Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Where did A2SN come from? Keith Harcourt and Roy Edwards

In 2011 the authors became increasingly concerned that in the UK and Europe the financial climate and public sector cuts were impinging on the museum, libraries and archives sector. 

In a paper, given at the Conference of the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic and Mobility (T2M), in Berlin, November 2011,  we began to express the need for all those who use archives and artefacts, whatever the formal and informal definitions of those categories may be, to work together.   We suggested that we urgently need to address ways in which the Academy and the Amateurs can better use their knowledge to protect the business and transport and other heritage collections of whatever sort. 

Much is being done by societies of enthusiasts, to maintain, archive, document, and preserve the transport and other heritage legacies world wide.  In the UK some of these societies have taken advantage of Apprenticeship Schemes and are training young people to continue the work.  In particular we note that “Modern Image” railway transport preservation, aviation, computer and road vehicle heritage enthusiasts, have a younger age profile.  But the pool of professionally experienced volunteers in all fields is, almost by definition, ageing and action must be taken, particularly to maintain the records of transport and other companies.

Some of the questions we debated in our paper are as follows. How can the community of amateur historians and enthusiasts work with those in the academic/education community to ensure that these records will be available for future generations to use?  Academics and amateurs can no longer assume the availability of source material ‘as of right’. How best can the community of archivists, enthusiasts and academics engage to facilitate the use of records and ensure ‘private’ collections are kept safe?  Can we spread the use of such records to include school education? The work of the Education and Outreach team at the UK National Archives (TNA) indicates that we can.

The survival of records and artefacts is best ensured by their use, NOT just by the academy but in the wider educational community.  The history of business, technology, transport and mobility is, we contend, an effective tool to encourage the young to think about, engage with and possibly enter the professions, occupations and crafts associated with them as well as providing ongoing satisfaction for the many who engage in research either for pleasure or as a part of the academic world.  

Crucially we believe that we need to establish how best we can engage with the wider public and tell the engaging stories of business and technology, thus allowing archives and artefacts to be used more widely. If any doubt the power of mass participation, we suggest that the changes in structure and operations at the TNA to accommodate the numbers of ordinary people, companies and organisations wishing to use the records to research family history is an excellent case in point. 
The former LMS School of Transport in Derby, opening venue of the 2012 Workshop. Now called the Derby Conference Centre it provides wonderful accommodation and conference facilities.
These ideas led to us persuading our respective organisations to support the running of a Workshop in Derby, during November, 2012.  At the beginning we jointly thought that possibly twenty or so people from amongst those that we knew might  support us.  We were delighted to find that within a few days of the Workshop being announced the bookings flooded in. Forty-eight people gathered for the opening session and we were delighted.  Eminent speakers, some of whom traveled long distances, also agreed to address the gathering and give us of their expertise. 

Kiara King of the Ballast Trust speaking at the Derby Workshop
Not only was the Workshop successful in bringing together a number of like minds from a range of disciplines, but it bought to light events of which we were not aware before.  Significant archives are being digitised  and made available via the Internet and we believe, that as long as the original paper or electronic record is preserved in deep storage, that can only be positive.  Examples are numerous, though as yet not by any means complete, however we feel that we can point in particular to the huge progress made by Network Rail  (the UK’s Rail Infrastructure Provider) in beginning to make their vast archive available via their website.  Another group that has caught our eye is the Great Eastern Railway Society (GERS), who as volunteers have funded the digitisation of the Staff Magazines of the Great Eastern and London North Eastern Railway Companies as well as that of British Rail Eastern Region.  These magazines are now available for purchase as word searchable pdf files on DVDs which the GERS have had produced and are a wonderful source for British transport historians (www.gersociety.org.uk). There are many other examples in other fields and perhaps it is erroneous to single out these two, but they are within our joint experience. We are aware that the above examples are from transport history, A2SN is however about about much more than that.  Maritime, Postal, Business, Economic History, as well as Industrial Archaeology, are all subjects we continue to explore

One of the 2012 Workshop delegates, John Scott, Chairman of the Culture, Heritage & Libraries Committee of the City of London Corporation, was sufficiently impressed that he gave impetus, support and aid to a second conference. The Beating Heart of London’s Business which was held at the London Metropolitan Archives, the Museum of London Docklands on 12th and 13th April, 2013, with a Guildhall Reception hosted by the City of London Corporation and addressed by Kenneth Ayres, Chief Commoner of the City of London.  The Postal History Society has also become one of our supporting organisations.

John Scott speaking at the London Conference

We have also progressed our group of colleagues and from a group without title, we have now become the Archives and Artefacts Study Network (A2SN). A2SN is not yet another organisation, it is a loose group of people from a wide variety of disciplines who are willing to explore the concept, that amateurs, academics, archivists, antiquarians and many others study, use archive and conserve prime source historical material in whatever form it exists.  A2SN simply provides forums where people can meet; extending their thinking and learning by talking to, and working with others whom, in the normal course of pursuing their occupation or their hobby, they might not meet. 

