The Magpie, an appreciation, a project

The Magpie was the newsletter of the Manchester Wildlife Group which had begun in 1984. The first Magpie appeared in 1986, and the last issue 54 appeared in 2005. At its height, it was a quarterly publication. The format was A4 landscape, with staples in the middle. It was sent out to members of the Wildlife Group. As the name would imply, it was mostly about birds, insects, other animals and nature but inevitably, quickly and thoroughly, it began to engage with those proposals to concrete over and to “develop” land in Greater Manchester.

You can access almost all of the issues here.

You can see an index of the 40+ articles Ian and I turned into html here.

The newsletter is beautifully written. There are also lovely illustrations and it is an absolute treasure trove for those interested in biodiversity, birds, bulldozers and local (lack of) democracy.

I stumbled on the Magpie when looking through the Central Library’s Special Collections in May/June of last year, and realised that the editor Ian Brown was probably the same Ian Brown I was friends with on Facebook.

Indeed he was.  Ian was able to provide me with a complete collection of The Magpie, which the Central Library does not have.

I have now taken photos of all but one of those Magpies and turned them into searchable PDFs and also put 40 articles up as HTML, 

The physical copies of the Magpie are now with Manchester Museum and the intention is to work with the Museum to create exhibitions and educational materials. 

Why am I telling you all this? Because I believe that the work of Ian and other contributors to the Magpie needs to be recognised and honoured. Because it was a prolonged effort to educate and engage their fellow citizens around issues that should matter to everyone – the space for other species, with whom we allegedly share this planet, to thrive and our own species to be in control of its own destiny, for democracy to be more than “the shadow cast on society, by big and medium sized business.” 

Ian, who is no longer the spring chicken that he once was, has been an absolute star in his intelligence, patience, diligence. Between the 2nd January and the 27th of January, he corrected over 40 rough machine-generated transcripts so they could be put online. 

I think beyond honouring that work, we can learn from it and draw from it.

Over the coming weeks and months and years. I will be publishing reports and academic articles which could not have been written but for the Magpie. 

So this is my thank you, first and foremost to Ian, but also to all the other people who contributed to it. I intend to learn new techniques in the “digital humanities” – around being able to map and tag materials.

I then use those skills on other projects involving archives as well.

Thank you Ian.

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