April 20, 2017, by Kathryn Steenson

Volunteering and all that jazz

The University Photographic Collection contains an enormous number of photographs taken by the University of Nottingham and its predecessor colleges over the past 120 years. We are gradually cataloguing them with the help of students like Sophie Pegum, who volunteered at Manuscripts & Special Collections as part of a placement from the Department of Music.

My experience on placement working at Manuscripts and Special Collections has been enriching, inspiring and exciting.

Through my placement, I worked on a collection of photographs which had been donated to MSC by the Communications department, as part of their collection of University photographs. On my first look through the photographs, I was fascinated by the variety of the photographs, and at how a few of the photographs related to me personally.

A contact sheet of photographs of the construction of Newark and Southwell Halls and the atrium on Jubilee Campus were particularly interesting, as I lived in Newark Hall in my first year. Other photographs of jazz concerts from the early 2000s including Darius Brubeck were of interest to me, as I study music and have an interest in jazz.

Photos and negatives scattered across the table

A selection of the jazz photographs in the collection.

Through my eight weeks working at MSC, I archived the collection into a spreadsheet. Firstly, I started with the basic information I knew from the photographs themselves, and built up my knowledge as the weeks went on.

Photograph of the laptop screen

Photograph of my finished spreadsheet – all 110 photographs!

It sounds like a simple task from the outside, but the research was a long process, but one that I found told me a lot about how the university has changed through the years. In my research, I looked through the university’s newsletters from around 1980-2007, the ‘Nottingham Graduate’ newspapers from the 1980s, and prospectuses from the 1980s to 2000s. The newsletters were extremely interesting to me, I often found myself reading stories that I would find in them, and then remember that I’m supposed to be looking for the photographs….of course! One interesting thing that I saw was a previous lunchtime concert in the music department advertised, with my old piano teacher performing! Seeing where previous alumni ended up in the old newsletters was really interesting and inspiring also.

Photo of the volunteer sorting through photos in protective sleeves

Looking through my work on the finished collection of photographs.

Through my weeks at MSC, working closely with one collection of photographs was both challenging and rewarding. Whilst at times, it is frustrating when I would look through publications and find no information about the photographs, when I would find information, and expand my spreadsheet and thus the wider knowledge about the photographs, I felt so proud to have done it.

Bundle wrapped in archival paper in an archive box

The finished photograph collection, wrapped up by me for the last time.

My placement at MSC was really worthwhile, I learnt so much about the university’s past and what has happened before I came to study here. I learnt so many skills whilst at MSC: working as an individual, research and analytical skills, social skills, and skills for just being part of a working environment.

Many of the University photos can be seen in our Reading Room at King’s Meadow Campus. Please contact us if there is something specific you would like to see, as this is a work-in-progress and not all the catalogues are available online yet. To make an appointment, please email us. More information about our collections is on our website. For general information, read our newsletter Discover, or follow us @mssUniNott.

Posted in CataloguingGuest blogsUniversity archives