Mapping Jewish London
Some reflections on a project just completed
The Yerusha programme, funded by the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe, seeks to create a portal to virtually unite scattered Jewish documentary heritage from across Europe. Mapping Jewish London, the AIM25 contribution to Yerusha, sought to identify between 200-500 collections from institutions across London.
Identifying and importing collections
The intention had been to employ a field archivist to visit services, but as with so many things in 2020, Covid-19 forced a change to the project methodology. In August 2020 I joined the project to co-ordinate the work of colleagues in the project team (Ed Nunn, Leonie James and Rachel Howse Binnington) who had been undertaking research of online catalogues, including AIM25, The National Archives’ Discovery portal, the Archives Hub and the institution’s own online catalogue. This list of potential collections, served as the foundation on which the project was built.
Each institution we approached was sent the list of collections they held that the team had identified as a starting point for a conversation. Contributors would then review and frequently make suggested additions to this list, with contributors having the final say about the inclusion (or not) of a collection. Pete Vox (Imagiz) wrote some routines to extract specific collections from AIM25 and import into the project AtoM instance. One partner provided data in Excel and this was easily imported.
Behind the scenes an Excel spreadsheet was used to keep track of collections identified, the contributor’s response and whether the entry had been checked to ensure it included the project’s essential data elements. Simple queries of this data enabled me to track progress including the number of approved collections and the number of contributors.
In total 1053 collections were identified and after liaising with partners, 806 collections (77% of those identified) from 45 contributors across London. Some collections were currently un-catalogued and as such not immediately accessible to users so had to be excluded.
It had originally been intended that the field archivist could enhance the entries based on their observations. Following the project reset, Leonie researched prominent Jewish individuals and then looked to find their archives. This process highlighted collections that had been missed because the individual’s biographical history did not mention their Jewish heritage. Contributors responded positively to our suggested re-wording of the biographical entries and looked to update their own entries.
The project has, despite the significant impact of Covid-19, managed to exceed its intended target of collating between 200-500 collections relating to Jewish heritage from across London. This achievement is in no small part due to the work and dedication of a small team and the considerable support from the participating services. The research process made the team very familiar with the various collections management systems and their foibles it also highlighted the advantage of implementing creator name authorities. The central project team are harvesting this data and hope the portal will be launched later this summer.
Aware of zoom-fatigue and the completion of the project before the portal has gone live, my colleague Rachel has undertaken some interviews with contributors (Nicola Avery from London Metropolitan Archives and Howard Falksohn, The Wiener Holocaust Library) and with Geoff Browell (Project sponsor and Leonie from the project team) and placed on the AIM25 YouTube channel.
The focus on archive collections and use of the ISAD(G) standard made sense. However, it did serve as a barrier for some museum and galleries with archival material. I worked closely with colleagues at the Ben Uri Gallery and Museum and the Jewish Museum London to ensure that archive collections at these institutions were included.