One of our purposes is to expand our experience, so if any of you would like to join in, and it is free,  please talk to us and/or attend our workshops and conferences. The next one will be in Leeds on 16, 17 May, 2014 at Armley Industrial Museum. Most importantly please let us know of projects, people or societies that you have come across and think are innovative so that we can help them gain a wider audience. We are developing a web presence, but for now contact academic-liaison@hmrs.org.uk

Friday, 19 April 2013

Images from the A2SN 2013 conference - 12th and 13th April

The 2013  Archives and Artefacts Study Network Conference was held on the 12 and 13 April at the London Metropolitan Archives and the Museum of London Docklands. Academics, Archivists, Amateurs and Archaeologists from various organisations attended to explore how they could work together to further our knowledge of business history, discover previously unknown sources of information and utilise archives to their full potential. A productive, interesting and enjoyable time was had by all and we look forward to the conference in 2014.


Richard Wiltshire (LMA), Keith Harcourt and Dr. Roy Edwards introduce the conference.
Geoff Pick, Director of the London Metropolitan Archives, welcomes delegates to the archive.
John Scott of the Postal History Society talks about the use of Postal History.
Keith Harcourt
Vicky Parkinson and Dr. Adrian Steel discussed the archival holdings of the British Postal Museum and Archives.
Jeremy Smith of the London Metropolitan Archives talking on the construction of the
Metropolitan Railway 1863

Kevin Sheahan of the London Metropolitan Archives talking on the construction of the
Metropolitan Railway 1863
Tamara Thornhill talks about the archives held by Transport for London.
Richard Wiltshire gave a tour 'behind the scenes' of the London Metropolitan Archives.
Richard Wiltshire talks about the Chubb Archive which is held at the London Metropolitan Archives.
Pam Doddy described volunteers' work on the Chubb Collection at the LMA.
Dr. David Evans discusses locks and the Lock Collector's Association.
ClaireTwinn, Global Functions Archives Manager at HSBC, giving her talk on the HSBC archive.
John Purser describing the work of the Banking History Society

 DAY 1 - Evening Reception

John Scott, Chairman of the City of London Corporation's Culture, Heritage and Libraries Committee, welcomes delegates to London's Guildhall.


Kenneth Ayres, Chief Commoner of the City of London, spoke about the richness of the City's business archives.


Professor David Perrett of the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society talked on 'The Remains of London's Business.'
Dr. Mary Mills discussing the industry of Greenwich.
Claire Frankland, archivist of the Port of London Archive, talks about the archive and how the river was run.

Professor Sarah Palmer of the University of Greenwich presents on the 'Running the River' project, investigating stakeholders and the environmental governance of the River Thames, 1960-2010.
Dr. Vanessa Taylor who is also working on the 'Running the River' project
Tim Procter, curator of archive and library collections at the National Railway Museum, discussed railway ephemera (with Dr. Roy Edwards).
Tim Procter of the NRM
Beverley Cook, curator of Social and Working History at the Museum of London talks about cataloguing Ephemera.
Dr. Kevin Tennent and Dr Simon Mollen talk about the challenge of reconstructing business' history without using archives.

Richard Herbert, of the Herbert Group, discussed his company's 250 year history and its archive.

Dr. Roy Edwards and Keith Harcourt close the conference.


Thursday, 21 March 2013

A2SN Conference 2013 - The Beating Heart of London’s Business

The Beating Heart of London’s Business
Exploring Company Archives
- Their Uses and Users
12-13 APRIL 2013

This two-day conference, organised by A2SN and supported by the Postal History Society, the Business Archives Council and the Historical Model Railway Society is the second in a series begun in 2012.

The conferences seek to explore and expand co-operation between volunteer-led societies involved in business history fields and the academics, archivists and museum professionals working in the same areas. The events aim to prompt an awareness of what these various groups are doing, and to start a dialogue between the enthusiast and academic which may lead to co-operation in preserving and using collections, and furthering our understanding of the past and its relevance to the future.

London, as a venue for the second conference, has been facilitated by John Scott, Chairman of the Culture, Heritage & Libraries Committee of the City of London Corporation, who is one of our speakers. The event is hosted by London Metropolitan Archives and Museum of London Docklands and themes of trade and commerce are drawn from holdings in their care. London is a world-renowned centre for business, a place where the means of communication, written, electronic and physical, come together. It is not surprising therefore to find a vast array of business archives held in archival repositories in and around the City. Whatever your passion, we aim to give you new opportunities, avenues of exploration and fresh insights.

An application form can be found on the Business Archives' Council's website.