Earlier this month, the LIFTE Project’s volunteer research programme came to an end after eight very busy weeks for all its participants, both its co-ordinators Sarah Jane Gibbon, Anne Mitchell, Julie Gibson, Wanda Machin, Sigurd Towrie and Jen Harland, and the many volunteers who took part.
It’s all been an extraordinary effort and was made possible, amazingly, by Covid.
Normally Orkney-based volunteers would have been invited into the Orkney Archives to undertake a programme of work but access was restricted to the Archives and the idea of throwing the research open to an on-line audience was born once Sarah Jane and Anne realised the wealth of available online material.
Covid also meant an audience of home-based would-be researchers were available but when we put the invitation out, we didn’t expect over 150 folk to come forward, from around the world.
In the end we have had a group working from the Orkney Archives, another group who have worked on maps and satellite imagery, a palaeography group (which will continue with its transcription work) working on scanned images of 17th century documents from the extensive collections in the archives, and the group who have made their way through multifarious on-line sources, assiduously pulled together by Sarah Jane and Anne.
Highlights have included the discovery of Orkney and its history by volunteers in America, Canada, Norway, Australia and more, plus all over the UK; learning the skills of deep reading and research; seeing the great merits of’ citizen science’ (and that it is a fine and very productive thing); the community which has built around the various groups in the project and the stimulation and fun of the regular catch-up Zoom meetings.
We’ve also created an exciting LIFTE buzz in the Orkney Archives and must thank the team there, particularly archivist Lucy Gibbon for much help and support.
As far as the research has been concerned, the lid has been thoroughly lifted on a period of Orkney’s history that had been little attended to – not for want of data as we now know, but because the right questions simply hadn’t been asked.
The simple questions LIFTE asked of Orkney were what, where, who, how of Orkney’s Early Modern trading story and did it, like Shetland, look beyond its own close neighbours to trade?
Hugh Marwick looked at the story for the early-18th Century but in the intervening 85 years, no intensive further research has really taken place. This eight-week mass attack on the literature and sources has turned that round and will allow for a new tale to be told when the data is processed and for LIFTE monograph to be produced for the end of the overall project.
The final night’s Zoom was to allow the LIFTE team to say thank you to everyone who took part.
We learned a huge amount about running a project like this for the future and thank you for your patience with us as we fell behind now and again.
We cannot emphasise how much the participation and hard work of people across the world has meant to us, and to Orkney’s story, which (you might have guessed) we are passionate about.
Hats off to all!