Looking Back

Hello! I don’t know how I can possibly follow Etta’s wonderful post, below, but as we have now passed the three month mark of our traineeships, I thought it might be a good idea to reflect on my experience of the traineeship so far, and what I have learnt.

Copyright: The Museum of Royal Worcester

Copyright: The Museum of Royal Worcester

The first thing that strikes me, as is always the case, is just how fast the last few months have passed by. The weather in Worcester this week has finally started its descent into Winter, and I can’t help but think of how sunny and hot it was when I moved here at the end of July. I have settled in to the museum, and am currently finalising my plans for the next year, in conjunction with my colleagues. I am now faced with the somewhat daunting task of making the things I have planned actually happen; I think this is the first job I have had where I have full ownership of my own projects, which is both exciting and somewhat terrifying. For the majority of my events I am trying to create partnerships and work with other local organisations and institutions where beneficial to both of us, as well as for our audiences and participants – I am not in the inward-looking old school of museum thought and I think the sector can be hugely enriched by collaboration and through listening to and being aware of different viewpoints.

I am also looking forward to putting into practice some of the excellent training we have had over the past few months. The majority of the areas we have had training in have been completely new to me, so I am eager to try some things out and develop new skills – so far, I am hoping to submit some successful funding bids, develop educational resources suited to the new primary school curriculum, advise some participants on their Arts Awards, and begin work on the digital output to accompany my events. Hopefully by the next time I write, I will have some progress to report!

Rachel Murphy

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#DCDC14

Yesterday, Tom and Sarah and I travelled to Birmingham for the Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities conference. This was the first conference that I have attended so I was unsure as to what to expect. However, I came out of it with some brilliant new ideas on how to promote my collections and more importantly how to forge partnerships and collaborate with other institutions and sites of cultural heritage. The Library of Birmingham was a fantastic setting for such an event as it promotes collaboration in itself, having both archives and a library accessible for all. Being open for only 14 months and already attracting just under 3 million visitors signifies what a great role the library has in the local community.

Birmingham Library

Inside Birmingham Library

The main themes that I picked up on throughout the day were collaboration, diversity and inclusion. This was to show how archives, museums and academia can work together to formulate stories and common experiences to heighten the impact and interest in their collections. This selection of varied institutions from across the heritage and cultural sectors created a discussion on future improvement and possibilities for further collaboration. It was inspiring to see this already in action through some of the speakers such as Kirsty Pattrick, from the Mass Observation Archive, who has been working alongside Lewes Prison Library to provide a voice for inmates who would otherwise be silenced in the pages of history. This project acts as a springboard for further engagement with offenders and provided them with a cathartic release within their rigid daily schedules. Another example of inclusive projects was provided by Katie Giles, from Kingston University Special Collections, who showcased the various ways in which she worked with both school children and adults with special educational needs. Her emphasis was on creative outputs and how to tailor to and inspire different audiences. One bit of advice I took from her presentation was to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.

DCDC14

The programme cover for the conference

I was lucky enough to meet the author of the Special Collections Handbook, Alison Cullingford, whose book has been of great use to me during this placement. As I am responsible for the social media output here at the Research collections, her talk on the use of blogs and twitter was really helpful. She explained how to take an object and create a story around it as this is a more engaging approach that people will be more likely to take an interest in. Audiences like a good story and if you find an object within your collection that people would not expect you to hold then show it off, do not be afraid to stick simply to what people are expecting to see. I am hoping to visit Bradford University Special Collections soon to learn as much as I can from Alison and bring it back to Worcester.

The main thing I took from this conference was the confidence and inspiration to see how the seven placements across Worcester can take this notion of collaboration to increase engagement in our collections. I’m hoping to share what I have learnt with the others who did not attend to see what steps we can take towards working together.

Danielle Joyce, Tom Hopkins, Sarah Ganderton

Us outside the Library

For more information on the events search for #DCDC14 on twitter or follow @UWRColl

 

Danielle Joyce

Let’s play Family Fortunes

“Name one thing you shouldn’t let kids do in a museum”

“Run around aimlessly?”

“Our survey says?!”

“Uh-uuh.” XXX

That’s right. According to Abigail Hackett from the Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth, at the University of Sheffield, letting pre-schoolers move how they want to through museums and galleries is an important part of their understanding of new spaces and places. This might mean running, walking, jumping or dancing round a museum. The study also found that children often moved backwards and forwards between two areas of the museum repeatedly, or ignored some exhibition spaces altogether. You can read more about the PhD research that underpins this principle here.

This is one of the many theories, ideas and tips I discovered when I travelled to The People’s History Museum, Manchester, for a training day entitled ‘Family Fortunes’. This event was run by Kids in Museums and focussed on creating family-friendly museums and events.

