Manufacturing Pasts’ contribution to historical research

I attended a JISC Evaluation Workshop on 25 July, which JISC organised to help participants in the digitisation programme (of which Manufacturing Pasts is a part) to wisely evaluate the products and outputs of our projects. We discussed the many different ways impact might be measured. Amongst other impact measures, Peter Findlay brought up: how well are the projects responding to users’ needs? Are the new items being embedded in research and teaching? Are there innovations in any aspect of the project life cycle which could benefit others? Do the new digital collections save money to users or do they present research opportunities never before available?

Gillian Murray on using images in historical research

That last question seemed to particularly apply to Manufacturing Pasts. Although the decline of the British manufacturing sectory had a huge impact on the fabric of society, there has not been very much in the way of documentation on the topic. Prior to this, photos, plans and interviews have been available only in analog format, in special collections not accessible by anyone over the internet. I am not sure how this can be measured, but those wanting to access these materials no longer have to travel to a specific place, during certain opening hours — instead they only need to browse the collections on My Leicestershire History.
Even more interesting to me is the question of how these materials will lead to new research in various fields. The above video clip of Gillian Murray explaining how to use photos, plans, and other visual material in historical research covers a research skill applicable in many topics of study. As more and more photographs and images are made available online, the need for scholarly guidelines to their use in research will only increase. We have included this video under our Toolkit section of the Manufacturing Pasts website. It occurred to me that we could create other helps to engage with the materials — for example, how to reference an audio file or a video in an online collection. A how-to resource like that would serve a research need, help users engage with our materials, and may in the process increase the number of citations of our materials — a key impact factor in and of itself.
I am looking forward to introducing our learning materials to history masters and PhD students in the coming weeks, and I hope to see further research uses of Manufacturing Pasts.

Terese Bird
Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, University of Leicester


Capturing history before it goes

Several weeks ago, I began to list and gather photos of the old factories and businesses in Leicester’s Frog Island and other areas nearby. One of the oldest and most beautiful of the old factories is Friar’s Mill, last used by Donisthorpe thread manufacturers. Imagine my horror when, exactly during that time, the news came that Friar’s Mill had been burnt, on 22 July, 2012. Read the BBC News story about the fire.

2010 photo of one of the Friars Mill buildings, Leicester – courtesy of Matt Neale on Flickr

Only last April (2012), another building we are focusing on as part of Manufacturing Pasts suffered a fire: the Corah knitting factory. And similarly, in examining 2002 photographs of the businesses of Frog Island, I was struck by how many have since been destroyed by fire, and how fortunate it is that we have the 2002 photographs.
These events have brought home to me just how it important it is to document and photograph our industrial heritage sites, because at any time they may be lost. It is also vital to digitise whatever we document, as only the digitised versions can be seen and enjoyed around the world and with expected longevity.

Friars Mill historical explanation – originally from the collection of the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland

The above article, now part of the Manufacturing Pasts online collection answers a question I had: why are these buildings referred to as both Donisthorpe and Friars Mill? Answer: Donisthorpe thread manufacturers was the last company to use the building, but the building existed long before Donisthorpe occupied it and rejoices in the name Friars Mill, after the friars whose monestary stood on the site in previous centuries.
Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester