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The City and the Archive

The City and the Archive: Television History, Heritage and Memory Research in Action

Building civic pride, bridging the generation gap

Television can define communities and generations, with viewing creating common memories and shared experience. Through this project, Professor Helen Wheatley and Professor Rachel Moseley worked with a variety of archives to illustrate the value of television’s heritage. Across multiple exhibitions, previously undervalued programmes were shown to people of all ages in a range of public spaces. This has enriched Coventry’s civic pride as it nears its City of Culture year in 2021.

The challenge

Television forms a vivid visual record of our culture, yet the value and impact of many programmes are forgotten. The project showed that a wide variety of programmes, including those aimed at children and programmes of local interest, can have a profound impact on a generation or a community, yet are undervalued by heritage organisations and often neglected in archive collections. Through exhibitions and events, Professor Wheatley and Professor Moseley have brought these stories, and the history they represent, back to life.

Our approach

Working with national and regional television broadcasters and civic organisations (such as Coventry Cathedral and the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery), the research team unearthed and displayed programming covering:

  • Early colour broadcasts

  • Local history

  • Output aimed at children

  • The importance of television as a historical record

Professor Wheatley and Professor Moseley used a number of venues to exhibit their findings, from local theatres to city centre museums. Newly unearthed children’s programming was shown to an even wider audience on a nationwide tour.

Our impact

The Story of Children’s TV was the most popular exhibition in the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery's 50-year history. It attracted over 83,000 visitors to the venue, and another 60,000 people saw the touring exhibition. The tour was the first of its kind in the UK, enjoying a run of 30 months. A series of ‘Ghost Town’ exhibitions and screenings brought archival footage of Coventry to a number of public venues.

Audiences reported a deeper sense of civic pride and a new understanding of television as a historical record at the Ghost Town events. Displays included unseen material from the Cathedral’s archives, now preserved for future generations. Professor Wheatley and Professor Moseley have inspired new conversations about television’s value for the city ahead of the City of Culture 2021 and revealed the role of television in the shared history of our cities and culture.

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