If you were asked to depict a historian, what would you say? If you were asked to depict an archaeologist, what springs to mind? If you were asked to depict a person with bipolar disorder, would you have an image in your head?
Humans are very good at stereotyping. We like people to fit into neat boxes and categories. When someone doesn’t quite fit into any box or category, it often causes discomfort – even annoyance.
A Past in Mind is a community project which has an inclusive approach. Accepting that some volunteers may be experiencing mental health problems has meant that everyone is tolerant of others in the group. There is no “them and us” theme. We’re a group of people interested in history and archaeology.
We had our volunteer Taster Day two weeks ago. The sun was shining and this made the general mood even more exuberant. I must confess that I did not know what to expect. I knew that we were going to be given a general introduction to studying historical records, but that was it.
We virtually hijacked the archives research room in the Bromyard Records Office. It’s a room that is not accustomed to general chatter, and at first the creaky floorboards seemed disgruntled at our noisy intrusion. After a while though, I felt the building relax enough to give us its blessing. After all, the disruption was academically inclined.
At the beginning of this post I mentioned stereotypes. I quickly realised that no one in the group could be summed up or categorised. This was brilliant! One volunteer possessed incredible knowledge about eider ducks (hence the header picture – as the eider duck was integral to our brainstorming session). Others volunteered historical facts and dates, general knowledge and local history expertise. It was clear that each person in the room had something to contribute, and the mix of skills and knowledge created such a fusion of brain-sparks that I literally felt my head buzzing. Speaking more generally, it is important not to have preconceived boxes ready to house this project’s discoveries. An open mind is key to our success.
By the end of the two hours the group was united in its passion for discovery. Our starting point had been one man, a Yeoman who owned land in the area and had made a Will in 1674. From this single Will, we could glean information about what type of person he was, what he may have been through during his lifetime and how it may relate to the events occurring in Britain at the time.
In effect, history became real and touchingly human. I felt that I’d become intrinsically connected with the local area and the people who once tilled its soil. Our Yeoman was no longer just an entry in local records, he was alive in our discussions to the extent that he was almost tangible. I cannot wait to explore further. Not only that, we gelled as a group and this helped us to work together creatively. The feel-good factor was second-to-none. I knew that I would get absolutely no sleep that night – my brain was electric.
This Taster Day was a great beginning for the Past in Mind project. The most gratifying thing was that everyone present was eager to find out more and to continue with the project.
We meet again on Thursday May 31st at the Volunteer Inn, Harold Street, Hereford (4.30/4.45pm). We’ll be visiting the nearby Hereford Records Office to study relevant documents that might help us to understand more about the Brockhampton site. Anyone who is interested in participating in the project is welcome to contact our Project Manager, Jenny McMillan: Jenny.McMillan@herefordshire-mind.org.uk