Archives aLive: A Widening Participation Project at the MRC

Belén Higueras Vicente, an undergraduate History & Sociology student, talks about the Archives aLive outreach project at the  Modern Records Centre

Since November, I have been part of a programme organised by the sociology department here at Warwick called “Routes to Sociology”. The program’s aim is to bridge the gap between the university and surrounding schools and colleges through working with students who might not be considering applying for a place at University or are maybe the first in their family to consider higher education. This is how I got involved with the Archives aLive project at the Modern Records Centre. This project shares the aims of the Routes to Sociology programme but with a focus on exploring and developing research skills by, for example, handling with authentic archive material; thinking critically about the implications of these sources and gaining an understanding of effective research dissemination.

Throughout June, students from Westwood Academy and Bilton School joined us for a series of workshops. Our first session introduced them to archive material and helped students to develop source analysis skills; the second introduced the theme of unemployment and students conducted research into this topic using selected archive sources; the third session was dedicated to exploring unemployment through a sociological perspective; and in the final session, the students produced a creative response to their research.

During the first session, students from both schools were introduced to archive material and its analysis.  Although students were comfortable working with all the archives, they told us that it is not something they normally engage with, as they focus more on analysing sources printed out on a paper rather than live ones. They were also surprised to find out that the archives they were looking at ranged from a plate, to a confirmation certificate in German, to comic strips.

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Unlike the students, I actually have worked with archives before. I am a first year History and Sociology student here at Warwick, and a part of one of the first year modules “Making History” is creating a research project focusing on the close analysis of up to three primary sources. I took a look at many different archives when deciding what to focus on, and when trying to find archives that would combine well together. I finally decided to go with two different letters, translated from German, which focused on an intellectual and political controversy in the late 1980s in West Germany about the crimes of Nazi Germany. I chose to focus on this two sources because it touched on a topic that was new for me but during a time period a very much enjoy. Some of the other archives I took a look at were Belfast Street murals, television interviews and music videos. These are just some examples that show that archives can be highly varied and diverse. From what I saw when conducting the sessions, this is one of the things that struck the students the most, in a good way. They also felt that working with the real archives, as compared to working with sources in text books, was much more enjoyable and engaging, as they got a better feeling of the time and place the archive source was set.

Overall, the first session with both schools was a success! It was so rewarding to see students enjoying the analysis and participating in discussions, be it with the other students, their teachers or us, the helpers. It was delightful to be able to see the different ways they tackled the analysis and it was enlightening especially because we got to see so many different perspectives on the same archives.

Read about the second session next week! 

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