'BirminghamLives' - The Carl Chinn Archive
Carl Chinn is well-known throughout Birmingham and the Black Country as an historian, broadcaster, newspaper columnist and author.
Over the years Carl has assembled what is probably the biggest archive of working-class life stories in the world, consisting of tens of thousands of letters and photos, hundreds of oral history interviews and a variety of memorabilia and ephemera. This archive is a major element in the 'BirminghamLives' project that Carl is developing with South Birmingham College in Digbeth.
It has always been Carl's wish that his archive be made available to a wider audience and through the unique nature of Internet technology Carl's wish has been granted. As Carl said about the archive:
'I have had a dream of opening it up, of bringing it to a wider audience and in particular, of allowing young people to see, hear and feel the past. That dream seemed unattainable until the BGfL and Netmedia Education became involved. Through this wonderful and imaginative project, Birmingham Lives will become accessible, will have an impact and will lead youngsters to have a broader and more democratic approach to the past.'
Over the past 3 years the Birmingham Grid for Learning (BGfL), Netmedia Education and Carl have been working together to digitise this private archive and develop a framework that allows pupils and teachers the opportunity to access these significant materials. The archive, although relatively small at the moment, will rapidly grow over time as more and more items are added to it as part of the 'BirminghamLives' project.
The archive is simple to use. It can be searched by keywords, media format (film, written or spoken memory, photograph etc.), area (districts in and around Birmingham), human activity (play, war, school, homes etc.) or by physical place (canals, factories, shops, civic etc.). You can also contribute to the archive by submitting your own items of social or historical interest.
'BirminghamLives' will undoubtedly become a significant resource for both teachers and pupils alike, especially for local history studies (from the late Victorian era through two world wars to modern times). Particularly useful will be the photographs and written memories which bring primary source evidence and artefacts direct to the classroom. This importance is echoed by Carl:
'For if we know not whence we come then how we can move to where we wish to go? Our young people need to know who they are and to be alert to the importance not only of individual memories but also the collective memory. But given that we live in a visual and technological world, youngsters need to be made aware of the past visually and technologically. That is the great achievement and joy of this project.'