‘The kids loved it’: using digital broadcasting to bring our archives to life | GNM training center
During the Guardian’s bicentennial year, the GNM Archive and the Guardian Foundation Education Center (now Behind the Headlines) collaborated on a project to bring the newspaper’s story to classrooms across the country.
The project, made possible through a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, aimed to engage young people in the history of journalism and the challenges of news coverage before the digital age. Students explored documents and artefacts from the Guardian archives, interviewed one of our archivists at a press conference, and produced their own newspaper front pages. By the end of the 2021 school year, 13 workshops had been held in 9 schools, reaching over 300 students.
As with many things over the past 18 months, completing this project has not been easy. Primarily, the continuing effects of the pandemic prevented us from welcoming students in person to the Guardian Foundation Education Center. Our options at the start of 2021 were to delay the project or to deliver the workshops virtually. We were keen to tie the sessions to the Guardian’s bicentennial celebrations, and we felt these workshops could provide students with a positive learning experience during a difficult and disruptive home schooling year, so we continued. .
The biggest challenge came in thinking about how to present the archival objects to students in an interactive and engaging way – simply showing them images of the seven items we had selected was not going to be enough. We wanted to get a feel for the size, scale, and in the case of the large metal printing plate, weight, key things that can be difficult to represent in a picture, so we made a 7 minute movie of me. with all the objects, speaking through each in turn. This film was part of the workshops, screened at the end of each session to clarify information students had already received, and is available as part of the Legacy Resource Pack hosted on the Behind the Headlines website.
The objects with a unique narrative seemed to generate the most interest, including an original cartoon by Les Gibbards depicting Ted Heath winning the 1970 general election, which shows a previous drawing of Election Leader Harold Wilson below. As a student at the Central Foundation Girls’ School in London explained on her front page:
when the election results clearly showed that… Ted Heath was going to win instead, Gibbard returned to the Guardian offices… drew Heath’s face on paper and pasted it onto the original drawing before it was published the next day.
Another student said in his comments that he found the story behind this cartoon really interesting and that he “liked to research to find out more”.
Many students cited the virtual “press conference” with an archivist as the aspect of the workshop that they enjoyed the most. One student commented: “The importance of archives was a surprisingly interesting topic, but I really enjoyed participating in the interview of a real archivist… it was fun and to taste an authentic press conference is a great opportunity “. All of the students said they had a better understanding of what an archive is and what an archivist does and feedback from teachers echoed this, with several saying the workshop helped them reach their Gatsby benchmarks to introduce the students for new careers. It was also a lot of fun to deliver and we were really impressed with the students’ interest and commitment to a career that many had no prior knowledge of.
Being able to provide students with a unique experience to engage with archival materials and journalism has been a real privilege and meeting the challenges of virtual delivery has been well worth it; not only were we able to reach a wider audience, working with schools that might not have been able to make it to London under normal circumstances, including Portsmouth and Coventry, but we gave both parties a unique experience which I hope demonstrates that archives can think outside the reading room and meaningful outreach can be achieved virtually.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the generous support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which has been patient and constructive in its advice and guidance. Given the overwhelming positive responses from teachers and students, and our own enthusiasm to continue reaching a wider audience, we hope this has set a precedent for the future of GNM Archive outreach.