Opening a digital window to the past

23 November 2016

Student records at Aberystwyth University dating back almost 150 years are being digitised and transcribed to make them more accessible.

The records are contained in ten leather-bound manuscripts and date back to 1872 when the University opened its doors for the first time.

To date, access to the fragile volumes has been restricted and the process of searching for information within them has been painstaking.  

Funded by donations from the University’s alumni, and matched by a significant donation from the Cardiff Branch of the Aberystwyth University Old Students’ Association (OSA), the finished result will be a fully searchable electronic record of students who studied at Aberystwyth in the 19th century.  

The project is a collaboration between the OSA Cardiff Branch, Aberystwyth University Archives, and the National Library of Wales (NLW).

Before the project could begin, some preservation work was required which included encasing each volume in a custom-built archive box.

Every page of the early student records was then individually digitised as a high resolution image by the NLW.

The slow and steady process of transcribing this digitised content will now begin, using an online transcription tool developed by the NLW as part of the project to digitise and transcribe the Welsh Book of Remembrance, housed at the Temple of Peace in Cardiff. 

Initially this transcription will be carried out by volunteers from the Cardiff branch of the OSA, and the hope is that other interested parties will be able to assist with the transcription in the coming months.

Aberystwyth University Archivist, Julie Archer, commented: “It is hugely exciting to be able, with the assistance of our amazing volunteers, to open up the wealth of information contained in the registers.

“The volunteers will benefit from learning new skills and researchers will benefit from hitherto untapped material.  That the transcription work should start in earnest as we celebrate Explore Your Archive week seems particularly timely.”

The project to digitise and transcribe the University’s archives follows a previous very successful project involving volunteers from the Aberystwyth branch of the OSA, who spent several days assisting University Archivist Julie Archer to allocate names to people and places in photographs dating back several decades.

Louise Perkins from the University’s Development and Alumni Relations Office, said: “I am tremendously grateful to Aber alumni, and in particular the members of the OSA Cardiff branch who have given both funding and their time to ensure that this fascinating project has been brought to life.  The Aber Spirit lives on in their enthusiasm to learn new skills for the transcription phase, and their desire to see this unique part of Aber’s early history become widely available.”

Explore Your Archive is a joint campaign delivered by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association across the UK and Ireland. Held 19-27 November this year, it aims to showcase the unique potential of archives to excite people, bring communities together and tell amazing stories.