I was recently enthralled by the hashtag “Thanks for Typing”. In a nutshell #ThanksforTyping is a way for today’s intellectuals to share and shine a spotlight upon just how vital the (often unpaid) labour-both intellectual and emotional-of typists, proofreaders, research assistants and other (often unpaid) has been in the development of knowledge.
Its frantic approach made practitioners wince but, through Time Team, Channel 4 made archeology prime time entertainment for over two decades. That fact alone vividly illustrates a widely shared fascination amongst the public for peeling back the layers of the past and peering at the lives of those who came before us.
When Prince Charles first caught sight of Birmingham Central Library during a visit 30 years ago, he’s purported to have spluttered: “It looks more like a place for burning books than keeping them.”
For slightly over a year now, I’ve been working for the history journal Past & Present as their Digital Engagement Assistant. It’s one of those fabled jobs we hear much about and tell students they have to prepare for, a position that would have barely existed five years ago, and been inconceivable going back ten. In practice it means that I spend the equivalent of roughly an afternoon a week, maintaining the journal’s website, managing their social media accounts and editing their blog.
It’s every historian’s dream to track down an untouched archive. That is exactly what Kieran Connell – a researcher at the University of Birmingham – experienced in 2014 when, after months of searching, he received an email from a photographer: ‘I would love it if you could take over the collection of all my images about Balsall Heath’.