Whatever happened to… the Domesday Discs?

Who remembers the BBC Domesday Project and the resulting Domesday Discs?

Well, I do at least. I’m not quite sure why, but the other day I started wondering what had happened to the project and the collected data.

Never heard of the project? Well, back in 1984 the BBC started a project with a number of companies to create a modern version of the Domesday book which was due to celebrate its 900th anniversary in 1986. School children were asked to write about their local area and send in photographs. All of this data was then collated onto two laser discs, along with statistics such as census data as well as maps, short videos and virtual walks around parts of the country. The texts that the children had written were saved as teletext pages and the whole thing required a specially adapted BBC micro computer to run.

I’m not quite sure if I ever wrote anything in school that got submitted to the project, but I do remember some years later when the discs were available that we didn’t have them at my school or in our local library, so when a set became available at another school it was arranged for me to spend an evening looking at them.

In the days before the World Wide Web and all the modern sources of information that are now available, this was a fascinating project of which I know no equal, and a few days ago I started wondering what had happened to all of that data and I was surprised to find an answer so quickly just by searching the internet.

Actually, what seemed like a revolution in terms of the amount of data back then is by comparison today quite small. Each of the laser discs could store 300MB on each side, meaning the combination of both sides stored less than a data CD today.

Recently, a project had been set up to recover the data and make it readable again. This included reverse engineering a set of discs to convert the data into modern formats. I read all about this at a fascinating website called Domesday Redux. Then I came across another site about the history of the project.

But the main surprise was this site: www.domesday1986.com – this is the result of that reverse engineering, an online version of the community disc (the one with the children’s texts and photos on).

I have been able to re-visit texts about places that I used to live and go to school in, and I have seen photos of those places as they were in 1984-1986, even one showing my school and the house that I used to live in!

Visiting that site is a real treat and I am so glad to have found it. Let’s hope that it remains on-line as long as possible so that future generations can learn about how we put together this amazing collection of information – without writing a single E-mail!

The secret Indian army of WWII

I’m always fascinated by lost tales from World War II – small unknown facts that have only now been made public.

Such stories are not becoming rare, so I was interested to read this report on a secret army of recruits from India that had trained in Germany.

The information had originally been locked away for 75 years, having been deemed too sensitive to be made public any earlier, but now it has been and it really does stun me as to the countries involved.

When you learn about the British Raj in India and the time around WWII, you learn about the threat from the Japanese army. The thought that Nazi Germany was training Indian recruits in secret is something completely new.

I have certainly never heard of the “Free India Legion” defending the Atlantic Wall before.

I wonder what other secrets are in the archives, waiting to be discovered before the people who were alive then can no longer enlighten us to their personal experiences.

One example are the documents concerning the occupation of the Channel Islands – these were sealed for 100 years!

Will these now be available earlier as well?

I’ll leave the 9th May 2045 in my diary for the moment.

Learning to speak a language – and be tested on it

I remember when GCSEs were first introduced – I myself was in the first year to take them for mathematics, and the second year for other subjects such as languages. The idea was to put more emphasis on being able to do something, than being able to be tested on it.

So in languages more effort was put in being able to speak a language and make yourself understood, and a little bit less was put into writing it and the grammar – something that my university would later complain about.

So the idea that pupils should no longer have oral examinations on these subjects is a bit worrying – for me it seems like another step back from leaning the language thoroughly.

I don’t remember that much about my GCSE oral exams, but I remember that certain situations had to be prepared and you learnt a lot of set phrases at the time. I do, however, clearly remember my A-level German oral exam (which I got an ‘A’ in 🙂 and it was maybe stressful, but it was a positive experience to come out of the exam and to be able to say that I had managed to keep going in German for the entire duration.

So why get rid of this part of the exam process?

There is nothing to be gained in my opinion from only having the spoken skills assessed – as at the first opportunity in the workplace these skills may really be tested.

I used to interview students coming to Germany for placements here – and I carried out the interviews in German.

Of course, having been through the system myself, I had an advantage over a native speaker in that I knew what vocabulary a student would or would not know, and could as such make the interview easy or difficult.

In fact, it was not only important to be able to speak German, but to have the confidence to do it!

I gained a lot of confidence in my A-level oral exam – and a lot more on subsequent trips to Germany when I sometimes had no alternative but to explain myself in German.

Please don’t take this confidence booster away from today’s schoolchildren!

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