Praise for Preservation

A busy and involving week since our last posting from South Somerset District Council’s Community Heritage Access Centre, near Yeovil.

This week staff received an insight from the Yeovil University Centre Students, which they suggested to share on the CHAC Weekly BLOG.

Our Experience at Yeovil’s Community Heritage Access Centre

“History is a continuous process of interaction between the present and the past”– Edward Carr

As third year degree students, it is thrust upon us to venture out into the professional world and dabble in some voluntary work to help us establish where we will move on to from the student bubble after graduation. As a student studying history, the prospect to be able to get up close and personal to artefacts and historical documents is just too good to miss. My peers and I were able to grasp this opportunity and have an enriched experience with the wonderful Clare and Joseph at the Community Heritage Access Centre in Yeovil.

Our CHAC experience opened our eyes at just how much time and effort is put into the maintenance, restoration and pro-longing the life of items and documents behind the scenes within the archives. Our journey started with the ‘simple’ idea of documenting items and recording documents within the accession register. “That’s pretty easy and straight forward” you would think. That is what we thought at the start of the session, surrounded by pretty photographs of the local area; scenes of fields, buildings and roads with the odd bustle of crowds in-between. Oh how wrong we were! When documenting an item such as a photograph, the whole scene has to be depicted. Here are just a few fundamental things one has to think of when doing so: What road could that be? Which building is that? Has that been replaced? Has it changed? If so, how? Where would that collection of fields be? (Wait, those fields look like the fields on the other end of town, so surely that building isn’t that building after all?) Who made the frame? What are its dimensions? Has it got a date? If so, when? Any damage at all? Any finger marks? Any dust? The list of possible questions could go on and on. The same applies for documents: When? How? What? Who? This then has to be documented and then written within the accession register. It was shocking how just a few pictures took up the whole session, and gave just a small insight into the running and up-keep into this particular element of the centre.

Another session which was eye-opening was the general care and maintenance of the artefacts themselves. The time, patience and up-keep of the individual items to extend their life really was astonishing. Clothing is vacuumed with a unique vacuum designed specifically for the conservation of clothing and materials (this can either be a tedious task or a therapeutic one). Ceramics are cleaned with a single cotton bud to ensure nothing is damaged (again, this is up to the individual whether the task is tedious or therapeutic) and metals are kept dust-free with specific cleaning agents. On top of all this for the artefacts themselves, the store is kept at a consistent temperature with the humidity being monitored closely to ensure mould is at bay.

It doesn’t end there. The staff and the volunteers in the access centre then prepare exhibitions, talks, appointments and show groups around the archives. On top of this, we were throwing around ideas for events in the local area to promote CHAC in all its glory. To many, the process behind the preservation of local history won’t cross their mind. Indeed, I was also naive and was not in any way prepared to learn how many hours, dedication and just pure passion for history has gone into the conservation of the archives for us to enjoy, love and learn our local history.

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Some of the work completed by the Yeovil University Centre Students.

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