Monday 30 May 2011

We are what we eat? - 'The Edible Archive'

I just got an e-mail through on the Archives NRA list from the Scottish Council on Archives.  As part of the Culture and Diversity 'What's your story?' theme of Archives Awareness 2011 the SCA have decided to create an archival cookbook.  Intrigued? - 

The idea is that the general public, archives users, and archives, will contribute recipes from personal cookbooks and from the archives.  These recipes will be compiled and used to create a cookbook.  Going on the belief that the food we eat reflects who we are, where we've been and where we live, the cookbook will reveal aspects of our family and our national history and culture.  "We're hopeful that The Edible Archive will represent the diversity of the regions, communities and archival collections across Scotland."

I love the idea of compiling a cookbook based on a mixture of contributions from people's personal cookbooks and from archives!  If I looked at the type of food that me and my husband cook then I'm not sure what it says much about our national history and culture as most of the food we cook is Mexican, Pan-Asian or Italian.  Although maybe that's me having far too limited an idea of national culture and history.  Maybe what our cooking says about us is a more general reflection of the internationalism and globalisation of our way of life - the wonderful chances we have to use ingredients from all over the world, to eat out in restaurants from all around the world.  I know for other friends what they cook now often reflects what they grow, or what they can buy that's in season - another reflection of attitudes of the time.  So yes, actually, on reflection I can see that the more thought I put into it the more things I could come up with that show how our cooking represents ideas of national history and culture.  Also there are still many recipes I cook, even if only very occasionally, that remind me of my family for example mince & tatties, scotch pancakes, macaroni cheese, chickpea & tomato curry, Cullen skink - all these have so many associated memories for me that even if I only cook the occasionally they still bring the memories flooding back.

Now I'm just wondering if you have to live in Scotland to participate? Could expats be included?!

The SCA are also planning to have feasts using all the recipes chosen for the cookbook - sounds fantastic!  So if you live in Scotland please get involved!  Whether you work in an archive and have a favourite recipe in a collection, or whether you have a favourite personal recipe, from a cookbook or passed down through the generations, then you can e-mail them to (they also ask that if you have any information about the history of the recipe, or an image, then to include that).  

Submissions to be in by 1 July 2011.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Keep a one-day diary day - tomorrow!

Tomorrow the Mass Observation Archive are repeating their call for people from all parts of the UK to keep a one-day diary recording their day from waking up to going to bed.  The original Mass Observation Day was on 12 May 1937 and is part of the larger Mass Observation social research organisation.  The first diary day was the Coronation of George VI, last years was the first day in Government for the coalition, and this year, well it's just an 'ordinary' day but who's to say that's any less interesting.

The Archives of the Mass Observation project, including the diaries, are publicly available at the University of Sussex.

What they are looking for:
  • Write as much as you can about what you do, who you meet, what you talk about, what you eat and drink, what you buy or sell, what you are working on, the places you visit, the people you meet, the things you read, see and hear around you and of course what you yourself think.
What to include:
  • You should include a brief self portrait: your age, where you live, whether you are married or single, your present job or occupation if you are working and any other information that you think is important to record. We need this as background to your diary.
  • If 12th May was a typical day for you please say so. If not, please say why it wasn’t. Any reflections on the day and on how you felt while keeping the diary always welcome.
  • So that we can add your diary to the rest of the Archive for the future, please include the statement below at the end of your diary. If you don’t attach this statement, we won’t be able to keep your diary or make it part of the Archive.
“I donate my 12th May diary to the Mass Observation Archive. I consent to it being made publicly available as part of the Archive and assign my copyright in the diary to the Mass Observation Archive Trustees so that it can be reproduced in full or in part on websites, in publications and in broadcasts as approved by the Trustees”.

How to submit:

Anyone can keep a diary but it must be in electronic form. They can be sent as emails or as attachments (preferably word documents).  Send them to -

Apologies to readers not in the UK for the UK specific post.  Maybe there are similar projects elsewhere in the world, does anyone know of any? If so please share as I'd lvoe to hear about them.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

When work and hobbies collide

In my new quest to become a sewing wonder and make my own clothes, I have started off with doing repairs.  Imagine my surprise when repairing a vintage dress I bought in Los Angeles to discover that it was Union Made! Now this may not be that unusual to see on clothing labels, I don't know, but what is so unusual about this for me is how eerily it related to my new job cataloguing the Archive of the National Union of Women Teachers.  So it just seems incredibly serendipitous that the label on my dress says 'Int. Ladies Garment Workers Union - Union Made'.  Of course I couldn't leave it at that, I had to do a bit more digging and find out about the ILGWU.

On the second page of google results (or the first page if you go through wikipedia entry) is the link to the ILGWU Archive, held at the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives at Cornell University Library.   I mention the ranking in google as I feel that the archive catalogue description should be right up there on the first page, as it's the primary source of information about the union.  The information I've included about the union here is taken from the organisation history included on the catalogue description.  The ILGWU was formed in 1900 in New York City by a variety of immigrant groups, Jewish, Italian, Scots-Irish and Irish, working in the garment industry.  Like the NUWT there was a lot of resistance to the Union but by 1917 they were more powerful and had brought about a great deal of improvements for their members including improved working conditions and unemployment benefit.  I was just cataloguing records today which listed the impressive achievements of the NUWT, including the part they played in gaining equal franchise for women, equal superannuation and pension rights, and of course, their objective - equal pay for women teachers.

