith, Lancelot Sawthell, John Harper, Christopher Milner, Richard Lydon, Anne Ampleforth, Miles Fell and Nicholas Ellis.

In some ways it feels uncomfortable to use real people’s names and make up stories about them, but I like to think that most of them would have enjoyed the idea that they have not been completely forgotten.’

*******  Why do you love to #explorearchives is a post from this year’s Explore Your Archive campaign about the author’s first encounter with archives (in this case a Victorian parish register) aged seventeen.

I loved the following quotations:

archives are not mute, dead things. They scream with a million human voices.’


The word ‘archive’ – like the word ‘love’ or ‘family’ – conceals its true treasure beneath an unassuming simplicity. Only by exploring and cherishing these things do we discover their true value.

Has this post convinced you of the potential excitement and joy of archives?

******* An anecdote to finish – you might get more than you bargained for when visiting an archive!

Cat[alogue] and mouse by Alan Crosby in  Local History News  number 97 – Autumn 2010.

It makes me smile every time I read it.

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