25 Objects for 25 Years at Kingston University Archives and Special Collections

This month archivist Katie Giles describes how user engagement inspired new ways of thinking about objects in Kingston University’s Archives and Special Collections, and how they contributed to the University’s anniversary celebrations.

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of Kingston University receiving university status, and in the Archives and Special Collections we wanted to celebrate the occasion. To do this we created a series of blog posts which would be issued once a month, highlighting 25 key objects from our collections and counting down to the anniversary this summer.

Stage set model for a production of ‘Noel and Gertie’ from the Sheridan Morley Theatre Collection. © Kingston University

While selecting 25 objects from a collection might sound easy, it really was not. The Archives contain thousands of records, all unique in their own way and worthy of inclusion. To choose our 25 Objects groups of staff and students came into the Archive to consider items from our collections. We then asked each group to select one item for inclusion and to give reasons why. What was fascinating is that often the items chosen by the groups were not necessarily the ones our Archives staff would have selected, and the reasons they thought the items were significant varied too. This proves that often an archival item’s value is unique to the individual who engages with it, depending on their own interests and experiences.

The 25 Objects selected covered a range of subjects from our collections. Literature was represented with items from our Iris Murdoch Collection and Wendy Perriam Archive, and publishing made an appearance from the Publishing News Archive. Our Vane Ivanovic Archive added unique items relating to Balkan history, and the University’s history was celebrated through a number of items.

Grammy nomination letter and plaque for the musical ‘Half a Sixpence’ from the David Heneker Archive. © Kingston University

The final subject area covered was the performing arts, represented through items from our theatre collections. Perhaps the most striking item in the 25 Objects came from our Sheridan Morley Theatre Collection – a gorgeous stage set model from a production of his play Noel and Gertie. Also in the list was a letter written to Morley by renowned actor Sir Alec Guinness, bemoaning his sudden increase in fame as a result of Star Wars.

The work of composer David Heneker was highlighted through his Second World War scrapbook noting his work writing songs for the war effort, and a Grammy nomination plaque for his most famous work Half a Sixpence. From our Stephen Sondheim Society Archive, a Victorian edition of Fairy Tales by Grimm and a programme for a 1840s play on Sweeney Todd showcase the range of sources composer Stephen Sondheim has used as inspiration for his work. Finally, items from our Brian Smith and Cary Ellison Theatre Programme Collections demonstrate that even the humble theatre programme has unique and fascinating stories to tell.

Programme for an 1840s play about Sweeney Todd from the Stephen Sondheim Society Archive. © Kingston University

The countdown on our blog has come to a close, but we have marked this with an exhibition of the 25 Objects – currently on display in the Archives Gallery until mid-September.  For more information on the exhibition and visiting times please visit https://blogs.kingston.ac.uk/asc/2017/06/14/25-objects-for-25-years-the-exhibition/

Our 25 Objects blog posts can be seen at http://blogs.kingston.ac.uk/asc.  Any queries regarding Kingston University Archives and Special Collections, including booking appointments to view items, can be sent to archives@kingston.ac.uk