“Nicola’s dissertation was a fantastic piece of original and innovative research. Drawing on a wide base of archival and museums literature, Nicola’s dissertation shone a light on the outreach initiatives of local authority archives (an area which has not received a great deal of attention in comparison to community archives) and used the Portsmouth History Centre as an in-depth case study. Nicola’s original analysis of social media alongside ‘traditional’ forms of outreach illuminated both the benefits and drawbacks of current practice and provided a basis for sound suggestions for future initiatives.” – Dr Jessica Moody, Nicola’s dissertation supervisor.
My dissertation was inspired by my volunteering role within the Portsmouth History Centre archives. This was originally a placement for the History Workplace unit coordinated by Dr Jessica Moody, and I often had to explore how the archives compared to museums. From this I found that the History Centre was not engaging with the public and their users as much as museums were. Further reading found that local archives in general did not tend to deal with this topic in the way national or community archives were considered so I decided to look into the outreach done by the Portsmouth History Centre.
Looking at the outreach of the archives allowed me to follow my focus on how society engages with history in the present. I used sources such as Twitter and Facebook posts and council websites to see how the archives interacted with their users now that society spends the majority of its time online. My research also involved conducting interviews with members of the council and the Portsmouth History Centre. This meant creating my own questions, conducting the interview and then transcribing the audio. From this I found that the Portsmouth archives specifically tend to use older forms of outreach such as giving talks or producing literature as opposed to using social media as national archives or museums tend to. However, this is not entirely down to their choice. While many of their users do not tend to use online tools, it is hard for them to actually get online. Their social media is tied into the library service and they do not get constant exposure. Their website also has to adhere to council rules and this means there is no room for customisation. Widely it was found that this is due to lack of funding which is also an issue that national archives and museums are facing.
Writing a dissertation is a stressful but rewarding process. It is harder to find sources for an under-researched area. As the archive did not always use social media, my dissertation had to discuss a lot of ‘ifs’. Therefore I used interviews to hear what the people involved in the archive were actually thinking about outreach in their service. I struggled with creating questions for my interviews, as well as with knowing who to interview. In addition, arranging meetings took a lot of time.
While dealing with an under-researched area seemed scary at first, it actually allowed me to make stronger conclusions. Also, the process of doing my own interviews was really rewarding. I was able to create my own primary documents and see how they either fitted or disagreed with the conclusions I found in my reading. Advice from my tutor, Jessica, was essential in getting through the interviews and dissertation as a whole. My dissertation was a key talking point in my interviews for Masters courses and has actually helped me decide on a career within archives in the future.
Nicola Stopp is a BA History student at the University of Portsmouth and has been accepted onto the Archives and Records Management MA at the University of Liverpool.