Scrolls, Vikings, and Dragons: Representations of the Archive in Children’s Television

'Riders of Berk' is a television spin off of the popular 2010 fil 'How to Train Your Dragon' (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013)
‘Riders of Berk’ is a television spin off of the popular 2010 film ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013)

As long as you promise not to ask me how I know about this example, I wanted to discuss the portrayal of archives in children’s television. DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk is a spin-off from the 2010 DreamWorks film How to Train Your Dragon. It may sounds surprising, but the show does contain archives, and the ways in which they are represented actually speaks well to the use of real-life archives.

'Bork's Archive' contains all the knowledge that the vikings of Berk have collected about dragons (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013).
‘Bork’s Archive’ contains all the knowledge that the Vikings of Berk have collected about dragons (Source: ‘We Are Family Part 1’ Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013).

Academics have argued that children’s films and TV shows are actually quite powerful cultural products, perhaps because they are dismissed by adults as insignificant and harmless. However they arguably play a significant role in shaping how children understand and interpret the world around them, so they are actually quite influential. Riders of Berk could very easily be a child’s only encounter with an archive, and is therefore worthy of consideration.

Berk is a village on a small island of the same name, populated by Vikings with names like Hiccup, Snotlout and Fishlegs, and dragons. At the beginning of the film, Vikings and dragons are mortal enemies, but with the aid of an injured dragon called Toothless, Hiccup manages to prove that both dragons and Vikings can profit from working together, and by the time the TV show begins, dragons are firmly integrated into the daily life of Berk. In Riders of Berk, a group of teenage Vikings, led by Hiccup, fly around on their dragons, having adventures and learning more about all the different types of dragons. However, all is not well in the land of the Vikings, and there are villains, set on destroying the peace between dragons and Vikings, or stealing the Hiccup’s dragon-training knowledge for their own dastardly aims.

Dragons and Vikings used to be enemies, but now live together in harmony (Source: 'We Are Family Part 1' Dreamwork's Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013).
Dragons and Vikings used to be enemies, but now live together in harmony (Source: ‘We Are Family Part 1’ Dreamwork’s Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013).

In the finale of the series, entitled “We Are Family,” Hiccup is entrusted with a chest containing Berk’s collected knowledge on dragons, know as “Bork’s Archive.” As the premier authority on dragons, Hiccup is given this “part of our [Berk’s] history” so that he can continue to develop their knowledge. From the way responsibility is passed on, and Hiccup’s reaction to the task, it is clearly a great honour. The knowledge is obviously valued by the community, and he is told to guard it carefully. Hiccup wastes no time in starting to search through this “amazing” archive, demonstrating how useful archives can be.

Hiccup feels honoured when he is given the job of 'archivist' (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk).
Hiccup feels honoured when he is given the job of ‘archivist’ (Source: ‘We Are Family Part1’ Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk).

Later in the episode, Hiccup learns the valuable lesson that not all sources in the archive can be trusted, simply because they come from the archive. Hiccup’s loyal companion Toothless is a rare type of dragon called a Night Fury. No other Night Furies are known to exist on Berk or the surrounding islands. In the archive, Hiccup finds a map to an island of Night Furies called “The Isle of Night,” and promptly sets off to find more of Toothless’ kind. The map turns out to be a fake however, planted in the archive to lure Hiccup into a trap by the evil Alvin the Treacherous. This highlights the importance of finding out as much as possible about where a source comes from, and why it was produced, in order to assess its reliability and possible biases.

The fake source that leads Hiccup into a trap (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013)
The fake source that leads Hiccup into a trap (Source: ‘We Are Family Part 1’ Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013)

So from this one episode of a children’s television show, a lot can be learnt about the value of archives, as well as the precautions that must be taken with them. Although Bork’s Archive is a lot smaller than most archives I have come across, I would argue that it is quite representative of archives as a whole. The people of Berk value Bork’s archive as a source of collected knowledge, and are aware of the archive’s ability to help contemporary knowledge progress further. However, Hiccup learns that just because something is in an archive, doesn’t mean that it is ‘true’ or authentic; the archive can be deceptive. This may seem like a bit of a silly post, but in all seriousness, I think it is important to talk about archives and the methodology of archival research as much as possible, and why shouldn’t we do that through the medium of children’s television? So, if you need a light-hearted teaching aid for archives, or just something fun for your next tea break, you could do worse than checking out Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk.

“Those Meddling Kids!”: Student Protest in London in the Twentieth Century

The Scooby Doo gang held villains to account, and London's students have often done the same to the authorities (Source:
The Scooby Doo gang held villains to account, and London’s students have often done the same to the authorities (Source:

When the Scooby Doo gang unmasked the dastardly villain at the end of each episode, they always lamented “I would have got away with it too, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids, and their dumb dog!” Apart from the dog, I think the gang have a lot in common with the students and young people of London, who have been holding those in authority to account for decades, despite their tender years.

