Shall we have a ‘Cambridge history hack’?


Some ideas on what it might be like 

Before we start, if you are on Facebook please can you ‘Like’ the following pages:

Thank you.

After spending some time browsing through the microfiches of old newspapers in the Cambridge Central Library, as well as pondering over the problems and challenges local archivists had presented me with, something sparked in my mind on how to deal with them.

“What is the aim of such a hack?”

Aims include:

  • Making people aware of the existence of local history institutions such as the Museum of Cambridge
  • Making people aware of local historical services such as the county archives and the Cambridgeshire Collection
  • Bringing the staff and volunteers face-to-face with a new, wider audience of people less familiar with what they do
  • Inviting people to bring in their old photographs and objects to be scanned, properly recorded and archived in a digital archive
  • Bringing lots of people together to share ideas
  • Creating a shared timeline of Cambridge’s civic history – collectively recording the major events in our city’s history
  • Teasing out people from inside Cambridge’s large institutions (not just Cambridge University) to get them involved in local historical projects
  • Share our different experiences of ‘doing’ local history
  • Raising money for our local historical institutions
  • To encourage people to think about how our past can inform our future at a time of huge change and growth in our city.

“OK…so let’s go through ‘who, what, when, where, how and why?'”


  • Anyone interested in the history of the city of Cambridge.
  • Top line hosts could include:
    • the Museum of Cambridge,
    • Cambridgeshire County Council at Shire Hall (where the county archive is) or in the Central Library (where the Cambridgeshire Collection is),
    • Cambridge City Council – The Guildhall
    • Cambridge University Library
    • Anglia Ruskin University
  • Spin off events could be hosted by local schools, colleges, local libraries and even Cambridge’s businesses – in particular those that have been in Cambridge for many years


A hack. Although this term is often used in digital terms, for me this is very much a paper hack as well as an online one. The reason being is that there are many old books (ones that are not yet old enough to be considered ‘antique’) that offer interesting insights on our history.

Here’s me with a couple of them in mid-2016

There’s also a chance for several of us to help update/refresh some of the web pages and databases held/maintained by our local historical institutions – all too often on a shoestring budget.


Whenever we can organise it – though ideally not at exam time. It doesn’t need to be a full 24 hour thing in the first instance. Baby steps first. Possibly a 10am-4pm event to start off with.


As mentioned above.


First of all with this post inviting people to express an interest. Then assuming we can persuade one of the institutions to be our host, approach the others to find out what both their needs are, and also what their aspirations are.


This is why:

That’s me asking Cambridgeshire County Council transport officers about historical reading in the context of future transport plans. If they don’t know what their institution got wrong in the past, how can they be sure they won’t make the same mistakes again? Given the scale of development in Cambridge this matters. Hence making more people aware of our local civic history (*Like my FB Page ‘Lost Cambridge’ please!) and of our local democracy (*Like my FB Page ‘Democracy Cambridge’ please!)


What would the hack event be like?

In part it depends where it took place. An event at The Central Library would enable the Cambridgeshire Collection to bring out and display a number of the old books and maps – while making use of the neighbouring conference rooms for people to use laptops from the wifi connection. Oh – and it has a cafe next to it too. At Shire Hall you have the county archives there (but not for much longer) – though no on site cafe. That said, you do have the lawn and Castle Hill there. Ideal for summer?

As well as the various aspects of data crunching, the two big things I’m looking for are:

  1. Populating a timeline of civic history – one that also covers the various Acts of Parliament and restructures of local government that had a marked impact on Cambridge.
  2. Scanning of photographs brought in by residents especially old ones from families that have lived in the city for generations.

An annual event?

Possibly – with the chance of other local institutions (such as schools, colleges, community groups and longstanding voluntary organisations) hosting their own and adding to the civic timeline and photographic archive.

The need for expert help

Creating and expanding a digital archive is not easy – and also requires resources. (Hence the fundraising bit). Hence before we even start we’d need the guidance of expert archivists and those who are pioneering the digitisation of history in the professional sphere.

So…anyone interested?

Email me – antonycarpen [at] gmail [dot] com




One thought on “Shall we have a ‘Cambridge history hack’?

  1. Thank you for raising the idea of a Cambridge history hack. This would broaden the scope of the curating Cambridge event run by the Museum of Cambridge. Concentrating on written/photographic and aural records of history would make this rather like a wikithon. There is a small wiki team in Cambridge so it would be good to get them on board.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s