Students running in a fancy dress race, 1950

October 20, 2015, by Sarah Colborne

Back to the Future: Time Travelling with the University Time Capsule

The countdown is on to the date that Marty McFly and Doc Brown went ‘Back to the Future’ in the sequel to the classic Universal film. But as all archivists and historians know, you don’t need a souped-up DeLorean to travel through time. Imagine being transported back to your parents’ teenage years? That’s just what it’s like to browse through the photographs, ephemera and student publications collected by Manuscripts and Special Collections, to complement the official university records in the University Archive.

Photograph of a tug of war amongst University of Nottingham students, c.1948-1950

One of the photos of student life, collected for future time travellers by agricultural student Heather Jarvis (née Beardall), in the late 1940s/early 1950s; MS 292/1/16

One of my favourite examples of this is a collection (MS 292) donated by alumna Heather Jarvis, née Beardall, who attended the University of Nottingham’s School of Agriculture at Sutton Bonington from 1948-1950. The photographs in the collection considerably enrich our understanding of what life was like for agriculture students on a campus that many of us never get to visit.

Photograph of student friends of Heather Jarvis

MS 292/1/14

They include photos of sports teams, including women’s hockey and netball, and student athletics. Inevitably there are numerous photographs of groups of students socialising, but this collection is remarkable for its inclusion of students at work. I doubt that I managed to capture any photographic evidence of that sort of thing going on when I was at university, but that’s perhaps because I wasn’t studying anything as cool as bee keeping or tractor driving.

Agricultural students driving tractor, c.1948-1950

MS 292/1/41




The photos also show student involvement in fundraising activities which often took place in the city centre, giving us an insight into the relationship between “town and gown” in that period.

Students running in a fancy dress race, 1950

MS 292/1/97

The sense of time travel is really what we’re hoping to achieve with the Tri-Campus Collecting project Time Capsule blog. We also hope that current students will enjoy being able to compare life on their own campus to the day to day realities of life on other campuses, whether that’s Sutton Bonington, China or Malaysia. So this is where you come in…

We want YOU to contribute by sending in photographs you’ve taken that represent:

  • Accommodation (hall, private rented, parents home, journey to lectures, etc.)
  • Studies (lectures, revising, exams, studying on or off campus, technologies used, etc.)
  • Interests (societies, sports, charity work, socialising, culture, food, etc.)
  • Relationship to your campus (department, where you meet friends/go to be alone)
  • What you like best about being a student (or what your worries are)

Send each photo with a brief caption (who/what/when/where), and a paragraph explaining why the photo was chosen. Don’t forget to tell us your campus, year of study, and degree/department. These will be collected for inclusion in the University archives, and our favourite entries will be published on this Time Capsule Blog for all to enjoy (anonymously if you prefer!).

Submit your entries via:
• Twitter: @mssUniNott, #UoNTimeCapsule
• email:

Follow this blog to find out more about the exploits of former students uncovered in the archives and to see the latest submissions:

Find out more about Manuscripts and Special Collections at:

Visit our new exhibition featuring archive material from our collections: ‘Going Global: A History of the University of Nottingham’, at Nottingham Lakeside Arts, on University Park until 3rd January 2016:

Time Capsule Blogs by Sarah Colborne, Archivist (Collections), Manuscripts and Special Collections

Posted in Time CapsuleUniversity archives