imageThree key issues dominating the news this week – the strike by public sector workers over pension reform; the launch of the first tranche of newspapers digitized by Find My Past from the British Library collections; and the news that Michael Gove will stick to his guns about the history curriculum (well, I suppose that’s technically last week but I still want to talk about it!)

I’m not going to say too much about the strike, because it’s been over ten years since I had a ‘proper’ job in the public sector at what is now The National Archives, so I’m a little out of touch. My recent involvement in 2009/2010 with the campaign to prevent TNA making 10% cuts that might affect front line services – or at least to consult properly with the public – has emphasised that employees in the archive sector are generally a dedicated, professional and very hard working group of people who have to not only deal with their growing collections, as well as us, the public; but on occasion a lack of recognition that the work that they perform goes far beyond simply producing or preserving documents. We, as users, need to make persuasive arguments to the funding bodies that archives make a massive contribution to our local and national economies, as well as enrich our cultural heritage and can provide an integral part of our children’s education. Yes, many staff have protected pensions, but we should also remember that for the most part they get paid far less than in the private sector. Does that give them the right to strike? Possibly, possibly not; but it does not give us the right to criticize their genuine concerns about the future, because archives are a soft target when the cuts start to bite.

Find My Past launched the first tranche of digitized images from the British Newspaper Library’s collection to much acclaim on 29 November. This promises to be a fantastic resource, taking genealogy to the next level where family tree building can be linked to proper social historical context. The comments received so far in the few days that the site has been operating have been broadly positive, with many people finding new insights into their family history, and the communities in which they lived. However, some negative feedback has included complaints about the price, and a few glitches about random search results that are akin to gibberish. It’s still early days; I’m sure the benefits will far outweigh the initial teething problems.

Finally, education – or more specifically reports that the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has angered historians and teachers with his refusal to soften his stance on the nature of the history curriculum. Whilst we DO need an overarching knowledge of chronological events that are relevant to our island story, we CANNOT do so in isolation, particularly given the role Britain and the British have played on the world stage. Furthermore, we need to encourage an emphasis on the SKILLS that history conveys – the ability to research, gather evidence, formulate an argument or construct a written report, debate the conclusions and assimilate the views of others. Equally, history viewed through the prism of one’s family or community gives the past relevance and context. Let’s ensure that these important points are not ignored.

Thanks to all who joined colleagues from Sticks Research Agency and Your Family History magazine for a Christmas gathering in central London – including a surprise appearance from Jimmy Osmond, who dropped by to talk about a couple of projects. He’s appearing in pantomime in Swansea throughout the Christmas period, and will be starring in the Grand Theatre’s production of Aladdin. Get down there from 16th December for some festive fun!

Cheers

Nick

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