BBC archives: creating living resources through public collaboration and engagement

Academic: Dr S. Popple, Faculty of Performance, Visual Arts and Communications

Leeds research into the potential for public collaboration and democratic engagement with digital archives has helped the BBC bring its archives to life and enhanced wider understanding of the 1984 Miner’s Strike.

With over 12 million documents, television and radio broadcasts, photographs and online content, the BBC has one of the largest broadcast archives in the world, which is in the process of being digitised.

The information and knowledge that was contained in our footage (of the Miners’ Strike) was very important – but it has been enriched and given extra context by our engagement with the people directly involved ... Until we engaged with them, it was just a few cans of film on a shelf in a storeroom. Now it’s a living resource.

BBC Controller of Archive Development

Leeds has examined the importance of social records and historical representation as well as ownership of cultural heritage resources. This has led to joint initiatives with the BBC, exploring how to best present its archive and developing models through which audiences can access and engage with the archive.

Creating living resources

The Open Archive Project demonstrated how regional news material and historical agendas can help audiences construct and make sense of their own histories and memories. Leeds focused on the BBC’s highly criticised coverage of the Miners’ Strike, bringing together groups involved in or affected by the strike to explore how it has been represented in the archive. As a result, the BBC’s coverage of the strike’s 25th anniversary incorporated previously marginalised viewpoints and influenced wider understanding of social history.

A subsequent Leeds project, Fusion, explored how communities can take ownership of cultural and historical materials in which they are represented. The project led to a series of films about the Miner’s Strike that tell participant’s stories and offer new perspectives. A third project investigated how communities and cultural heritage organisations can co-create open community digital spaces.

Affirming relationships through public collaboration

Leeds’ work demonstrates the potential for collaborative partnerships and the public desire to engage with, and take ownership of, cultural heritage resources. The work informed the BBC’s strategy of establishing its archives as open and democratic digital spaces and enabling audiences’ to interact with and contextualise materials, which the BBC acknowledges is helping to build public confidence in the organisation. The work also inspired a pioneering BBC partnership programme to open wider archives for UK-based teaching and learning.

Developing civic society

The Fusion project bought people together to articulate their feelings of being misrepresented and encouraged reconciliation. It increased the confidence and ability of participants to reflect on their experiences and contribute to public debate, with one participant directly attributing her ability to develop and lead the national campaign for a public enquiry into the 1984 Battle of Orgreave to Leeds.

“Through (Leeds’) research we can … start to understand the passions and sense of ownership the BBC audience has when engaging with what is essentially their archive.”

Strategic Partnerships Executive for BBC Research & Development


Funders: Arts & Humanities Research Council and the BBC

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