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On the other side of the desk

Amy Ridgway shares her experience of working at Dorset History Centre during a placement for her history PhD.

My usual use of Dorset History Centre (DHC) is as a researcher in the search room. As a history PhD student at the University of Exeter, I have been using documents from the Bankes Archive, namely account records to build up an understanding of wage labour on Kingston Lacy Estate.

As part of my PhD I undertook a work placement at DHC, specifically engaged with the Unlocking the Bankes Archive project. This provided a very different experience - and a thoroughly enjoyable one! I have had the privilege of seeing the ins and outs of what goes on behind the scenes.

A range of activities

The placement introduced me to the wonders of archiving and the different strands and roles associated with caring for archives, which is much more complex and diverse than one initially thinks. There were four main tasks associated with my placement:

1. Cataloguing: I helped with cataloguing vouchers dating from the 1770s. The vouchers included bills, payments and receipts relating to labour, materials, rates, taxes, annuity and so on - records whose survival is very uncommon. In total I managed to catalogue 729 vouchers! It was extremely satisfying to watch Luke Dady, Bankes Project Archivist, upload these to the online catalogue, knowing anyone can now search them! The task proved to be exceptionally insightful and introduced me to another source to inform my research on wage labour.

2. Outreach: here I worked under the supervision of Judith Teasdale, Bankes Project and Engagement Officer, to undertake research in a number of avenues - from the death of John Bankes III, to letters written by Frances Bankes. This research has formed five blog posts and has also generated a profile for the interactive map that is being created. The research provided fascinating context and supplementary knowledge to my PhD research.

3. Document Conservation: under the guidance of Conservator Jenny Barnard I helped to repackage documents relating to the collection. I learnt about how to conserve deteriorated documents, as well as the importance of brass paperclips, 2B (soft) pencils and acid-free paper!

4. Working in the Search Room: this involved a general introduction to the items held by DHC - many more than one could imagine! I learnt how to navigate Ancestry.co.uk; I investigated tithe apportionment maps; and found out more about the role search room staff play in assisting the public with their research.

Meeting the team

More widely, I met with most members of the staff to find out about their specific roles within DHC. It was fascinating to see how such diverse roles mingled to achieve the ultimate aim of DHC - that is to provide a service to the public. Conclusion: they all work very hard, indeed! From outreach and engagement to building management; from accessioning documents to producing documents from the strong rooms; from cataloguing documents to conserving and digitising them, and more - the different roles benefit the public in a multitude of ways, ostensibly unknown to the everyday search room user.

I would like to thank DHC for providing this opportunity, which has certainly enriched my learning experience and knowledge of a record office. I am particularly indebted to Luke and Judith, who I worked with most closely. Thank you also, on behalf of the search room users, for the great job you all do at DHC!

Amy Ridgway, PhD student 

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