Digitising Leicestershire’s history – one bit at a time

Posted by mjs76 at Aug 19, 2010 11:55 AM |
Exciting new project to make University-hosted archives available online.

My Leicestershire Digital Archive (MDLA) is a new joint project between the University of Leicester Library and two regional archives hosted by the University: the Media Archive for Central England (MACE) and the East Midlands Oral History Archive (EMOHA).

All three bodies have terrific collections of material documenting life and society in Leicestershire over the decades. However, researchers wishing to use this material currently have to visit the University and make special arrangements, for reasons of both practicality and copyright.

The MDLA project is designed to start cutting a swathe through all this by digitising archive material and making it publicly accessible online: books, photographs, audio and video recordings, the lot.

Phase 1 of the project, which aims to go live by the end of October 2010, will include:

  • about 75 hours of oral history
  • about 50 hours of local radio documentaries
  • 19 books on the county dating between 1720 and 1865
  • 49 local trade directories going right back to 1750
  • more than 450 photos and architectural drawings of local buildings
  • 25 films and videos covering the 1920s to the 1980s
  • and a collection of 50 photos of local ghost signs.

‘Ghost signs’? What are they?

They’re wonderful slices of history which everyone sees but no-one notices. In the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th, large adverts for companies and products were painted onto the sides of buildings (see example above). Many are still there, albeit faded. Here’s a great website devoted to the subject and here’s an absolutely wonderful collection of Leicester ghost signs photographed by one of our research students, Amy Jane Barnes.

Later on, My Leicestershire will incorporate material from the archives of the Leicester Industrial Heritage Society and Rothley Heritage Trust and there are plans for a whole load of user interaction which will allow the public to contribute their own knowledge. The project is initially funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) through to March 2011 but has the potential to grow and grow. JISC is a digital media programme from the High Education Funding Councils for England, Scotland and Wales.

You can keep track of the MDLA project on the My Leicestershire blog which currently includes team biographies and some fairly technical stuff about both software (“the use of facets in CONTENTdm”) and hardware (“The tapes will be played on two ex-BBC Studer A807 tape players”). To contact the MDPA, call 0116 229 7399 or e-mail mlda@le.ac.uk.