Home Blogs Overlooked stories from libraries and archives retold in new online collection

Overlooked stories from libraries and archives retold in new online collection

  • Online Paper Trails collection highlights remarkable research stories often lost in formalities of professional publication
  • Platform launched this month shines light on wealth of unseen material in libraries and archives
  • Collection is free to view to encourage wider interest in historical research


STORIES of how history is unearthed in libraries and archives but never published in books or academic papers have been brought together for the first time.

The new Paper Trails online collection documents the legacies of research which often get lost in the formalities of professional publication.

The platform, published by UCL Press, intends to encourage greater collaboration between academics, librarians, and archivists and to lead new conversations around historical research.

Its creator and editor Dr Andrew Smith, a Reader in contemporary history and politics at the University of Chichester, said he hopes to shine a light on people’s encounters with archives and celebrate stories seldom told.

He added: “No more dusty archives – archives, libraries and collections play a crucial role in the research process but can get dismissed as dusty, secret places, or left out of published histories altogether.

“Often our encounters with research materials go unmarked, lost between gaps in disciplinary boundaries. Paper Trails is not just a journal but a living book designed to explore the social life of collections and records, celebrate the work that goes into their curation, and retell our research stories.”

In its first release, the platform reveals new research stories from leading researchers with a detective story about a detective story in Gilded Age America.

It also goes behind-the-scenes at an early-modern marriage proposal, and an inspiring story of arts organisations working together to retell a scandal surrounding the kidnap of young 18th-century heiress with learning difficulties by an impoverished army lieutenant with designs on her fortune.

Dr Smith, also the Royal Historical Society’s Director of Communications, described Paper Trails as the product of engaged archival research, valuable experiences in the classroom, and the positive influence of collaborative working.

Illustrating how object-based history teaching inspired the publication, Dr Smith added: “Students were struck by how the history of objects could change the broader stories we tell, and how their personal responses mapped out new research stories. At the heart of all this was the sense that our encounters with our research material deserved a little more attention.”

The new collection has been created using an innovative living-book format – known as a BOOC: Books as Open Online Content – which is free to view and evolves over time. This ongoing publication will commission content around four streams:

  • Research stories – engaging histories which bring the research process to the fore.
  • Co-production – projects where collection professionals, academics, and the public collaborate to create new work.
  • Collection profiles – spotlight pieces on fascinating items or collections.
  • Engagement – reflective pieces from professionals on engaging audiences with collections.

The Paper Trails platform, with its full range of research stories, is free to view online at https://ucldigitalpress.co.uk/BOOC/3.

For more contact editor Dr Andrew Smith at a.smith@chi.ac.uk.

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