The summer months of June, July and August were prime flying season for Laker Airways – though significant discounts were offered to operators in the off-season, too. The man behind this pioneering budget airline was Sir Freddie Laker who recognised the inaccessibility of air travel for the general public, and identified a gap in the market dominated by British Airways and Pan Am. He subsequently founded Laker Airways and its multiple subsidiaries, which allowed tens of thousands of people to fly transatlantic for the very first time. His legacy paved the way for Ryanair, Virgin, and easyJet and today we take the ability to get cheap plane tickets for granted. Now, the archive documenting the rise and demise of the airline is available to the public at West Sussex Record Office.
What’s in the archive?
The archive consists of around 700 files including correspondence, financial records, reports, publicity, and photographs. The other significant part is the vast amount of press cuttings, in fact 135 files of them, spanning 1974 to 1983. These records document the core activities of not just Laker Airways but also its many subsidiaries including the famous Skytrain Holidays and various other business ventures of Sir Freddie’s such as Aviation Traders, TeleTix, and Jaffcom.
But the archive doesn’t just concern Sir Freddie’s core business activities, there are a significant number of personal papers concerning his family, his home, and the management of Woodcote Stud – an animal breeding venture which bridged a hobby and a business for Sir Freddie.
Perhaps for many the most interesting items in the archive relate to the demise of Laker Airways in the early 1980s. There are numerous financial reports, forecasts, legal papers and affidavits concerning the landmark anti-trust lawsuit brought by Laker against British Airways (BA), Pan Am, TWA, Lufthansa, Air France, Swissair, KLM, SAS, Sabena, Alitalia and UTA.
Sir Freddie Laker and Laker Airways
Sir Freddie began his career in the aviation industry in his early twenties by founding Aviation Traders, a business established in 1947 which traded in surplus aircraft and parts which were plentiful after the end of the Second World War. In 1951 he acquired the airline Air Charter. Not content with just that, Sir Freddie also established Colrich Audio Ltd with his wife Joan around the same time, a company which manufactured records in stereo sound.
Air Charter and Aviation Traders were ultimately absorbed into British United Airways (BUA), of which Sir Freddie became its very first Managing Director when it was founded in 1960. By the time BUA was sold off to Caledonia Airways in 1970, Laker Airways had been established for four years. The archive attests to Sir Freddie’s tenacious approach to identifying opportunity during this period.
Initially, Laker Airways worked as a charter airline, meaning that they rented aircraft and recouped the money by selling fares for seats. They acquired their own fleet of planes a little later on. But Laker Airways was the foundation for the most lucrative but most short lived of Sir Freddie’s aeronautical ventures – Skytrain Holidays.
The Skytrain plane was iconic during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Announced in 1971, Skytrain was a wing of the main company and was created to market cheap transatlantic flights between Gatwick and JFK Airport in New York. The archive includes a press release given at the Savoy Hotel in London, along with a press list. However, it took several years to get permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to operate and it wasn’t until 1977 that the first Skytrain flight took place. Sir Freddie understood the importance of branding and publicity, and the archive has many examples such as a tiny souvenir model Skytrain DC-10, model kits of Skytrain A300s, gaudy summer brochures, and a commemorative certificate for the first Skytrain passenger flight.
Fast forward to 1981, and Laker Airways was suffering under the recession. Along with the recession and some poorly constructed financial forecasts, the final blow was the sudden drop in fare prices by competing airlines including BA and Pan Am. Laker Airways collapsed in 1982 and was declared bankrupt. It remains one of the biggest corporate failures in Britain. What followed was a landmark lawsuit through which Sir Freddie accused several of the biggest airlines of predatory pricing, but it was settled out of court.
The archive preserves the legacy of Sir Freddie Laker and Laker Airways, two significant aspects of British cultural heritage and the history of aviation. The archive has previously been used by authors writing books on Sir Freddie and Laker Airways, and it is hoped it will continue to inform researchers at its new home at West Sussex Record Office.
Alice Millard Project Archivist West Sussex Record Office
Duden’s Lexicon adopts the classic British proclivity for the understatement in its definition of Vergangenheitsbewältigung: “public debate within a country on a problematic period of its recent history…”. The fact is, however, that the term is commonly understood to mean Germany’s coming to terms (or not) with the Holocaust both collectively and on an individual basis.
There has been a proliferation of literature on the subject in the last couple of decades so much so that the Wiener Holocaust Library (WHL) has a whole section dedicated to it. Publications include scholarly analyses of guilt and shame in entire communities at one extreme to personal memoirs detailing how individual families wrestled with the role of their forbears. No doubt the lapse of time since the events themselves has facilitated this dialogue – in many cases initiated by 2nd , 3rd and even 4th generation Germans.
Whilst WHL holds a number of primary source materials from the point of view of the perpetrator, these take the form of published memoirs and diaries of prominent Nazis and reprinted testimony from defendants and witnesses in war crimes trials. The overwhelming majority of the library’s original manuscript diaries letters and personal documents stem from the families of the victims of Nazi persecution.
A rare exception is one letter unearthed amongst the Wiener Library holdings almost 20 years ago. The very recent discovery of it via a description on the portal, Archives Hub https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/gb1556-wl703, has immersed the family of the author in an intense period of soul-searching .
What was for years considered an orphan work bereft of information regarding provenance and custodial history has now been identified as the letter of someone’s father. The full import of the contents sent a shockwave through the family.
