Peoples of Essex : engaging the topic of migration through digital media

BLOG digital heritage digital history migration PEOPLE OF ESSEX teaching history

Our Peoples of Essex has now completed its first year. We have had a very busy start to the project, exploring the topic of positive migration using various digital media methods.


Through our historical research, community engagement, and creative workshop delivery, we have gained a greater understanding of how digital media and social history can collaborate. As we have reached the end of our first year of the project, this blog will look back at the digital media we taught and evaluate how successfully each topic engaged with our participants and aims.

Thank you to the National Heritage Lottery Fund for making this possible.


Interactive timelines


When exploring how to present our research on historical migration, we first considered interactive timelines to display important dates relating of migration into Essex. However, we soon found that a chronological approach was messy as migration was not as simple as one group arriving and then the next; instead, different families migrated across a large period of time, each with their own impact. This meant that it was hard to decide where to place a particular community of migrants in the chronological order as putting the group later in time may have meant neglecting earlier stories. It was agreed that a timeline is useful for contextualising the stories but should be accompanied with a more effective story telling tool. We plan to begin animating our timeline with local schools to combine the story element of animation with the contextual aspect of timelines. This would allow the characters to give personality to the events.

If your school wants to get involved, contact


Our timeline shown below was made on knightlab. The process involved creating a simple spreadsheet in excel using the template set out on the website. The process was very user friendly to beginners of excel as the website had instructions listed with images and a video guide. The timeline produced can be easily embedded into a website or blog which provides an excellent opportunity to act as a supporting media for a page with more information about the topic.






Our animation workshops have received highly positive feedback. We focused on telling personal stories through designing and animating faces, and workshops based on the stories of migration including a Kindertransport workshop animating what you would bring in the situation.

Animation was successful in engaging with the theme of migration in an empathetic way as the participants used their creativity and understanding of the topic to shape the way their character would act, think, and engage with their world based on the setting. This meant that they would consider the emotions the migrants would be facing and apply this to their characters, generating a greater understanding of the topic.

A great example was our Kindertransport workshop with Mayflower school. The children were put into an unfamiliar context as they were spoken to in an unfamiliar language (German) and given a situation many of them would not have been in before: deciding what to bring with them if they had to suddenly leave their home. The feedback was very positive with children showing clear empathy in their explanations of what they would choose and what they learnt about migration. The creative freedom of building a character with a background they may have not experienced enabled the participants to take time to think about others and build understanding of their situation.

Feedback from their teacher reflects the success of this:


“You brought an element of the historic Kindertransport journey to life with your work and gave the children a creative digital opportunity to express their understanding. Focussing on one small element of the story really allowed the children to explore their own feelings about what they might take on such a journey and helped to establish that all important empathy.”


Due to the creative nature of animation, we were able to explore the themes of migration in other ways. Below is an example of how our After School Digital Club used animation to help them understand migration. By building character into their fish, they were able to consider the emotions around migrating away from home to the unknown. After this they were able to move onto understanding the experience of a particular group of migrants. Choosing the Dutch Weavers, the children animated their overseas journey from Europe to the UK.

Overall, animation is a great digital platform for learning about social history since it encouraged empathy by engaging the audience with the creative control over a character and world where they have to consider how the character feels, acts, and interacts with the world.





Game making



At our After School Digital Club and various game making workshops, we tried a range of different styles of games. During one session, we reviewed text-based games such as Signals’ North Sea Floods game, made in collaboration with youth music group CLIP and digital artist Dave Norton. The feedback explored how the role-playing element where you made choices to impact the story allowed the player to feel a sense of understanding with the topic by putting themselves in the shoes of another person. The participants showed their understanding by planning and developing their own text-based games including one with a very rich story about a World War II soldier. We used Twine to create our text based games. It proved to be very beginner friendly and encourage creativity and storytelling rather than focusing on hard code.

