Tuesday, 14 May 2013
During the last few months the Archive Service has found themselves undertaking a large amount of outreach work. This has included a number of small exhibitions as well as participation in a public history event held on campus for the first time in March. Prior to the University's moving on to the Tremough site in 2004 it was a Convent school and before that Tremough house was a private residence. The estate has changed hands a number of times over the years and consequently records about Tremough are scarce or at least scattered in various locations. The Archive Service has numerous requests from students trying to find out about the history of the estate to inform projects that they are undertaking. Performance students are required to do a site specific piece on campus which often requires research into various aspects of Tremough. This curiosity is of course not just restricted to students, we also receive enquiries from external researchers. It was with this demand in mind that earlier this year we undertook the task to produce a Resource List to help guide researchers to the various organisations that currently hold records relevant to Tremough [see post 11th Jan 2013].
The opportunity to further this research was presented when interest was shown by the University of Exeter's Public History Course in organising an event in the form of a Public History Day. This was aimed at encouraging people who had connections to the school or other aspects of the site to come back and have a look around and re-connect with the place. Of course with anything like this you cannot predict how successful or how unsuccessful the day may be, but as it turned out there was an amazing amount of interest which just illustrates the strong human connection to places from the past.
Initially the Service's expectations of the day were minimal and it was largely seen as an opportunity to possibly begin discussions with people and allow them to put faces to the team, so that in the future we might be able to encourage donations of records relating to Tremough and in doing so enhance our understanding and ability to meet our users needs. Advocacy is something the Archive world is very familiar with. As Larry Hackman points out it is part of our core work, '...not an add-on or a 'nice to do' (1), and so this was seen as part of what was going to be a long process of forming relationships with people who had connections to Tremough and learning about what records may exist, an excercise which proved to be very informative.
There were a number of items donated on the day which was certainly unexpected but very welcome. One lady bought a collection of items which had belonged to her father who had worked as head gardener on the estate. Others came to simply meet up and remember their experiences of the place and relive old memories. One such gentlemen had grown up on the Tremough Barton farm and remembered the soldiers who were billeted here during the war. Events like this provide a wonderful
platform for oral history so it was extremely useful to have CAVA (Cornish Audio Visual Archive) carrying out interviews with those who were willing to tell their stories and memories and allow them to be captured and recorded as a valuable source of information.
For me, though, the most valuable experience of the day was for the first time seeing Tremough in terms of a stage for all those personal stories and memories, rather than simply an historic house and grounds. Many former pupils of the convent school brought their children to show them where they had been taught. This importance of passing on information about your past and in so doing helping construct the identity and self worth of your children is interesting. It has been said that 'A sense of belonging and a sense of place are two important components of a person's sound metal health' (2). Archives can and do play a very important role within that construction, a fact which has become well recognised with the huge growth in family history researchers, but also within social care professions (2).
Due to the success of the day it is planned that the event will be repeated next year and hopefully encourage more people to come and share their stories and records so that Tremough Campus does not lose its links to the past but is enriched by the experiences of those who came before.
(1) Larry Hackman, 'Love is Not Enough: Advocacy, Influence and the Development of Archives', Journal of the Society of Archivists', Vol 33, No.1, April 2012, pp9-21, p12.
(2) Judith Etherton, 'The Role of Archives in the Perception of Self', Journal of the Society of Archivists', Vol 27,No.2 October 2006, pp227-246, p227..