Liberal Arts and Sciences Cadbury Research Library Internship

By Zoe Emery (year 3 Liberal Arts and Sciences)

pic 127There is something incredibly exciting about handling first-editions of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, as well as Queen Victoria’s personal diary, the Mingana collection (a group of Middle Eastern manuscripts dating from as early as the 6th century), ancient Egyptian papyri, Neville Chamberlain’s copy of Mein Kampf and a letter describing his first impressions of Hitler. I got to do all of this and more as part of my four week internship with the Cadbury Research Library.

For me, one of the best things you can get out of a job is variation. As part of my role here, I, along with two other interns, was not only involved in cataloguing archives, but also helped to create an exhibition on travel diaries in the Main Library and on Flickr, helped conserve a number of documents, taught a group of school children and created several Vox Pop videos to encourage students to use the CRL and its fantastic resources.

Furthermore, we received a series of in depth tours by members of staff, module-choicesshowing us the ins and outs of their different roles as archivists, librarians and conservators. From a personal point of view, it was fascinating to see how the Research Library worked behind the scenes, from the perspective of an employee on a day to day basis. My cataloguing project focused on Bridget Stevenson, a woman who worked for the Save the Children Fund, in German refugee camps from 1948-1962. Steph, an early modern History PhD student, looked at 20th century records of the Women’s Amateur Athletics Association, and Katherine, who just graduated with an English Literature degree, worked on University of Birmingham Medical Society.

Liberal Arts and Sciences is a degree that encourages you to step outside your boundaries, explore different subjects and broaden your wider interests. Having taken modules in Geology, Psychology, Spanish and French over the past two years, my subject choices did not naturally lend themselves towards applying for an internship typically based around History and Literature. However, internships like this allow you to test the waters. Moreover, there are an extensive variety of resources in the collection including Science, Medicine, Art, Sport, Archaeology, Anthropology and Politics, making this internship genuinely interesting to anyone from any walk of life.

Untitled-6Irrelevant of subject, the skills that I have learnt here will be invaluable in the wider working world. Throughout the past four weeks, I have developed my ability to work as part of a team, and as an individual in a professional environment, as well as time management, organisation and the ability to work to a deadline. We also learnt more specific skills including Photoshop, IT, research and conservation.

I can honestly say that I have taken so much away from this experience and have thoroughly enjoyed working with an incredibly lovely and welcoming team.

Our Flickr exhibition on travel diaries – https://www.flickr.com/photos/cadburyresearchlibrary/

http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/facilities/cadbury/index.aspx

To read about the job of an archivist – http://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/blog/jenny-childs-day-life-archivist/

To see upcoming exhibition dates (Noel Coward & Transatlantic Style and Toc H. archive) – http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/facilities/cadbury/events/index.aspx

The Quran in Birmingham:

http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2015/07/quran-manuscript-22-07-15.aspx

LAS in Action: Old Books and New Technologies

As one of the new recruits to the Liberal Arts and Sciences team of tutors I’m gaining new perspectives on multi- and inter-disciplinarity within and beyond the University of Birmingham and, in turn, on my own work and that in my field.

As a medievalist I’ve long practised inter-disciplinarity in my research and teaching. I specialise in early English literature and one of my main interests currently is manuscripts and documents and all other material records of early writing. You might think that we would know almost all there is to know about them as they’ve been around for such a long time. Nothing could be further from the truth. As hand-written and hand-made artefacts, each manuscript and document is a unique witness to cultures of text production, writing and reading. Yet we don’t even know how many medieval manuscripts survive, and we only have sketchy pictures of, for example, how they were produced, who the scribes were, how readers engaged with books – the list of unanswered questions is endless. This means that a major source of evidence for a millennium’s human history still has huge untapped potential.

The LAS spirit of breadth across disciplines is crucial to unlocking the possibilities. In particular, sciences are beginning to play a key role. To give just a few examples, DNA analysis is being applied to the animal skin used to make parchment and spectroscopy has been used to discover the components of the pigments used to decorate books. Such techniques offer the possibility, eventually, of linking books to aspects of the wider economy and environment, to agriculture, butchery, and trade.

The key development, though, is digitisation. Medieval manuscripts are little known and understood in most part because they are scattered across the world in hundreds of different libraries and archives. A further barrier to accessibility is their sensitive conservation status. Over the past two decades major digitisation initiatives have been launched and for the first time in human history these unique objects are becoming available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection.

Digitisation, though exciting, is producing its own problems. Digital media rapidly become obsolete: how can we ensure sustainability? Unlike digitised books, digitised manuscripts are not searchable automatically: how can we speed up analysis of this ‘big data’? Digital images are often subject to copyright restrictions: how can we resolve the intellectual property issues involved in using them in publications? Computer scientists, intellectual property lawyers, information scientists, archivists and librarians, and manuscripts scholars are working together to tackle these problems.

What better illustration of the relevance of the LAS ethos to solving today’s problems?

Wendy Scase (Liberal Arts team)