Notwithstanding the absence of any contextual information the letter and its envelope always seemed genuine. The extraneous elements bear all the hallmarks of authenticity: the abbreviated regimental markings, the Sütterlin Schrift, even the paper seem to fit. Then when you read the content one is left with little doubt that this is the real thing.
The letter is written by a teenage rank and file member of an SS cavalry regiment temporarily holed up in a medical facility in an unidentified part of Poland in March 1942 to one of his pals in a town called Rückwerda near Litzmannstadt (Lodz). It is essentially a chatty communication, keeping a friend up to date with what’s going on in his life and referring to mutual acquaintances etc. So far, so unremarkable. Then at the end of the first paragraph the author nonchalantly mentions that whilst he was able to get some rest in the hospital, the experience has had its disadvantages, namely:
“Yesterday I missed out on a really great thing. The company raided 3 villages and shot a whole bunch of Polacks”
He immediately resumes recounting the banalities of his daily existence without a pause for breath.
The statement is shocking on a number of levels not least the casual way it is woven into this chatty catch-up communication: the perjorative term he uses for Poles and the collective noun not appropriate for humans (original German: eine ganze Masse von Polacken) indicates a derisive, superior attitude; the raiding of villages suggests non-combatants; the fact that he regretted missing out on the event; the absence of any empathy for the victims; the naivity of the admission; and the sense that his attitude appears not to be untypical all contribute to the portrayal of a mindset at variance with what one would expect in a civilised society.
When I catalogued this letter all those years ago, with the help of a colleague we transcribed and translated it. We also attempted to locate the place (Radau?) with the assistance of an academic who has subsequently published a study of SS Cavalry Brigade:
The item has been available to readers ever since.
Then out of the blue a couple of months ago I was contacted by the husband of a cousin of the author’s son, who had spotted the catalogue description online. Since the name is relatively rare, Emmerich Menzer [i](subsequently corrected to Emmrich), he felt sure that it was his wife’s relative. I sent him a copy of the original and the transcript – they struggled reading the Sütterlin script.
Once they had fully digested the contents my correspondent reported back:
“The transcription you sent us yesterday has shocked all of us and […….] [ii] in particular he finds it hard to believe that his caring, loving father was able to utter his regret for having missed ‘a really big thing’ which involved shooting tens, if not hundreds of innocent civilians…”.
On reflection, he observed how it wasn’t uncommon for perpetrators to lead parallel lives: behave like normal, loving family members and at the same time perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity- one only has to look at the role of concentration camp guards and commandants.
I asked him to supply biographical details and he duly obliged:
“I assume Emmrich grew up in a very conservative to nationalistic household and was certainly influenced very much by his father (the one who bought the weekly NPD newspaper every Saturday after the war). Already in 1934 as a Hitlerjugend member Emmrich was promoted to “Jungzugführer” at the tender age of 9, so joining the Waffen-SS seems to have been the logical path. As you know he was a founding member of the local NPD chapter after the war so he probably still agreed with the Nazi ideology although he didn‘t mention anything to his children. Perhaps he was ashamed of his actions during the war or the felt his attitude would not be welcome in post-war Germany and just shut up. But this is just speculation.”
He had also made the observation that whilst only 17 when he wrote the letter, he was already Oberreiter ie a rank above Reiter which suggests that he had been with the unit for some time. He makes the further point that the riding lessons he is supposed to have undertaken- which he also mentions in the letter – must have been specific to the requirements of the cavalry as he was already an accomplished horseman.
This exceptionally rare survival of an admission to these heinous crimes committed by a Waffen SS Cavalry unit is evidence above all of the power of Nazi ideology on someone who had effectively been groomed from a young age to be one of Hitler’s willing executioners.
Howard Falksohn, Senior Archivist The Wiener Holocaust Library
[i] Note this article was written with the consent of the Emmerich Menzer’s relative. All other names have been omitted.
In 2020 the Cadbury Research Library was successful in our application for funding from the Wellcome Trust to catalogue the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and Youth Hostel Association (YHA) archive collections. We were awarded £235,791 for a two-year project called ‘Healthy Minds and Active Bodies: the promotion of health and wellbeing by UK youth movement’. Both archive collections provide a fantastic body of material regarding work with young people and their physical and mental health, from the development of gymnasiums and outdoor activities and pursuits to educational and vocational courses.
The project employed two Project Archivists, an Archives Assistant, and a part time Project Manager with the aim of producing an online searchable catalogue, and to undertake preservation activities, for both collections. Work started in July 2021 after our previous Wellcome Trust funded project, on the Save the Children archive, was completed. After two years we are delighted to announce the completion of the project and the launch of the collections’ online catalogues during June which will be found here.
The YMCA collection
The National Council of YMCAs’ archive collection dates to the foundation of the YMCA in 1844 and continues to the 21st century covering the various facets of work undertaken during the charity’s long history. The archive primarily concerns the YMCA National Council which was formed in 1882 to support the work, and act as a national voice, of the growing network of local YMCA associations. The archive contains committee minutes and governance papers, project papers, publications and magazines, photographs and slides, and audio-visual material and objects.
The collection also contains a vast range of material regarding YMCA local associations across England, Wales, and Ireland, including prospectuses, programmes, publications, and photographs. Affiliated and associated organisations are also represented within the collection including the YMCA Women’s Auxiliary, formed at the end of the First World War, the YMCA Secretaries Association, and publications from the YMCA World Alliance.
