Developing 'Archive Taster' Sessions (2013-2015)

The Angus Library and Archive is the leading collection of Baptist history and heritage worldwide. It contains more than 70,000 items relating to the life and history of Baptists in Britain and beyond. With funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Baptist Union Newington Court Fund, The Angus is running a new programme of outreach activities and events to help engage more people with the collection.

'Archive taster sessions' offer students challenging and intriguing activities framed around historical individuals with a story to tell. The focus was on giving students the opportunity to handle 'real' historical items, such as original correspondence, diaries and photographs, and to use these in developing their enquiry skills and thinking about the value and reliability of different sources.

Angus Library and Archive have developed two archive taster sessions:

  • The life of Dr Ellen Farrer - pioneer female doctor
    Through handling original photographs, letters, diaries and other objects, students pieced together information to create a presentation on the life of Dr Ellen Farrer. Students were encouraged to assess the relative value of historical sources, and investigate the difficulties Dr Ellen Farrer faced as a woman doctor and the first Baptist Medical Missionary to travel to India in 1891.
  • The life of Rev William Knibb - abolitionist
    Using original material from the archive, students pieced together information to create a presentation on the life of Rev. William Knibb. Students examined Knibb's involvement in the campaign against slavery and Jamaica's largest slave rebellion in 1831. Students looked at Knibb's achievements within the broader context of the abolition movement and Britain's involvement with the slave trade.

Working in partnership

As part of widening access to The Angus, the Archive Taster sessions were piloted through IntoUniversity, a charity which 'supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to obtain either a university place or another chosen aspiration.' This partnership helped reach the target audience of Year 10/11 students who had no experience of studying in an archive setting.

Working with the Angus Library and Archive, an Oxford college, fulfilled some of IntoUniversity's own objectives and  the Angus Library and Archive included some experiences of 'university life' within the day. Regent's Park College students helped with the activities, and answered questions about applying for university and university life.

Responding to challenges

  • Selecting relevant original source materials which were able to withstand being handled by those unfamiliar with working in an archive

    Students and visiting staff were given a 15 minute 'object handling' lesson prior to using the archive. All photographs and letters were placed in melinex sheets to protect them. Volunteers and staff monitored the use of the original source materials
  • Developing activities which appealed to a range of abilities

    Students were encouraged to ask questions and were supported by volunteers throughout the Archive Taster Session. Students were asked to work in pairs to discuss their ideas and feedback to the group. The nature of the objects meant that every student had something to say about the original source they examined
  • Ensuring the source materials were accessible. For example, students found a number of the letters used to support the activities on William Knibb difficult to decipher

    Students were asked to attempt to read the letters, and then offered a typed transcript of the letters. Allowing students to try to read the original letters before offering a transcript demonstrated some of the difficulties faced when using an archive
  • Demonstrating the strength of the archive

    At the end of the Archive Taster Session, students were given time to ask more questions about The Angus. Archive staff produced oldest bound item, the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), as an exciting item to finish the day with. Students were allowed to carefully turn a page in the Nuremberg Chronicle, and were told about older binding methods and the use of woodcut illustrations. This fed into a discussion about the 'treasures' of The Angus and left students with the impression that they only saw a small sample of what is held in the library and archive, encouraging them to think about exploring archives further to find more 'hidden gems'
  • Gathering feedback from a large group with limited time

    Students were asked to write one sentence about their experience at the Archive Taster Session on a post-it note. Teachers and Into University staff were provided with a link to an online survey which they completed externally

Participant feedback

'Having access to the archives and university experts was a privilege and it is days like these that really stand out in the memory of the students we work with.' - IntoUniversity Education Worker

'Fun, educational, and a new experience.' - GCSE Student

'I learnt how to analyse first-hand sources, to […] tell a life of someone I have never learnt about [before].' - AS Level Student

'I'm touching history!' - GCSE student

Developing the work in the future

The Angus will continue to run archive taster sessions beyond the duration of the HLF project. Links to IntoUniversity are strong, and the aim is for the College Librarian to run sessions with the help of volunteers. The Angus would like to expand the reach of the archive taster sessions by encouraging local schools to take part.

Find out more about the project.