The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff by The Young’uns

Ballad of Johnny Longstaff Cover

The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff by The Young’uns.

The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff is the latest album by folk trio The Young’uns. The album tells the story of Johnny, a poor working-class man from Stockton who went to London on a hunger march when he was just 15. He took part in many of the protests and campaigns in the mid-1930s, including the Battle of Cable Street, and at the age of just 17 volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War. But The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff is much more than just an album. When performed live, it is a powerful combination of songs, oral history, and archival sources such as photos and newspapers. I went to see the performance on the first night of the tour, at Middleton Hall in Hull, East Yorkshire.

Folk fans know The Young’uns for their beautiful harmonies and political lyrics that don’t pull any punches. Some of their songs are hopeful, uplifting stories that restore faith in humanity. Others are angry, tragic, or defiant, but all of them are thoughtful. Like The Young’uns’ previous albums, the Ballad of Johnny Longstaff contains a mix of such songs. ‘The Great Tomorrow’ is a stirring tribute to international solidarity, ‘Paella’ is a comic song about Johnny encountering Spanish food for the first time, and ‘Ay Carmella’ is a poignant account of conditions in Spain during the Civil War. Interspersed with the songs are clips of Johnny himself talking about his life, and photos, newspaper articles, and other historical sources projected onto the back of the stage.

The Young'uns better

The Young’uns performing The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff. The performance makes use of a range of historical sources, like this photo of Johnny and his friends before he left London to fight in the Spanish Civil War (Photo: Mike Ainscoe).

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Imperial War Museum recorded oral history interviews with many of those who had traveled from the UK to Spain as volunteers for the Spanish Republic. The interviews are all available online for anyone to listen to; I used some of them whilst researching the Battle of Cable Street during my PhD. Johnny Longstaff was one of the men who was interviewed. The Young’uns’ Sean Cooney became captivated by Johnny’s story after his son, Duncan, told them about his father at a gig in 2015. The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff was written with the aid of that interview, Johnny’s unpublished memoirs, his annotated collection of Spanish War literature, his personal collection of photos, and the memories and anecdotes of his family. It is an excellent example of the captivating stories that can be uncovered with meticulous archival and historical research, as well as the range of sources that can be used for this kind of biographical research.

As a historical geographer of protest, I already knew quite a bit about the events Johnny took part in, but I often wonder how much ‘ordinary’ people know. Leaving the auditorium, I listened to other audience members talking about the show. I heard several people saying things like “Well I knew about x, but I didn’t know y.” It was great to hear that people got so much out of it. I recently reviewed Mike Leigh’s 2018 film Peterloo, about the 1819 Peterloo massacre when soldiers in Manchester killed and injured dozens of peaceful protesters. The film is educational, but it is not very entertaining. The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff is both. It isn’t just a wonderful performance, it also educates people about the anti-fascist history of the second half of the 1930s. It is a great example of how creative methods can be used to make history accessible. The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff will undoubtedly reach more people than my PhD thesis ever will (having said that, I am more than happy to share my 400+ page beast if you would like to read it), and what is the point of doing such research if you can’t find a way to communicate the results with people? As far right groups gain popularity across the world, it seems more important than ever that we don’t forget this crucial period of European history.

To me, The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff is everything that good art should be. It is engaging, it teaches you something, and it makes you think. I don’t know if The Young’uns have any more performances planned, but I really hope so. It is a show that deserves to be seen.

The Book of Erebus: Archives in Blade

Blad film poster

Enter a caption

There is an anecdote in my family that my parents once tried to rent Blade Runner (1982). Instead of Ridley Scott’s epic visual masterpiece they ended up with Blade (1998), an over-the-top vampire film starring Wesley Snipes. Also a good film, but very different. We will probably never know if the mistake was my parents’ or Blockbusters’, but my Mum still thinks Blade Runner is about a leather-clad vampire hunter.

I recently rewatched Blade, and apart from being shocked by the dodgy CGI, I was interested by the film’s representation of archives. Archives, libraries, and other repositories of knowledge are often used in films as a method of exposition, or of revealing some information that moves the plot along, and Blade is no different. Blade and his plucky but naive companion Dr. Karen Jenson fight their way through a club to find a vampire archive, the entrance to which is hidden in an industrial fridge.

