Teddy Roosevelt once said: “I believe that the more you know about the past, the better you are prepared for the future.” He was right; not only does history teach us who we used to be, but it helps us appreciate who we are. When you are grateful for the life you currently live, the very act of living becomes easier. As a result, it’s essential that we try to hold on — as much as we can — to our vast and intricate histories. This is precisely why the Express and Star Photographic Collection lept at the chance to produce a website and digitize photographs dating back over the past century.
Black Country refers to an area of the West Midlands, UK, where industrial production boomed in the mid-19th century. The name came from the smoke produced by the thousands of ironworking foundries and forges in the region — some coal seams reached as high as 30 feet (today, the global market demand for gas will overtake the demand for coal by 2030). No industrial work can be done without workers, and the Express and Star Photographic Collection contains around 3,000 images of the men and women who spent their days working and living in the area.
“This collection is a historical source and captures hundreds of personal stories about the changes in life for the region, making it valuable to local people, as well as students and academics,” said Scott Knight of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Wolverhampton, who has worked on the project since the initial partnership discussions in 2008. “Preserving this valuable collection meets the University’s brief of making a lasting positive difference to the Black Country and the wider region.”
As more organizations digitize their document archives, the need for digital storage is growing. In fact, data centers now account for a large portion of energy usage around the globe. Fortunately, there are innovative solutions that can help reduce the costs of digital storage. For instance, immersion-based cooling systems help keep servers cool by immersing them in water, a technology that can reduce data center energy use by up to 20%. This makes it more affordable for institutions to preserve physical documents in digital form.
Normally, delicate historical documents and photographs need to be carefully stored under precise environmental controls: the humidity must be kept low (but still above 15%), there should be little or no exposure to sunlight, and at cool temperatures. Obviously, these conditions mean very few people can actually see the documents; the future of preservation is digitization, which not only keeps them safe for eternity, but also allows anyone with Internet access to experience the past.
Thanks to the grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the efforts of countless volunteers, people across the world can see what life was like in Black Country in the mid-1900s.