Wednesday, July 7, 2010

British Museum Archives

I must admit that I have been most excited about today for this week. Being a future archivist getting access into working archives is a treat, especially such an interesting one!

Being in the last group to tour meant I got to spend most of the day exploring the museum. Wow, they have got some amazing things in the collection there. The Rosetta Stone?! That is one of those things you never expect to be able to see. I covered most of the museum and saw everything I had wanted to see. Though I was extremely disappointed to find out that the Great Wave is not currently on display. It is one of my favorite pieces of art and I didn't even know the British Museum had a copy of it.

At 2:30 we finally got to do what we came there for: tour the archives. Stephanie Clarke, the only trained archivist in the entire museum, was our guide and she was immensely informative. The archives at the British Museum deal solely with the administrative aspects. I was surprised to learn that they archive staff is very small, despite having a lot to work with. They deal with 6 aspects of the functioning of the museum: governance, staff, finance, building, temporary exhibitions, and the reading room records. Ms. Clarke showed us the indexes of minutes, which are somewhat of a finding aid for locating things within the meeting minutes of the Board of Trustees. We also got to see the book of presents which dates back to 1753 when the museum was founded. This book lists literally every gift and donation received. I was really impressed by the exploded bomb shell that hit one of the wings of the museum during WWII. Somehow I always forget that London was bombed so heavily by the Nazis.

The most intriguing part of the archives are the reading room records. To get to see who used the library at the museum and when is amazing. I nearly fainted when Byrony (that is my likely wrong approximation of the archives assistant's name, do forgive me) showed us T.S. Eliot's reading room application and ticket. I am a huge T.S. Eliot fan, have been since high school. Items like that are what make me so excited to become an archivist myself. We also got to see Karl Marx's signature, which was really special as well.

I was saddened to learn that the archive has become a forgotten department a little bit. The work they do and the access they provide is important to researchers and to the history of the museum as a whole. Their budget is woefully tight, leaving only room to do one reboxing project a year. I'd volunteer to help do it for free if they needed me! Overall it was a great visit and I am very excited to get to the British Library tomorrow. MAPS!

I took the picture up top this afternoon.

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