Archiving Apathy

I have just had a meeting with the UK Web Archive about their creation of a Special Collection of sites on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this summer. They are keen to include a balanced range of sites and will be using twitter-based software to make sure they are getting a broad range. Whilst the Royal Archives / Royal Household are very involved with the project, they are also making a concerted effort to reach out to groups like Republic (which campaigns for an elected head of state), and to include alternative viewpoints.

I will now be involved with nominating ‘alternative’ Jubilee sites for the collection. The chance to shape the historical record in this way is exciting, but also nerve-wracking. I am very aware of the competing priorities of the two sides of my life: historian and campaigner. What the present republican activist wants to promote and to record is not necessarily the same as the future historian would want to see. A useful archive of republican sites would have to include the full range – not all of which are likely to be helpful to our cause!

However, one point on which both sides of my self are in agreement, is the way in which any attempt to archive the Jubilee will fail to represent the experience of the majority of the British public. The people who are not organising street parties or protests, who are waving neither flags nor placards, but who are simply making use of the extra-long-weekend to take a break, do the garden, visit relatives or have a nice long lie-in. Unless they set up Jubilee-themed websites to record this lack of Jubilee-related activity, they will be lost to the historical record (and they certainly won’t be found in the pages of the national press!).

This is not a problem which is specific to the Jubilee, of course, and it is one that constantly troubles me in my own research. You can usually find some people talking/writing/tweeting about any subject. You can find disagreements within them and provide evidence to support a ‘broad range of views’. But what about all the millions of others who simply couldn’t care less?

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