The archive documents the YMCA’s various activities to support young men’s, and later also young women’s, spiritual, mental, and physical health. Their early activities ranged from bible classes, lectures, and educational classes on history, science, and religion. Physical activity was also important with the creation of gymnasiums and sporting competitions, and in America the YMCA invented basketball. The YMCA also prioritised recreational activities and created holiday centres and hosted classes and clubs for drawings, drama, and debating. The YMCA also supported training and employment initiatives, including British Boys for British Farms’ programme, training colleges and Youth in Industry schemes.
Perhaps the most well-known aspect of YMCA’s history has been their work with the armed forces, and in particular the support they provided during the First and Second World Wars. The YMCA created hundreds of canteens and huts to support the welfare needs of troops, munition workers, civilians and Prisoners of War during the First World War. The archives document this work through the ‘Green Books’ series of photographs which have been digitised and are available to view via the catalogue. During the Second World War the YMCA canteen vans were a common sight providing refreshments, including tea and cake, behind the front lines and on the Home Front during the Blitz.
The YMCA has evolved and adapted over its 179-year history to support the needs of the young people it is trying to help and today supports hundreds of thousands of children, young people, and parents every year.
The YHA collection
The YHA (England and Wales) was founded in 1930, following in the footsteps of the world’s first youth hostel association which was founded in Germany in 1909. The movement was set up ‘to help all, especially young people of limited means, to a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside, particularly by providing hostels or other simple accommodation for them on their travels’. From its initial foundation, the YHA expanded rapidly. By the end of 1931, there were 73 hostels open to the 6000 members of the YHA. By 1939, membership had reached 83,000.
Although the national council and committees had overall oversight and handled high-level decision making, much of the day-to-day management of the hostels and membership fell to regional groups. The YHA archive includes national and regional governance records, including an almost complete sequence of national council and committee minutes. As well as recording the development and management of hostels and membership, these records chart YHA’s work in countryside management, outdoor education, and the development of city hostels.
The collection also includes a large section of printed material, including YHA handbooks, guides, maps, and posters and leaflets, a large photograph collection, and property records charting the history of individual hostels, of the day-to-day management of the hostels and membership fell to regional groups.
In addition to these official records, the YHA archive includes personal papers and objects collected by YHA staff, wardens, and hostellers, including diaries, hostel log books, and YHA merchandise. These records compliment the other papers in the archive and provide a more personal view of the YHA and its impact on 20th century society.
Matthew Goodwin YMCA/YHA Project Archivist Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham
Archives of IT (AIT) began when entrepreneur Roger Graham saw the need to interview the founding generation of the IT Industry and save their stories for the future. Up to this point, heritage work was happening to save the history of computers, hardware and games but little was being done to preserve the social and oral history of the people behind the technology.
Archives of IT was registered as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) in 2015, with the aims of educating the public on the history of IT, particularly through the provision of a digital archive, accessible at www.archivesit.org.uk. AIT is governed by trustees, chaired by communications specialist John Carrington, and has a small number of part time staff and a team of volunteers who manage the acquisition of materials, the website and the production of blogs and education resources.
Initially, the focus for interviews has been on early post-war pioneers of IT that were at the forefront of this new industry – the intention to save those stories before time ran out. However, as time has passed interviews have become more contemporary, capturing more current trends in the IT sector, and taking in diverse topics such as women in STEM, infra-red technology, cybersecurity, venture capitalists and wearable health devices.
Oral history interviews
Much has been achieved in AIT’s first seven years, including more than 220 oral history interviews recorded, transcribed, and uploaded to the website for people to view. The first interview was published on the website in 2017; David Potter CBE discusses his life in academia in computer simulation, then his move to the business world establishing Potter Scientific Instruments, or Psion. They invented the world’s first personal digital assistant – the Psion Organiser – in 1984 and advising Nokia in the 1990s as mobile telephone technology began to take off.
Other oral history collection highlights include:
The first UK Professor of Informatics and a pioneer of early commercial computing Professor Frank Land
As part of its charitable aims to contribute to IT education in the UK, AIT have produced primary school learning and careers resources for teachers in collaboration with The Institution of Engineering and Technology. Key Stage 1 and 2 lesson plans have been developed and are available to download on the website. Key Stage 3 and 4 careers advice to encourage pupils to consider a job in IT are also available.
A recent school competition to design a logo for FIFA World Cup 2026 was successful, with nearly 100 entries from UK Schools. This latest competition was linked to the national curriculum by encouraging schoolchildren to use technology purposefully to create, organise, store, manipulate and retrieve digital content to accomplish a given goal.
It also involved history by looking at events beyond living memory that are significant nationally or globally and art, to use drawing to develop and share their ideas, experiences and imaginations and develop a wide range of design techniques using colour, line, shape, form, and space.
Education resources – Research projects
AIT is working with several partners to produce research based on its collections. Published research can be read here on topics ranging from the post Second World War IT Industry to 60 years progress of women working in IT.
A small number of publications have been donated to us by supporters and interviewees, and digitised versions of them can be viewed on our website, alongside other databases and websites hosted independently by people involved in the early years of the IT industry, that may be of use to researchers browsing our website.
The Archives Hub
AIT is a new archive, and non-traditional in that it has no geographical location and is digital only. As it develops, AIT is focusing on improving discovery of its collections on the internet.
As part of these plans, in 2022 we contributed an online resource description to the Archives Hub. This description is intended as a guide to AIT’s website, and it is hoped its presence on the Hub will increase the website’s use by academics and university students. The aim is to contribute a multi-level description of AIT’s collections to the Hub soon.
