From raging Luddites to high-tech preservation – lessons from the M&S archive

Marks and Spencer's archive logoIn 1816 a group of lace-workers opposed to the introduction of new weaving technologies decided enough was enough and tore through Loughborough. Since then, a lot has changed and Loughborough is now a modern town with a thriving high-tech focus. Lace is hardly relevant anymore, as opposed to the time the Luddites roamed through the country, and these days mechanical engineering like that produced by Brush is what drives the local economy.

Over the past few months we have spoken to all sorts of people about the heritage of Loughborough, we have heard stories about how Tylers developed into the department store it is now, how half the town worked for Brush or Cottons or Fisons. We got people to put up names of companies from the past and today that they felt were important as part of Loughborough’s Corporate Heritage (post to follow). If one thing has become clear throughout that time, it is that Loughborough has a lot to be proud of and a lot to celebrate. It is no wonder that, when Clare started looking for potential community groups to work with, she quickly uncovered a large group of people that were active as volunteers to celebrate Loughborough’s rich history.

The University plays a part in that history as well and maybe this project can help people now and in the future to continue celebrating Loughborough’s Corporate Heritage. To do that we are investigating the move from raging Luddites to high-tech preservation. We have recently visited Marks and Spencer’s excellent archives in Leeds and heard about their efforts to digitise as much of their rich heritage as possible, from information about material used in dresses and how it was produced, to unique designs used on iconic products. From VHS tapes of commercials to leaflets produced to inform shareholders. That which isn’t digital by nature will at least be preserved as well as digitally possible by Marks and Spencer. There is an important reason for that, Marks and Spencer is not only, justly, proud of their heritage, they are also keenly aware that their consumers, you and me, are. And by digitising their past they unlock the potential for amazing future potential, take for example Alexa Chung’s recent project which is entirely inspired by material from the archives, by digitising materials M&S make it a lot easier for designers from all over the country and world, to explore their rich history.

On top of that is the realisation that technology is moving at incredible pace. It won’t be long now before it will be possible to use consumer-grade Virtual Reality to explore the past, how cool would it be to allow a person with dementia (another wonderful project Marks and Spencer’s archive is involved with by the way) to experience shopping at the Marks and Spencer in the time they would have done? It seems far fetched at the moment, but the technology is quickly making things like this possible and Durham University already has a project that explores applications for VR with dementia patients.

Companies in Loughborough might be smaller than M&S, but, as we are discovering, that does not mean there is no role for digital preservation. To keep track of our exciting journey, make sure to check this website regularly, we will keep you posted of further developments as they come along.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *