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How do you make mills interesting for the general public?

Hi and welcome along to another instalment of the weekly blog, where I talk about things which I have found particularly interesting. For the topic of today’s discussion, I think it would be really interesting to analyse two pamphlets and one booklet pertaining to three different mills: Ashton Windmill, Yafford Mill and Longbridge Mill. These three publications give us a fascinating insight into how mills are brought to the public’s attention, offering an understanding of the techniques used to get the public interested in quite a niche facet of history.

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1. Ashton Windmill, Somerset

To start with, we will be examining a pamphlet concerning the Ashton Windmill in Somerset. The pamphlet is a guidebook, targeting the demographic of adults/young adults interested in history. The pamphlet is designed to be read whilst you explore the mill, giving a history of the mill and a relatively detailed guide to the machinery and the milling process itself.

The main purpose of the pamphlet is obviously to inform, but also to make the whole experience of visiting the mill far more interactive and engaging. The pamphlet contextualises the mill and engages with the reader by giving you a step-by-step tour of the windmill. This is a highly effective way of getting people interested in the windmill itself, as you’re not walking around the mill aimlessly. The pamphlet informs you about the different parts of the mill, meaning that the visitor isn’t left wondering what everything is. This has the effect of immersing the visitor further into windmill and its history, making the tour of a windmill a far more engaging experience. This is hoped to have the effect of getting people interested in mills and milling. Overall, this pamphlet is highly effective at what it is designed to do: engaging people touring the windmill.

2. Yafford Mill, Isle of Wight

Next up, we will explore two pamphlets about Yafford Mill on the Isle of Wight. These pamphlets have a symbiotic relationship in the sense that they target different demographics in order to get different audiences interested the mill. The target demographic for the ‘worksheet’ pamphlet is for children, as it contains some ‘fill in the dots’ type content, which they’d be able to answer through exploring the mill. The worksheet also contains a section on the wildlife at the mill, so that if the child wasn’t so interested in the mill they could still entertain themselves through that particular part of the worksheet. The other pamphlet is more informative and clearly designed to be read by adults/young adults exploring the mill. This pamphlet gives a description of how the mill works and also details a diagram of the machinery. The fact that both pamphlets are ‘fold-out’ sheets of paper indicates that they were designed to be read on the move, hence you’d be able to walk through the mill whilst also reading up on the history of the mill and how it works. The two pamphlets work in tandem to appeal to different groups, making both of these pamphlets fantastic at making creating intrigue to the niche area of history which constitutes mills and milling.

3. Longbridge Mill, Hampshire

Finally, we will be looking at this booklet on Longbridge Mill in Hampshire to determine the ways in which the author makes the mill interesting for the general public. To start with, this booklet is very clearly aimed towards schoolchildren (perhaps late primary or early secondary school), who are possibly at the mill on a school trip. This targeted approach is shown throughout the book, namely through the ‘owl’ who pops up throughout the book to give suggestions on things the reader could do and find out.

As expected, the booklet gives a brief description of how the mill works and its history, contextualised through different periods: Saxon, Norman, Plantagenet, Victorian and the Total Wars. Presumably this was done to make the mill more interesting and relevant to those children who have presumably been learning about one of those time periods. The booklet also gives a breakdown of what primary and secondary sources are, informing children who are perhaps just starting to learn about the academia of history in its most basic level as to what constitutes primary and secondary sources.

The ‘helpful’ owl also pops up to give a recipe and a method of making wholemeal bread, making the booklet more engaging as it offers the children the opportunity to make bread at home with their parents. The last section of the booklet gives the reader the chance to create their own ‘primary source’ by allowing them space to write what they may have seen or learned at the mill that day. This booklet would be highly engaging for children and would help to make ‘school trips’ to the Longbridge Mill far more interesting, hopefully getting them interested in mills and milling.

So what can be conclusions can be drawn after analysing all of the differing forms of literature in this blog? Well, first off, all of the pieces selected in this blog are prime examples of making niche areas of history (milling in this case) interesting and appealing to a selected target demographic. They try do so in differing ways and to different target demographics, hence the changes in tone and design of all three pieces. What’s worth noting when looking at all three is that the survival of all of these mills depends wholly upon public interest, hence why the two pamphlets and the booklet are trying to expand the variety of experiences when visiting mills. Through these different pieces, the authors hoped to change people’s perspective on mills, from something which is perhaps not initially relatable, to something which is engaging and exciting for all age groups.

So that’s the end of this week’s blog. If you are at all interested in seeing more pieces of public history (history designed to engage with the public) like the ones talked about in this blog, then why don’t you pop in and take advantage of our library, where we have hundreds of pieces just like this. I think the area of public history is truly fascinating and a lot can be learned from looking at pieces like the ones analysed in this blog. But for now, I will see you again next week when I will again be talking about anything which I have found interesting that week, so look out for that!