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Students in the Archive...

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My presentation in Toulouse 17/2 2005 included an account of an ongoing class/project in one of my courses at Hvitfeldtska Gymnasiet (Upper Secondary School) in Gothenburg, Sweden. The ideas of this presentation was to emphasize the possibilities of using ICT in connection with local history and work in the archives plus the individual an “public” gain of this work.


At Hvitfeldtska Gymnasiet we have a local course called Gothenburg History HI501. This is not an obligatory course which means that you as a student have to choose it out of interest. Our school year is divided into three periods (August-November / November-March / March-June) and this course is only one period long. This means that we usually have between 20-24 lessons of 1 ½ hours to cover the whole course.

The course I presented started in November and is over in the beginning of March. The usual course is mixture of lectures, city walks and visits to the city museum and the Regional Archive. The work produced by the students includes a traditional test, participation in the activities, that they do some basic research in the archives and later publish the results…

Lectures…The ”lectures” are a mix of three parts;

1. Traditional lectures in the classroom with specific themes

2. City walks with specific themes

3. Own preparation by reading assigned papers and articles – this leads to questions and/or discussions in the classroom

Visits in the archives

We visit two archives together;

1. The Gothenburg City Museum. Our city museum is located in the old office of the Swedish East Indian Company (18th Century) and its located 10-15 minutes walk from our school. It’s free for all school classes (and anybody under the age of 20). You can get free guiding for the classes but I usually prefer to do a short guiding of my own students since we are looking for specific information. At the 4th floor is the “Archive Room”. Here our students can find photos from old Gothenburg and different articles (from newspapers and magazines) about the city.

2. The Regional Archive of Gothenburg. In this archive the students can find many different primary sources such as Church Records, Tax Records, Local and Regional Population Census, Land Tracks, School Records, Prison Records, Police Reports, etc…. The Regional Archive is situated just beside our school (1-2 minutes walk!). Here I let an experienced archivist present the archive (this is also part of the city service to our schools so it’s free of charge). The archivist usually have a short introduction where she/he mention the different archives available in Sweden, the organization of the Regional Archives and what specific material that’s available in this archive. She/he also brings some of the primary sources – in November 2004 my students got to see Court Records from 1789(!), Prison Records from the late 19th century (with photos…), records from a Women’s “Work House”, Tax Records from one part of the city and some Police Reports on the legal Prostitution in the late 19th century (the archivist had bookmarked a specific page. Here the students could read about Elizabeth Gustafsdotter who later emigrated to England. In London she became Jack the Rippers third victim… . ). This is a very good introduction for our students.

The students’ research includes going through old Tax Records to establish who lived in a certain house at a certain time. We have started an investigation of the part of the city named Haga and the years we focus on are 1880 and 1900. During these years Gothenburg went through a dramatically change from a more old fashioned ”trading city” to an industrial city. We want to see if we can spot this transformation in the primary sources…

During one or two of the coming lessons I go with the students to the Regional Archive so they have a chance to get my help. They learn how to

1. Find the right material

2. How to order the material from the archivist

3. How to read the material (it’s handwritten and it takes a little while until they get into this way of writing)

4. How to organize and write down the information they received


After the research has been carried out the results are published on the course webpage. The main page for the student has a photo of the house today, some comments about the address investigated and a short conclusion of each year plus finally a comparison. The earlier researches of the local Tax Records are also published… In this way the students get to do some research but at the same time the effort is not overwhelming.

The Result…

The individual gain for the student;

1. This work definitely spur their interest in the topic History

2. It gives the students an insight in the background of historical knowledge

3. They mix practical archive work with theory and carry out different evaluations – with other words they work as professional historians

4. They become aware of the archives (become archive literate)

5. They also become more aware of the ICT possibilities when they publish their results

6. Las but not the least they become pride and usually very satisfied with the published work…

The Result in a bigger context…

The result of the individual effort has a wider gain;

1. The class can compare and contrast their individual results and start to make general observations…

2. The students in the next course benefit from the earlier results

3. The “ordinary” classes gain from students with more awareness of the origin of sources. They can more appreciate and understand the different interpretations of history

4. The subject History becomes more interesting when we add the practical parts to it. This opens for students with learning disabilities. The process makes the topic easier to grasp

5. The school can start similar projects where the results of these investigations can be used

6. The school becomes recognized, not only as a “learning institution”, but also as a small research institution.

7. Other schools become aware of the possibilities and they can establish their own projects (that either continue the research already done or establish new research areas).

