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

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

Manufacturing Pasts in Singapore

Somewhat out of the blue, I was invited to present a workshop on creating learning materials for mobile devices, at the MobiLearnAsia Conference in Singapore, 24-26 October 2012. I had never been in that part of the world before, and the energy and creativity of Singapore were impressive, as was the openness to learning innovations. I learnt it is not unusual for high-school-age students to use mobile phones for learning activities in class; this is an interesting comparison to the fact that most UK schools ban mobile phones in class.

My presentation, How to make appropriate learning materials for various m-devices, is available for viewing and download on Slideshare.

Singapore Conference presentation: How to make appropriate learning materials for various m-devices — featuring Manufacturing Pasts

 

When I thought about putting together a session on creating mobile-ready learning materials, my first thought was Manufacturing Pasts. All of our materials can be downloaded from the internet and brought nicely onto a variety of mobile devices. All of the written material is made available in nicely-designed pdf and ebook formats, such as this essay about the West End of Leicester. All interviews are professionally finished and shared out as .mp3 files. All videos are made available on YouTube or on Vimeo, and for direct download as .mp4 files. Our interactive Powerpoint presentations are available both as Powerpoint and as pdf files which retain the interactivity, such as this Corah of Leicester app.

Perhaps the most exciting development is that we are putting together our Manufacturing Pasts material into a new iTunes U Course, which will be launched at the same time as our University of Leicester iTunes U channel — which we are working hard to make happen before Christmas.

If you would like some helpsheets on creating mobile-ready learning materials, check out this blog post where I have begun to share these.

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

 

 

Students’ opinions of Manufacturing Pasts materials – Part I

At the beginning of the summer just gone, I was able to run three focus groups with 2nd and 3rd year University of Leicester undergraduate history students, to get their opinions of the Manufacturing Pasts industrial history materials we’re discovering and preparing and putting online. At the time, we had not even created too many materials yet, and the website was in an embryonic state, but we wanted to get some early evaluation to inform future work. And it goes without saying that getting students’ opinions is vital; they are the intended ‘customer’ of our project materials.

I gave the students about 45 minutes to look at and listen to some of the videos, Powerpoint presentations, and ebooks I had created, having to do with the Liberty Building and the Corah factory. All of the students spent the full amount of time and were very engaged with what they were watching and reading and listening to.

When I asked: how might these materials be used in a history module such as the ones you are taking now?, I was fascinated by the connections they were seeing with whatever history topic they were currently working on. They brought up:

  • Post World War II study and the loss of community when manufacturing failed
  • Gender studies, noticing the different work being done by women and by men in the Corah photos
  • Immigration
  • Philanthropy by company owners in the 19th century
  • fashion history
  • comparison of manufacturing processes then and now

They suggested a number of ways the materials might be brought into their modules:

  • The lecturer uses the photos and interviews in lectures
  • The videos and photos could be used in seminars for discussion
  • Gobbet papers could be assigned based on any of these materials
  • Essay questions can target the primary sources in MyLeicestershire History
  • Buildings and areas covered by these materials can be visited, with the materials carried along in smartphones or tablets for reference, to see what they look like now

One student commented that these materials could be used to comprise museum exhibitions, because the copyright issue has already been addressed. This was the first time in my discussions with students that I saw  the penny drop as to why an open license is important.

I shall discuss more about these student evaluations in future blog posts.  Overall, students liked these materials and their historical interests seemed to be quite sparked by both the online collections of primary sources and the mashups we put together as part of the project.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester

 

 

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