The student demonstrations over tuition fees and the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) in 2010 are still fresh in the minds of many. Students from secondary schools, sixth form colleges and universities made their opinions on the government’s plans to raise tuition fees and scrap EMA known in no uncertain terms. As well as the national marches in central London in November and December, there were countless occupations and smaller demonstrations throughout the capital and across the UK.

Feelings ran high amongst students in 2010 over proposed government cuts (Source:
Feelings ran high amongst students in 2010 over proposed government cuts (Source:

But student protest in the capital did not begin with the debate over tuition fees and EMA. The very first student occupation took place at the London School of Economics in 1967, in protest at the appointment of a director who had previously been director of the University College in racist Rhodesia. LSE was occupied again the following year to provide accommodation for a huge Vietnam march. Also in 1968, the Revolutionary Socialist Students’ Federation was formed after a conference at LSE, which had obviously become a focus of radical left-wing politics amongst university students.

Some students did not wait until they got to university to make their voices heard. in 1889 and 1911 there were waves of national school strikes, as children struggled with the authorities over compulsory schooling. Usually sparked by a student being punished too severely, the strikes focussed on issues such as the school day, corporal punishment, holidays, the school leaving age, and unpleasant teachers. Schoolchildren would use pickets, marches and demonstrations to get their point across. Such strikes continued in London until 1939. They were mostly met with amusement by the authorities, but some considered them a serious threat, attributing the strikes to class divisions as well as generational ones.

School children caused both amusement and fear when they went on strike around the turn of the twentieth century (Source:
School children caused both amusement and fear when they went on strike around the turn of the twentieth century (Source:

Whether because of the confidence or idealism of youth, or for the more practical reasons of having more free time and fewer responsibilities or dependents than adults, London’s youth does seem to be particularly riotous. For a section of society that are frequently accused of being apathetic and disengaged, they  have proved themselves to be quite the opposite, time and again. Many of them were too young to vote when they took part in their protests, but that did not stop them engaging with the political process in any way that they could.

Sources and further reading

Bloom, Clive. Violent London: 2000 Years of Riots, Rebels and Revolts. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

German, Lindsey, and John Rees. A People’s History of London. London: Verso, 2012.

On this Day: Bloody Sunday, 13th November 1887

The protest is reported in 'The Cleveland Reader' (Source:
The protest is reported in ‘The Cleveland Reader’ (Source:

There are several events which are remembered with the name ‘Bloody Sunday,’ perhaps most famously Sunday the 30th of January 1972 when members of the British Army opened fire on protesters in Derry, Ireland, killing 13. London has its own Bloody Sunday however, which took place on Sunday the 13th of November 1887, in Trafalgar Square. It was the culmination of months of increasing tension between police and Londoners over the right to demonstrate in Trafalgar Square.

Demonstrations by the unemployed had been taking place in the square daily since the summer. Many unemployed men and women also slept in the square, washing in the fountains. Under pressure from the press to deal with a situation seen as embarrassing to the great metropolis, the police started to disperse meetings in the square from the 17th of October, often resorting to violence. The tension continued, now with frequent clashes between police and protesters, and Irish Home Rulers also began to use the square to protest.

Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner of Police, banned all meetings in Trafalgar Square on the 8th of November. This challenge to the freedom of speech and the right to protest ouraged radicals across London, and a meeting scheduled for the following Sunday suddenly became much more significant. Called initially to demand the release of the Irish MP William O’Brien from prison, the demonstration was a clear and deliberate defiance of the ban, and the police could not allow it to go ahead without suffering severe humiliation.

A copy of the ban on all protests in Trafalgar Square (Source: The Museum of London).
A copy of the ban on all protests in Trafalgar Square (Source: The Museum of London).

On the day of the demonstration, London was turned into “an armed camp” (Bloom, 2010; 223).  1,500 police lined the square up to 4 deep, and there were also mounted police, Life Guards and Grenadier Guards. Hundreds of Special Constables, volunteers who wanted peace maintained in their city, were also present. Marchers approached Trafalgar Square from all directions, but were ambushed by police baton charges about half a mile before they reached their destination.

A dramatic depiction of evnts (Source: 'The Graphic,' November 19, 1887)
A dramatic depiction of events (Source: ‘The Graphic,’ November 19, 1887)

Some protesters did manage to reach the square, where vicious street fighting continued all day. The day was a resounding victory for the police. Using no weapons but their truncheons, they injured at least 200 demonstrators, and killed 2 or 3. The organisers of the march had called for the demonstrators not to use violence, and injuries on the police side were therefore minimal, although 2 police officers were reportedly stabbed.