Inside, they find futuristic data banks and a grossly overweight and flatulent archivist, who reveals to Blade and Dr. Jensen the plans of the film’s baddie, evil vampire Deacon Frost. Frost has been using the archive to translate the the Book of Erebus, the vampire bible whose meaning had been long since forgotten. Frost was trying to enact a prophecy he found in the Bible, which would give him enough power to take over the world and bring an end to humans. Blade the sets out to try and stop Frost. The archive is the means through which the good guy finds out what the bad guy is up to, thus progressing the story.

Blade archivist

The archivist in Blade is not a particularly flattering depiction of researchers (Blade, 1998).

I would say that there are two main stereotypes of archives in popular culture. The first is old, dusty stacks of books and scrolls, stacked floor to ceiling in a dark, dingy room. The other is much more modern, even futuristic, with high-tech data banks, in large, sparse rooms. The archive in Blade falls into the latter category, as the images below demonstrate (the Empire’s archives on Scarif in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) are another example of this type). I think the archives are a reflection of the vampire community in Blade as a whole; they are very old, but they have changed and developed to keep up with the times, blending in with human society. So much so, that the ability to translate the Book of Erebus has been lost, as has much of the vampires’ history and lore.

Blade vampire archive

The archives in Blade are stored on large, white data banks in otherwise empty rooms (Blade, 1998).

Blade the Book of Erebus

The Book of Erebus, the vampire’s bible, is hidden within the vampire archive. Even though the pages themselves are old and yellowed, the way they are stored is modern (Blade, 1998).

Archives and libraries are represented frequently in popular culture, often as a source of exposition or plot progression. These representations shape the way that non-researchers understand and perceive of archives, and as such I think it is important for academics to spend time analysing them, and thinking about what impact they might have. The archive is Blade is modern and hi-tech, much more so than any real archive currently is. The archivist is also much more unpleasant than any archivist I’ve ever met!

Rebellious New York: A Radical Guide to NYC 2

Last week, I was lucky enough to run my Rebellious New York project on the Royal Holloway Geography Department’s second year undergraduate field trip for a second year. I really enjoyed it last year, getting to explore New York’s radical side with a group of enthusiastic students, and this trip was no different. I wrote about some of the many ways to explore New York’s turbulent past and present last year, but this time I discovered some new things, as well as revisiting some old ones.

IMG_0778

The Statue of Liberty, donated to America by the French people to commemorate the centenary of American Independence, is one of the most iconic symbols of New York City (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I took my group on the Occupy Walking Tour with Occupy member Michael Pellagatti, as I did last year. Michael has added some information to the tour that puts the 2008 global financial meltdown that spawned the Occupy Movement in the context of the boom and bust cycle inherent to capitalism. We also had a talk at the Interference Archive, which provided an introduction to the archive and its collections. It is always useful to know why an archive you are working in was started, as it can help you to understand what sort of material might be present in the collections. The students all found something useful for their projects, and the volunteers were very helpful in pointing out potentially relevant material- a great illustration of how beneficial it can be to have the archivist on your side!

dav

The Rebellious New York group with Michael Pellagati, the Occupy New York tour guide (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

 

dav

My group getting stuck in to the collections at the Interference Archive (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The weather was much warmer than it has been on my previous trips to New York, and it was lovely to see the open spaces of the city being used and enjoyed. Union Square Park seemed to be a particularly lively space, with people dancing, drawing, performing and protesting at the south end of the park on the Wednesday evening when we were there. Whilst walking tours and archives are excellent, protest is best experienced by actually experiencing it, and in New York there is no shortage of opportunities!

IMG_0559

This stall was selling posters and t-shirts with a clear anti-establishment theme (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

IMG_0561

Police violence against civilians, particularly those belonging to ethnic minorities, is a controversial topic in America at the moment (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

IMG_0563

It takes all sorts to make up a political campaign! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I spent some time on this trip exploring the rich history of immigration that is an integral part of New York. I visited Ellis Island, which processed 12 million newly arrived immigrants between 1892 and 1924. I also went to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which has preserved 97 Orchard Street, and has restored some of the flats to resemble what they would have looked like at various points between 1863 and the 1930s. Many immigrants crammed into tenements in neighbourhoods like the Lower East Side when they first arrived in America, and the museum does a fantastic job of bringing their stories to life. Immigrant groups did not wait long to get involved in politics in New York. Some of the biggest issues for new arrivals were work related; workers faced long hours, tough conditions and low wages. American workers often saw immigrants as competition, but they eventually realised that more could be achieved if they campaigned together. In addition, more established migrant groups helped new arrivals; German radicals helped eastern Europeans set up trade unions and Yiddish language newspapers when they first arrived on the Lower East Side. Radicals were also affected by the increasingly tight laws which aimed to reduce overall immigration numbers and prevent those considered subversive or unable to provide for themselves entering America. Anarchists were banned in 1903, along with epileptics and professional beggars.

