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Matthew

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"Walking past vault after vault of documents I recognised a lost connection between myself and the primary evidence of the past."

Matthew at the London Metropolitan Archive
Matthew at the London Metropolitan Archive

Walking past vault after vault of documents I recognised a lost connection between myself and the primary evidence of the past; whilst writing essays in the comfort of my bed I sometimes forget the groundwork that goes into preserving the past for historians.

Whilst reflecting on this historical preservation I reviewed a number of ‘lunacy’ records from the nineteenth century; in recollection this experience reinforced my view of subjectivity and historical study. The potentially Orwellian power LMA has over what elements of the past survive directly influences the historian’s perception of past events; the layout of records such as the ‘lunacy’ books also provides limited objectivity in the category of questions asked and answers given. My thoughts were compounded as I left the LMA whilst viewing an exhibit on workhouses; out of hundreds of thousands of potential records, only those displayed to the public create the impression of the past the public experiences.

The last three years of university have occupied me with questioning the way history studies the past and the methods used in this pursuit; to witness the study of history at a primary school level was a useful reminder of my own evolving conception of history as a subject. The process of teaching children simple events of the past as fact without yet engaging them in the question of how reliable representation of the past is through a primary source was an interesting experience for me.