The UK’s National Archives in Kew have enough gems and hidden secrets to keep Indiana Jones or Robert Langdon in sequels for the next couple of centuries, with everything from the Domesday book to the UK’s official UFO records socked away safely in its sanctum.
But for the swashbuckling archaeological hero of the future, whips, guns, and medieval symbolism will not be enough to unlock all of Kew’s secrets. They will also need the ability to manipulate a tape library and emulate long-dead file formats.
That’s because over the next couple of decades, the expansion of the UK’s official national memory will no longer consist of handwritten vellum-based documents and lovingly typed Cabinet meeting minutes in buff-coloured folders. Rather, with government business increasingly being conducted electronically, the National Archives will also expand virtually, one cartridge at a time.
As the national memory of Britain, the National Archives is a comparatively recent invention. For centuries, official documents, crucially the statutes passed by Parliament and the judicial decisions that defined the UK’s common law, were dispersed across bundles and trunks at sites including the Tower of London and the Palace of Westminster. Other key documents were in private hands.
I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderfully long and insightful tour of the National Archives – somewhere I’ve still not visited, for some reason. It’s been added to my recently-started list of places to visit in 2014.