IMG_0810

An image from the 1913 New York City clothing workers’ strike, with placards in Italian, Yiddish, and Russian as well as English. The museum on Ellis Island deals with all aspects of migrant life, including work (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The Stonewall Riots are considered by many to be the the catalyst for the LGBT civil rights movement in America. On the 28th of June 1969 the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village. At this point homosexuality in public was illegal in New York, and businesses and establishments frequented by the city’s gay community were continually harassed by the police. This particular night was the final straw however, and a crowd gathered outside the Stonewall Inn and began to riot. The same happened the following night. On the first anniversary of the riots, the first Gay Pride parades took place in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. The original Inn closed in 1969, but a bar called Stonewall opened up in the western half of the original location (53 Christopher Street) in 1990. In 2007 the name was changed again to the Stonewall Inn, and this bar is still open today. Across the road in Christopher Park is the Gay Liberation Monument, which was constructed in 1992. Although it memorialises the gay rights movement as a whole, the location of the monument so close to the Stonewall Inn demonstrates how significant the location is considered to be.

IMG_0869

The Gay Liberation Monument in Christopher Park consists of 4 figures (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

IMG_0870

Detail of the two male figures. A plaque, which explains the context of the riots and the history of the memorial, can be seen in the background (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

IMG_0874

Christopher Park itself is small and quiet, but very close to the busy 7th Avenue, and I saw a lot of people coming in to look at memorial during the 20 minutes I was sat there (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The radical history of New York is long and diverse, and it would take far more time than I have to get to know it properly, although I would like to someday. For now, I am content with exploring the traces these turbulent events and people have left in the fabric of the city on my brief visits, not to mention helping the wonderful Royal Holloway Geography undergraduates to conduct their own research on protest in the city. If you ever find yourself in this fantastic city, why not take some time to investigate the city’s rebellious side?

Following the Chartists around London

Last Monday, I took part in an event organised by Dr. Katrina Navickas of the University of Hertfordshire and British Library Labs called Following the Chartists around London. Dr. Navickas won a competition run by the Labs to develop a project that makes use of the British Library’s digital resources. As a result she is currently working on the Political Meetings Mapper, a project mapping all of the Chartist meetings listed in the Northern Star, one of the most popular Chartist newspapers. The Following the Chartists event was part of this project.

Katrina Navickas, in full Chartist costume, introduces her Political Meetings Mapper project.

Dr. Katrina Navickas, in full Chartist costume, introduces her Political Meetings Mapper project.

The afternoon began with lunch and a series of talks. Mahendra Mahey, manager of the British Library Labs project, introduced the British Library Labs and their work. Dr. Navickas explained the Political Meetings Mapper and gave a brief history of the Chartists. Dr. Matthew Sangster (Birmingham University) talked about his website romanticlondon.org, which uses contemporary maps and representations to explore romantic-era London. Finally, Professor Ian Haywood (Roehampton University) discussed the visual representations of ‘monster’ meetings- large, outdoor political meetings. The Chartists used this tactic frequently. We then embarked on a rather damp walking tour of Bloomsbury and Soho, visiting the sites of Chartist meeting places. In some cases, the pubs are still there, in others they have become stationary shops, or the building sadly no longer exists. The tour ended at the Red Lion in Kingly Street in Soho, which hosted meetings of both the Chartists and the London Corresponding Society.

Following the Chartists around London walking tour route (Source: Katrina Navickas).

Following the Chartists around London walking tour route (Source: Katrina Navickas).

We weren't about to let a little bit of rain stop us!

We weren’t about to let a little bit of rain stop us!

At the Red Lion we re-enacted a Chartist meeting that took place in December 1838. This is where I came in; I played the roles of a female Chartist of St. Pancras/ Mr. Cardo, who proposed the following resolution:

This is the most important crisis that has existed for the working classes. At the present moment we possess a power most mighty in its operation, one that is to be viewed by us with the highest feelings of delight and by our enemies with dread and alarm (Cheers.) … the Radicals are determined to be staunch to a man, and the people united will carry the day.

RESOLUTION: That this meeting considers a perfect union among all the Radicals absolutely necessary for the accomplishment of Universal Suffrage.

A recent Chartist conference in Edinburgh had proved devisive, and there was a sense that all the various groups and factions needed to get back on the same track, quickly. Only with a united front could universal (male) suffrage be won. Mr. Cardo’s motion was passed unanimously by our meeting.