Identify specific AI technologies that can address critical records and archives challenges
Determine the benefits and risks of using AI technologies on records and archives
Ensure that archival concepts and principles inform the development of responsible AI
Validate outcomes from Objective 3 through case studies and demonstrations
Muhammad focussed on trustworthiness as an issue for Archives. They are looking at using AI to assess and verify the authenticity of Archives through time. The essential research question: Can we develop artificial intelligence for carrying out competently and efficiently all records and archives functions while respecting the nature and ensuring the continuing trustworthiness of the record.
He noted that a fundamental difference between analog and digital records is the fact that analogue materials can be proven and verified on face value and rarely need extrinsic evidence. However for digital materials, extrinsic elements such as metadata are needed. They rely on ‘circumstantial’ evidence such as the integrity of the hosting system as well as the politics, procedures and technology surrounding the digital record.
Muhammad suggests that off-the-shelf tools are not well suited to archives, so within the Archives profession we will have to develop the systems ourselves. We are the only ones who know what to do because we are the professionals. Developers need to talk to archives professionals to find out what they want and design appropriate AI tools for them. The tools need to respect the trustworthiness of the records. The project is looking to influence the development of responsible tools.
The project looks to provide a wealth of tools and code. A very important aspect of the project is training the community. Muhammad suggested that the Archives profession will have to do a great deal of training to engage with AI tools and its possibilities.
Linking AI to Archives and Records, Peter Sullivan
The aim of the talk was to look at combining archival concepts and principles with AI. Peter used the lens of Diplomatic to consider AI solutions and how AI may interact with different components of the record including the context, act, persons, procedure, form and archival bond. Which parts of the archival record are impacted by AI and how does this inform the design of AI tools that respect diplomatic theory?
The most important component is the ‘archival bond’ which covers how aspects of records are related to each other. AI may be poor at looking at records in context of other records, and may not be able to respect the archival bond. Also, AI may not respect the context of the creation of the records and may not be aware of different levels of appraisal used.
AI may be helpful where there are different variations of names and fuzzy matching can be used to reconcile names. This aligns with the Archives Hub Names project. Dealing with records in aggregate may be somewhere AI is able to help, using topic modelling and clustering techniques. This is a use case we have identified ourselves and something we are looking at with the Archives Hub Labs Project. Finally he mentioned the interesting question of how we will archive the artefacts of AI developments themselves.
Model for an AI-Assisted Digitisation Project, Peter Sullivan
Peter talked about how AI is being used to help with the archiving of audio recordings, providing AI generated metadata enrichment. He noted this is very time-consuming to do by hand. Different types of recordings create very different challenges to AI to analyse . For UNESCO audio they are using four models, one for language translation and three for text extraction and text summarisation.
AI and Archives: Basic Requirements, Pilar Campos and Eloi Puertas
The project is aiming to provide a resource for archive professionals to assess AI solutions to help guide decision-making and create recommendations. They will provide a check list to assess AI tool performance. The rationale behind this is that there is a huge amount of interest and concern regarding AI, but a scarcity of implementation examples, along with a lack of knowledge of AI solutions for the professionals in the archives domain. There is also a degree of mistrust of the results of AI.
The expected results of the project are to provide AI knowledge in the archive domain and a list of potential risks for archivists. A SWOT analysis about AI from the Archives viewpoint will be provided, along with an assessment of the balance between our expectations of risk.
Automated Transcription: Palaeography and AI, Thiara Alves and Leonardo Fontes
The talk was essentially about using AI for automated transcription. The speakers talked about using Transkribus for transcription of text from images of documents. They found that most algorithms weren’t good at detecting old versions of Portuguese and Spanish words. The speakers felt that the context provided by the archivist was necessary for the transcribers transcriptions to be useful.
First Steps and Main Expectations from CRDI’s Experience of AI, David Inglésias
David talked about a project looking at being able to search images that haven’t been catalogued, so they don’t have metadata unless it is created by using AI. This ability is very useful for a photographic archive. They work with the Europeana Kaleidoscope project to attempt to provide archival context for images.
AI also allows for innovative new approaches to presenting photographs in addition to the standard historical ways of doing so. AI can be used for clustering photos that appear to be similar or related in someway. This could be something that the Archives Hub could look at also.
I imagine many of you have tried asking ChatGPT questions like these, but we thought it was worth providing this blog, for those who haven’t tried it out. For anyone who has managed to avoid the headlines around this technology, ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI and released in November 2022.
First of all, we wanted to try a question that focussed on using one archive, so we asked:
Can you give me advice on how to write a dissertation on Stanley Kubrick using primary sources or archives?
Certainly, here are some tips for writing a dissertation on Stanley Kubrick using primary sources or archives:
Choose a research question: The first step in writing a dissertation is to identify a research question that you want to explore. This could be anything from analyzing Kubrick’s use of color in his films to examining his working methods and creative process. Make sure that your research question is focused enough to be manageable within the scope of your dissertation.
Identify relevant primary sources and archives: Once you have a research question, you need to identify primary sources and archives that are relevant to your topic. This could include Kubrick’s personal papers, scripts, storyboards, correspondence, and production notes. You can also look for archives and collections related to Kubrick’s collaborators and contemporaries, such as other film directors, writers, or actors.
Conduct a literature review: Before diving into primary sources and archives, conduct a thorough literature review to see what has already been published on your topic. This will help you identify any gaps in the existing research and refine your research question further. It will also give you a sense of the debates and issues within the field that your dissertation will need to address.
