The Ongoing Tale of Donisthorpe Mill, Leicester

Back in August, I wrote a blog post about one thing I had learnt from the Manufacturing Pasts project so far: that if we don’t capture history now, we will lose it. One thing I was referring to was the number of older manufacturing buildings which are lost due to wear and tear, having fallen into disuse, or even fire. My blog post referred to Leicester’s Donisthorpe Mill building.

I would also define ‘capturing history now’ as necessarily capturing it digitally. I would go so far as to say that unless our capture is born digital, or is immediately digitised, its impact will be so limited as to be almost worthless. Hence, it is worthwhile to digitise existing archives, as we are doing in Manufacturing Pasts, as well as creating new archives that are ‘born digital’. Perhaps there are archivists and historians who will disagree with me; if so, please leave a comment as I would like to hear an opposing view.

The Donisthorpe Mill on Bath Lane suffered a fire on 23rd July 2012. But just recently, the building was purchased by Leicester City Council in a bid to preserve it. You can read the article here.

One of our artefacts in MyLeicestershire History is a collage of 5 articles from the Leicester Mercury about Donisthorpe Mill. Below is a snippet of one of these articles.

From Leicester Mercury, 1971. Now available on MyLeicestershire History http://myleicestershire.org.uk

Donisthorpe and Company was founded in 1739. But in 1220 there had been an monestary sited on that spot, belonging to the Black Friars of the Order of St Dominic, explaining why the building is often referred to as Friars Mills.

Another article available in MyLeicestershire History informs that Donisthorpe and Company moved to a new location in Braunstone, Leicester, in 1983. I am assuming the building was not properly used since then. If I am wrong about this and you have more facts, please leave a comment!

Donisthorpe Mill, October 2009. Photo by Colin Hyde.

I’m sure I am not alone in saying I look forward with interest to see what the future holds for this significant historical building in Leicester.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester

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Taking Manufacturing Pasts on the road

On 3rd November, 2012, Tania Rowlett and I took some tablet computers and some other kit to the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, where Adam Goodwin had kindly arranged for a Manufacturing Pasts ‘open morning. ‘For a couple of hours that morning, we had computers and our tablets set up in such a way to show off our Manufacturing Pasts materials to those who dropped into the Record Office to do things such as look up old newspaper clippings on microfiche or search for their family histories. We did not really know what to expect – I suppose that’s what doing a research project is all about: testing, trying things out, reporting back,  and improving.

We did not have very many folks drop by but those who did stayed with us the entire time and eagerly asked questions and discussed the materials and their various sources.

Two people who joined us are instrumental in running the Framework Knitting Museum in Wigston, Leicestershire. They were interested in the materials about Corah of Leicester, the company at the heart of our topic ‘The Social Life of the Factory.’ Corah made hosiery and knitted clothing of all sorts, and was the main supplier for Marks and Spencer. It was a pioneer in technological advancements in the textile

Looking at Manufacturing Pasts videos and presentations on tablet computers at the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, 3 Nov 2012

industry, but it began with very simple framework knitting technology, which our visitors knew quite a bit about. We were glad that we had decided to create a Toolkit section of our website, containing a glossary and some factual information about framework knitting. These visitors reported they could use some of our materials in their museum, and expressed a desire to be networking more and making more use of historical archives gathered and provided by others, rather than each pocket of interest reinventing the wheel. These visitors were also very impressed by our methods of presenting our materials in mobile-ready formats. They seemed to feel they were glimpsing the future of historical museums by looking at our materials on the iPad and Galaxy tablet.

Another visitor had mostly personal interest in the online collection. Having until recently worked for Leicester Public Library, she had no problem with any of the technology, and with her superior Leicester knowledge she even pointed out some errors I had made in labelling one or two of the photos I took for our archive. She suggested further companies which could have been chosen for our study: Wildt Mellor Bromley, Imperial Typewriter, Jones and Shipman, and Metal Box.

Among suggestions of other uses for the Manufacturing Pasts materials was for historical preservation, schools, and local history societies…. of which Leicester has many. We are looking forward to some history conferences in spring 2013 where we plan to connect with many of these societies. It’s good to get out on the road every once in awhile!

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester

Communications & Dissemination: JISC workshop 5th October 2012

The main focus of this one day event was advising us on how to get our message to the right people, cutting through the myriad of information they receive on a daily basis.

Rosemary Stamp (Stamp Consulting) stressed a number of key points:

  • Identifying stakeholders (in our case HE academics, local historians)
  • The need to clearly articulate the benefits of our resources to our stakeholders (copyright cleared, permitted reuse, easily searchable and accessible collection)
  • Using a variety of communications channels, best suited to our stakeholders (e-mail, social media, discussion lists, society mailing lists, open mornings)

We watched a YouTube presentation from Nicola Osbourne at Edina on Engaging with Social Media, which talked about using playful or quirky content, something which will grab people’s attention whilst introducing the materials and the background/need for the project.  To some extent we have done this already with our videos of Rebecca Madgin and Simon Gunn, in which they talk about their involvement in the project and why there is a need to make these materials available, but I’d ideally like to create a short 1 minute presentation demonstrating some of our more interesting materials and learning resources, stressing their open and accessible nature.

Bex Whitehead, JISC Press & PR Manager suggested capitalising on national angles wherever possible, so it was very kind of English Heritage to announce their Buildings at Risk Register late last week (see my post Buildings at risk – assessing and preserving Leicester’s heritage).  I intend to keep a keen eye out for any future news items we could potentially tap into (preferably not another old factory on fire, we prefer it when they remain standing and intact). 