Me, Samantha Walkden and Alexandrina Buchanan, some of the volunteer Chartists.

Me, Samantha Walkden and Alexandrina Buchanan, some of the volunteer Chartists.

The whole afternoon was great fun. I thoroughly enjoyed wearing a bonnet and apron, even if we did get some funny looks as we wandered around London. The talks highlighted the potential of digital research methods in relation to archives. Around 2% of the British Library’s collections have been digitised, which may not sound like a lot, but considering the Library holds well over 150 million items, it is a huge amount. Dr. Navickas has used computer programmes to transcribe newspaper articles, date meetings, and create maps that begin to interpret the data. The transcription software still needs a human to check its results, and all of this could have been done by hand, but it would have taken an awful lot longer. When it is finished, I think the Political Meetings Mapper will be a valuable tool for academics, students, and the simply curious; a resource which others can use to develop our understanding of the Chartist movement.The walking tour and re-enactment demonstrated how the Political Meetings Mapper could be used.

The British Library Labs project is doing valuable work raising awareness and promoting engagement with the Library’s digital collections. I learnt a lot about the possibilities of digital research methods, and would love to try and work it into my own work somehow!

If you want to do the walking tour yourself, see Dr. Navickas’ guide here.

Undying Archivists: Representations of Archives in Video Games

Video games can be a controversial topic; they are frequently condemned for their violence and accused of corrupting vulnerable young people. However as the variety and scope of games continue to expand, and online gamers create ever more complicated virtual communities, it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore or dismiss them. Computer games have become for focus of a lot of scholarly research, and there is even an entire journal dedicated to the topic, called Game Studies. I dabble in gaming myself, and of course my attention has been drawn to the variety of ways in which archives are represented in the myriad of virtual worlds brought to life through my computer screen.

One of my personal favourites, Fallout 3, is also the game which has one of the most realistic representations of an archive in gaming, in some respects anyway. Fallout 3 is a first person shooter/RPG (Role-Playing Game, for the uninitiated), set in a post apocalyptic world where civilisation has been destroyed by nuclear war. The action takes place in and around Washington D.C. in the year 2277, and many of the locations are based on real places, including the National Archives. Now obviously the building is looking a little the worse for wear after 250 years and a nuclear apocalypse, but it is much the same in the game as it is in real life, right down to those awkward microfiche machines that have dogged many an archival researcher. The player can embark on a quest to retrieve a copy of the Declaration of Independence from the archive’s basement, copies of which are held in the real National Archives.

The exterior of the National Archives in 'Fallout 3' and 'real life' (Sources: Fallout Wiki and Wikipedia).

The exterior of the National Archives in ‘Fallout 3’ and ‘real life’ (Sources: Fallout Wiki and Wikipedia).

A room in the National Archives from 'Fallout 3', complete with bookshelves and microfiche reader.

A room in the National Archives from ‘Fallout 3’, complete with bookshelves and microfiche reader.

The rotunda of the National archives in 'Fallout 3', looking a little rough around the edges compared to how it looks today.

The rotunda of the National archives in ‘Fallout 3’, looking a little rough around the edges compared to how it looks today.

Not all games are set in our world, however. Path of Exile and Diablo 3 are medieval dark fantasy action RPGs, set in worlds full of magic, swords and necromancy. They are both played in the axonometric projection, which is a posh way of saying that the player looks down on the action. And they also both have archives, although they are not ones that a modern day archival researcher would necessarily recognise. They are arguably more similar to the archives of the popular imagination, full of dark corners and scrolls. In Path of Exile, the player has to fight their way through hordes of zombie skeletons called ‘Undying Archivists’ to reach their objective, the Golden Pages. In Diablo 3, the archives are the domain of Zultan Kulle, an evil warlock who collected his archive as part of his unceasing quest for more power. In both cases, they are evil places, full of enemies and danger.

The archives in 'Path of Exile.' Here, aisle of catalogue drawers create a maze for the players to navigate. The feeling of confused frustration may be familiar to those of who to do research in archives.

The archives in ‘Path of Exile.’ Here, aisle of catalogue drawers create a maze for the players to navigate. The feeling of confused frustration may be familiar to those of who to do research in archives.

This screenshot shows another area of the archives from 'Path of Exile.

This screenshot shows another area of the archives from ‘Path of Exile.” Here, the walls are lined with books.

The archives in 'Diablo 3' are a bit sparse, but this is how most areas of the game are designed.

