Opening up a national collection to creative practitioners: National Archives project

Opening up a national collection to creative practitioners at The National Archives


What is going through your mind the first time you lift that lid off the box and see a cast of a child’s hand?

A curious object held at The National Archives

You may have a number of questions just by looking at the object: for example, who did this belong to? What is it made of?

After learning a little bit more about this object, you have another set of questions. How then do you go about answering the questions and how then can you relate this to your creative practice?

Earlier this year, I developed and delivered an interactive workshop, Using Archives in your Creative Practice, at The National Archives to encourage creative practitioners to ask these questions whilst looking at a small selection of our archive holdings. I was keen to develop and deliver a practical workshop for creative practitioners to critically engage with the collections of The National Archives and enable them to potentially use this experience in their respective practice. It was partly inspired by the conference I attended, Learning through Objects: Transformative Pedagogies in Practice at UAL in 2016, and the acknowledgment that there were pedagogical benefits to archival object-based learning.



Post-it note session on the day of the workshop

The workshop was primarily designed as an introductory session, open to students and creative practitioners from all creative disciplines such as fine art, creative writing, theatre and performance.

The half-day workshop was split into three sections:

  1. Looking at documents and thinking about archives – this was the interactive section of the workshop, with a selection of archives from illustrative and textual material to objects held in the collections.
  2. Formulating ideas on what they have seen and seeing potential in using them for their work.
  3. How to get started with your research in the archives – basic research tips to get participants started on using archives.


A poem by Rachel Woolf developed in the workshop

It was very encouraging to see everyone fully engaged in the selected collections, and how they responded to the various tasks set. It was also great to see that, for many of the participants, it was their first time at The National Archives. Many have said they will make a return visit in the future. It would be interesting to hear from other colleagues in the wider art libraries and archives sector about their experiences of getting students and creative practitioners to use their collections.

We hope to run more sessions in the future, so keep a look out on The National Archives website.

You may also be interested in our postgraduate archival skills training sessions.

Ann Chow, National Archives







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