On Monday 3rd June, a group of Year Eight history students had the opportunity to visit the Oxford Brookes University Archive, as part of a Rumble Museum project exploring the connections between John Brookes, Oxford Brookes University and Cheney School, culminating in a Story and Artefact Collection afternoon for alumni students and staff on 28th June. The students were met by archivist Eleanor Possart, who introduced the archives, explaining what sort of things they collected, and how the rooms were specially controlled in terms of their temperature and other aspects to preserve the valuable material.
She had laid out a selection of material from five different collections: food and drink, Dorset House, the Booker Prize, children's literature, and Cheney Technical School, founded by John Brookes, and one of the two schools which merged to become Cheney School in 1972. Students were able to explore the material in groups, and think about some key questions. The Booker Prize collection showed how much controversy emanated from judge's decisions, with press articles and a strongly worded letter written by Joanna Lumley on the panel for one of the years. It was interesting to see the contrast between the judges' statements and reporting in the press.
Dorset House was a school of Occupational Therapy, and one of the items on display was a prosthetic limb. Students were able to compare this to the sort of modern prosthetics from today, where different materials and electronics are used. There as a promotional video about Dorset House, and case studies of patients they worked with.
The children's literature items included beautifully illustrated water colours on covers, and whimsical, simple graphics, as well as stories which were very pastoral (set in the country), and with moral themes. Students noted that the covers were much more bright now, and the contents more exciting.
Food and drink included examples of recipes that students were quite surprised by, such as bird's nests and frogs! It was also observed how the war had influenced books, which often featured rationing, in the post-war years, whereas in the 80s onwards, there were many fat- and diet-focused books, suggesting an increasing problem or at least interest in weight.
Finally, the Cheney Technical School archives included old school uniform such as a tie and cap - the green was not much liked! - old school magazines and layouts, and exercise books, which all seemed meticulously neat.
The collections were a fascinating insight into how various different areas of life and learning have changed over time, and gave the students an opportunity to make connections and explore differences, as well as gain an understanding for how history is collected, and what information we can get from it.
We are very grateful to Eleanor and Oxford Brookes University for letting us visit and enjoy their very interesting collections.