The archives in ‘Diablo 3’ are a bit sparse, but this is how most areas of the game are designed.

Dark Souls is another medieval dark fantasy action RPG, but it is played in the third person (the camera is behind the player, not above). Widely acknowledged as one of the hardest games of recent years, it has also been incredibly popular. And it also has an archive, also collected by a villain, and also not a particularly nice place to be. In this case the baddie is Seath the Scaleless, a giant dragon who betrayed his own kind and now hides out in his archives, desperately searching for the key to immortality because he has no scales to protect him.

Seath the Scaleless' archives in 'Dark Souls', which actually looks like the kind of old-fashioned library I would love, if it wasn't for all the enemies trying to kill you (Source: Daniel Dougherty)

Seath the Scaleless’ archives in ‘Dark Souls’, which actually looks like the kind of old-fashioned library I would love, if it wasn’t for all the enemies trying to kill you (Source: Daniel Dougherty).

Seath's archive contains a huge round tower with books from floor to ceiling (Source: Daniel Dougherty).

Seath’s archive contains a huge round tower with books from floor to ceiling (Source: Daniel Dougherty).

Archives also crop up in science fiction games. Destiny is a first person shooter set in a far-off future where the player is a guardian of the last safe city on earth. The player explores the ruins of human civilisation spread throughout the universe, but even in this era there are archives. In one quest, the player is sent to Venus to prevent the accumulated knowledge of the Golden Age being obtained by the Fallen, one of civilisation’s many enemies. In this case the archives are the domain of the goodies, not the bad guys, but it is still a risk, capable of doing great damage if it falls into the wrong hands. Knowledge, in many of these games, is dangerous.

The futuristic archive in 'Destiny', on the planet Venus (Source: Daniel Dougherty).

The futuristic archive in ‘Destiny’, on the planet Venus (Source: Daniel Dougherty).

The world of video games is vast, and games come in a huge range of shapes and sizes. Archives do seem to crop up relatively often though, and I’m sure I’ve only shown you a fraction of the examples here (please do let me know if the comments about games I’ve missed!) Perhaps it is just the nature of video games, but archives are frequently the domain of villains, bad people intent on getting what they want, whether it’s more power or more life. This bears little resemblance to real-life archives, which makes me wonder why this image appears so often. Where does it come from, and what impact does it have on popular understandings of the archive?

Special thanks for this post go to Daniel Dougherty, who provided some of the images, most of the information, and who introduced me to video games in the first place.

Sources and Further Reading

Anon. “National Archives and Records Association.” Wikipedia. Last modified 25th May 2015, accessed 4th June 2015.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Archives_and_Records_Administration

Anon. “The National Archives.” Fallout Wiki. No date, accessed 4th June 2015. http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/National_Archives

Davies, Martin. “Gamers Don’t Want Any More Grief.” The Guardian. Last modified 15th June 2006, accessed 4th June 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2006/jun/15/games.guardianweeklytechnologysection2 

Stuart, Keith. “The Cliche of the Lone Male Gamer Needs to be Destroyed.” The Guardian. Last modified 11th May 2015, accessed 12th May 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/may/11/the-cliche-of-lone-male-gamer-needs-to-be-destroyed 

Sans Dust: Flickr and Instagram as Archives

Rachel Taylor graduated from Royal Holloway’s research-based MA Cultural Geography last year. She is currently working for the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). Her research interests include public engagement with academia, museums, identity politics and how we understand human remains. Here she reflects on online archives, particularly photographic ones, as a research method. The internet is not one of the first things that springs to mind when you think of archives, but it is a valuable resource for academics if we only made use of it. Follow Rachel on Twitter: @mereplacenames


 

A photo of the British Museum available on Flickr (Source: Alex Roach)

A photo of the British Museum available on Flickr. Rachel Taylor used websites such as Flickr and Instagram to analyse visitor behaviour in museums in the research for her Masters dissertation (Source: Alex Loach).

In an age where the most popular ‘camera’ used by Flickr uploaders is the iPhone 4S, it’s time to reconsider photography, contemporary archival methods and move beyond the idea that dust – “the scholar’s choice of dirt” (Lorimer, 2009: 248) and tangibility are the only bedfellows of archival scholarship. Cultural geographers and non-geographers alike are beginning to consider the importance of the online archives that are increasingly playing an important role in our day to day life, and what follows are some brief reflections on the promise and pitfalls of working with these modern archives.

The field of online research is still in its infancy. Having conducted research on the place of Web 2.0 in understanding modern museum behaviour, I’m interested in the many ways in which this infancy provokes questions on the methodological difficulties of working with online archives.

