Cool New Digital Public History Project at Coventry University “New Connections”

10 09 2012

AS: Coventry University, my employer, will be hosting a major project to digitize the archive of British Telecom, the major phone company in the UK. This will be a fantastic resource for business historians in both this country and abroad.


This project is a collaboration between Coventry University (CU), BT Heritage and The National Archive (TNA) and aims to catalogue, digitise and develop a searchable online archive of almost half a million photographs, images, documents and correspondence assembled by BT over 165 years.

This large and remarkable collection details the history of Britain’s leading role in the development of telecommunications and the impact of this technology on society. The BT Archive is held, with some limited public access, in central London and is by any standard a collection of national and international importance, recognised by UNESCO.

Examples of documents in the Archive include the following: details of the introduction of the telephone to the UK by Alexander Graham Bell in 1877; the Installation of the telephone at Balmoral Castle, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle in 1910-11; arrangements for telegraphic transmission of Disraeli’s ‘one nation’ speech from Manchester in 1872; and documentation relating to experiments with optical fibres from the 1960s that led to today’s fibre optics networks.

Examples of photographs include: The first UK telephone exchange 1878; early videoconferencing and viewphones from 1960s and The Queen making the first automatic long distance telephone call from Bristol to Edinburgh in1958.

The digitisation of a significant proportion of the Archive, will allow teachers, students, researchers and the general public in the UK and overseas to gain easier access to our scientific and cultural telecommunications heritage; enabling them to utilise the archive for studies and leisure from anywhere in the world. Digitisation of the Archives will also ensure the continued preservation of the collections in digital as well as analogue format.

The project includes research work around product and graphic design, language development and problem-based learning. Using innovative, immersive techniques the project will develop mobile and web access to the collection for scholars, teachers and learners as well as the general public.

The project brings together those in BT, TNA and CU with expertise in archives and heritage management, Serious Games, Design, Language, Computing, History, and Education and Learning Resources.




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