Thursday, 27 September 2012
My name is Grace Pritchard-Woods and I came to Cornwall from Cheltenham in Gloucestershire to take up the position as intern at the University College of Falmouth and University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus at Penryn.
My arrival within the archival world was somewhat convoluted. After completing A-Levels I began work in a pharmacy as a technician dispensing prescriptions and fulfilling orders for nursing homes. Some years later I decided I wanted to go to University to resume my studies, so gaining a degree in history and heritage. My course enabled me to do a number of archaeology modules which relied heavily on the Archive and Special Collections Service within the University. This became an essential resource for my dissertation which was based on archaeological sites within the county and how interpretations of those sites had changed over time. As a result, I volunteered with the Special Collections Department for a few hours a week and began to consider the archive profession as a possible career choice. However, having taken part in a number of voluntary digs, I decided to follow the archaeological route and completed an MA in Landscape Archaeology. Although I enjoyed the course, it soon became clear that I had made the wrong decision, as again much of my time was involved with archival research and it was this aspect which I was really passionate about. I think the experience of volunteering on a dig during which it snowed throughout may have had something to do with it!
I was lucky enough, having volunteered for a while at Gloucestershire Archives, to get a part time job in a school archive. Straight away I loved the job as it was so diverse. The Archivist was a retired member of staff and very interested in the research side of the work, whilst my responsibility was firmly based on the archival aspects of the collection. This included dealing with enquiries, box listing, ensuring current material was deposited, packing material and organising displays and events. The collection, and indeed the department, was very much in its infancy, which provided me with a fantastic opportunity to start from scratch without having to accommodate pre-existing systems. It also meant that knowledge of exactly what was in the collections was still being gathered by going through the numerous boxes which were stored in various locations around the School. The major problem with such a young collection was locating items, which relied largely on memory and a thematically arranged filing system which was in use. Although not in keeping with archival principles, the box files did at least allow material to be located and consulted. One of the priorities when I arrived was to introduce software to enable the huge task of cataloging the collection to begin and facilitate location and subsequent retrieval of material. It was an exciting role and a steep learning curve but also, for someone with limited experience, it was a daunting task.
While I was working at the School I enrolled on the Archives and Records Management long distance course with Dundee University. This has provided me with an awareness of the theoretical principles guiding archival practice, but I increasingly felt that I needed experience, not only of other archives, but also with a professional archivist with whom I could gain the practical experience to complement my studies. The archive here at Falmouth College University and University of Exeter Cornwall Campus is a wonderful opportunity for me to do just that. The collections very much reflect the specialist art courses that the College offers, and with that, the chance to use archives in a very different way to which I have been accustomed. The Cornish Performance Archive is a fabulous example of that, and one of many collections I hope to become more familiar with during my time here.