Rebecca Sampson, Resilience Intern
Rebecca graduated from Cardiff University in 2014 with a degree in Ancient History. She has worked in visitor experience for English Heritage and the National Trust, and has volunteered with Poole Museum, the Tank Museum, Bovington and the RNLI’s heritage collections. Rebecca moved to York in January 2017 to take up an internship in Collections and Archives with YAT.
When I started the internship, I was looking forward to working with the artefacts, assisting with exhibitions and finds display and helping to manage the collection. I was hoping that at its completion I would have learnt how to successfully research, plan and create educational and stimulating exhibitions, as well as how to maintain a busy collection and everything that comes with it. I was also looking forward to explore York and its heritage. While I was obviously aware of York’s historical importance, I knew that I had a lot more to learn – and that YAT would be a fantastic place to discover it!
When I started, I was amazed at the size of the store and the vast quantity of boxes and artefacts that are kept there. Having only worked within a much smaller organisation prior to this internship, I was ever so slightly daunted by the scale of what was to come but still definitely looking forward to it.
I started in January, when there was a lot of build up to the re-opening of Jorvik after it had been shut due to the flood in December 2015. I was able to spend some time assisting with the installation, and got to see first-hand how much time and energy is dedicated to the project to ensure that visitors get the best possible experience. Handling such precious and unique artefacts was an incredible experience; it was hugely beneficial for me and it was great to be part of something so important.
I have also assisted with the preparation of the ‘Valhalla’ and ‘Fearsome Craftsmen’ travelling exhibitions. The process included creating layouts, working on valuations of the finds, taking high quality photographs of them and drafting the text for labels. We also needed to ensure that loan agreements were signed, and that blocks, labels and silica gel were ordered and ready for transport. I am also working on collating a list of finds that will be part of the ‘Gladiators’ exhibition which will launch at Whitehaven in Cumbria in September this year.
In June, I travelled to Inverness to meet up with the team who had just demounted the exhibition in Thurso and were preparing for installation at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Over the following three days, I prepared the cases, positioned the artefacts and completed the documentation. While the objects are on display, it is important that the light and relative humidity within the cases are kept stable and at the right levels. We placed silica gel within the cases that contained metals, and ensured that the position of the bulbs would not damage the leather or wood finds. Throughout the length of the exhibition, the environmental conditions in the cases will be constantly monitored. Assisting with this exhibition’s preparation was part of my role for some time, so it was fantastic to see it finally installed.
Recently I have been working in the finds processing room assisting with post-excavation work, which is currently dealing with material from a Roman cemetery at Newington Hotel, York. It is crucial that all the finds are documented properly, so their importance in York’s heritage is not lost. The finds are washed, bagged, and logged both in paper form and our online database. At a later date, these will be moved to the store where their home location is recorded to make them easily accessible.
There is also plenty to do at the store. An ongoing task is checking the silica gel in the metals storage boxes. Metals are kept in a ‘micro-environment’ with silica gel to dry out the air and keep the relative humidity at a low level, and it is important to keep this stable so the finds are not damaged. Additionally, after the collection moved stores a few years ago, there are ongoing location updates and documentation that needs to be done – which gives you an idea of how large the collection is!
So far, my internship has been very constructive. I feel like I have learnt a lot and gained a lot of confidence working with collections. It has confirmed that I have definitely made the right decision in my choice of career – I feel very lucky that I get to work in a field I love.
It has taught me how to work with a variety of different people; whether it’s the collections and archives team, colleagues from other departments such as Conservation, front of house staff, volunteers or researchers. Everyone at YAT has different expertise, so it is important to learn as much as you can while you can! Knowing that the work I am doing is helping to share YAT’s wealth of knowledge and expertise makes the role very fulfilling. We are juggling a lot of different projects at the same time. We have multiple travelling exhibitions to prepare for, as well as dealing with requests for access for research and everyday documentation.
In the next part of my internship I will be working on preparing for the ‘Gladiators’ exhibition to go on display in September, as well as continuing with the ‘Resilience’ collection-based projects. I will also get the chance to attend finds identification and assessment courses as part of the Resilience project.