My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

Working with Archives: A CDA Network Event

In June I wrote about the CDA network and an event of theirs I attended. That event worked to introduce me to the real concept of a CDA and also to make me aware of the benefits of such an organisation (it is always good to have people to talk to who are in a similar situation but not so directly invested/involved in your work). So when in the beginning of the academic year the idea of an event on ‘Working with Archives’ was starting to be mentioned, I decided to put my name down for helping should the need arise.

The organisational requirements, from my part at least, where not too complex. The first organisational meeting I could not attend so I jumped in on the second meeting where we went to visit the location for the workshop, Flat Time House, to look around it and finalise who will do what (I was involved in helping out with the conference packs :)). A call for papers had also gone out a few weeks before, and I had submitted a paper on ‘Pollution Monitoring at The National Archives’, so I had that to organise as well.

Flat Time House

Friday the 29th thus saw a group of us CDA students making our way to Flat Time House for the event on ‘Working with Archives‘. We had everything in place in decent time and the people started trickling in. Though I barely knew anyone it was a friendly crowd (and I had the so illustrious job of registration i.e. handing out the conference packs and name tags :P) so I was easily kept busy.

After the welcome message it was on to the first talk. This was by Emma Brinkhurst talking about her work between Goldsmiths and the British Library Sound Archive, where she is working with the Somali Community in King’s Cross to bring their work into the archive as well as to get them to interact more with the archive themselves. A very enlightening talk to see what problems she has had to encounter on the way, with pre-conceived ideas of people and starting a connection which was not previously there…she also joined a mother and baby club to make connections! (though from what I could see she has no baby ;)). A very interesting project I must admit!

Following this talk about sound archives we moved on to television archives with Julie Ives. She is working on the history of ITV regional programming in the Midlands. She talked about how regional programming structure has changed and how material from the archive has been discarded with time as it was no longer deemed useful, such that it seems like what a lot of what is in the archive consists of is clips which can be reused rather than whole programmes. It was very hilarious to see a clip supposedly taken in a yarn factory which was then shown in a programme she obtained from another source as a carpet factory in a different part of the country! It made me think of how much I can trust what I see on tv!

Time for a tea-break. This after all is what most of us look forward to ;). It’s not the eating of course, but the talking to people and the learning from other’s experience.

Relaxing During the Breaks

After the break it was my turn to present my work. On the instigation of my supervisor I had a number of props with me such as sampling instruments which I took along, which I think made the presentation more participatory than if they just listened to me speak. There were also quite a lot of questions both after the presentation as well as during the breaks, so hopefully what I said was understood and made others think about the importance of monitoring. As usual I spoke fast, but overall I think it went OK.

The last student presentation was then from two girls, Mhairi Maxwell and Lindsey Buster, working on the archaeological archive of  Broxmouth project. Rather than talking specifically about their work (which they had done at a previous meeting) they decided to talk to us about what an archaeological archive is and what social aspects of the dig they could unearth from the materials in the archive, including site notebooks, pay slips, and of course photographs! They had also found a recipe for a cheesecake on the back of one of the notebooks and they cooked it for us…delicious!

The Cheescake (and my Pollution Monitor in the Background)

Following the student presentation it was on to lunch before starting the second part of the meeting.

First up was the archivist of Flat Time House, Anthony Hudek. He spoke to us about how and why the archive came into being and how he is visualising the archive as being made available to the public online all from the ideas of John Latham (the artist whose archive this is) visualised things. It was a bit abstract for me, being more of a practical let’s get this done and let’s make it organised in a practical way. However, the people who are more directly involved with archives and art history were very impressed and interested in his discussions.

Anthony Hudek Talking about his Work

The last part then consisted of a discussion workshop were we split into groups to discuss our experiences of dealing with archives, what interested us most from that day’s discussions, how we could learn from each other’s experiences, and in general the problems and solutions we’ve found.

After presenting a short discussion of what was said in these meetings it was then the close of the day. A very successful meeting I think, where I learnt a lot and discussed a lot. The discussion though didn’t stop at the meeting…a trip to the pub was in order of course :).

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Workshopping in Leiden

The second week of January was spent in a workshop in Leiden on ‘Electrochemistry in Historical and Archaeological Conservation‘. Although I am not working on metals and don’t see much use of electrochemical techniques, at least at the moment, in my PhD studies, I thought it would nevertheless be a good idea to learn about the techniques used to study other materials; in any way principles of conservation in the different fields are similar if not the same, so even learning about similar fields could help me produce a more coherent idea about my research.

The programme was split into lectures in the morning and practical sessions in the afternoon, with different days being dedicated to different aspects such that Monday was dedicated to analysis, Tuesday to Cleaning and Stabilisation, Wednesday to Protection, Thursday to Testing and Monitoring and Friday to Standards and Education. The sections I was most interested in where the Analysis sections and the Testing and Monitoring sections. However, to my surprise I also found the protection sections particularly interesting, and the standards and education discussions were enlightening in a broader sense (i.e. the discussion could be just as applicable to metals as to other materials).

All in all a successful workshop! It was great to meet some people I had worked with in Malta, and of course meeting new people and hearing their ideas is always good and can spark off a good few ideas which you weren’t expecting. The workshop dinner and the trip to a museum was of course, as always, a good time!

Now I am back in London. It feels great to be back to London and back to work. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to coming back here after Christmas as coming back here after the last Christmas and Easter holidays was not the easiest. however this time I seem to have settled back to work much quicker…hopefully this augurs well for the coming year of work!

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January 2010