Plan your research visits: Before visiting archives, you need to plan ahead and make sure that you have enough time to access and review the materials you need. Some archives have strict access requirements or limited opening hours, so check this in advance. Make a list of the specific documents or materials you need to examine, and plan your research visits accordingly.
Analyze and evaluate primary sources: Once you have access to primary sources, you will need to analyze and evaluate the materials carefully. Make notes of important details, such as dates, locations, and people involved. Look for patterns, themes, and connections in the materials, and identify any contradictions or inconsistencies. Keep in mind the broader research question you are trying to answer, and look for evidence that can support your argument.
Write your dissertation: Once you have reviewed and analyzed your primary sources, you can start writing your dissertation. Make sure to frame your analysis within the broader context of existing scholarship, and use primary sources to support your arguments and interpretations. Use quotations and examples from primary sources to illustrate your points and make your argument more convincing.
Writing a dissertation on Stanley Kubrick using primary sources and archives can be a rewarding and challenging task. Make sure to plan ahead, conduct thorough research, and use primary sources effectively to support your arguments and interpretations.
We then wanted to see how well ChatGPT would summarise the role and value of Archives Hub, so we asked:
How do I use Archives Hub to help with my research?
The Archives Hub can be a valuable resource for researchers who are looking to explore archival collections held in institutions across the UK. Here are some tips on how to use Archives Hub to help with your research:
Search the Archives Hub database: Start by using the search bar on the Archives Hub homepage to search for keywords, names, or locations that are relevant to your research topic. This will bring up a list of archives and collections that match your search terms. You can then click on each archive or collection to view more detailed information, including a description of the materials held, contact information for the holding institution, and links to related collections.
Refine your search: You can refine your search results using the menus on the left-hand side of the page. These menus allow you to narrow your search by institution, keyword, date range, or subject. Use these filters to focus your search on the most relevant materials.
Contact the holding institution: Once you have identified an archive or collection that seems relevant to your research, contact the holding institution to confirm the availability of the materials and to arrange a research visit if necessary. The contact information for each institution is listed on the Archives Hub website.
Plan your visit: Before visiting an archive, make sure to plan ahead and think about what materials you want to examine. Familiarize yourself with the archive’s policies on access and handling of materials, and bring any necessary equipment, such as a camera or laptop. Make sure to take detailed notes during your visit, as well as copies or photographs of any relevant documents or materials.
Follow ethical guidelines: When conducting research in archives, it is important to follow ethical guidelines and practices. This means properly citing your sources, respecting the privacy and confidentiality of individuals mentioned in archival materials, and obtaining permission to use any copyrighted materials. This will help to maintain the trust and cooperation of archival repositories and their staff.
By using the Archives Hub to identify collections and institutions that are relevant to your research, you can gain access to a vast array of archival materials held across the UK. Be sure to plan ahead, follow ethical guidelines, and take detailed notes during your research visits to make the most of these valuable resources.
Both answers are very convincing and it is hard to argue that we would have done better if we had written them ourselves, though we might want to add more information to what is there. The guide for using the Archives Hub seems to utilise text from different parts of our website, including our Guide for Beginners, access information and search help. But the text is not lifted directly – it is far more sophisticated than that. There are many examples of text that does not echo anything we have said on our website and I can’t find the text elsewhere. For example, ChatGPT refers to possible dissertation subjects for Kubrick: ‘analyzing Kubrick’s use of color in his films to examining his working methods and creative process’. There are sentences that widen the scope, for example: ‘Make sure to frame your analysis within the broader context of existing scholarship, and use primary sources to support your arguments and interpretations.’ There are sentiments that I don’t recall seeing stated in quite the same way that ChatGPT has done, for example: ‘This means properly citing your sources, respecting the privacy and confidentiality of individuals mentioned in archival materials, and obtaining permission to use any copyrighted materials. This will help to maintain the trust and cooperation of archival repositories and their staff.’
It is easy to see why ChatGPT is seen as a means to write effectively. Maybe there are questions around what is left out of the above answers, but I would certainly be happy to use them as a basis for our own guidelines.
The Christian Brethren Archive (CBA) is part of the John Rylands Research Institute and Library Special Collections at The University of Manchester, England. The CBA is a world-class collection relating to the Brethren Movement and to congregations which have their roots in the Brethren tradition. This huge resource spans over 250 years and contains literature and records in many different languages in addition to English. The archive grew organically from a small collection of papers donated to the University in 1979 by the influential, evangelical scholar, F.F. Bruce (1910-90), Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at The University of Manchester. The CBA is a living archive, and today we receive communications, enquiries and gifts of material from all around the world.
The collection is managed by a full-time archivist whose work is overseen by an Advisory Group made up of historians and library professionals with Brethren interests and concerns.
Many of the Archive costs are funded through the kindness of private and charitable donations, the remainder are met by The University of Manchester.
Who Are The Christian Brethren?
The Brethren movement was formed by a group of independent Christian congregations who emerged out of Protestant Ireland in the 1820’s. Notable early members were John Nelson Darby (1800-82), Benjamin Wills Newton (1807-99) and George Müller (1805-98). Doctrinal differences caused a split in 1848 which led to the establishment of two distinct Brethren streams, the Exclusive Brethren who were led by John Nelson Darby and the Open Brethren who were led by George Müller. The Exclusive Brethren initially established themselves in Plymouth, Devon, England, giving rise to the group being known as the Plymouth Brethren. Both Brethren streams continue to flourish around the globe today.
What’s In The Archive?
Over 7,000 manuscripts, 18,000 rare books, pamphlets, and tracts, and some 400 series of periodicals, dating from the early nineteenth century to the present. As well as photographs, films, and audio recordings.