There's no point in me just copying out the text from other articles, here and here, where you can read more about the achievements of the ILGWU and some of the horrific events which highlighted the terrible working conditions in place at the time. However the story of the Triangle Waist Company fire in New York.  This was a sweatshop employing 500 people on the ninth floor of a building at Washington Square East.  When a fire broke out on March 25 1911 there was nowhere for the employees, mostly women, many girls as young as 14, to go.  They were unable to open the fire escape or other exits and of the 500 workers, 146 perished that day, either in the fire or jumping from the ninth floor.  Afterwards workers claimed that the owners had locked all the doors to prevent theft, and this was apparently common practice at the time.  The ILGWU proposed a day of mourning and, along with other unions, formed a Joint Relief Committee to help those suffering because of the fire. The company Blanck and Harris were acquitted of any wrongdoing despite the testimonies of all those who survived that they were locked in the building.  Even just writing this now I'm getting shivers up my spine and tears in my eyes just thinking about it, and getting mad as well - how is it that those in power will always get away with their actions for the sake of profit. 

I got the information on the Triangle Factory Fire from an online exhibition at Cornell University to mark 100 years since the fire.  This is a fantastic exhibition with lots of examples of the primary archive material about the fire and all laid out in a very accessible way.

Who would have known I could learn so much from repairing a dress!

Sunday 1 May 2011

Diaries as film source in Meek's Cutoff

Last night I finally got to see Meek's Cutoff.  I was determined to get to see it at the cinema as the descriptions of the scenery and shots in the reviews I'd read sounded stunning and I wasn't disappointed.  Every single shot looked perfectly placed and I kept thinking of paintings as I was watching it - for example the mustard and blue of Millie's clothes really brought to mind Vermeer's 'Girl with a Pearl Earring'.  The lighting was wonderful as well, the colours were muted in most of the film which emphasised the barren and dry landscape they inhabited. 

Even before reading reviews I knew I wanted to see this film, firstly because it is directed by Kelly Reichardt, the director of Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, both of which I really enjoyed, although some of the scenes in Old Joy did make quite uncomfortable viewing.  On a side note there's a really good video essay on the scenery in Old Joy over at Fandor.  Also the presence of Michelle Williams is always going to interest me as she picks some very quirky and interesting films, and she is just so super stylish too! However what I wanted to focus on here was an aspect that really intrigued me - the influence of diaries written by pioneer women on the director and, Jon Raymond, the scriptwriter.  Here's an example (from SodaPictures):

"When researching MEEK'S CUTOFF we were reading a lot of diaries from the period. Of course, the women were the diary keepers and the diaries offer such a specific take on the history. It's a very different tone and point of view than what we see in the Hollywood Western... The other thing you get from the diaries is the loneliness women felt. I remember one woman writing that she was keeping a diary in case her husband should ever want to know her. On the one hand you're never really alone and have no privacy on the trail and yet you’re incredibly isolated, too. The exceptions seemed to be the friendships the women formed with each other.
You also get the sense that the diaries are the only thing besides the weather that mark the passing of time. The journey seems trance-like with each long day bleeding into the next. These are some of the things we tried to get across. The stillness, the silence and the super unforgiving and dynamic landscape."- Kelly Reichardt

From reading other reviews and interviews I realise that the diaries were inspiration rather than literal source material for the story and it just really interested me to see the amount of research that was put into the film.  I spent so long cataloguing Lindsay Anderson's diaries for whom they seemed to serve myriad purposes - discussing the progress on whatever film or play he was working on, working out ideas, venting steam at people who annoyed him, noting his always continuing battle with his waistline, what he bought at the supermarket that day, but also, sadly, they also seemed to serve as his closest confidant and friend.  In addition to sometimes feeling like an intruder reading such personal thoughts his diaries also made me quite sad at times, to think that they were the best (or only) place he felt he could confide.  Kelly's memory from one of the diaries she read, that 'one woman was keeping a diary in case her husband should ever want to know her' echoes this use of the diary as a remedy or tonic for loneliness.  It also brings up the issue of whether or not people write their diaries with the hope that others might read them.  

Which leads me on to a few really interesting diary related projects I've been reading about recently.  I heard about Her Five Year Diary thanks to Casey's Elegant Musings
and I've been enjoying reading it since.  Sara, the creator of the blog, found the diary at an estate sale and was intrigued.   The diary is from 1961 - 1965 and from reading the entries she knows the diary writer was a female teacher in a deaf school in the Seattle area.  She wrote an entry every day for 5 years so Sara is now posting each day's diary online.  I love the idea of this and I think all the mundane everyday things are as interesting as special events.  

The other diary related project is a current project running at West Yorkshire Archives Service's where they are using Local History Month to highlight all the diaries in their Archive.  On their blog they discuss the huge variety of types of diaries they hold, from the everyday lives of people in the area, for example a farming diary from Bottom Boat Farm, to the diaries of soldiers posted abroad, to diaries from peoples holiday travels.  You'll be able to see the exhibition at all the Archive centres in West Yorkshire but for those who can't make it then you can read about it on their blog, Catablogue.

I don't keep a diary myself, though I do enjoy reading other peoples, when I'm cataloguing them, or reading about other people's projects with diaries, and also in published form.  Does this mean I'm nosy - I prefer to think it just means I've picked the right profession where I can get paid to indulge my interests on other people's news!