May 8, 2017, by Macayla Forde
Student volunteer news: trip to the Manuscripts and Special Collections department
The student volunteers in the Collections Team this year here at the Digital Humanities Centre have been diligently working on ‘weeding’, re-organising and digitising parts of the Humanities slide collection that is housed in the DHC. With thousands of slides to get through, this has been an exciting but immense project for the team. For inspiration and to see how a real archive department operates, a group of volunteers recently made a trip to King’s Meadow Campus to visit the Manuscripts and Special Collections Department.
Following a general introduction to the department, one of the first things they learned about is the challenge of finding a space suitable to store an immense and precious archive collection. They were fascinated to discover that the facility actually used to be a TV studio which provided the perfect space as it was large and free from natural light. They then also found out about some of the future challenges faced by the archive and the fact that the space is beginning to approach its capacity. For budding archivists amongst the DHC volunteers this was an invaluable opportunity to learn about the conundrums and complexities of the industry.
Volunteers were then able to see some of the manuscripts in the collection, including fascinating letters between two women in the mid-19th century as they shared stories of their travels around the globe. Interestingly, this correspondence was written in ‘crossed letter’ style. Popular in the early days of the postal system, this was the method by which two sets of writing are written one over the other at right-angles to save on expensive postage charges. It was a fun experience for the volunteers to get up close with the letters and try and decipher the content.
Next the group were shown some of the repair work carried out at the archive. Dukes of Portland have historically been an important source of material for the archive, and originally half of their collection was stored at this facility and the rest kept in London. The group learned that the collection in London was severely damaged during World War II, and that the staff at the archives here in Nottingham are working hard to try and repair and salvage what they can of this valuable material.
Finally, the volunteers learned a great deal about the digitisation work going on at the facility and some of the projects that are currently in progress. This is undoubtedly important for the archive going forward as it allows the archive to expand enormously without taking up any extra space. It was exciting to see that lots of the equipment used there is very similar to that of the DHC and to pick up some tips from the experts.
Overall, it was a very valuable and useful trip for the DHC Collections team and a fantastic insight into the professional world of archiving – undoubtedly a great possible career choice for DHC alumni.