Posted on 11 March 2014
One of the major attractions of the MA in Public History is the opportunity to undertake a placement as part of the course and this element played a large part in my decision to study here at York. The opportunity to gain some practical experience of the work that takes place within the heritage sector was particularly attractive and something that I hoped would help to shape my future career aspirations while improving my employment prospects at the same time.
The placements were allocated early in the Autumn term and I was paired with the Yorkshire Philosophical Society (YPS) to assist them in the scoping of archival resources which would support a publication on the history of York Museum Gardens. The book will be one of the ways the Society aims to commemorate its forthcoming bicentenary and the brief was that it should be a scholarly yet accessible work which celebrates one of York’s most treasured and visited heritage sites.
At the beginning of the placement I met with members of the YPS to discuss the details of what the placement would involve. In addition to scoping out archives the Society was keen for me to catalogue the source material I found into a database that was both easy to understand and accessible to those charged with writing the book. As the project is in its infancy and the areas available for study were vast I decided to focus my research on the early years of the YPS on the basis that a chronological approach would be the simplest way of organising archival material into a database.
As much of the time spent on placement involved independent research I had to be disciplined with my time and organised in the way I took notes and kept records, something which facilitated the cataloguing process at the end of the placement. Research by its nature can be a slow moving process and at times attempts at gathering information were frustrating, particularly when access to archives was restricted.
As a result of these restrictions it was agreed that I should focus on producing a database that could be considered a work in progress, which had the potential to be contributed to in the future as more source material becomes available. Creating the database was a thoroughly rewarding process which really made me consider the complexities which accompany making information accessible for public use.
Working on the Museum Gardens project also encouraged me to think about how heritage is used by the public in a variety of ways and how it holds both educational and recreational purpose. I was fortunate to be able to attend meetings by the YPS Gardens group and learn about the future plans that the Yorkshire Museums Trust have for the area. Understanding how the public engage with the Gardens as they are presently while considering how this could be improved upon in the future was fascinating and elevated my placement from what at first seemed like a simple research project into a real exploration into the realm of public history.
Public History MA Placement