University of Cambridge Museums

Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums

Introduction to Archives: Not Just For Historians

Delving into the letters, poems and photographs of Cambridge’s famous war poet, Rupert Brooke, and uncovering original manuscripts from most celebrated writers such as Keats, Hardy and Woolf.

For two days in February, 14 Secondary School students went behind closed doors of King’s College Archive and the Fitzwilliam Museum’s manuscript department. This exciting new collaboration between King’s College Archive and the Museum’s Manuscript and Printed Books and Education Departments, provided a unique opportunity for selected students to learn more about archives, research, museum collections and university study.

“I loved seeing the [Fitzwilliam] library because it was absolutely beautiful! Seeing the Keats autograph was amazing as I am studying Keats for A’ Level.”

All students ranging from Year 11 to 13 were studying either English or History. The purpose of the event was to tie in with curriculum themes, extending on their knowledge in the two subjects and fuelling their enthusiasm for literature and social history.

“I learnt so much about archives! I found it surprising that the archives here are so rich in their content. There were so many things to see!”

“I really enjoyed seeing the authentic works of his poems and first drafts in the archive.”

Speakers included Assistant Archivist Peter Monteith from King’s College Archives, Dr Suzanne Reynolds and Edward Cheese from the Fitzwilliam’s Manuscript and Printed Books Department, and guest speakers Dr Karen Arrandale and Nick Peacey. The ‘seminar style’ format of discussion and consultation also offered students an insight into University study, a pathway that all were considering once they left school. The students also visited the Museum’s Founder’s Library and King’s College Archive Centre and learnt not only about the processes of archiving, but also the conservation and care of manuscripts.

“I enjoyed learning about the different types of paper and the effect they have during the preservation process.”

For the majority of the students this was their first experience of King’s College and the Fitzwilliam Museum, and many had preconceptions.

“I thought everything would be posh and people would be really smart.”

“[It is] only for people with lots of money’

The event speaks loudly of breaking down these notions as everyone went away feeling empowered, confident and inspired to continue their way into higher education. Many stated that Cambridge was going to be their first option.

“I see it as less intimidating and so much more interesting.”

“I’ve realised that everyone isn’t posh, they are very smart in their field of study.”

“I learnt a lot and it also gave me the confidence to apply for a top university. All of the staff we worked with were so nice and I actually think that a university like Cambridge would suit me. It’s not stuffy at all, it’s really stimulating and the resources are incredible.”

We are gratified that all students felt they gained so much from the experience and impact this has made in improving their research skills which will support their studies at school.

“They had a fantastic time and really learnt a lot. Their eyes have really been opened up to how valuable archives can be to their studies and research and they have all said that the experience has given them the confidence to use archives effectively in the future, something most of them had no experience of before. Not only was their welcome genuinely warm but actually being able to do work at institutions as illustrious as King’s and the Fitzwilliam, and realising that they can thrive in that environment has really given them the confidence to raise their aspirations and aim for an under-graduate place at Cambridge.”
Justine Marcham, Onslow St Audrey’s School.

Thank you to our wonderful colleagues in the Manuscript and Printed Books Department and to Peter Monteith at King’s College Archive, for making this event such a success.

For more on this project, please visit the King’s College Archive webpage.

Lucy Sercombe, Learning Associate (Arts Award & Widening Participation)

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This entry was posted on March 15, 2016 by in Education, Goal 5, Leadership: CYP, News and tagged , .
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