I clearly remember the first time I became interested in history – we were set a project at school to research the history of a street, which involved interviews with longstanding residents as well as primary research in the local library. Apart from being great fun, it introduced me to different methodologies which, until that point, had been limited to the traditional exploration of the great and the good via textbooks and tutorials.
I read history at university, and continued to a PhD in state finance and fiscal history in the 13th century – a bit niche, perhaps, but that led me to a career at the National Archives (then known as the Public Record Office), the BBC, and then founding my own research agency. By this stage I’d become involved in a new BBC project to produce films about ten strands of British social history, using celebrities as presenters. The show morphed into Who Do You Think You Are, and as lead consultant in charge of the research, I suddenly found myself onscreen, creating the website, and giving talks on family history!
Why CAHG is important
I’ve embraced the importance of ‘bottom up’ history ever since, as it gives real relevance and meaning to people’s lives and communities whilst shifting the narrative away from elite views of the past to a more inclusive, representative, shared experience where we all can find a place. That’s why the Community Archives and Heritage Group is so important – it enables us to collect, conserve and document the memories, cultural experiences and records of a wider range of people, whose stories are often not selected for preservation in local or national archives.
I believe that in the digital age, community heritage will continue to thrive given the tools and technologies we now possess, and will hopefully play a part in helping society find a better way forward in the aftermath of the pandemic. I currently work at the Open University, helping people gain access to education whether formally through our curriculum, or for free via our OpenLearn platform. There’s a clear alignment between the Open University’s social mission and the aims of CAHG which I’m proud to have represented over a number of years.