8. The Archives also receive some well earned recognition. Some students get very “hooked” but the general public also becomes aware of possibilities…

9. Higher Education gain in different ways. They will receive students with some archive and research experience as well as maybe the possibility to use the results of these investigations…

10. Cooperation possibilities between our school and other schools, Higher Education, other institutions, etc….

11. The project strengthens the cooperation between the school and our archives

12. The general public can use the results (genealogists etc…)

Most of the results above would have been impossible without the publishing process. This is one of many areas where ICT fills a very important function!

Here you can find the project

Gothenburg History Project

and here you can see what the handwritten material look like

Handwritten material from the archive...

Edited by Anders MacGregor-Thunell
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The Digital Camera in the Archive...

One of the things we came across when we were in the archive was the fact that we got to use a digital camera to take photos of the source material. This is a possibiliti that I wasn't aware of before. We are now discussing the possibility to publish primary sources on the web with the help of the digital camera. The results of such a publishing can be a break through when it comes to the possibilities of working with local primary sources.

The digital camera has become a very good tool in other areas as well like documenting the course and the students efforts, taking pictures of the houses we investigate (which means no publishing problems...), showing students where to go in the archives to find specific material, etc...

I repeat what I said above: Most of the results above would have been impossible without the publishing process. This is one of many areas where ICT fills a very important function!

Link to digital photos of primary material

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My presentation in Toulouse 17/2 2005 included an account of an ongoing class/project in one of my courses at Hvitfeldtska Gymnasiet (Upper Secondary School) in Gothenburg, Sweden. The ideas of this presentation was to emphasize the possibilities of using ICT in connection with local history and work in the archives plus the individual an “public” gain of this work.

I have found from my teaching experiences that teaching topics via local history can make what would normally seem to students as something mundane into a topic that is exciting. I think the main reason for this is the student view of relevance. Many reject history topics because they cannot see the connection between the subject matter and themselves. Local history overcomes this problem. I have found that even students who have only recently moved to the area still find local history interesting.

I think your project worked so well because your students actually visited the Regional Archive in Gothenburg. This helped them feel like historians. I sometimes think that teachers can forget how important it is for students to find things out for themselves.

The development of the Internet has the potential to revitalize local history. I say this because it provides a publishing medium for the work of the student. By making local history materials available online they are playing an important role in the community. Their research therefore becomes available to both adults and children studying in local schools.

There is a problem when teaching local history to younger children. The local record office is unlikely to be happy with the arrival of a whole year group (in some schools over 200 children). I usually dealt with this problem by photocopying documents for use in the classroom. As I have mentioned in my own E-HELP presentation this has usually involved photocopies of articles that appeared in local newspapers during the struggle for the vote and during the two world wars.


On another occasion I photocopied a large number of pages from the Brighton Workhouse Record Book. Each student was given one page and had to use this to find out information about the local economy at this time. Individuals then reported back to the class what they had found.

On another occasion I tried a different approach. After visiting the local record office I constructed a long list of potential topics to study. Each student was allowed to pick one of these subjects. The students were then given photocopies of relevant documents, newspaper articles, etc., as well as references to local history books that were available in the school and local libraries. Finally, I gave them a handout on how to use the local record office. The majority of the students depended on the material that I had given them. However, a significant minority did visit the local record office to do their research.

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One of the really interesting bits of the seminar as a whole was the breath of aspects of ICT use in history whch were being explored. Sometimes you tend to plough your own particular furrow and not keep an eye out for, and an open mind about all the other strands where interesting things are being developed.

I found Anders' presentation fascinating and very powerful; I would not have dreamed about taking my pupils to an archive. When I got back to England I found an article in the Times Educational Supplement describing a visit to the National Archives by a Norfolk school, led by one of the heads of department that I work with. Again, it sounded like a really powerful learning experience, the sort which is seared across pupils' brains for years, rather than forgotton by next week.

