Both of us are enthusiastic about public history and making records / research accessible to a wider audience. After we have graduated, we want to go on to do postgraduate degrees and understand the importance of work experience in gaining a place. Amy is extremely enthusiastic about studying to become a certified archivist, while Claire wants to do a masters in the history of medicine in the early modern period.
As our first year came to an end, we decided to search for summer internships and work experience. After searches for experience in our local area were limited, we decided to look further afield. The opportunity arose to do a six-week placement at York Archives for one day a week. Although this would mean a longer commute and an early start (waking up at 5:30 isn’t for everyone!), we grabbed the opportunity to gain experience in a history-related field.
On our first day, we met the three other students who we would be working with and were given a collection to catalogue. Our collection was based around John Marriott, a lecturer at Oxford University and politician in Oxford and York in the early 20th century. Despite this not being related to our interests in early modern history, we learnt a number of skills which we can take forward and apply to our own research.
One of the first things we experienced was how to catalogue a collection. With forty-five boxes, containing anything from two to fifty-six items or files, we quickly discovered that working in archives needed a lot of patience! This was one of the biggest challenges of our placement. On opening a box that contained fifty-six bundles of newspaper cuttings, all on different subjects and some without dates, we began to question whether working in public history was our calling. However, it was hugely rewarding to finish cataloguing that box and know that the public could now use it in research.
The next step when working on an archives collection was to re-box the items based on themes. An example of this is that we categorised all the newspaper cuttings relating to issues in Ireland in the inter war period together. We both really enjoyed this aspect of the work experience as we could see our work coming together to create a logical catalogue which could then be used in the future. The final aspect of our work experience was to work in the archives storage room checking which collections the archives held at York and which were in storage. It was rewarding to see the collection we had done on the shelf ready to be used. This collection along with a biography we wrote about Marriott will be online in the next few weeks and ready for the public to view!
Not only did our placement allow us to gain experience in digitising history, it also encouraged us to think about what we might like to do in the future. Even though we were apprehensive about what to expect when walking into the archives on the first day, we are both glad we decided to undertake work experience over the summer!