The Story of the Forest


The Story of the Forest is one of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage (HLF) projects within the National Library of Wales. Recently, ten MA Archive Administration and MSc Digital Curation students from Aberystwyth University, led by Dr Sarah Higgins, had the opportunity to digitize and to preserve personal stories told by those who have lived and worked in and around the forest – from Anglesey in the north to the Dyfi Valley in mid Wales and the Tywi forest in the south-west.

Among the students who have been working on the The Story of the Forest are Emma Hollis, Olivia Weekes and Crystal Guevara. Here, they share some thoughts about digital archiving and how People’s Collection Wales played its part in sharing the Story of the Forest. Aron Richard Roberts also worked on the Story of the Forest, and he discusses his contribution as a Welsh speaker, and how voices from the agricultural communities has influenced his own understanding of the effects of forestation of vast areas of Wales.

Crystal: ‘In 2002–2003 the Forestry Commission Wales recorded oral histories of those people who were affected by the Forestry Commission’s activities in Wales during the early years. These contributions cover nearly 60 years of history, from the post war years right up until the beginning of the 21st century. These were mainly young people who were given the opportunity to make a living employed by the Forestry Commission and for many of them, this shaped their lives; they came from all walks of life, from different areas within Wales and a great many from England. A number of the audio files include stories about how they came to work for the Forestry and also about different activities such as building roads, ploughing, planting and felling trees.

Crystal, who comes from Virginia was delighted to have been one of the 10 students chosen to work on the Story of the Forest project. ‘We have been really privileged to get a sense of how Wales’ landscape changed as a result of the Forestry Commission’s work, and to learn about the social, agricultural and economic effect of this on rural communities. For me, the project has not only been about digitizing, but about interpreting material, and I just feel that we are another chapter in the history of this material.’

Liv: ‘I’m originally from Beddgelert in north Wales. Having stayed in Manchester after I graduated from University, I was glad of the opportunity to come back to Wales to study – and especially to work on this project. The People’s Collection Wales is great in that you can access the online archive as a multisensory experience. For example, with the Story of the Forest you can be listening to some lovely audio clips whilst at the same time having the opportunity to look at fascinating photographs of the exact place referenced in the clips. Having different formats on the website just makes it a really engaging experience.

‘The People’s Collection Wales has a really collaborative feel to it – it’s a place where ideas can really take hold and links between different materials can be made.’

Emma Hollis (from Sheffield) was tasked with being the Exhibitions Manager and helped to organize uploads to the People’s Collection Wales platform. She found that looking at other people’s collections and stories on the website proved really useful: ‘Looking at other people’s items was inspiring for us and made us think what stories we could curate, rather than just uploading the items and leaving them there. Working on this project has given me a great insight into what digital archiving can be and how it can enrich all our futures.’

According to Aron, who comes from Cynwyd, near Corwen, ‘The importance of this project to the people of Wales and beyond is that it helps to process what happened at the cutting-edge the agricultural communities from the mid twentieth century onwards, and it helps to us to understand perspectives from both within and outside the Forestry Commission. Of the 167 minidiscs that we digitised, there are now 19 audio files uploaded to The People’s Collection Wales website – in addition to nearly 160 photographs from the National Library’s collection – so hopefully they provide a good representation of experiences.

‘The material itself was inspiring but I also felt a great sense of responsibility whilst carrying out the work. As Liv and myself were the only two Welsh speakers in the group and the majority of the audio contributions were in Welsh, we had quite a lot of work to do as transcribers! However it’s really important that place names – names of farms, smallholdings and fields – are recorded correctly as far as cataloguing goes, as this is often how people access the material. We spent time checking on-line resources and maps, because if you don’t get these names right then there is a real possibility that they will eventually be lost. They play an important part in the story and in our ability to locate all the voices from the Forest.’

Crystal’s Favourite Story: Marion Gertrude Jones

Liv’s Favourite Story: Annie Williams

Emma’s Favourite Story: Frederick Egerton

Aron’s Favourite Story: Erwyd Howells

Read more about Crystal Guevara working on the Story of the Forest project on the National Library of Wales's blog.

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