While working with archives has often involved accessing material fiercely guarded by gatekeepers, with a strong emphasis on the physicality of the archive, contemporary visual archives such as Flickr and Instagram offer the chance to conduct research from any location and to gain an immediate appreciation of how the ‘photographers’ that use these sites articulate their social identities and make memories. Rather than delving into little seen and barely touched sources, the empirical data of online archives is generally available to anyone with an internet connection, with “the family photo album, once confined to living rooms…brought into the equivalent of the town square” (Kramer-Duffield and Hank, 2008: 1).

A man studies some paintings in a museum in Denmark in this image from Flickr (Source: Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen).

A man studies some paintings in a museum in Denmark in this image from Flickr (Source: Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen).

Despite online photographic repositories offering innovation in archival methodology, both Flickr and Instagram can be accused of hosting throwaway images, with each Instagram photograph “rapidly replaced by the next” (Champion, 2012: 86). Champion draws upon van Dijk in considering the disposability of Instagram images, suggesting they can be equated “to postcards which were meant to be thrown away” (2012: 87). While online visual archives act as a repository of memory, the very fact that they serve as repositories means permanence and importance are not privileged. In a world where some feel the need to photograph every morsel of food they eat, images are no longer confined to capturing the extraordinary. Rather, the banal, everyday moments of life take centre stage.

On a practical note, this disposable nature of the online world hinders attempts at locating images, often exponentially increasing the labour of data collection and encapsulates the difficulties of carrying out research on the Internet. Instagram’s web platform allows a maximum of twenty images to be viewed at any one time, with no means of viewing large amounts of images at once. Web platform such as spots.io and Websta do provide assistance, but issues with cached data and partial information ensure data collection remains a demanding task.

An image of a woman studying something at a museum on Flickr (Source: Pedro Ribeiro Simões).

An image of a woman studying something at a museum on Flickr (Source: Pedro Ribeiro Simões).

While paper may crumple and ink fade, webpages can be edited, deleted and moved. More traditional forms of archival scholarship are reliant upon gatekeepers’ superior knowledge of their collections to guide the researcher in knowing what to look for. In the online world, images are effectively lost if one does not know what they are looking for, with elements such as hashtags, captions and geotags all serving as digital clues to contextualise the images in the vast visual banks of photographic repositories. The wealth of information contained within these non-visual cues demonstrate that when carrying out archival research with online sources, visuality is only one element of the photographic archives.

Despite these challenges, platforms such as Instagram and Flickr offer the chance to engage with how users visually curate their lives. The act of photographing something denotes it as something ‘worth’ seeing. These images then are “increasingly active objects” (de Rijcke and Beaulieu, 2011: 665). These active objects shouldn’t be viewed as objective records, but rather seek to actively represent the person taking the photograph, “negotiated” with an audience in mind (Goffman, 1959 in Larsen, 2005: 419). Photographic practice acts as a form of memory making and establishing one’s presence, allowing content producers to self-curate their everyday life and activities. In an ever increasingly visual world, online archival work offers the ability to understand and interpret contemporary behaviour – sans dust.

Rachel Taylor.

Image Sources 

Loach, Alex. ‘British Museum,’ Flickr. Last modified 20 January 2013, accessed 16 March 2015. https://www.flickr.com/photos/53825985@N02/8511913573/in/photolist-dYaMmz-6gvd6S-r1WK48-4kJjwN-6Hd3CP-r3AEfA-6fSDBu-rkG8bG-qUtFr6-kaZYtK-qK2xpQ-pXVAJx-nxeVVc-knC3mt-p5AtAA-eddJf-eLhnGA-7Wtfoq-69Z6so-f8iCdQ-pFNHFt-qBu2ug-egQaH1-qpmTvJ-qTpi3G-qmABJD-jfT5Dx-egUieh-rbCsCz-rd9cgz-33uFJg-4hGJCF-5M4nRX-8y3FSm-6Ffpq5-qCPUwu-oWvcZY-rmVgbN-cCcccJ-eKmgWY-9qVj39-dxddWb-bD3stx-e9CS8i-dQNzLD-6DDprL-mko8q-r54Yjy-mBmNr-peMD4r

