During my placement I have spent a few days each week working with the team from the Research and Cultural Collections Department. The building where they are based is called the ‘Redmarley’ and is a beautiful historic house. They are responsible for many of the objects on display around the campus, and also have a large collection of artworks, objects and historic items in the store areas. I have had the opportunity to work on a number of projects with different members of the team, but it has also been so wonderful just to get to meet so many lovely people and talk with them about their roles and the operations of the department.
The main project I have been working on during my time with Research and Cultural Collections is to catalogue and rehouse a collection of prints by the artist Hans Schwarz. Clare Marlow, the Collection Manager, has taught me how to catalogue each print, through entering its title, accession number, dimensions, description and other details into a spreadsheet which was then uploaded to the MIMSY Collection Management database. I also photographed each print and linked the image to the MIMSY record. I then rehoused the print, making cases from archival acid free paper. Collection management is an area I have been very keen to get more experience in for quite some time, as it is a requisite for many jobs in museums, so I am vey thankful for the opportunity to develop new skills in collection management and to learn from an enthusiastic but patient teacher, Clare Marlow.
Clare Marlow and I also undertook a number of smaller projects, which I have detailed in previous posts. These included covering a sculpture so building work could be done nearby; attempts to clean a marble sculpture; cleaning Steigler anatomical models of genitals; and photographing a marble sculpture for a catalogue. It was great to be able to work on these projects with Clare, and gain more insight into the role of a Collection Manager – she gets to do so many interesting things!
The other main project I worked on was to assist Jenny Lance to catalogue and rehouse parts of the photographic collection that the department is responsible for. They have a large collection of glass negatives, photographic prints and negatives, and photographic equipment, that dates back approximately 100 years. During my first week on this project I catalogued records from the physics collection. In the 1950s there was a synchrotron in Birmingham, so a lot of the documents and photographs related to its operation. It was incredible to be able to read about the history of this very significant scientific instrument and the discoveries associated with it. On my final day I rehoused and cleaned some SLR cameras and very early digital cameras. It was so interesting to be able to look through the different cameras in the collection with Jenny Lance and to admire how technology has evolved but also how well made early cameras and photographic equipment was. I also rehoused a collection of silver gelatin prints into archival sleeves. The photographs were from the archaeology department originally and many of the images showed archaeological dig sites and artefacts found there that are now in collections at the University of Birmingham. I really enjoyed working with Jenny – as we both have a photography background we really appreciated the collection and it was so fun to ‘geek out’ with her over all the amazing equipment and images!
I also had the opportunity to discuss the Cultural Interns Scheme with Laura Milner who is responsible for the organisation and running of the program. This is such an incredible scheme funded by the University of Birmingham. There are cultural partner institutions in the city of Birmingham, which include art galleries and museums, theatres, broadcasting organisations and small arts organisations. Each year 10 recent graduates from the University of Birmingham are awarded a 6-month paid internship at one of these cultural institutions in order to develop skills and experience in the cultural sector. I was fortunate enough to be able to meet with the 10 cultural interns from this year, as well as meet many who had received the award in previous years and are now employed within the arts. It is so wonderful that the university supports its graduates and the cultural sector and provides this opportunity for professional development at an early career stage. If you would like to learn more about this Cultural Intern Scheme, here is a link:
The Research and Cultural Collections department also organised for me to meet Alice Roberts, as she is involved with a project they are working on. Alice Roberts is an academic, physical anthropologist, palaeopathologist and television presenter for the BBC. I have admired her work work for a long time so it was great to be able to meet her and discuss the role of women in STEM streams and ways to encourage more women to work in these fields.
As I complete my placement it is great to look back thorough these blog posts and reflect on my time in Birmingham, all the wonderful collections I have been fortunate enough to be able to work with and all the interesting and engaging projects I have completed over the last month. It would not have been possible without the assistance of the Research and Cultural Collections team. I would like to thank everyone from Research and Cultural Collections (Clare Mullet, Anna Young, Clare Marlow, Sue Franklin, Nadia Awal, Laura Milner, and Jenny Lance) for making me feel so welcome; for sharing their knowledge, skills and expertise and for all the work they have done to organise my placement at the University of Birmingham. It has been such a pleasure to work with them and to make new friends on the other side of the world!
The images used in the post are courtesy of Research and Cultural Collections. If you would like to learn more about their collections, please follow this link to their website: