By Kate Wilcox and Argula Rublack

In this post, Kate Wilcox and Argula Rublack — co-organisers of History Day 2020 — explain what’s available at this year’s online event. As a celebration of historical collections, History Day combines contributions from organisations from across the UK with three panel sessions looking at the connection between collections and digital history, histories of the present, and regional history. History Day 2020 takes place on Thursday 19 November and booking is now open.

History Day, held each November, is one of the key annual events for staff at the IHR Library and Senate House Library. The day brings together researchers, students and history enthusiasts with professionals from libraries, archives and other organisations with history collections. Past History Days have centred on a fair with stands representing different history organisations where attendees could browse, explore and talk to staff from those collections.

This year, because of the impact of Covid-19, it became clear that we wouldn’t be able to hold an event which attracted large crowds. In June 2020 we began a call for contributions to bring History Day 2020 online on 19 November.

One of the biggest challenges in taking this step was planning the format of History Day for the online world while maintaining the spirit of the event. We were very aware that many collections staff were physically separated from their collections due to the lockdown or were on furlough, so there was a lot of uncertainty around what would be possible in November. We offered multiple ways to contribute so that organisations could choose whether to run live sessions or produce a range of pre-made content including blog posts, videos and online exhibitions.

The diversity of organisations involved in History Day 2020 is really exciting. Participants include university libraries, museums, archives, galleries, specialist societies and national collections. Organisations signing up for the first time include The Postal Museum, National Library of Wales, the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick, Armagh Observatory and Planetarium, Cumbria Archives Service, Teesside Archives, Royal College of Surgeons of England and the Devon and Exeter Institution.

Alongside the contributions, we have organised three panel sessions for the day. In Exploring History in the Digital World we look at innovative digital projects bringing history closer to online audiences. History in the Making: Archiving 2020 for the future will explore how 2020 is being archived for future generations. You can also discover how local and community historians and associations are reaching out in new ways in our third, ‘show and tell session’: New Approaches to Local and Community History.

Despite the challenges, going online for 2020 has had advantages. We have more participating organisations from across the UK taking part in this year’s event, where previously it has been limited to those able to travel to London. It has also allowed organisations that wouldn’t be able to spare staff for a whole day to get involved. People will similarly be able to attend from around the world without needing to travel. We are also pleased to be part of the Being Human festival, the UK’s national festival of the humanities, allowing us to reach a wider public audience than ever before.

Participating organisations will offer a mix of live sessions during the day, including virtual collection tours, panel sessions, Q&As and quizzes. The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine will hold a ‘Decolonising the Archives’ interactive webinar. Bromley House Library in Nottingham will be one of several organisations running sessions to introduce the library and collections. History of Parliament will host a live Q&A about how their collections can be useful for telling local histories. The National Archives will run a lunchtime twitter Q&A. There will be introductions to digital tools such as Archives Hub and Archives Portal Europe. See the programme for the full range of exciting sessions: please note that some require separate sign-up alongside signing up for History Day as a whole.

Alongside the live events, we are creating a gallery of pre-recorded content full of links to blogs, videos, websites and exhibitions to help you discover new collections online. This will be available on and after the day. Some of the contributions will use the Being Human ‘New Worlds’ theme, including Newcastle University Special Collections who have created a special online exhibition. National Library of Wales have produced an online webinar on the conservation of one of its treasures. Durham University have made an online quiz taking participants on a journey through their collections. The King’s Fund Library are sharing an online exhibition on the History of Nursing. With such diversity there will be something for everyone.

Many history organisations have faced challenging times with lockdown, funding issues and reopening access to collections in often difficult circumstances, and we look forward to the event being a chance to celebrate and showcase history collections.

Sign up to join us for History Day 2020 on 19 November 2020, coinciding with the Being Human festival, the UK’s national festival of the humanities. You can view the programme and find out more at the History Collections blog. To receive updates on History Day, subscribe to our mailing list.


Kate Wilcox is Reader Experience and Technical Services Manager at the Institute of Historical Research Library; Argula Rublack is Academic Librarian (History) at Senate House Library. Both are co-organisers of History Day 2020.