British Pathé Archive: An invaluable resource for historical port town research

british-pathe1Earlier this month British Pathé created an invaluable resource for historians and the digital humanities when they released their entire archive of 85,000 historical films and newsreels on to their new YouTube channel.

In a press release Alastair White, General Manager of British Pathé, said “Our hope is that everyone, everywhere who has a computer will see these films and enjoy them. This archive is a treasure trove unrivalled in historical and cultural significance that should never be forgotten. Uploading the films to YouTube seemed like the best way to make sure of that.”[1]

Although the films have previously been available from British Pathé’s own website, uploading the archive to YouTube, a project undertaken by German company Mediakraft, will undoubtedly bring these remarkable films to a wider audience.  In addition, by making the films available in this form they can easily be reused and embedded in blogs and websites. My only reservation about this admirable project is that the films have been released under the standard YouTube licence which is perhaps less user-friendly than Creative Commons licences.

The films, which span the years 1896 to 1976, are certainly an invaluable resource for maritime, social and cultural historians, charting the evolution of port towns and urban cultures both within the UK and further afield. Every aspect of port town life is covered from fishing fleets and herring harvests, to dockyards and industrial action, to Navy Days and festivals. A few highlights include footage of Portsmouth Navy Days, HMS Victory and HMS Implacablethe shipbuilding boom on the Clyde, and sailor cadet sports days.

The archive also provides a fascinating opportunity to explore the changing perception and position of women in the social and urban culture of port towns, with footage that includes herring girls at Yarmouth, a Wren returning to her father’s lobster boat in Cornwall, Girl Guide Sea Rangers aboard HMS Implacable, Canadian women shipyard workers and fashion models aboard HMS Victorious.




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