What do MOSI’s archives hold for Pararchive project members? This is what Daniel and I set out to discover through a behind-the-scenes visit to the Manchester museum under the expert guidance of Jan Hicks, MOSI’s Archives and Information Manager.
We started out from its Collections Centre, which holds about a third of the objects not on display, plus the archives collection. In perusing its open stacks for objects of interest, I spied one of William Isaac Chadwick’s innovative stereoscopic cameras, an exemplar of both MOSI’s rich photography and cinematography collection and Manchester’s early history of lens-based innovation and exploitation (see additionally ‘Jollywood’). Alongside these moveable stacks, visitors can also pull on gloves and get a feel for objects in the handling section.
The large items store offered a thrilling clash of objects from down the decades: banners from The Haçienda nightclub hang above more mundane items, like this railway workers’ wage drawers (see right). A model of a Ferranti Pegasus – gesturing to Manchester’s important early role in British computing – sprawls opposite the seemingly more random, ‘Old Sparky’, ‘The Great Stromboni’s replica electric chair.
Our final destination was the archives proper, where Jan introduced us to MOSI’s rich print and textile collections, as well as its recent oral history work. As she pulled out draws and opened folders, Jan animated the artefacts with stories, offering glimpses into Manchester’s rich and complex industrial past. We met William Henry Perkin, a perspicacious young chemist, who, in his Easter holidays, accidentally produced a substance that stained silk purple. He named the chemical Mauveine, patented it, and plunged in to the textile trade. Luck was with the young entrepreneur, as, emerging from mourning soon afterwards, Queen Victoria wore mauve, thus stimulating demand for the mass production of purple goods, and, hence, Perkin’s business.
We left MOSI pondering the potential of Pararchive, for, if Jan’s tour and tales momentarily managed to electrify objects, what might happen on our various research journeys? MOSI has extensive collections to engage with: what stories do you want to weave through Manchester’s? What perspectives might you add?
If any of this whets your appetite, you can search MOSI’s collections online here, get in touch with either Fiona or Daniel here, or drop MOSI archivists an email directly on firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, if you’re a member of Arduino MCR or Bokeh_Yeah!, come and join us for the Pararchive ‘behind-the-scenes’ tour of MOSI on Saturday 24 May 2014.