A useful day, which helped focus the mind on making the most of our future communications.  Thank you JISC!

Don’t say OER

On 11th September 2012, I presented Manufacturing pasts: Opening Britain’s Industrial Past to New Learners and New Technologies’ at the Association for Learning Technology annual conference in Manchester.  It was a parallel session and to my recollection we had 40+ attendants, who very well received the presentation.

Leicester Mercury article about impending demolition of Benjamin Russell building, 1993. From myleicestershire.org.uk. CC-BY-NC

One idea which came out of the presentation, to which I saw participants nodding in agreement, was that it is a good idea to avoid using the term OER (open educational resources), or at least to use it very sparingly, when describing open-access material to those who have a good chance of not being ‘in the know.’  A term such as OER may sound like jargon, and jargon can be divisive – shutting out those who are not ‘in the know’.  Furthermore, I need to be able to concisely explain why I am digitising this material and why it needs to be online and given an open-access license.

In the case of the Manufacturing Pasts project, the reason for digitising is that we just don’t have a very good historiography of the UK’s manufacturing decline in the 1970s through the 1990s. Furthermore, this era is generally a ‘digital dead zone’ of official documentation. Local councils were cutting budgets and archiving fewer documents beginning in the 70s, and digitisation did not really begin until the later 1990s, and so there is a lack of some important material. Just discovering and digitising these manufacturing-sector artefacts is necessary.

Benjamin Russell building, Mill Lane, Leicester, before its demolition in 1993. From myleicestershire.org.uk. CC-BY-NC

And why does it need to have an open license? Does it matter? Yes it matters, because we are putting these materials freely out on the internet. That in itself greatly increases their reach — someone in Kankakee, Illinois can easily search our my leicestershire.org.uk materials and listen to our interviews with Leicester workers, whereas before Manufacturing Pasts, an interested person would have had to have physically come to the archive to listen to the interview on an analog system. Because the items are openly available on the internet, we give them the Creative Commons copyright as a kind of guide to use and also as a protective measure.

Did you know that copyright clearance is seen as a form of quality assurance? My colleague Ming Nie found in the EVOL-OER reuse study that educators, when looking for online material to use in teaching, look for material that is copyright-cleared. In fact, I heard from academics in various ALT-C sessions, that copyright clearance is a desirable quality for online material because it means it has gone through that process, someone has cared enough to review it and clear it of copyright issues, and it can be reused ‘without fear.’

So although I like to avoid using the jargon ‘OER’,  I recognise and advocate the value of open materials and open practice, and I foresee their progression toward mainstream educational practice.

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

A virtual tour to compare past and present

At the University of Leicester Centre for Urban History, Colin Hyde has been documenting Leicester’s past and present for many years. Among the photographs Colin has contributed to the Manufacturing Pasts collection are a set depicting Leicester’s Frog Island in 2002 and 2003. Frog Island has almost no residents, but has been home to many industries, most likely because it is flanked by the River Soar and the Grand Union Canal, providing convenient shipping and transportation.

Frisby Jarvis Building in 2002. Photo courtesy of Colin Hyde

Frog Island has an icon: the Frisby Jarvis building, a worsted spinning mill. It is a very impressive building, part of a large plant which also included Farben Works, off Slater Street; it was Grade II listed in April 2003. What makes it the icon of Frog Island is the fact it almost burnt to the ground in 2005 — almost, but not quite. The centre of the building was destroyed, leaving the sides fairly intact. An enterprising car wash now functions quite happily in the burnt-out centre of the building.

Car wash situated in former Frisby Jarvis building on Frog Island. Photo courtesy of weegeebored on Flickr.

The fact that we had Colin’s photos from 2002, well before the fire, allowed me the chance to create virtual tours of Frog Island, one for 2002 and one for 2012. All I had to do was visit the places Colin had photographed back in 2002 and snap them myself. So that’s just what I did, on a sunny Saturday in late August.

But how to create a virtual tour? I decided to try using Prezi. We have received rights to ordnance survey maps of Leicester. So I uploaded into Prezi a 1995 ordnance survey map of Frog Island, then uploaded the photos and placed them as accurately as I could onto the map. I did this for both sets of photographs. I had to use the 1995 ordnance survey map for both sets of photos, because we did not receive rights to any more recent map. The final product can be viewed here on Prezi. Take the tour yourself and tell us what you think!

(Tip of the day for using Prezi: if you click More, then Fullscreen, under the presentation to the right, the images display larger and more nicely.)

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester

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

Manufacturing Pasts publishes its first set of open learning materials

Our Manufacturing Pasts project has published its first set of open learning materials on its website, http://www.le.ac.uk/manufacturingpasts  Just click on the tab at the left entitled Open Learning Materials, and you’ll find one of our ebooks in different formats for the different ereading devices, some cleverly-designed Powerpoint shows focusing on two of Leicester’s manufacturing powerhouses of the past — Liberty Shoes and Corah Knitwear, and a video narrated by a Leicester resident, which I display below for your viewing pleasure.

These materials are all Creative Commons licensed, so that educators and learners alike may freely use, reuse, and even repurpose to accommodate their teaching and learning needs. The Manufacturing Pasts website will continue to change during the upcoming weeks and months, to accommodate more context to help inform those wishing to learn from the published materials. We hope to feature more videos of our various historians explaining how the materials can be used in the various topics of study addressed, and in this way provide context without becoming didactic. We hope these materials will be interesting and helpful to teachers, local historians, researchers, and anyone just interested in Leicester’s industrial heritage.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester