Manchester Histories Festival

Hidden Histories, Hidden Historians

Monday 15 May 2017

Inspire Group visit to Archives+Hidden Histories, Hidden Historians is a Manchester Histories project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project will see Manchester Histories working with communities across Greater Manchester with the aim of revealing less familiar histories and heritage; that is to say, the histories of the people, buildings, families, communities and places that make up our lives.

These histories can become ‘hidden’ because they are not always recorded, nevertheless, these important social histories often shape us and the places we live, and Manchester Histories are thrilled to be supporting people across Greater Manchester to uncover their own histories. Over the coming months we'll be working with five community groups (read more about them in our next blog), plus, with the help of experts, we're developing an informative series of toolkits that will to equip anybody with the skills they need to begin researching and creating their own archives.

In our first blog about the Hidden Histories, Hidden Historians project, professional archivist, Heather Emily Roberts tells us why it is so important to her:

Hidden Histories, Hidden Historians: Why it matters (according to the archivist)

Heather Roberts

I’m Heather, the archivist for this fabulous project. So far, it has been an inspiring adventure into a handful of Manchester’s hidden histories and I’m really excited about what lies ahead. We cannot wait to share with you the outcomes of the hard work of our participating community groups. They are all working hard to create their exhibitions to be displayed at the sensational Archives+ in Manchester Central Library later in the year.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a couple of thoughts about why I think exhibiting archive material is a great idea. More specifically, why I think community groups and independent projects create such important exhibitions.

Your history, your archives, your exhibition

History is merely a story. Everyone has a different story to tell about any part of history. Usually, the only stories that get remembered and passed on are those that are written down and kept. These then become known as archives.

Archives help tell the story of history, they provide the evidence, the proof, that something happened or someone existed.

This is why it is important for you to keep your own archive. Only you can tell your story, whether that is the story of you as a person, your organisation, your work, your building, your area, whatever. If you don’t tell it, then either someone else tells it for you or no one tells it at all.

Find your archives, keep your archives and then share your archives. Perhaps share them in an exhibition.

Unless you’re going for a Victoriana “cabinet of curiosities” style, exhibitions can be much more than just a showcase of “stuff.” They can be a platform upon which you can proudly perform the story of your chosen history. Think of your history as a story, yourself as the storyteller and your exhibition as the storybook.

Community exhibitions and why they matter

Looking through content

History didn’t happen to times, dates and places and buildings. It happened within them, and it happened to people. It has happened, and continues to happen, to all of us.

We’ve all heard something on the grapevine and thought, “Hang about, that’s not right, it didn’t happen like that.” But what do you do if someone asks,“Can you prove that?” It can be difficult when you have no evidence to produce in a confident flourish of righteousness.

This is why using exhibitions to tell your side of the story is so important. Not only does it give you a voice which you control (i.e. your own), but it bestows validation upon what you’re saying (since you’re providing the proof through archives) and puts you in the context of the wider history of your area and subject.

Our understanding of history is always richer and more fulfilling with more than one voice or narrative to tell of it.

An inspiring project

Obviously, I’m biased when it comes to archives – it is my passion after all. This project has been particularly inspiring for me, as all five of the community groups have very different stories to tell but they are all telling their own story, sharing their own history in their own voices. Hopefully, many more people will be inspired to do the same.

About me: Heather Emily Roberts, professional archivist and owner of HerArchivist: Archive and Heritage Consultancy. 

Twitter: @herArchivist

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