Kids in Museums Logo

Kids in Museums logo by Quentin Blake

Other key facts I learnt were:

  • There has been a trend towards ‘discretionary thrift’ recently. This means that people are keen to find bargains even when they don’t need to save money. People are more likely to talk about how much they have saved than how much they have spent.
  • The traditional horizontal family (composed of lots of siblings and cousins with their parents and grandparents) is being replaced by the modern vertical family (composed of fewer siblings and cousins accompanied not only by parents and grandparents but also by great-grandparents)

This was also an amazing opportunity to hear how other museums, galleries and heritage sites are making their museums more family-friendly. One example of this was Gallery Oldham who have extended their family offer to 0-2 year olds with their programme ‘Go Baby’, a free weekly drop-in session. As well as providing an exciting exploratory and sensory experience for the babies, the gallery have been working with new arrivals groups, health visitors, and other relevant partners to give the parents a chance to connect with the community organisations and gain advice and support.

At the end of the day, each participant had to make a promise to themselves and I pledged to use my performing arts skills and experience with family visitors. I’ll let you know if I keep this promise.

Lily Dean

From Portraits to Content Production

It has been an exciting and varied few weeks at the Museum of Royal Worcester. One special event was the unveiling of a portrait of Henry Sandon, a great friend of the museum and renowned expert of Worcester Porcelain, whom you may recognise from the Antiques Roadshow. The portrait was painted by local artist Sara Hayward and as you can see, it is full of colour and character, far from what may spring to mind when one thinks of portraiture. The occasion was featured on BBC Midlands Today, and can be viewed here. You may be able to spot me in the background!

Museum of Royal Worcester Henry Sandon PortraitCynthia Crawford

Henry Sandon and Cynthia Crawford MBE, image by John Anyon via Worcester News.

I have also attended several training events, which have generally focused on audiences, as well as making connections with visitors beyond the physical space of the museum or through the collections alone. This is an area I am extremely interested in, as it seems to produce some of the most exciting and creative ideas in museums and galleries.

The first training day was actually led by us, the trainees. With a broad focus on blogging and social media, we talked about writing content as well as more practical aspects. Emalee and I led on a session about how to use WordPress, from changing themes and layouts, to optimising images and posts for search engines. We are also responsible for the redesign of this blog, which we hope you like. Its appearance may be the most obvious change, but our primary aim was to organise the existing content, as well making it easier to navigate. Although none of us claim to be blogging or social media experts, I think we all learnt a lot through sharing our thoughts and ideas, and we are keen to publish content frequently throughout the duration of our traineeships, for our records and for anyone else who may be interested.

Oxford Aspire Training Shelley Mannion British Museum

Shelley Mannion, image from Oxford Aspire.

The most recent training day I took part in was run by Oxford Aspire, and was called ‘Understanding Audiences’. An overview of all four presentations can be found here on their website; I was particularly interested in the talks focusing on audiences and their engagement with digital output. Shelley Mannion, Senior Content Producer at the British Museum, stated that a museum’s digital output is becoming as much a part of a museum experience as the museum itself, an idea I wholeheartedly agree with, as digital natives – I consider myself and my peers to be first-generation – are now entering the workforce, and of course many children born in the West today grow up with technologies like tablets. Although most museums do not have the resources available to the BM, I am keen to incorporate a digital element into some of my projects here at the museum, where possible and appropriate. I think it would be most valuable for us as a way of showcasing archival material and our collection of oral histories, which museum visitors may not be able to see or hear in the galleries. Keep an eye (or RSS feed) out!

Rachel Murphy

Magnificent Manuscripts and Incredible Incunabulae

Hello, Tom here at Worcester Cathedral Library and Archive.

libwindow

The view from my window!

Like everyone else, I’ve been amazed by how fast the last few weeks have gone by! I’ve been working on a number of different projects at the same time, so no two days are quite the same. One of the first things I started with was updating our blog. The library has such a wealth of fascinating content, so I think it’s really important to try and share this with the widest possible audience. Social media seems the perfect vehicle for this – especially since access to the library can be tricky (up an 11th Century spiral staircase) and many of our objects are too fragile to handle regularly or put on long-term display.

I’ve been working closely with my supervisor, David, to learn important new skills. Unsurprisingly, book handling is one of these – and I now feel confident enough to leaf through the medieval manuscripts. However, my sense of awe that something so fragile and vulnerable could survive so long remains undiminished.

melib

Another key skill I’m getting to grips with is palaeography, or the study of old hand writing. Apparently by the end of my 15 months I should be able to sail through texts like this:

manu

Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

Bee-vering away at the Hive

Hello, my name is Sarah and I am based at Worcester’s iconic Hive building, working with the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service.