There are personal papers relating to personalities among the Brethren, such as founding members John Nelson Darby and Benjamin Wills Newton, as well as records relating to assemblies across the United Kingdom, such as the Church of God in Belfast, Northern Ireland (1897-2018). Important organisations and events are also represented, for example Echoes International (formerly Echoes of Service, missionary support agency) est. 1872, the Devonshire Conferences of 1906 and 1907 (which discussed the terms of fellowship between gatherings of Open and Exclusive Brethren), the Christian Brethren Research Fellowship for 1962–81, and the Swanwick conferences of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.
We regularly collect born digital records, many of which are newsletters and periodicals. These are stored in our digital preservation system, Preservica and made accessible via University of Manchester Collections
The collection provides a rich resource for many disciplines including religion and theology, human geography, culture, history, politics and gender, as well as humanitarian studies and post colonialism.
Recent research has focussed on topics such as women and the Brethren, for example the writer and evangelist Grace Grattan Guinness (1877-1967). Grace documented her travels as she accompanied her husband, Henry Grattan Guinness, a well known orator, on a five-year preaching tour of the world whilst on their honeymoon!
We regularly hold events which aim to show the amazing breadth of material within the CBA. For example, using items from the George Müller archive we participated in the Histories of Care (March 2023). A collections encounter and public roundtable which reflected on the social care and experience of children throughout history and sought to understand how these histories might inform the shape of future childcare. George Müller was the founder and director of the Ashley Down Orphan Homes in Bristol, England. In his lifetime, he cared for 10,000 orphaned children.
Signs of the Times. Maps and Charts of History and Prophecy was a public talk and collections encounter (March 2023) which looked at Brethren thinking about ‘End Times’ or the end of the world and discussed texts and images of apocalyptic imagery from the 8th century to the present day. Led by historians Professor Crawford Gribben, Queen’s University, Belfast, and Dr Andrew Crome, Manchester Metropolitan University, the event provided a unique opportunity to see first-hand some of the CBA’s mysterious maps and charts of prophecy and to get an overview of their history and purpose. A selection of the maps and charts is on display in the Rylands Gallery at The John Rylands Research Institute and Library until 11 November 2023.
Jane Speller, Curator, Christian Brethren Archive Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Browse all The University of Manchester’s Special Collections descriptions to date on Archives Hub
In 1983 the government allocated the papers of Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, the long serving politician and the premier soldier of his generation, to the University of Southampton under national heritage legislation. The collection arrived on 17 March of that year. This brought to Southampton the University’s first major manuscript collection, leading to the creation of an Archives Department and the development of a major strand of activity within the University Library.
Composed of around 100,000 items that cover the Duke’s career as a soldier, statesman and diplomat from 1790 to his death in 1852, the collection bears witness to great military, political and social events of the time. It is exceptional among the papers of nineteenth-century figures for its size and scope.
Wellington’s time in India, 1798-1805, when he made his fortune and his name as a military commander, is well represented by three series of letter books, the first two series arranged chronologically, with the third, covering 1802-5, arranged by correspondent. The sections for the Peninsular War (1808-14) and for the Waterloo campaign provide an unrivalled source for the history of British participation. The collection also includes Wellington’s correspondence and papers for the congresses at the end of the Napoleonic wars and the allied occupation of France, 1815-18, a period when Wellington was a major player on the European political scene.
Wellington was involved in politics throughout his career, serving as an MP in the Irish parliament in the 1780s onwards and as Chief Secretary for Ireland, 1807-9. There is considerable material for his political career post 1818, including two times as prime minister, as well as for his role as Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire and as Commander in Chief of the Army. Amongst the extensive number of cabinet papers, drafted in the Duke’s own hand is the memorandum written by Wellington and Peel setting out the details of the Catholic emancipation act of 1829. Material from his tenure as Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire includes death threats from Captain Swing dating from the Swing riots around the southern counties of England.
As the archive is from the great age of government by correspondence, as well as coinciding with a wider revolution in communication, it contains material from a wide cross section of society. Everyone wrote to the Duke of Wellington, offering the national hero their views on a whole range of subjects, asking for patronage, promotion or assistance, wishing to dedicate their works to him, or asking him to be the godfather of their children or to be allowed to name them after him. In response to one letter, Wellington noted with his usual acerbic wit the inconvenience of calling all boys born on his birth by the name “Arthur”.
The arrival of the Wellington Archive in 1983 was significant in another way in that it marked the beginning of Southampton’s long involvement in automated archive catalogues. The Wellington Papers Database could claim to be one of, if the not the earliest, online archive catalogue in the UK. Investigations into a system to support this were already underway in December 1982, prior to the arrival of the papers. In July 1983 the University decided to develop a manuscript cataloguing system using STATUS software and it was in use for cataloguing material early the following year. The cataloguing was done “offline” by the archivists on BBC microcomputers equipped with rudimentary word-processing packages – but no memory – and all text was saved onto floppy discs. It was subsequently transferred to an ICL mainframe computer for incorporation into the database by batch programme. This being the days prior to the WWW, the initial database was made available by the Joint Academic Network (JANET) and the public switched telephone network. It was initially scheduled to be made available 156 hours a week, rising to 168. In 2023 the catalogue of the Wellington Archive can be accessed in the Epexio Archive Catalogue, a new system that we launched in November 2021.
