Once you have a plan, it’s time to start researching. The first step is to find out what information may already exist, and what sources you might use to find out more.
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When using a source, it’s important to consider its reliability. Unfortunately, ‘Fake News’ is a staple of modern media, which can make finding true stories frustrating. Throughout history, sources have been manipulated, misused and misunderstood. Ask yourself these questions when deciding whether a source is reliable.
- What is the purpose of this source? Could that make it biased?
- Does this match up with other facts about the era? Can you verify this elsewhere?
- Who wrote this source? Are they qualified to do so?
- Is the context of the material given? If not, could it mean different things in its original context?
In a hidden histories project, it’s likely that you’ll come across information that will surprise you, and this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s wrong. However, by taking the above questions into account, you can produce a project that’s as accurate as possible.
When starting your research phase, one of the easiest places to start is online. There are many free resources that simply require a device and an internet connection, but some of the tools listed here may require a payment.
Google Search is a useful starting point in identifying leads for more in depth research – which will need other tools. Try different keywords, combinations and filters (eg. UK / Wales results); advanced, image and scholar searches. Save any useful links you have in one place!
People’s Collection Wales
PCW is Wales’ ‘virtual museum’ where you can search photographs, recordings and documents from projects across the heritage sector. They offer support and training for digitisation of collections, and for community projects on the culture and heritage of Wales.
Welsh Newspapers Online
This National Library of Wales resource lets you search and access over 1 million pages from 120 newspapers and publications between 1860s and 1919 (including WW1).
Family History & Geneology Tools
There are a range of online communities accessing thousands of databases with billions of records. Some require manual searching, while subscription services can find transcribed records for you
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission database records every military and service person to have died in conflicts under the flags of the UK and Commonwealth nations – including the fallen of WW1 & WW2 – along with fully searchable details of resting places and memorials.
The Pearce Register on WCIA’s Peace Map is a searchable database of all known First World War Conscientious Objectors from Wales and the border counties, developed in partnership between Wales for Peace and University of Leeds Research Fellow Cyril Pearce.
Finding Real People
This is maybe the most exciting ingredient for a hidden history. What sort of people might be around today who can tell you more; who could you interview to bring your Hidden History to life? No one from WW1 remains alive today, but might your grandparents remember their own families’ stories? Or, if you’re exploring a topic or story that is more recent, who might have been involved? Ask around! Think about people in:
- Your local community
- Retirement homes, community groups or social clubs
- Current members of campaigning branches / groups
- Volunteers or staff of relevant organisations / places
- Family members or descendents of individuals
While offline research may require a bit more leg work, it’s often the nearest you can get to being up close and personal with your project.
Local Libraries & National Library
County libraries – as well as school, college and university libraries – are a rich source for books and loans, as well as local archive materials. The National Library of Wales have copies of every book ever published in English or Welsh, as well as extensive historical archives.
Local Archives & Records Offices
What information has been published on your topic before in books, academic journals, articles, magazine features or other literature? From a huge range of sources, you will need to be critical of quality and perspective. This ‘Information Skills’ guide may help.
Museum Displays & ‘On Location’
You could visit an exhibition or location of particular relevance to your story to deepen your understanding of a subject, or of events that happened there, for example visiting Flanders Fields, the National Museum of Wales or Bradford Peace Museum.
Cenotaphs and Memorials
What activities are organisations offering? Could you participate in an educational workshop, editathon, debate, or attend and record (or even arrange) a talk from an expert in your chosen area?
You may find that the topic or person you’ve chosen is already well known (for example, Hedd Wyn or David Lloyd George) – in which case, is it still a ‘hidden’ history? You could consider ways around this:
- Is their story primarily known in circles that you can ‘go beyond’? For example, a local figure who is not well known nationally, a Welsh language figure about whom little is written in English, or an international figure whose Welsh background hasn’t been explored?
- Existing material might be written mostly from one perspective. Could your Hidden History present a different perspective? For example, soldiers’ stories often focus on their military role, but who were they, and what did they do before they signed up?
- Could you focus on people who were close or affected by their actions? For example, if someone is well known because they were imprisoned for protesting, how did their family and friends support them?
- Could you create a ‘feature article‘ or multimedia piece instead, which draws together different perspectives and links from existing materials? For example, how different Welsh communities have supported refugees fleeing war in Syria?