Palace Green Library, University of Durham: World Heritage Site (Tuesday 1 July 2008)

Revisiting the glory days of the British empire is not what you’d expect on a sunny day in July but a visit to the Palace Green library unearthed some real gems of British history. One of the gems was Ogilby’s Britannica, published in 1675, which was a series of road maps, depicting journeys from London to other towns. The Sudanese collection of letters, papers and photos covers the British empire at its height up to independence, and was part of an astonishing archive and special collections.

For a group of librarians more used to trundling around 1960’s concrete architecture, it was a real contrast to be allowed into a late 17th Century building, which houses:
• the Bamburgh library containing materials on 17th Century science and controversial literature and,
• the Routh Library holding titles covering the classics, church history, and 17th Century British history and politics.

Despite the historic setting, the Access & Learning Officer gave a dynamic presentation using an interactive whiteboard and enthused us about the projects she runs for school groups. A website with archive resources and interactive activities help bring the collections to life and can stimulate pupils to want to learn about British history. Subjects covered in these onsite sessions and outreach include history, citizenship, art, science and English. For more information on the 4schools project go to the following web address

With the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery last year, the Access & Learning Officer ran a project getting a group of pupils to lie down side by side to recreate the image of a slave ship. This makes understanding the crowded conditions in a slave ship more real than any dull book on slavery could ever do!

Another example was a project explaining to pupils what is history and introducing the concept of anachronisms, something that is out of time and order. A photo of two World War soldiers illustrates this concept and a few modern day items are slipped into the photo, such as a Harry Potter book, and a can of coke. Pupils are asked to spot the anachronisms in the photo. This stimulates pupils into thinking about the reliability of an historical source.

For those of us who attended the visit, we all agreed that it had been an engaging and stimulating day and that we had had the privilege of being shown around a beautiful historic building and of browsing a remarkable collection of archives.

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