We partner with many organisations to host events and promote the study of history. Each summer we sponsor a series of free lectures at The National Archives, where our colleagues do invaluable work preserving and sharing the nation’s historical records. This year’s series, ‘Mapping Movement: People, Place, & Power’, begins this month, following the launch of The National Archive’s new research priorities. Dr Anna Sexton is Head of Research at The National Archives, and here she introduces the new priorities and future directions for research.
Here at The National Archives, and indeed across the archive sector, we have a vast range of historical records, which can enrich our understanding of the past and inform contemporary discourse and debate. Archives help us to chart the evolution of society, law and governance on a truly global scale. But how can we unlock our historical collections for greater and more diverse use? What new methods can open up the content of archives, from early modern maps to Prime Ministers’ papers? How can we best deal with the shift from paper to digital and ensure that born digital content is preserved for the future?
In response to this challenge, The National Archives has recently launched its new research priorities. We have developed five cross-cutting, interdisciplinary themes which address some of the biggest opportunities and challenges we face as an archive, in particular the shift to digital. We seek to explore new methodologies, theories and technologies in five core areas:
- Rethinking the record
- People, place and rule
- Risk, uncertainty and trust
- Openness, access and use
- Impact, value and affect
Our theme ‘Rethinking the record’ reflects our desire to transform thinking and understanding of records and record-keeping. For example, can we reimagine physical collections as aggregated datasets? If so, how do we go about achieving this – is it through bringing together computer scientists, historians and digital humanists? In what ways can we recombine our data to tell new stories about our past? Furthermore, ‘Risk, uncertainty and trust’ unpacks notions of integrity and authenticity in the record, and how new technologies may be able to enhance trust in born-digital records.
The theme ‘People, place and rule’ considers research questions around contested spaces, the individual and the state, and placing the record in context. At a time when boundaries, borders and political structures are being challenged, these records have never been more relevant to present-day society.
Impact has become an increasingly significant aspect of research culture and our theme ‘Impact, value and affect’ is committed to better understanding, measuring and enhancing the impact of collections upon culture, heritage and identity, as well as ensuring their sustainability for generations to come. In addition, ‘Openness, access and use’ examines ways in which archives can meet the needs of new users and ensure that the record they capture truly reflects the communities they represent.
We would like to work collaboratively across disciplines and sectors to respond to these research challenges. Bringing together the skills of the historian, archivist, conservator, digital humanist and computer scientist (to name but a few), we hope to innovate around the archive and transform practice and public understanding.
Dr Anna Sexton
Head of Research, The National Archives
Image: Military map showing the coast and sea of Chin-chou from Ho-p’u to the Vietnamese border, TNA catalogue reference: FO 931/1900