With sadness the world learned about the demise of the world’s oldest travel company; Thomas Cook after a last minute bid to secure the company’s future failed on Sunday. Stories of people trapped abroad and airline staff learning they had lost their jobs whilst in the air have littered the news over the past few days. As an historian the first thing that came to my mind was what is going to happen to the Thomas Cook Archive?
Some time ago the Thomas Cook archivist was made redundant and the archive for was left in the care of marketing staff. This is never a good thing when archive staff are replaced with non-specialist staff who probably do not care about the archives as a trained professional or someone with an interest in history would take of an archive.
There is a hashtag on twitter #SaveThomasCookArchive that details the museum, history and archive industry’s attempt to save the archive for future users. I have never used the archive myself but as a user of other archives I feel it is incredibly important to save what is an intriniscally important archive globally that charts the histor of leisure, travel, society,social history etc (what the Thomas Cook archive represents is endless).
This brings up how do we discern what is important to save within archives and museums? What makes something more important over something else? What categories do we use to discern what museums and archives collect? These questions have multiple answers dependent on your personal interpretation of history based on personal, societal and familial experiences. What you think is important is not as important to your friend, neighbour or work colleague.
This is why collecting and ‘saving’ historical artefacts is always a nebulous process as collections and acquistions (and personal agendas) with museums and archives determine what is saved and what isn’t saved. There has been a move recently for contemporary collecting but can we really collect everything relating to events across the world? All these ideas and conditions must be taken into consideration in what we save historically.
Personally, I like to collect items that relate to 20th century domestic, social and dress history i.e. irons, home decoration magazines, 1930s dresses etc. whereas historian friends of mine cannot abhor 20th century history and prefer to collect items relating to 18th century history. Again this is down to personal taste and outside influences but what I can say is that the Thomas Cook archive does need to be saved as within it I’m sure there is something for everyone.