Tuesday, November 22, 2005

No sexifying please, we're archivists

Probably many qualified professional archivists, much against their bitter experience, hope and strive to ensure that their collections are available for research. That is to say serious research. You know, the kind of research that culminates in a weighty tome with heaps of footnotes, acknowledgments, credits, a contents page and an index of which the most introverted, bookish, anti-social and highly academically qualified author would be proud. And which no-one ever reads, at least cover to cover.

Well, it seems the bookworms have their enemies. In a front page article in The Daily Telegraph of 5 November 2005, Liz Lightfoot, education correspondent, reports fiendish forces at work. Backed by the Historical Association, a new vocational history exam to run alongside the GCSE curriculum is shortly to be introduced. Guiding the development of the new course and responsible for it is the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Miss Lightfoot says of the new course that it will make the subject accessible for the first time to less academic teenagers.

Prof. Alan Smithers

The course includes material on multimedia, heritage marketing and the study of heritage sites. Professor Alan Smithers of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University suggests the new course is watered down academically and complains about the course being sexed up with inappropriate material.

We asked Garth Bland, benighted county archivist of Loamshire who has struggled all his life to make original archival sources accessible to researchers including teenagers, to offer comment.

Well first off, it's what they call dumbing-down, in the American jargon. We've even seen it in the Victoria County History project, which shows a trend away from weighty tomes to CDRoms and web pages. And they're wrong about this new course being the first opportunity people have to study history in a practical way and get close to the sources. It all smacks of the Archives Awareness Campaign. Hell, I've been teaching family history and local history evening classes for decades.

Why do we bother keeping archives if they aren't going to be properly exploited? How much government funding will actually go towards scholarship?

We offered our sympathies to Garth and reminded him of our earlier blog Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone? in which we reported Professor Frank Furedi's concerns on the dumbing down of cultural heritage.

Central to Furedi's complaint is his concern that Cultural institutions like universities and galleries no longer challenge us or encourage us to question what we know. Instead they flatter us. But flattery will get us nowhere.

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