 

Sarah Bee-vering away

Sarah Bee-vering away

It has been a busy few weeks. I have been learning about what everyone in this large team does. I have shadowed some staff and taken tours with others. I attended Manual Handling training with my new colleagues and have been helping with emailed enquiries, advising customers at the Explore the Past desk, and delivering inductions for new users of the service.

I took time out from all this learning to help the team by redesigning the shop display beside the Explore The Past Desk. This involved rearranging the existing display of World War One memorabilia: mainly Illustrated Supplements to the Berrow’s Worcester Journal, and filling the remaining cases with books and merchandise.

The books that are sold through the Explore the Past desk cover a multitude of subjects, from how to do research, to research already done on local people and places. There is also a selection of reproduction historic jewellery and pots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

‘Drinking’-Themed Display

First, I took a look through the stock that was available, and the bits and bobs I could use to prop up books or highlight jewellery. Then I put the books into themed piles which I felt went well together, before putting each theme in a separate shelf of the cases. Now there are a couple of drinking-themed sections (complete with reproduction mugs), and sections for different local places such as Droitwich and Bromsgrove, local people, and local businesses. Meanwhile, the regimental and war-themed books are sitting beside the Illustrated Supplement pages.

It was great to have a little project I could really get my teeth into for the whole day, working out the content and designing the display. I also had to remember to ensuring the price tags showed clearly. I kept a regular check from the front of the display to make sure it looked as good as I imagined it to be.

The Whole Shop Display

The Finished Shop Display

This was an important job for the department, and, as I was to discover, it takes a lot of staff time to rearrange the display. I especially enjoyed visitors peering in at the cases while I was rearranging them; I have not previously noticed so many people looking at the cases before, but moving the display around really caught their eyes.

Now I am starting to think about what we could do differently for Christmas time….

Running A Palaeography Swap-Shop

As part of the Nurturing Worcestershire’s Treasures programme each trainee runs a swap-shop. These provide an excellent chance for the trainees to be introduced to a skill used in a specific area of museum or archive management. For my swap shop I chose to look at palaeography, which involves reading and transcribing ancient handwriting. I felt this was an interesting topic for the other trainees to learn about. It is, moreover, a skill that increasingly few have the chance to receive formal training in, because many academic institutions have stopped running palaeography courses. There are some summer schools and informal workshops available, however, and these can provide a useful introduction to this complicated process. One of the volunteers from Worcester Cathedral library, for example, annually attends the University of Keele’s palaeography summer camp.

 

Planning the palaeography swap shop was tricky, as some trainees had Latin and others did not. Also, the archival and bound materials in each institution are very different. I felt it was important that the trainees were made aware of the different varieties of document one could be asked to transcribe within a library or archive. I wanted to informally structure the swap shop around a series of exercises that we could work through as a team. For anyone who has taken skill training in palaeography, they are probably only too aware that it can be tiring to read antiquated scripts for long periods of time. Working as a group can alleviate the fatigue and the frustration experienced when coming face to face with a particularly nasty script or inconsistent scribe. When I attended classes at the Borthwick institution at York as part of my MA, we always worked as a large group, reading aloud a few lines each going round in circle. This made transcribing a far less stressful process and you become more accepting of the fact that everyone inevitably makes errors when learning palaeography.

Dee's Swapshop photo 2

 

Following a similar model, the other trainees and I worked through transcribing a series of “cures” for ailments (such as gout and also the plague) that dated from roughly 1540. These came from a monastic register and were written in middle English. We also looked at a cough syrup recipe from the seventeenth century written on a flyleaf of a music score. Everyone found this hand much more amenable to transcribe. As well as these we looked at a charter, a royal letter, and some accounts of the Dean and Chapter. These types of documents are more typically transcribed by historians as part of their research process.

 

Dee's Swapshop photo 3I am still by no means an expert at palaeography! I feel far more comfortable transcribing documents than full texts from manuscripts. Nonetheless, I like to think that I gave some useful hints and tips to the other trainees that they might be able to use in the future. In particular, I felt the trainees benefitted from learning to create a document alphabet. This is when you identify all of the letter forms present in each document from A to Z. This sounds a bit basic- but it is widely recognized as an extremely useful practise. For example, check out this website on middle English scribes. As you can see the project gives examples of letter forms used on a scribe by scribe basis. More generally, by creating a document alphabet when working with one document you can compare the different letter forms and distinguishing them from one another becomes easier as a result. Also, whilst many palaeography experts know much about the evolution of handwriting, it can be useful for beginners to work on a document by document basis, because then they are able to recognize that there are often no hard and fast rules in palaeography.

I really enjoyed the session and by five o’clock, when the light was fading, we’d all had our fair share of counting minims and deciphering abbreviation marks. I hope Alison Winston in particular found the session useful, for she is hoping to embark on a postgraduate in archives and record keeping. Her desired field is one in which palaeography should come in most handy!