Rasmussen, Peter Kirkeskov. ‘Art Lover,’ Flickr. Last modified 23 May 2014, accessed 16 March 2015. https://www.flickr.com/photos/peterras/14836699804/in/photolist-oB4XX3-pAbmw9-nJpFiX-5jiP2o-59Ca2w-dYaMmz-6gvd6S-r1WK48-4kJjwN-6Hd3CP-r3AEfA-6fSDBu-rkG8bG-qUtFr6-kaZYtK-qK2xpQ-pXVAJx-nxeVVc-knC3mt-p5AtAA-eddJf-eLhnGA-7Wtfoq-69Z6so-f8iCdQ-pFNHFt-qBu2ug-egQaH1-qpmTvJ-qTpi3G-qmABJD-jfT5Dx-egUieh-rbCsCz-rd9cgz-33uFJg-4hGJCF-5M4nRX-8y3FSm-6Ffpq5-qCPUwu-oWvcZY-rmVgbN-cCcccJ-eKmgWY-9qVj39-dxddWb-bD3stx-e9CS8i-dQNzLD

Simões, Pedro Ribeiro. ‘At the Museum,’ Flickr. Last modified 7 September 2013, accessed 16 March 2015. https://www.flickr.com/photos/pedrosimoes7/9963567134/in/photolist-gbrTof-eQtr7R-eNi91F-kS7xZG-9iRWE4-p9r7xJ-8wEJ4i-qGyxkU-dJe3X1-7HPno-hWikPC-ggEYvo-fjrkti-nuXEBU-bQM6F8-hZLuW3-ggFfBU-7Jxfvm-52VDyu-52RiAx-52RnCn-52VG1J-gx23J3-4M5AMj-8M11qQ-o6zto2-7Lm6fD-hscdSo-gb3Nv4-ek5HQV-pNWxRf-axtYjo-ff867-gRWHM1-5asFL2-hrnKAS-omNwf7-5asxNR-87JwvP-6oFrtA-nSRAPy-nGKKk2-8VG5Th-qAVRw5-oRnx9N-7BmL1Q-6mjAiq-hZxjVh-7LXw1y-oGczzQ/

Scrolls, Vikings, and Dragons: Representations of the Archive in Children’s Television

'Riders of Berk' is a television spin off of the popular 2010 fil 'How to Train Your Dragon' (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013)

‘Riders of Berk’ is a television spin off of the popular 2010 film ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013)

As long as you promise not to ask me how I know about this example, I wanted to discuss the portrayal of archives in children’s television. DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk is a spin-off from the 2010 DreamWorks film How to Train Your Dragon. It may sounds surprising, but the show does contain archives, and the ways in which they are represented actually speaks well to the use of real-life archives.

'Bork's Archive' contains all the knowledge that the vikings of Berk have collected about dragons (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013).

‘Bork’s Archive’ contains all the knowledge that the Vikings of Berk have collected about dragons (Source: ‘We Are Family Part 1’ Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013).

Academics have argued that children’s films and TV shows are actually quite powerful cultural products, perhaps because they are dismissed by adults as insignificant and harmless. However they arguably play a significant role in shaping how children understand and interpret the world around them, so they are actually quite influential. Riders of Berk could very easily be a child’s only encounter with an archive, and is therefore worthy of consideration.

Berk is a village on a small island of the same name, populated by Vikings with names like Hiccup, Snotlout and Fishlegs, and dragons. At the beginning of the film, Vikings and dragons are mortal enemies, but with the aid of an injured dragon called Toothless, Hiccup manages to prove that both dragons and Vikings can profit from working together, and by the time the TV show begins, dragons are firmly integrated into the daily life of Berk. In Riders of Berk, a group of teenage Vikings, led by Hiccup, fly around on their dragons, having adventures and learning more about all the different types of dragons. However, all is not well in the land of the Vikings, and there are villains, set on destroying the peace between dragons and Vikings, or stealing the Hiccup’s dragon-training knowledge for their own dastardly aims.

Dragons and Vikings used to be enemies, but now live together in harmony (Source: 'We Are Family Part 1' Dreamwork's Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013).

Dragons and Vikings used to be enemies, but now live together in harmony (Source: ‘We Are Family Part 1’ Dreamwork’s Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013).

In the finale of the series, entitled “We Are Family,” Hiccup is entrusted with a chest containing Berk’s collected knowledge on dragons, know as “Bork’s Archive.” As the premier authority on dragons, Hiccup is given this “part of our [Berk’s] history” so that he can continue to develop their knowledge. From the way responsibility is passed on, and Hiccup’s reaction to the task, it is clearly a great honour. The knowledge is obviously valued by the community, and he is told to guard it carefully. Hiccup wastes no time in starting to search through this “amazing” archive, demonstrating how useful archives can be.

