When Digital met Heritage…

Bringing the fascinating war time history of Basildon Park to new and digital audiences.

This week Ylva and I were treated to a visit to the beautiful house and grounds of Basildon Park in Berkshire: famous for its appearances in period dramas such as ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘The Duchess’ and more recently the national favourite ‘Downton Abbey’. Initially set up by the Thames Valley Country House Partnership, the purpose of the visit was to discuss how digital technology could be harnessed to share the First World War stories of the house and its residents with a larger, contemporary audience. For example, a key period in the estate’s history includes when the house was requisitioned by the British Government in 1914 and used as a convalescent home for injured soldiers.  Additionally, the owner at the time, James Morrison served with distinction, obtaining the DSO and, according to Harold Macmillan, always “insisted on walking rather than crawling under enemy fire” *.

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Basildon Park in the Sun © Ylva Berglund-Prytz

The team at Basildon Park were interested in learning how to upload content into the extraordinary Europeana 1914-1918 archive but they also wanted to discuss the multiple possibilities to build upon a WiFi connection they had recently installed in certain sections of the house. Currently, visitors can listen to intriguing oral histories of those who have lived and worked on the estate over the years, as they view the delights of the house itself. To access these visit Audioboo: http://audioboo.fm/BasildonParkNT But the team want to develop their outward facing online presence further and explore ways to connect this to commemoration of the Great War in the lead up to the 100 year anniversary. Fruitful discussions over QR image trails, dynamic blog posts and a community collection day ensued: all potentially very exciting developments so watch this space!

Overall, digital technologies represent one way that our interaction with information is changing. From texts to tweets and emails to blogs, we are surrounded, consumed and in some instances, considerably influenced by data. Country houses such as Basildon Park are now looking towards ways of holding on to their charming traditions (visual displays and informative tours) whilst also engaging with younger and indeed older visitors who for better or for worse, use technology to inform their views and knowledge on key areas of interest. Thus, rather than seeing technology as an awkward anachronism distracting from the serenity of such heritage sites, there is worthwhile recognition that technology can be a powerful tool to aid in illuminating the past, in particular the Great War, and evoke fresh forms of interpretation.

If you are interested in running a community collection day or would like advice on how to use technology for public engagement, outreach and knowledge exchange projects, then why not contact our team at: eet@it.ox.ac.uk. We would be happy to hear from you!

*Charles Pugh, Tracey Avery (2002). Basildon Park. The National Trust. ISBN 978-1-84359-010-1.
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