The collection also came with a major conservation challenge – some ten percent of the collection was so badly damaged it was unfit to handle and in a parlous state. Considerable progress has been made in addressing this. Important material is now available for research, including for the Peninsular War, papers for 1822 (for the Congress of Verona) and for Wellington as Prime Minister in 1829. The badly degraded and mould-damaged bundles from 1832, significant as the time of the First Reform Act, are available for the first time since 1940.
The last forty years also has seen a great deal of outreach and activity focused on the Wellington Archive. As well as research and teaching sessions, drop-in sessions, events and exhibitions, the Archives Department has arranged six international Wellington congresses. In 2015 and 2017 Karen Robson and Professor Chris Woolgar presented a MOOC they had co-created relating to Wellington and Waterloo. And since 1989 there has been the annual Wellington Lecture with speakers or presenters ranging from Elizabeth Longford to Martin Carthy.
In this post I will go through the steps we took to create a human labelled dataset (i.e. naming objects within images), applying the labels to bounding boxes (showing where the objects are in the image) in order to identify objects and train an ML model. Note that the other approach, and one we will talk about in another post, is to simply let a pre-trained tool do the work of labelling without any human intervention. But we thought that it would be worthwhile to try the human labelling out before seeing what the out-of-the-box results are.
I used Amazon SageMaker for this work. In SageMaker you can set up a labelling job using the Ground Truth service, by giving the location of the source material – in this case, the folder containing the Jamson photographs. Images have to be jpg, or png, so if you have tif images, for example, they have to be converted. You give the job a name and provide the location of the source material (in our case an S3 bucket, which is the Amazon Simple Storage Service).
I then decide on my approach. I trained the algorithm with a random sample of images from this collection. This is because I wanted this sample to be a subset of the full Jamson Archive dataset of images we are working with. We can then use the ML model created from the subset to make object detection predictions for the rest of the dataset.
Once I had these settings completed, I started to create the labels for the ‘Ground Truth’ job. You have to provide the list of labels first of all from which you will select individual labels for each image. You cannot create the labels as you go. This immediately seemed like a big constraint to me.
I went through the photographs and decided upon the labels – you can only add up to 50 labels. It is probably worth noting here that ‘label bias’ is a known issue within machine learning. This is where the set of labelled data is not fully representative of the entirety of potential labels, and so it can create bias. This might be something we come back to, in order to think about the implications.
I chose to add some fairly obvious labels, such as boat or church. But I also wanted to try adding labels for features that are often not described in the metadata for an image, but nonetheless might be of interest to researchers, so I added things like terraced house, telegraph pole, hat and tree, for example.
Once you have the labels, there are some other options. You can assign to a labelling team, and make the task time bound, which might be useful for thinking about the resources involved in doing a job like this. You can also ask for automated data labelling, which does add to the cost, so it is worth considering this when deciding on your settings. The automated labelling uses ML to learn from the human labelling. As the task will be assigned to a work team, you need to ensure that you have the people you want in the team already added to Ground Truth.
Those assigned to the labelling job will receive an email confirming this and giving a link to access to the labelling job.
You can now begin the job of identifying objects and applying labels.
First up I have a photograph showing rowing boats. I didn’t add the label ‘rowing boat’ as I didn’t go through every single photograph to find all the objects that I might want to label, so not a good start! ‘Boat’ will have to do. As stated above, I had to work with the labels that I created, I can’t add more labels at this stage.
I added as many labels as I could to each photograph, which was a fairly time intensive exercise. For example, in the image below I added not only boat and person but also hat and chimney. I also added water, which could be optimistic, as it is not really an object that is bound within a box, and it is rather difficult to identify in many cases, but it’s worth a try.
I can zoom in and out and play with exposure and contrast settings to help me identify objects.
Here is another example where I experimented with some labels that seem quite ambitious – I tried shopfront and pavement, for example, though it is hard to classify a shop from another house front, and it is hard to pin-point a pavement.
The more I went through the images, drawing bounding boxes and adding labels, the more I could see the challenges and wondered how the out-of-the-box ML tools would fare identifying these things. My aim in doing the labelling work was partly to get my head into that space of identification, and what the characteristics are of various objects (especially objects in the historic images that are common in archive collections). But my aim was also to train the model to improve accuracy. For an object like a chimney, this labelling exercise looked like it might be fruitful. A chimney has certain characteristics and giving the algorithm lots of examples seems like it will improve the model and thus identify more chimneys. But giving the algorithm examples of shop fronts is harder to predict. If you try to identify the characteristics, it is often a bay window and you can see items displayed in it. It will usually have a sign above, though that is indistinct in many of these pictures. It seems very different training the model on clear, full view images of shops, as opposed to the reality of many photographs, where they are just part of the whole scene, and you get a partial view.
There were certainly some features I really wanted to label as I went along. Not being able to do this seemed to be a major shortcoming of the tool. For example, I thought flags might be good – something that has quite defined characteristics – and I might have added some more architectural features such as dome and statue, and even just building (I had house, terraced house, shop and pub). Having said that, I assume that identifying common features like buildings and people will work well out-of-the-box.
Running a labelling job is a very interesting form of classification. You have to decide how thorough you are going to be. It is more labour intensive than simply providing a description like ‘view of a street’ or ‘war memorial’. I found it elucidating as I felt that I was looking at images in a different way and thinking about how amazing the brain is to be able to pick out a rather blurred cart or a van or a bicycle with a trailer, or whatever it might be, and how we have all these classifications in our head. It took more time than it might have done because I was thinking about this project, and about writing blog posts! But, if you invest time in training a model well, then it may be able to add labels to unlabelled photographs, and thus save time down the line. So, investing time at this point could reap real rewards.
