Friday, 20 April 2012

Archives, Artefacts, Amateurs and Academics

As I write, I am on a train winging my way to Derby. Why, I hear you ask? I am attending an important conference entitled ‘Archives, Artefacts, Amateurs and Academics’ run by the Historical Model Railway Society (HMRS) and the Business Archives Council (BAC). Honestly, all the delegates are going into the unknown on this one.

The purpose of the conference is to explore issues surrounding railway archives. One thing I hope will be touched on is the inescapable fact that the average age of the railway enthusiast is rising and many are, sadly, passing on. Yet, the majority of these departing enthusiasts have, across a lifetime of dedication to the railways, collected large collections of archival material from the railways of the past. So, the conference is hoping to address the issue of what happens to these archives when these people pass on. Is there a framework that can be put into place? How do we avoid document collections being thrown in the bin by enthusiasts’ families who, through no fault of their own, have no knowledge of their value to railway and business historians? Additionally, how do we promote amongst the general public the idea that railway documents can be found homes and there are archives willing to take them?

Secondly, we will be discussing individuals’ personal document collections in the context of these archives. For example, how would the family of a deceased individual approach an archive to have the material stored? Would the archive even want the material? Indeed, when railway collections are accessioned into stock, how is this made known to historians? Therefore, the conference is not just bringing together railway enthusiasts and academics; it is also being attended by archive and museum professionals to get their input.

Ultimately, there is a lot of work to be done today and tomorrow, and I look forward to tackling some of these challenges. We don’t know what the product of the conference will be, but I am very sure that it will be the start of something big. Throughout the next two days I will be tweeting interesting points from the conference using the hashtag #AAAA2012. Please use it and hopefully what comes out of the conference will stimulate discussion and debate. Additionally, on Sunday I will post a full conference report from my perspective. So, get on board…

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