Who am I?
My name is Sophia Louise Lee, and I am in Manchester doing a 2-month work placement at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library, as a part of my studies in Museology at Aarhus University, Denmark.
My academic background is in History of Ideas (also known under the slightly presumptuous name “Intellectual History”). This is a mix between Social Science, History and Philosophy. I have written my dissertation in History of Ideas and am now focused full-time on Museology until I graduate this summer. History of Ideas is a very broad subject, in the sense that we are introduced to ideas from Antiquity, modern philosophy from the 1600’s and forward, and the history of ideas in aesthetics, politics, economy, religion, and science. It is a very academic and textual course, so when it came to choosing my further studies, I wanted to do something somewhat practical and to be able to use all this extremely broad knowledge for something. So, Museology it was! Museology is an extremely interdisciplinary field, so I have been able to work with people with backgrounds in Art History, Digital Design, History, Music Science, Literature, you name it! This reflects the museum (and cultural sector) world very well and has prepared me for all the different areas of research there can be found in a place like the John Rylands.
The course in Museology has a built-in 2-month work placement in the spring semester. Aarhus University does not have any partners for us as students to choose from, so it is entirely up to ourselves who we contact. I knew from the beginning, that I would try to get a placement in the UK. I am half British, half Danish and moved to Denmark when I was 8, and I always knew I wanted to come back. My father still lives over here so at first, I had contacted a lot of places in the Southeast where he lives. A very helpful person at the National Archives provided me with a list of institutions with extensive archives, after writing that they unfortunately did not have any student placement opportunities. The John Rylands was one of them. I had not really heard of the John Rylands before, but after looking into the place, it seemed perfect. I reached out and thankfully my placement was accepted. I am extremely honoured and grateful that the John Rylands agreed to take me on. I was particularly interested in the fact that the John Rylands is an institute with many hats on. It is a library, a research institute, a museum (with exhibitions) and is in general an atmospheric piece of architecture that is worthy of being in a museum itself. In agreeing to do my work placement here, I received a brief summary of the upcoming projects and I found myself thinking every single one was perfect for me and my academic record and interests.
So, what will I be doing?
Mainly I am here at John Rylands to gain hands-on experience, but also to help the institution wherever they see fit. To that purpose, I have been introduced to the many departments and research areas that are present at the library. A lot of my work has been introductory (as I have only been here for a couple of weeks) but I was also given access to the archive of Norman Shrapnel, as a project for me to work on by myself. During my stay here, I will be focusing on box listing the Norman Shrapnel Collection. Norman Shrapnel was a journalist who worked for The Manchester Guardian, later The Guardian, as a political correspondent in the 50s, 60s and 70s. He wrote articles for the newspaper but also did various radio broadcasting programmes on the BBC. After his death, his family donated a collection of his belongings such as diaries, correspondence, articles, manuscripts, and sketches to the Rylands. Mr Shrapnel was very detail-oriented, and it seems like he kept almost every script he wrote, so there is plenty for me to sink my teeth into.
At the end of my placement, I will have written a blog post about Norman Shrapnel and anything of interest I have found in his archives, so keep an eye out for that in June! I have always been interested in people’s individual stories and their relation to the world that they lived in through the lens of popular culture. Therefore, I get very excited whenever Shrapnel mentions the ’66 World Cup win, The Beatles, the political climate of the time etc. It is a little slice of everyday history, and it is tremendous fun to read how much (and how little) has changed in the past 70-odd years! I am also hoping to insight into the practical audience-oriented communication and dissemination of the research done at the Rylands, by working with the EPER-team. Events and audience participation is a huge part of the library and museum world, since that is the way visitors feel involved and closer to whatever is being showcased. How that is facilitated is quite interesting to me.
In summary, I will be doing various things all over the library. You can find me in the Modern Reading Room most days, going through Norman Shrapnel’s belongings, but I might suddenly be in an office asking questions about cataloguing, or doing odd box listing jobs for incoming collections!
Doing a placement like this is such a wonderful opportunity to gain practical knowledge after studying theory for so long. I am very excited for the weeks to come and the projects I may be able to do.