Exploring Birmingham's hidden histories

Sian Roberts, is the Connecting Histories project manager and is based at Birmingham City Archives.

Archive and History collections

One of the major outputs of the project is the web-site, which is designed to make a wide range of sources available for research and for use with students, adult learners and others. The project focuses on a number of archive and historical collections from the Central Library which illustrate the histories of the city's culturally diverse communities. On the web-site you will find information and detailed catalogues for a range of materials that you can use with students. For example, these include the archive of the city's Jewish community and the archive of the photographer Vanley Burke.


The site also includes exhibitions of photographs and documents illustrating a range of communities, their histories, festivals and activities - from Terry Lo's photographs of the Chinese community in the city to Diwali, Lok Mela and the St Patrick's Day Parade. In addition to material from the Central Library's collections there will also be a number of exhibitions produced by community groups and individuals who are living in Birmingham. One example of this is an exhibition by Ahmed Mirreh which uses family and personal photographs to tell the story of his journey from Somaliland to Birmingham. The site also provides contact details of a number of groups in the city who are undertaking oral history and community archive projects, and who are all keen to develop links with local schools.

History Trails

The Exhibitions section will also feature historical trails of the city which you can walk with a group of students. The first two to be available by the end of December 2006 will be an Anti-slavery Trail focusing on the life of the great Birmingham abolitionist Joseph Sturge, and key sites in the city centre which reflect the city's history of campaigning against the slave trade. There will also be a Jewish Trail of the city centre, focusing on aspects of the history of this little known community which has been established in the city since the 18th century.

Learning Resources

In the part of the site called Learning you will find a set of learning resources researched and written by members of the Connecting Histories Team. Although these are aimed at an audience in the 16+ age range, they are also an invaluable source of primary sources and contextual information for teachers.

How to Research Black History, written by Professor Ian Grosvenor from Birmingham University’s School of Education, is based on his research in this area over many years. It aims to introduce a wide range of historical material for the study of black history and is arranged in three parts - Sources, which provides the user with 60 examples of historical sources including documents, visual images, artefacts and examples from the surrounding built environment; Case Study, in which Ian attempts to identify a black school girl who lived in the city in 1913 and get a glimpse of what her life was like; and Resources, which provides a list of useful books and websites. Both the Sources and the Case Study are accompanied by detailed commentaries which explain the material and discuss some of the issues involved in using archive and historical sources.

Campaigning for Social Justice has been written and researched by Dr. Andy Green and Sarah Dar and comprises of two case studies exploring the history of social justice campaigning in the city. In Birmingham Anti-slavery Andy looks at the abolitionist campaigns in the city. As well as giving a general introduction to the subject he focuses on three themes – the Birmingham Anti-slavery Society and one of its leaders, Joseph Sturge; the part which Birmingham women played in the Ladies Anti-slavery Societies; and the role of key black figures who visited Birmingham, such as James Watkins and Frederick Douglass, in Black Abolitionists. Sarah looks at 20th century campaigns and explores two organisations – the Indian Workers Association and the Sparkbrook Organisation. Both groups campaigned on many of the same issues, such as discrimination in housing, educational provision, equality in the workplace, but were very different as the IWA was a grassroots migrant organisation, whilst the other was a philanthropic and non-political organisation mainly led by white middle class professionals.

The other three sets of learning resources will focus on Migration and Settlement in the city (available in Jan 2007), Archives as Social Knowledge (available in Jan 2007) and Performing Resistance (available by June 2007) which will explore the ways in which the arts and performance have been used as campaigning tools.

A future intention for this section is to also feature information on a number of local school projects and activities developed by the City Archives’ Creative Learning Officer, Nikki Thorpe, in partnership with a number of local primary, secondary and special schools and Birmingham Creative Partnerships. The projects mostly focus on how archives can be used creatively in schools to explore local history, citizenship, issues of identity and cultural diversity and will hopefully provide a forum for sharing good practice and interesting ideas.

The Connecting Histories web-site can be found at: http://www.connectinghistories.org.uk/