We have launched a new website for our unique collection of lantern slides. Our collection, at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), contains 19th-century legal-case papers, press cuttings and a thousand lantern transparencies of British landscapes from 1900-40. Some time ago a project was undertaken to digitise the lantern slides and instigate a 2020/2021 MERL research fellowship to explore how the landscapes depicted have changed since the images were captured.
We were delighted when Dr Katrina Navickas took on the task. She is a Reader in History at the University of Hertfordshire, who has published widely on 18th and 19th-century British history, with a focus on popular protest, space and place. The project has sought to document how many of the landscapes captured in the photographs have changed since they were recorded and what those same places look like today. How many of these rural scenes have remained important as sites of leisure, nature and heritage? How have the years had an impact on life in our countryside, towns and villages, and on buildings and agricultural practice?
We have incorporated Katrina’s detective work in our website to display the archive, with many of the images now tagged with their precise location, a link to an historic map, and a download facility. The collection has initially been arranged by county but is searchable by topic and subject, such as stiles, commons or rivers. The majority of the lantern slides show areas in the south-east of England. In particular, the home counties feature, as they tie in with many of the campaigns to protect open spaces in which the society was involved. The collection does include scenes in Scotland and Wales, quite a few ‘staged’ compositions of people and also flora and fauna.
Here is a link to the new website to view and explore the collection.
Dr Katrina Navickas is hosting a virtual symposium on 8 September 2021 which anyone with an interest in the history of countryside and open spaces can attend – find out more about the event and book (free) tickets here.