Archivists and academics combine to make 80,000 documents and photographs available at the click of a computer key
There were regular rows when I was a student about women being left out of history, a controversy which seems a bit old-fashioned these days. But if modern history is unlikely to overlook women's role, there's a great deal of the past to catch up on; so a new initiative from the West Yorkshire archive and Huddersfield university is sure to get plenty of use and appreciation.
It is a website which launches on Friday 7 under the title History to Herstory, the latter a term I remember from past ding-dongs when Juliet Gardiner and then Gordon Marsden were successively at the helm of the magazine History Today. She has subsequently done mighty work on the history of everyone in the 1930s and the Second World War while Marsden is a familiar part of northern life as Labour MP for Blackpool South since 1997.
They're both likely to pay online calls on History to Herstory which has free digital versions of more than 80,000 documents relating to Yorkshire women in the 19th and 20th centuries. This includes such well-known stars of the county as the Bronte sisters and Amy Johnson but also thousands who currently have no memorial but lead fascinating and illuminating lives.
Funded by JISC, formerly the Joint Information Systems Committee of leading universities, which gave £42,545 and Huddersfield uni which paid £11,601, the site links every online document to the whereabouts of the original. Most are at the West Yorkshire Archive, but with substantial contributions from Huddersfield and Hull universities and the Bronte Society. Naturally, the organisers are interested in getting more.
Katy Goodrum of West Yorkshire Archives Service says:We certainly don't want to deprive people of the ability to see the originals, but the website means you don't have to travel from half way around the world to use the material. The main thing for me is a huge amount of it is in women's own words, which is quite rare.
The notion of the website may be familiar to some researchers, because an earlier version was attempted in 2002 but worked only clunkily. It showed that demand was there, however, and the archives and Huddersfield made a persuasive case for a complete overhaul and reboot.
They were helped by recent examples of research on women's lives which led to excellent and widely accessible historical work – such as Jill Liddington's study of the sufragettes Rebel Girls and the immense interest in Anne Lister of Shibden Hall.
Historian Prof Tim Thornton, Huddersfield's pro-vice chancellor for teaching and learning, calls the project:
A great example of bringing underused resources back into the public gaze.
His colleague Dr Rob Ellis of the uni's history department says:
This is an archive that can be used for many purposes by anybody, from academic researchers to family historians.
And of any age; the site includes 'learning packages' for the fledgling herstorian on themes such as women and politics, women at work, women at war and women's letters and photographs.
West Yorkshire Archive is confident about getting clicks. It made 24 million parish records available in June in partnership with the subscription service Ancestry.com and by August was getting 80,000 downloads a day.
Website is at: http://www.historytoherstory.org.uk/