National Fairground Archive


Over the last three years the National Fairground Archive (NFA) has undertaken a strategic approach to outreach linking the archive with teaching and research at the University of Sheffield. Building on existing relationships between the University Library and University departments, staff engaged with academics by presenting archival material which matched their teaching areas. Identifying different themes and researching material within the archive was a key feature of the project. This approach was strengthened further by developing a ‘scaffolding’ approach and creating a web resource based on ‘The Sheffield Jungle’, a large travelling menagerie that occupied a vacant hall in the city for two periods of six months prior to the First World War.

Initial challenges

  • Initial enthusiasm shown by academic staff sometimes failed beyond the initial planning and discussion stages
  • Some academic departments expressing an interest were unable to incorporate the material into their current curriculum
  • In one case, second year students were encouraged to use the National Fairground Archive to look at primary and secondary sources for a historiography module in preparation for the dissertation. However some students failed to visit the archive while those who did, expected the archive to be available on loan like library material

Responding to the initial challenges

Creating ‘The Sheffield Jungle’:

  • Selecting a key but little known event in the history of Sheffield, ‘The Sheffield Jungle’. This event was well represented in the collections held at the National Fairground Archive but few secondary sources about the event were yet published
  • Developing a structured ‘scaffolding exercise’ and developing a simple website dedicated to the story of ‘The Sheffield Jungle’ aimed at a wide and non-specific audience
  • Students were encouraged to undertake research in the archive, the outputs of which could then be published on the website in research areas
  • Research areas were themed according to academic areas. These areas acted as scaffolding on which to develop links with academic departments around History, Cultural Studies, Archaeology, Architecture, Geography and Urban Planning. The opportunity to publish the research on the website and reach a wider audience was an incentive for the academic departments to take part


  • Students undertaking a post graduate degree work gained experience in the ‘making history public’ module. Students used the NFA resources to create two key threads of research that were added as stand-alone articles to the project website
  • Undergraduate English students used the website as inspiration for the ‘Animals in Literature’ module – with students then engaging with the wider NFA materials
  • The archaeological e-theme into the Sheffield Jungle inspired a dissertation from an undergraduate Archaeology student.
  • Undergraduate archaeology students had traditionally completed a study on the changing nature of a local space, and material on the website enabled them to use the space of the Sheffield Jungle as their focus area for field work

What went well? What didn’t go quite as well?

  • Developing relationships with departments in the Faculty of Arts was successful due to the flexibility in their curriculum
  • The scaffolding approach to the Sheffield Jungle website site helped focus academic engagement
  • An apparent natural link with Engineering – the connection with the engineering of fairground rides – met with less success as a more vocationally driven curriculum meant more constraints

Developing this work in the future

  • Continuing to engage with academic departments through using the ‘Sheffield Jungle’ framework
  • Developing new projects using the same scaffolding approach

Find out more about the project.