Cultural archives

Waltham Forest Oral History Project

Cultural Archives

There are many cultural projects in the borough, and two that stand out are Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop and the Facebook page “Walthamstow In Pictures”. The Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop has recorded residents’ stories for over thirty years, bringing the area’s history to life. Each record is unique, and it is possible to see trends of people making their homes here. The project is an outstanding example of the qualitative archives possible within a community, and it inspires my aims for Stowe Framework because it captures a wide range of views.

As another example, the Facebook page “Walthamstow In Pictures” publishes people’s photos of the area and have built up an enviable local archive. Rick, the person behind the page, has shared his motivation behind starting and maintaining the page, saying that he loves “love reading comments on the shared photos. [The sharing of photos has facilitated] childhood reunions [and] even families who lost touch with each other.” He preferred to keep his identity to himself as he feels that the page works best from an anonymous point of view. This approach has worked, as he has thousands of photos in organised albums on a page that has upwards of eighteen thousand followers.

This building is called the Ancient House

 The advent of social media has allowed keen amateur historians to build archives as they wish and enables the community to interact more easily. In comparison, the local archives stored at Vestry House Museum are available only in person and subject to curation. Above shows the comments and discussions on the photos. They are of equal importance because they collate memories that form the area’s history, readily as part of people’s everyday social media communication. 

If any fault were to be found with Walthamstow in Pictures, it would be that Facebook optimises the images and making them part of the Facebook infrastructure means it will be difficult to migrate the archive to another system later. Despite this, Rick’s work to maintain and increase the archive is focused and is to be applauded.

After the discussion of the term ‘vernacular’ above, the Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop and Walthamstow in Pictures are examples of vernacular archives. However, they are described as such not to deride these collections; instead, to differentiate between the origins of the archives and the easy way people engage with them. These collections have equal importance to the formal histories we see in museums and official online archives.

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