D'Arcy Thompson Tower Lecture Theatre, University of DundeeThe great thing about not having a ‘proper’ job is that you get to sample a whole range of ways to earn a living each week, and this week was a classic case in point. At the moment, I’m finishing writing a course on house history for the University of Dundee – specifically the Centre for Archive and Information Studies – as part of their Masters courses. It has been a really interesting exercise; having already written a book on the subject, I’ve had a large amount of information to draw upon. However, shaping it into a coherent learning resource has been quite challenging, especially when creating a series of exercises and tasks for each unit. Since I’ll also be teaching the course from January, it has really made me think about how we go about research, and how much we take things for granted. There’s an intuitive nature to local searching, whether property-based or genealogical. Beyond the keyword search facility on a commercial website or composite archive catalogue, our true skills have usually been honed over a prolonged period of time working from card catalogues, contemporary indexes, and years of experience and experimentation in obscure record series and collections. After a while, you develop a sixth sense and can almost second-guess where the most likely resources to track down an elusive ancestor are going to be. This is why it can be infuriating to hear family, house, local or even social history described as a ‘hobby’. Try distilling years of search experience in disparate record offices into a six unit course; it’s not that easy, but hopefully it will encourage people to use property as a means of understanding how a community evolved over time, and link this with the story of the people who lived there – our ancestors.

I’ve also been engaging with other sections of academia, most notably King’s College London where I was talking to the Head of Humanities about some exciting potential future projects in the realm of digital and public history; watch this space for more details throughout 2012. Discussions around ancestral tourism have also been progressing, with a planned seminar taking shape to work on potentially three regional networks. This will be a major area of growth in the coming years, and I’m delighted to be a part of this initiative. I also attended the User Advisory Group meeting at The National Archives, where strategic issues were discussed from a user perspective. This is a really useful group that’s formed up, representing various sectors – family history, independent research, online users, academics and others – and we are working to ensure your views are conveyed to the decision makers at TNA.

Today was great fun, filming Episode 4 of the vodcast at the Society of Genealogists. A huge, massive thank you to Else Churchill, the resident genealogist and expert communicator, who not only allowed us to film there but also provided two excellent interviews – a practical explanation of how researchers can find amazing documents in the Society’s collections, as well as a sneak peek behind the scenes to look at some of the treasures that they hold. Else also revealed her favourite item in the collection… You can see this episode in a couple of months’ time. Episode 2 was released this week, featuring Jonathan Foyle’s mysterious wooden chest, and a behind the scenes look at Stowe – a World Monument Fund project. Next month, we visit the Institution of Civil Engineers to find out how to trace our ancestors who literally built the world around us.

Cheers

Nick

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