Building Commons Knowledge:
Over the course of the project year, we will be providing support, advice and research resources to those interested in recording the history of their commons. We will be sharing the expertise we have built up through our own research into common land, and hoping to create a network of common land history projects. You may have your own reasons for conducting research into your local common: you may wish to write a piece for a commoners’ association website, or perhaps a local history magazine, or an information panel for the common, or perhaps you are a local historian with a research interest. We hope our resources will be useful for a range of people and purposes.
In return, you can help us by contributing histories, testimonies and materials towards our online ‘Commons Knowledge Resource Bank’. Essentially, we are hoping that you will compile a brief history of your local common – a ‘Commons Story’ to be placed alongside others from all over England and Wales, recording how the common has been used and managed in the past. In order to achieve this, this ‘toolkit’ aims to help you to:
- plan and organise a well-defined and limited piece of research in order to attempt to answer a series of specific Research Questions (see below).
- record the memories of older people about the common, in order to capture something of the unwritten history of common land in the 20th century, which is in danger of being lost.
- explore a limited range of documentary and archive sources, which may involve a visit to your local record office.
- write up your research in the form of a brief report and to submit this for posting on our project website.
You do not have to commit to starting up a common land history project or writing a ‘Common Story’ in order to come to our workshops – you are very welcome to use our resources for your own ‘commons’ interests – but it would still be helpful if you let us know which commons you are working on, and any ‘commons history’ outputs which you think others might like to be aware of (for example, we can make a link to your local history website).
Ways of working:
Before you embark on a community common land history project or begin compiling a ‘Commons Story’, please give some thought as to how you would prefer to work. We envisage an array of possibilities, depending on whether you like to work as part of a team or individually. Consider how you would feel most comfortable: working individually would allow you to take full responsibility for the tasks in hand and having the satisfaction of ‘ownership’ of the material you create . Working as a group might enable the community to share tasks, build a sense of collective ownership and allow individuals to concentrate on those aspects of the research which particularly interest or suit them. Possible arrangements include:
- Working as a group, perhaps as part of a Commoners’ Association or a Local History Society
- Forming a working partnership between commoners and local historians
- Working as an individual researcher, carrying out interviews and documentary research yourself
- Recording and contributing your own memories, independently of others (this could be an option where no one else is able to be involved and you do not have the time to carry out interviews or documentary research).
Our project runs until the end of June 2013 and we hope that an important part of its legacy will be the ‘Commons Stories’ submitted by commoners and local historians across the country. In order to ensure that your ‘Commons Story’ is included on the project website, please submit it to us as soon as you are ready to but no later than 31 May 2013.
(Text by A.J.L. Winchester and E.A. Straughton)