Preserving the Past: My Journey Volunteering with the University Heritage Collections
Delve into the captivating world of heritage preservation through the eyes of one talented high school volunteer. Join Charlie as he unveils his unique experiences and insights gained during his enriching half-term adventure with the Edinburgh Napier University Heritage Collections team. If you would like to consult our Collections please contact us via email
My name is Charlie and I am a student currently studying in my last year at Berwickshire High School. I aim to pursue history as a subject at university. Since an early age when I first began studying in high school, I have been fascinated with history and any surviving items and relics from the past. This passion was only heightened more as I studied History throughout school. This is why when I got the great opportunity to volunteer at the University Heritage Collections, I took it with no hesitation. I found many parts of my experience amazing and fascinating especially when I was working with real preserved books from as far back as the Middle Ages. This really struck my passion for history and made the whole experience worth it as the thought of holding the very same book as someone from the Middle Ages felt so strange and fascinating.
My work while volunteering involved working with books from the Edward Clark Collection which illustrates the development of the book from the 15th century, concentrating on the development of typography, the techniques of printing illustrations, and fine bindings. My first task was to check out some of the book’s conditions and how they could be preserved better along with researching them and their origin. I also got the opportunity to spend a day of my volunteering experience doing work at the War poets’ collection which involved me getting to look at and organise real poems from soldiers who had suffered in the war. This really fascinated me as I felt like I was getting a unique chance to investigate the soldiers’ mental struggles and thoughts after their experiences on the front line. As part of my experience, I also got to complete a piece on the history of the poppy that we use for remembrance, which will support the development of a temporary exhibition. This involved looking at each type of poppy and what they mean along with the origins of the remembrance item and how it changed to become a symbol of the First World War. This really excited me as I have always found WWI to be insanely interesting and it was nice being able to research topics directly related to the war. I also got to complete tasks which involved looking at the Mehew collection, this collection is about Robert Louis Stevenson and his works which you may have heard of who’s works including books such as Treasure Island. This involved looking into the History of his works and checking up on the condition and safety of the valuable collection and implementing basic conservation measures to support delicate bindings. I also gained the chance to work with Napier’s expensive new collection scanner which I used to digitise fragile books from hundreds of years ago. Another one of my duties included Installing an exhibition about the history of Merchiston Tower and John Napier himself. Finally, my last task Included processing documentation for collection records. This taught me how to process documents and preserve important collection information for future curators and researchers to learn from.
I overall gained a lot from this experience which covered a wide range, this spanned from learning how to correctly handle historical records and valuable scanning equipment all the way to learning new information about historical time periods I had less knowledge on such as the Middle Ages and much more. I also was able to see just how fascinating it was to investigate the lives of those who came before us and how they lived their lives.
My experience in this volunteer position has further inspired me to study history at university and reinforced my love of the subject. It has also made me find a new interest in books and how they can be used to study the past.
As a whole, I loved my time volunteering, and it has given me tons of new experiences that will help me as I move forward to university next year.
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Read more work experiences from other wonderful volunteers on the blog: