Irrespective of what period of history an individual studies, whether it is Renaissance Monarchy, Tudor Gentry, the Post Office or Railways, he or she will very quickly develop concerns regarding the preservation of archival material relating to his or her chosen topic. This stems from the fact that anything that is preserved could add to the quality of the research they produce, and to loose it anything may be a loss to their present or future output.
As a railway historian, I have talked on many occasions about my intense frustration with what I call the ‘draw effect.’ This is the idea that in draws, cupboards and lofts throughout the world, there are large numbers of potentially useful documents for historians which in many cases are in danger of one day finding their way into skips. Although, this said, much does get saved, and to look at the railway documents for sale on eBay is both reassuring, knowing the documents are safe, but also frustrating, given that I can’t buy everything. Therefore, my idea has always been that many documents in private hands could be preserved through an online database. Anyone could upload digital images to the database, and this would also increase the availability of documentary material for researchers. However, I was beaten to it, and an on-line archive does now exist in embryonic form at http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/.
However, while this site covers paper documents, historical artefacts do not only come in this form. From the moment that we could produce movies, people have produced movies of the railways. Thus, it concerned me for a long while that this material didn’t have an online home. Imagine my joy and surprise when I came across http://www.britishrailways.tv/, which is gradually building up an online archive of railway films from the past and present. Naturally, as a railway historian I am engrossed in the historical content of the site, whether it be films of important events, or the railway companies’ own promotional material. Indeed, the site really brings railway history to life.
One of the problems with historical study is that sometimes using paper documents makes it hard to really imagine what events were like. Indeed, on many occasions it is even easy to forget that the events I study were real at all. But, by using archival footage of an event, the sense that history is in ones imagination fades away. Take for example the following footage of the aftermath of the Abermule crash in 1922. While I can get a report on the crash (found here), the video of it below shows me the true horror and devastation that was caused. What was only a previously a report to my mind, is now a much more real, terribly sad, event.
Further, consider my PhD studies on the
Lastly, of course, http://www.britishrailways.tv/ features many promotional videos and adverts which the railway companies of
These are just a few of the 100s of films that are available on http://www.britishrailways.tv/ that show many aspects of railway history and operation. I feel that the site is an important step forward in making railway history accessible and interesting for all. Previously, many of the videos featured on the site would only have been available to a few people. But, because the site exists, it is helping diminish my 'draw effect,' allowing more individuals to experience railway history through the medium of film. Therefore, I implore you to take a look around the site, sign up as a member, upload videos and support it in any way you can, as this will help promote the sharing of railway history for the benefit and entertainment of all who are interested.