In the above example, I’ve outlined an object that i’ve identified as a telegraph pole. One question I had is whether I am are right in all of my identifications, and I’m sure there will be times when things will be wrongly identified. But this is certainly the type of feature that isn’t normally described within an image, and there must be enthusiasts for telegraph poles out there! (Well, maybe more likely historians looking at communications or the history of the telephone). It also helps to provide examples from different periods of history, so that the algorithm learns more about the object. I’ve added a label for a cart and a van in this photo. These are not all that clear within the image, but maybe by labelling less distinct features, I will help with future automated identification in archival images.
I’ve added hat as a label, but it strikes me that my boxes also highlight heads or faces in many cases, as the people in these photos are small, and it is hard to distinguish hat from head. I also suspect that the algorithm might be quite good with hats, though I don’t yet know for sure.
I used ‘person’ as a label, and also ‘child’, and I tended not to use ‘person’ for ‘child’, which is obviously incorrect, but I thought that it made more sense to train the algorithm to identify children, as person is probably going to work quite well. But again, I imagine that person identification is going to be quite successful without my extra work – though identifying a child is a rather more challenging task. In the end, it may be that there is no real point in doing any work identifying people as that work has probably been done with millions of images, so adding my hundred odd is hardly going to matter!
I had church as a label, and then used it for anything that looked like a church, so that included Beverly Minster, for example. I couldn’t guarantee that every building I labelled as a church is a church, and I didn’t have more nuanced labels. I didn’t have church interior as a label, so I did wonder whether labelling the interior with the same label as the exterior would not be ideal.
I was interested in whether pubs and inns can be identified. Like shops, they are easy for us to identify, but it is not easy to define them for a machine.
A pub is usually a larger building (but not always) with a sign on the facade (but not always) and maybe a hanging sign. But that could be said for a shop as well. It is the details such as the shape of the sign that help a human eye distinguish it. Even a lantern hanging over the door, or several people hanging around outside! In many of the photos the pub is indistinct, and I wondered whether it is better to identify it as a pub, or whether that could be misleading.
I found that things like street lamps and telegraph poles seemed to work well, as they have clear characteristics. I wanted to try to identify more indistinct things like street and pavement, and I added these labels in order to see if they yield any useful results.
I chose to label 10% of the images. That was 109 in total, and it took a few hours. I think if I did it again I would aim to label about 50 for an experiment like this. But then the more labels you provide, the more likely you will get results.
The next step will be to compare the output using the Rekognition out of the box service with one trained using these labels. I’m very interested to see how the two compare! We are very aware that we are using a very small labelled dataset for training, but we are using the transfer learning approach that builds upon existing models, so we are hopeful we may see some improvement in label predications. We are also working on adding these labels to our front end interface and thinking about how they might enhance discoverability.
Thanks to Adrian Stevenson, one of the Hub Labs team, who took me through the technical processes outlined in this post.
The collection charts the history of the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail, located at Beechenhurst Lodge in the heart of the Forest of Dean. In 1983, following the establishment of a sculpture trail in Exeter Forest, Martin Orrom (Forestry and Environment Officer, Forestry Commission) wrote a brief for the establishment of a sculpture trail in the Forest of Dean. The Elephant Trust provided £2,500 towards the project and in Spring 1984 around 20 artists were invited to visit the site and submit proposals for sculptures. Martin worked alongside Jeremy Rees (Founding Director of The Arnolfini, Bristol) and Rupert Martin (Curator at The Arnolfini). Six artists were chosen and these founding commissions were collectively titled “Stand and Stare”:
Peter Appleton – Sound Sculptures Kevin Atherton – Cathedral Andrew Darke – Sliced Log Star (Inside Out Tree) Magdalena Jetelova – Place David Nash – Black Dome/ Fire and Water Boats Keir Smith – The Iron Road
The trail was opened on 19 June 1986 by Sir David Montgomery, Chair of the Forestry Commission. By 1988, a second batch of sculptures had been installed including:
Bruce Allan – Observatory Zadok Ben David – As There Is No Hunting Tomorrow Miles Davies – House Ian Hamilton Finlay – Grove of Silence Tim Lees – The Heart of the Stone Cornelia Parker – Hanging Fire Peter Randall-Page – Cone and Vessel Sophie Ryder – Crossing Place/ Deer/Searcher
Since 1986, over 30 sculptures both temporary and permanent have been sited on the Sculpture Trail. The Forest is a living place, and the sculptures have come and gone leaving a mark on visitors and locals alike. Magdalena Jetelová’s ‘Place’, locally known as ‘Giant’s Chair’, was a huge chair sculpted from oak beams looking out over the landscape. It was originally planned as a temporary sculpture to be charcoaled in-situ, but this was deemed too dangerous. ‘Place’ remained on the trail for nearly 30 years before being decommissioned in 2015. It was dismantled and the wood turned to charcoal, reflecting one of the past industries of the forest, with the charcoal creating new artwork.
The Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust was established in 1988 as a registered charity overseeing the maintenance of the trail and commissioning new works. The trail is owned and managed by Forestry England. Since 2011, the Trust has deposited the archive of the trail with the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham. Material covers both the administrative and artistic processes involved. Formats encompass documents, books and publications, leaflets, drawings, videos, a maquette and other ephemera. There is even part of the original bark from ‘Place’ and some of the charcoaled sculpture. The collection has proved popular with arts students both at the university and wider afield. Both the trail and the archive continue to grow as the landscape evolves.