Explore Your Archive at Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Alex Hewitt writes about her placement in the Collections Department at Shakespeare Birthplace Trust:

It’s been all go at Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the past few weeks have flown by! So far, the life of a cultural intern is both busy and exciting.

There is definitely a lot to take in – just finding my way around the building is a challenge! However, the work is both interesting and varied; everyday is different. I am working in the Collections Department, mainly with the Interpretation Team who essentially work on displays and exhibitions across the Shakespeare Centre and all five SBT properties.

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Since arriving at the Trust, I have been lucky enough to work on a number of exciting projects. Last week, SBT opened the doors to Harvard House. This sixteenth-century town house right in the heart of Stratford-upon-Avon is cared for by the Trust on behalf of Harvard University. Previously a pewter museum, Harvard House has undergone a major re-presentation that takes visitors back to a time when it was first built in 1596. Although I arrived in the final stages of the project (during the house installation) it was great to see how months of work, planning and collaboration come together to achieve a finished product. I was also able to get some hands-on experience, learning how to pack and care for 500 year old objects!

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Last week was Explore Your Archive, not just at Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, but across the country. This campaign saw The Archives and Records Association and The National Archives come together to raise awareness of the importance and existence of archives. More than 200 archives and museums in the UK and Ireland were involved this year. SBT held exhibitions and talks from 11-14 November as part of this campaign, all relating to the theme of conflict in commemoration of the centenary year of the First World War.

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There were some really great objects and archives on display throughout the week including a seventeenth-century sword, letters from the Napoleonic War, scrapbooks from World War One, and, of course, some rare copies of Shakespeare’s texts. As part of Explore Your Archive I gave a talk on Elizabethan war propaganda, showcasing some objects from the collections. This gave me a chance to research and get better acquainted with the incredible collections that are housed in the Shakespeare Centre. There were some really great talks given throughout the week, mostly by the brilliant SBT volunteers who work in Collections.

I am really enjoying the hands-on aspect of my placement so far. Not only have I been helping install and de-stall exhibitions (which requires a lot of heavy lifting), I am also being introduced to object care and correct environmental conditions for displays. Through Explore Your Archive and helping at a volunteer fair hosted by Worcester University, I have gained some public-facing experience as well which has been really fun. I am also hoping to spend some time with the Learning and Education Department in the coming works to understand a bit more about how they make Shakespeare more accessible to younger audiences. As I mentioned before, the great thing about this internship is that every day is different!

For the next couple of weeks the Interpretation Team will be focusing on the rotation of objects within the Shakespeare’s Treasures exhibition, which will be keeping us nice and busy. However, there are a couple of big projects coming up in the new year that I am particularly excited about!

As you can see, there is a lot to be getting on with, but I can’t believe we are now six weeks into our placements… I am already looking forward to the staff Christmas party!

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