Hiccup feels honoured when he is given the job of 'archivist' (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk).

Hiccup feels honoured when he is given the job of ‘archivist’ (Source: ‘We Are Family Part1’ Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk).

Later in the episode, Hiccup learns the valuable lesson that not all sources in the archive can be trusted, simply because they come from the archive. Hiccup’s loyal companion Toothless is a rare type of dragon called a Night Fury. No other Night Furies are known to exist on Berk or the surrounding islands. In the archive, Hiccup finds a map to an island of Night Furies called “The Isle of Night,” and promptly sets off to find more of Toothless’ kind. The map turns out to be a fake however, planted in the archive to lure Hiccup into a trap by the evil Alvin the Treacherous. This highlights the importance of finding out as much as possible about where a source comes from, and why it was produced, in order to assess its reliability and possible biases.

The fake source that leads Hiccup into a trap (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013)

The fake source that leads Hiccup into a trap (Source: ‘We Are Family Part 1’ Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013)

So from this one episode of a children’s television show, a lot can be learnt about the value of archives, as well as the precautions that must be taken with them. Although Bork’s Archive is a lot smaller than most archives I have come across, I would argue that it is quite representative of archives as a whole. The people of Berk value Bork’s archive as a source of collected knowledge, and are aware of the archive’s ability to help contemporary knowledge progress further. However, Hiccup learns that just because something is in an archive, doesn’t mean that it is ‘true’ or authentic; the archive can be deceptive. This may seem like a bit of a silly post, but in all seriousness, I think it is important to talk about archives and the methodology of archival research as much as possible, and why shouldn’t we do that through the medium of children’s television? So, if you need a light-hearted teaching aid for archives, or just something fun for your next tea break, you could do worse than checking out Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk.

‘Archaeology by Twilight’ at the Museum of London Archaeological Archive

2014-07-17 19.03.23

Archaelogy by Twilight at the Museum of London Archaelogical Archive (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Last Thursday, I went to the ‘Archaeology by Twilight’ open evening at the Museum of London Archaeological Archive in Hackney. Part of a summer series of tours and events at the archive, the evening included tours, displays of items, spoken word performances and a bar. The archive holds information on almost 8,500 archaeological sites that have been investigated in Greater London over the past century, including many of the items found (http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/collections-research/laarc/). With a huge variety of items, from human remains, medieval hairnets, cars and carriages to board games, horns, and Roman pots, it was a fascinating evening.

My favourite part of the evening was an atmospheric tour around the ceramics and glass archive, with the lights switched off and the chanting of medieval monks playing in the background. Armed with torches, we were let loose amongst the rows of cabinets and shelves, to gaze at pottery that was, in some cases, more than 2,000 years old. Once I got over the sensation that this was exactly how an episode of a murder mystery drama would start, I was struck by the sheer volume of material, each item with a story to tell about London’s past. The further we moved away from the door, towards the back of the room, the further back in time we went, to the Romans and beyond. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was very excited to see so much history in one room!

For me, the evening highlighted the process of museum exhibits. Displays and exhibitions in museums have the air of being complete, an accurate record of the past. This glimpse ‘behind the scenes’ suggested how much work goes into curating an exhibit in a museum. Most of the items in the archive will probably never go on display, what a visitor sees in the galleries of the Museum of London is just a fraction of everything that they hold. One of the most fundamental lessons I have learnt since starting my university education as an undergraduate is to question everything, to take nothing at face value. But I still find myself overlooking things, and welcome being reminded of the complexity and intricacy of seemingly simple things as I was on Thursday evening.

Another element that struck me was the particular materiality of this archive. When imagining archives, most people probably think of documents, records, letters, photos, maps, pieces of paper in various shapes and sizes. And whilst the Archaeological Archive no doubt has this kind of thing too, it also has thousands upon thousands of objects. Listening to the curators on Thursday night it was obvious that huge amounts can be learnt from the collections in the archive. For example, because the volume of material is so large, comparisons can be made between similar objects, leading to more general conclusions about life in London than it would be possible to make from one object. After exploring what the archive has to offer, it’s clear that it does not fit into the stereotypical image of ‘the archive’. Materiality has become a popular topic within geography over recent years, and I can think of at least a few historical geographers who use objects in their research. However I’m sure it is not the sort of research that springs to mind when people think of historical geography (when they think about historical geography at all!). ‘Archaeology by Twilight’ reminded me of the huge variety and potential of archives, which is something I wish that more people knew about!

2014-07-17 20.01.45

The Archaeology by Twilight bar (Photo: Hannah Awcock).