Uncovering relics from the past or charting the heritage of a local community can be a painstaking and frustrating process for the amateur historian or archaeologist, often hampered by limited time and funding.
Now, a new project being led by The University of Nottingham could offer a helping hand to East Midlands voluntary groups interested in delving into their local history by opening up access to the expertise and resources of professional arts and humanities researchers.
The Writing our History and Digging our Past project will give the local community groups the chance to work with researchers for six months investigating a specific archaeology or history topic and could increase their chances of attracting further funding to continue their studies in the future.
The Writing Our History and Digging Our Past project will be presented at a workshop for local historians and archaeologists at the Imperial Rooms in Matlock, Derbyshire, on Saturday March 31 from 10.30 am to 4pm.
Professor Liz Harvey, Head of the School of Humanities, said: “This presents a real opportunity to bring local volunteers with a keen interest in heritage together with University of Nottingham academics for the benefit of the whole community.
“We see this as a process of genuine knowledge exchange — it will offer our arts and humanities researchers valuable experience of public and community engagement while opening up access to knowledge and resources that in normal circumstances may be out of reach of voluntary groups and societies.”
The project is being funded under the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Connected Communities initiative, which aims to encourage understanding of the changing nature of communities and community values and the impact which their heritage and cultural contexts have on our quality of life.
The University of Nottingham has been awarded £25,000 by the initiative, £5,000 of which has been earmarked as a ‘Challenge Fund’ specifically for community projects. The voluntary organisations will be able to join forces with a Nottingham academic to bid for a grant of £500 which will fund a specific local heritage project for a period of six months.
The money could support site visits, the costs of gathering research materials, recording people’s memories, documenting customs and traditions, and presenting the results of the project. It is hoped the money will also put the groups in a stronger position to bid for other pots of cash available through organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund to allow their project to continue on in the future.
The Connected Communities funding will also be used by arts and humanities academics at the University to deliver a series of open days and workshops showcasing research excellence and to further develop their university’s links with organisations including Derbyshire County Archives and Derby City Council local libraries, Yorkshire Archaeological Trust, the National Trust and Durban House, home to the DH Lawrence visitors’ centre.
Academics at the University already have longstanding relationships with local history and archaeological groups and works with volunteers on many of its existing research projects.
Among the examples are:
• Fieldwork in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, which is combining a range of desk-based and archaeological survey techniques including test-pitting in the gardens of local residents, geophysics and fieldwalking to examine how the area has developed from the Roman period to the present day.
• The Victoria County History (VCH), a project aimed at publishing a concise history of every parish in England, based on a systematic study of primary evidence. Academics Professor John Beckett and Mr Philip Riden have been working with volunteers to research the history of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
• John Player’s Advertising Archive Knowledge Transfer Partnership, in collaboration with Nottingham Museums and Galleries, which has catalogueda collection of more than 20,000 objects from the Nottingham tobacco company’s history including original show cards, packaging, tin and enamel signs and merchandise for academic and public use. The project has involved former employees who have shared their knowledge of the company’s history and it aims to continue gathering these testimonies.
Dr Will Bowden, who is one of the academic leads on the Southwell Fieldwork project, said: “In Southwell, local volunteers work together with students in the excavation team and allow us to literally dig in their gardens, giving us the opportunity to map archaeological deposits across the town. The research simply could not happen without community involvement.
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