Another game medium we worked on was the platforming genre. Given the simple mechanics of a platformer (jumping between platforms to move the story forward), and the gameplay following the idea of moving forward, we found a great opportunity to tell stories about migration in this format. The participants planned their games in a collaborative discussion on what emotions a migrant might face and how the player can experience these, and topics to explore such as why a person may have to or choose to leave their home. Together with one participant at Digital Club we generated an idea of a box or suitcase travelling back to their home to find their owner and return their belongings collected along the way; a metaphor of what migrants have to leave behind and the journey of re-finding their identity. We also had a maze game designed, and a multiple dimension game planned which involved the player navigating both 3D and 2D planes in a way that reminds the player of the stress of navigating a new area and environment. Whilst the ideas were brilliant, the story can easily get lost in the design of the game. Making the platform aspect too difficult or the main focus would quickly lose the engagement in the story. Therefore, this required a good balance of encouraging the participants to consider how the player engages with the story throughout the game. Construct was used to create our platforming games. We consider construct the next level up from scratch. It was mastered quickly once you learn the process, and allowed for creative gameplay concepts. Construct was great for building digital skills and exploring different genres of games, but has less emphasis on the story telling element which Twine excelled in. It proved to be an excellent asset in discussing how stories could be told and engaged with and would work best with pre-written stories rather than creative writing which Twine proved better for.

We recently moved onto 3D game making on Unreal Engine. One way we were able to engage with the topic of migration was to create 3D models of things that reflected the participants identity and import them into the game using photogrammetry. We liked that you could design something that represents you, put it in a game, and have others explore the world like a virtual museum, making it an accessible way to learn about others. Importing photogrammetry 3d models into a game was interesting and engaging and could be explored further with reconstructions of historic buildings and landscapes. Like construct, unreal engine was more advanced and was used as a way to explore how heritage could be engaged with in a digital world rather than sharing a particular story.

Overall, much like animation, the creative aspect of game making encourages the participant to consider the world and how the player and characters interact with the world, allowing the maker to build their understanding of a topic and share a story with the player. Text-based code, like Twine, proved best for sharing stories, whilst other platforms worked well in generating discussions on how an audience can engage in a story.

3D modelling



Our latest term of After School Digital Club focused on 3D modelling. We gave the participants the prompt of recreating a dragonesque brooch to represent their identity. A dragonesque brooch is a style of Roman brooch made in Essex. It took inspiration from the existing Celtic brooches made in Essex in ‘s’ shapes, and combined the new Roman culture, giving the design a double animal head. It is a great example of how people bring and integrate their culture to new places. In a similar way, the participants combined their local Roman-Celtic history with their own identity. We had some amazing 3D models produced including a Chinese dragon in the style of a Roman dragonesque brooch which combined and celebrated multiple cultures, and a dragonesque shrimp brooch inspired by a beloved pet. The project allowed participants to combine the learning of digital skills and their local culture in a creative and hands-on approach which successfully engaged them in thinking about the archaeology and material culture of migration and identity. We used womp3D to create the models.

3D model making gallery



Process shown includes model making on Womp 3D, printing, removing the supporting structures that supported the printing of the model, and finally painting.



What have we learnt from others?



I would also like to use this space to share what we have learnt from our trips and training. We would like to thank Suffolk Archives for providing their training day on developing exhibitions about migration. We had a lot of useful information and ways of thinking to take away from the training, particularly how the people whose stories you are sharing should be involved as much as possible and should help shape the way you tell their stories. We have been working with local migrant groups and will continue to do so, discussing how we can support them in sharing any stories they want to share. We were also inspired by the digital aspects of their Arrivals exhibition including their phone box which recorded and shared stories offered voluntarily by guests. This was a great interactive that really engaged the audience in feeling like they were having a conversation with the storyteller.

Overall evaluation of digital techniques to engage with social history



Activities encouraging experimentation and empathy have the greatest impact, fostering meaningful discussions and deepening participants’ understanding by prompting them to empathize with others. Digital media enhances imaginative exploration, particularly when participants actively create from stories, allowing them to empathize with the emotions of those involved. Children learn and connect with the world through play and creativity, using it to comprehend and explore. Digital media facilitates this process, empowering children to shape narratives by designing characters or settings with the consideration of the emotions the person would experience.


What do we want to develop next?



We are currently looking for schools interested in engaging with our project to create assets for our animated timeline of migration to Colchester. We are also planning our documentary series to document stories of migrants who have changed Colchester and who have come to Colchester. These projects will consider the feedback we have from our workshops and engage in the storytelling with empathy. Since our project focuses on migrants who brought significant new textile skills to Essex, our next term of Digital Club will focus on generative artwork, talking about how textiles inspired the first modern computers and looking into how we can create and share our identity in textiles patterns made with code.

By Jenny Harris

Want to join our after school digital club? Every term-time Tuesday, 4 – 5.30pm