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Chester academics shed light on Cheshire Life in page-turner project

University of Chester(@uochester) academics are shedding light on changes to Cheshire, how the county is represented, journalism, values and more by creating a digital archive of one of the longest-running regional magazines in Europe.

Dr Matt Davies, Senior Lecturer in English Language and Dr Naomi Walker, Visiting Lecturer in English, are working in partnership with Cheshire Archives and Local Studies on the ambitious project to digitise more than 1,000 print copies of Cheshire Life which celebrates its 90th anniversary in May this year.

The academics are also contributing articles to Cheshire Life, in a 12-month series, looking back at how the magazine and its topics have transformed over its nine decades, as well as running events with partners as part of the project and celebrations.

Dr Davies said:

“With only a few full printed sets of the magazine in existence, we are joining with Cheshire Life and Cheshire Archives and Local Studies to ensure its history and all it reveals are not lost, as it reaches its remarkable 90-year milestone.

“We are making high-resolution scans of every page which will eventually constitute a complete digital archive database of historic Cheshire Life material. As Britain’s most commercially successful and longest-surviving county magazine, this work is providing fascinating insights on changing portrayals of the county, social history, as well as journalistic and design practices, and shifting attitudes and values.

“We hope the online digitalised archive will become an important heritage resource for academics, local historians and anyone interested in exploring how the magazine has represented Cheshire life since its inception in 1934.”

In a feature in the February and May editions, Dr Davies turns the pages of Cheshire Life from 1934 onwards to see how the magazine heralded each new decade and the evolution of the cover designs.

He said:

“We can see depictions of Cheshire and views on the wider world from the Second World War, to pieces on fashion and television in the 50s, cars in the 60s, concerns about the abolition of feet, fahrenheit, shillings and stones in the 70s, a focus back on cars as well as sports in the 80s and 90s, before the millennium and new technology provide talking points in the 21st century,”

Dr Walker’s feature in the Wonder Women March edition celebrates writer and actress Beatrice Tunstall, who was one of the early female contributors to Cheshire Life, writing more than 60 articles including a series called The Villages of Cheshire. A further feature on women writers in Cheshire Life is in preparation for the 90th-anniversary series.

Cheshire Life editor, Joanne Goodwin added:

“The Cheshire Life digitisation project by the University of Chester and Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, in the magazine’s 90th year of publication, couldn’t have been timed better. It will mean that for the first time, there will be a complete archive of this unique, historic record of life in the county.

“We are indebted to Matt Davies and the team for their work on the digitisation, for organising the complementary 90th-anniversary exhibitions and talks at sites across the county, and for the monthly articles they are contributing to Cheshire Life throughout 2024.”

To coincide with the archive work and features, the team is collaborating with Cheshire Life historian and Journalism lecturer, Dr Andrew Hobbs, from the University of Central Lancashire to run exhibitions of 90 Years of Cheshire Life in venues across the county, including Storyhouse in Chester as well as the Macclesfield, Wilmslow, Sandbach, Poynton libraries, the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port and the Nantwich, Weaver Hall and Lion Saltworks museums, from June onwards.

The Chester Storyhouse Library exhibition forms part of the Chester Heritage Festival, and to accompany this, Joanne Goodwin will be in conversation with Chester journalist and ‘Dark Chester’ tour guide, David Atkinson on the Festival launch day, June 21, at 11.45am, at Storyhouse. An exhibition called Chester lives in Cheshire Life – which focuses specifically on representations of Chester in the magazine – is also planned for the University’s Festival of Ideas, running from July 4 to 7.

Other talks are planned to accompany the exhibitions and more details will be shared in the coming months.

Linking with the project, the team is also collaborating with DrHobbs to run a conference at the University of Chester on June 25 and 26. Place and the periodical: An international conference of the regional magazine includes Joanne Goodwin as a keynote speaker.

The event will explore magazines which appear in the provinces, the periphery, the regions and the counties, and what happens to them, in contrast to those in the metropolis, capital cities, and with national and international movements and identities. For more information and to register, please visit the events section of the University website.

The digitisation of Cheshire Life and initiatives linked to its 90th anniversary are part of the University’s wider Cestrian English project, which started life exploring Chester identity in speech and writing and now includes representations of Cheshire, past and present.

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