The official inquest into the day suggested that the police should order stronger truncheons, because so many had broken; clearly the authorities felt no qualms about the level of force used. For activists, Bloody Sunday would be remembered as one of heavy-handed, violent repression, and those protesters who died became martyrs for the labour movement.

Sources and further reading

Bloom, Clive. Violent London: 2000 Years of Riots, Rebels and Revolts. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

German, Lindsey and John Rees. A People’s History of London. London: Verso, 2012.

Stedman Jones, Gareth. Outcast London: A Study in the Relationship between Classes in Victorian Society. London: Penguin, 1984.

White, Jerry.  London in the 19th Century. London: Vintage, 2008.

Unreal City: Discovering London through the Archive (by Hannah Awcock and Bethan Bide)

Yesterday I ran my first full length seminar with Bethan Bide, another PhD student in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway. We were discussing the opportunities and difficulties of using archives to research a city as vast and diverse as London. The following is a blog post we wrote summarising the ideas we presented in the seminar.

Landscape Surgery

London is a complex, vibrant, and diverse city to study (Source: The Guardian) London is a complex, vibrant, and diverse city to study (Source: The Guardian)

London is a fascinating city, a buzzing metropolis with an incredibly rich history. It has been the subject of an untold number of academic studies, as well as an almost infinite assortment of films, books, poems, pictures and other cultural products.


London is obviously a fantastic city to study. It is the economic, social, political and cultural centre of Britain, and during the heights of the British Empire it served this role for huge swathes of the world. It has a population of over eight million people, who speak over 300 languages. This quantity and diversity of people, organisations and events provides fertile ground for huge numbers of research projects. As well as this, it is almost unrivalled in terms of the archives available for use, and being the focus and inspiration of so much academic…

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Guy Fawkes: Terrorist or Freedom Fighter?

Remember, remember the fifth of November

A portrait of Guy Fawkes (Source:
A portrait of Guy Fawkes (Source: Wikipedia).

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason, why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.


Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent

To blow up king and parliament.

Three score barrels were laid below

To prove old England’s overthrow.

By God’s mercy he was catch’d

With a darkened lantern and burning match.

Bonfire Night, Fireworks Night, Guy Fawkes Night; there are several names for the celebrations which take place on the 5th of November every year. For most it is an evening of bonfires, fireworks, sparklers, hot drinks and cold noses. Its origins are rather more sinister though. The tradition started on the 5th of November 1605, when Londoners lit bonfires across the city to celebrate the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot. It is a story familiar to many, largely due to the celebration of Guy Fawkes Night. A group of Catholics had planned to assassinate the Protestant King James I and his Parliament by blowing up the House of Commons. Guy Fawkes was caught guarding the barrels of gunpowder, and has become by far the most well-known of the conspirators.

Bonfires are common on Guy fawkes night. (Source:
Bonfires are common on Guy fawkes night. (Photo: The Guardian)

Largely secular now, the annual celebrations became a focus of anti-Catholic feeling. Although Guy Fawkes was executed by being hung, drawn, and quartered, one tradition surrounding the evening is to burn a ‘Guy’ in effigy on the bonfire. It is no longer a common part of the celebrations, but it demonstrates how strong anti-Catholic sentiment used to be. Guy Fawkes was viewed as a traitorous, treasonous terrorist, and treated accordingly.

In the past few decades however, Guy Fawkes has received a new lease of life in the form of the Guy Fawkes mask worn by the main character of the graphic novel V for Vendetta. Set in a dystopic 1984-style future, V is a mysterious man in a mask that sparks a popular insurrection that brings down the fascist, authoritarian government. One of his first acts in the novel is to succeed where Guy Fawkes failed, blowing up the houses of Parliament in spectacular fashion. V dies towards the end of the novel but others take up his mask, and his true identity is never revealed, turning him a symbolic figure of just rebellion. Initially unpopular when it was first published in the early 1980s, V for Vendetta has increased in popularity in recent years, perhaps due to its adaptation into a film in 2006. The Guy Fawkes masks have become a common feature of protests and demonstrations, serving both a symbolic purpose as the spirit of rebellion, and a practical one in helping to hide the faces and identities of protesters from police. In this context, Guy Fawkes is a hero who fought, and won, against overwhelming odds. He is a freedom fighter.

The ‘V for Vendetta’ mask has become a common sight at demonstrations in recent years (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I have been thinking about the phrase ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ a lot recently. ‘Terrorism’ has felt almost ubiquitous in the Western world over the last decade or so of the War on Terror, but it is an incredibly subjective term. The same act can be perceived as mindless violence or just necessity, depending on the attitude of those perceiving it. The changing perceptions of Guy Fawkes proves this. I am in no way condoning the way that some people choose to resort to extreme violence in order to make their point, but I do think we should be aware of the complex and subjective nature of the term ‘terrorist’, and should use it accordingly.