Volunteering and researching at Bristol Archives: an exchange visit from a Hannover archivist

Posted on by Lacey Trotman.

By Christian Heppner, Stadtarchiv Hannover

Since 6 March, I have been researching and volunteering at Bristol Archives. My aim was to prepare an exhibition on 70 years of the Bristol-Hannover twin city partnership, which will open on 3 November at Hannover Town Hall.

Stadtarchiv Hannover – the site of Hannover City Archive since 1993

Stadtarchiv Hannover – the site of Hannover City Archive since 1993

But being an archivist and historian from Hannover City Archives, I’m also very much interested in learning about how work is done in a modern British public record office.

We have the same professional challenges, but may have found different solutions.

Therefore, Stadtarchiv Hannover and Bristol Archives organised a staff exchange: after my visit, a colleague from Bristol Archives will visit the Stadtarchiv Hannover for some weeks in November.

We’ve had the idea of an exchange for some time, but it became much more concrete after the British EU referendum – it seems very important to us now to keep on learning from each other and to stay in contact.

Our archive in Hannover is a little bit smaller than the one in Bristol, due to the division of work and responsibility between us and the city’s historic museum: we keep texts, they keep photos and other more “visual” types of historic sources. But besides this, I can see a lot of similarities between Bristol Archives and the Stadtarchiv Hannover.

Black and white photograph showing “Altes Rathaus”, the Old City Hall in pre-war times: the original location of Hannover Archives.

“Altes Rathaus”, the Old City Hall in pre-war times: the original location of Hannover Archives (source: Hannover Historisches Museum)

  • We both moved in 1992/93 from our town halls into bigger buildings, because of a permanently rising need for storage room (although B Bond Warehouse, built 1908, is much older than the Stadtarchiv Hannover, built 1963)
  • We both kept our documents safe in a mine (or a tunnel, in Bristol) during the disastrous times of World War 2
  • We are both dealing with challenges like archiving modern born-digital records, although the city administrations of Hannover and Bristol already have been using IT for (at least) four decades
  • In order to give better service to our customers, we both are highly interested in improve online access to our records by offering digital versions of these documents – a challenge, when IT facilities and data storing space are always short.



Basement strongroom at Stadtarchiv Hannover

Basement strongroom at Stadtarchiv Hannover

Due to a slightly better financial situation, the Stadtarchiv Hannover might be better off in some aspects: we are able to invest more in proper packaging to protect our records from damage.

Also, we fortunately have a conservation lab to deal with damage from the past, especially with mould fungus caused by the floods of the Leine river in Hannover in 1947 – we still have 100 meters of contaminated records from that situation in our basement.


B Bond Warehouse, the home of Bristol Archives

B Bond Warehouse, the home of Bristol Archives

On the other hand, I can see some very good and impressive results at Bristol Archives, which may, ironically, also be caused by the more restrictive financial situation of this city.

For example, the online access to historical maps, facts, photos and stories via Know Your Place is amazing, especially the cooperation with communities, neighbourhood committees and special interest groups, like LGBT.

It offers many opportunities for making ‘secret’ histories visible to a widespread public. Bristol Archives are also working very successfully on this project with volunteers, who have contributed historic information and upload photographs.

And, last but not least, it seems very helpful that Bristol City Council runs a Modern Records Unit, which keeps in close contact with the archives. This makes the transfer of records to the archives much easier – important in order to provide future generations with good historic sources on today’s life and work.

Concerning 70 years of Bristol-Hannover city twinning: there are some documents in Bristol Archives, which should definitely be presented at our exhibition. These especially include records which can inform our visitors about the motivations that drove Bristolians to get in personal contact with the former ‘enemy’ two years after the end of war.

I am impressed how strong the Blitz experience in both cities still is and this should especially remind us of the importance of cross-nation relationships, too. I’ve found so much interesting material whilst here in Bristol thanks to many talks with Bristol Archives colleagues and members of Bristol Hannover Council.

Find out more about volunteering with us.

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