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I have recently been working on two projects that have involved my students going to local archives, the second of which is tomorrow, so I can post up about that later in the week. The first visit was with a group of year 7 gifted and talented pupils and we went to the London Metropolitan Archives in Farringdon. The archive holds the records for the city of london going back nearly 1000 years and, according to our guide holds the Magna Carta amongst its 11 km of material! The boys were taken around the archive and went into the conservation room where they learnt about the use of Japanese paper in restoring damaged documents (because it is so thin and versatile) and wheat starch for the glue. they then went to see the reprographics room and were 'blown away' by the cameras - one camera used 500,000 pixels and took 30 minutes to take one shot. The tour finished with a look in the strong rooms with its distinct smell of rotting leather. I have to say that I was a bit anxious that my 'inner city' boys would not really enjoy this visit but they absolutely loved it and are already asking when we can go on another visit. I really think that we have underused local archives as historian teachers and Anders' presentation gave some very practical suggestions of how we can work together. The bare minimum we can do, as John suggests, is use the archives ourselves to do research. I have used the local Hammersmith and Fulham archives on a number of occasions to reseacrh about the history of my school and the exploits of a former pupil who won a Victoria Cross in WW2. The results of my research have probably produced some of the best lessons that I teach and I have really enjoyed using my skills as a historian again.

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they then went to see the reprographics room and were 'blown away' by the cameras - one camera used 500,000 pixels and took 30 minutes to take one shot.

And to think, my digital camera has 4,000,000 pixels and takes a fraction of a second... ;)

On a more serious note... Anders' presentation got me thinking about the archives. The only experience I've had of them is a couple in the North-East where the staff were unhelpful even when I was researching for my MA. They certainly wouldn't have been happy letting schoolchildren anywhere near their precious resources!

I think the way forward as far as I'm concerned is to use resources of local interest that have already been made available online, or those which I can persuade people to let me use. For example, New York Public Library digitizing their materials and putting them online meant that my school now has access to the Tickhill Psalter which originated locally! :D

:D Doug

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OK smart guy, so I left out a few zeros!!!

I would also like to point out that there are some drawbacks from using Archives if the material that has been selected is not appropriate and the teaching is not pitched at the right level - as you can gather my second visit to an archive with my students was not quite as successful. The same skills that are needed in the classroom apply in the archive; engaging pupils with a clear purpose, stimulating material and applying the skills that have been developed over the previous lessons into a practical application which helps in making history come alive.

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I personally try to make occasional classroom visits at different archives situated in the downtown of Stockholm. And I always discover that the distance between the school and archives is of importance. Its very time consuming event and my colleagues are not very happy to give away their lesson time for this kind of activity.

Then just imagine schools situated far away even from the small district town which is often the reality in such outstretched country as Sweden is. Therefore I do have great hope for digitalising of archives documents and other resources. Then the students from all school could make a reasonable effort of their own research.

There is yet another difficulty I discover when trying to engage my students for archive research. They do not understand or maybe better expressed in this way they seldom se the connection between a sterile language of activated documents and their own view (supported for example by Hollywood’s films, colourful written history books etc.) what history is to them. When I try to explain to my students that the history in many cases starts inside archives I always meet a distrustful twinkle in their eyes.

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  • 6 months later...

One of the things that seems important for students are tutorials. When we visit the archives we spend quite some time going through basic archive information that could be done on the web.

Therefore I intend to build up a digital photo and videobased tutorial which gives my students the basic knowledge so that they can prepare their visit in the archive. This also gives you an idea on the use of ICT... (the tutorial could be downloaded on their laptops so that they could follow a step-by-step lesson on the spot...). One step further would of course be to add "Q & A" - in digital photo and videoformat. This would get more people into the archives - and more people would become "archive literate"... :lol:

Is this something that can be done when you send your students to the local archives in your country?

Edited by Anders MacGregor-Thunell
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Virtual Archive for practice purpose

Since archives are quite important I have started to create a virtual archive for practice purpose. This virtual archive will eventually include both a tutorial (in detail adjusted to this specific archive) as well as several practical samples. In the Haga project I usually let the students pick addresses (houses) of their choise - I only decide which years they are suppose to cover. Since it's possible to use digital cameras in our archive I have now covered a whole block every tenth year during the 1800's. I went to the archive and I took all photos necessary, a process that went fast (basically just some hours). Not all of them have turned out the way I wanted them but as you can see the result is quite good at some documents:

Virtual Archive Haga

I will later publish this virtual archive on my website, together with the tutorial and several different tasks. These archive exercises will give the students a chance to follow the changes and the development in the block over a longer time period. After that they will be well prepared for going down to the archive on their own. I just need to start to create a good tutorial... :hotorwot

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