Volunteers’ Week @ MUSA: Charlotte reflects on her time as a volunteer

This blog comes from Charlotte Johnson, an M.Litt student in Early Modern History who joined MUSA in March.

I am not one of those ‘when I grow up I want to be a [insert ambitious career goal]’ people. What I do know is that I enjoy engaging with history immensely and am currently studying for an M.Litt in Early Modern History. In the hope that the right career path might show itself while I am in St Andrews, I volunteered my services to MUSA as a museum-frequenting history enthusiast. So far, volunteering at MUSA has been enormously helpful in introducing me to the varied and wonderful world of the museum.

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Charlotte enjoys invigilating the new Recording Britain exhibition

Induction and Training

Initially, my induction involved customer service and retail skills training, all the better to uphold MUSA’s award-winning standards. I put these skills into practice welcoming visitors and giving them a general introduction to the museum.

In addition to my Front of House role, I have been given training in environmental monitoring and condition

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Charlotte carries out condition checking on this beautiful Maratta painting of St Andrew

reporting, which, I assure you, are more interesting that they sound! Damage and discolouration are no laughing matter in the museum world, but training in collections care involved an enjoyable (and rather competitive) match-the-picture-to-the-term game.

MUSA events

It is not just staff and volunteers who are lucky enough to delve behind-the-scenes. The Objects Unpacked series (held on the first Wednesday of the month between 1.15 and 1.45pm) offers an illuminating insight into objects not on permanent public display in the museum.

Charlie Trzeciak, Learning and Access Curatorial Trainee, gave a spellbinding talk on a series of MUSA’s plaster cameos depicting classical figures and scenes, produced for and collected by wealthy travellers on the Great Tour during the nineteenth century. I am looking forward to attending and blogging about future Objects Unpacked lunchtime talks. Come along to ‘Curious Coins’ on 3 June and ‘Perspectives: Art and Photography’ on 1 July if you can!

Recording Britain exhibition

From behind-the-scenes to before them, Recording Britain is a fantastic new exhibition that I have enjoyed

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Tidying up the interactive displays

invigilating since it opened in early May. The collection of paintings and drawings on display were produced by a handpicked group of artists and depict rural Britain during the Second World War. The artworks are bedfellows to the patriotic propaganda posters encouraging Brits to ‘Dig for Britain’, and the archival footage screened alongside helps to contextualise the collection. What I have found striking whilst invigilating Recording Britain is not a visible mark of war, but coastal villages, bustling towns and traditional industries endangered by modernisation: a telegraph pole here and road building there. Visitors have remarked how familiar yet affecting the landscapes seem, which is a testament to the transcendent and transhistorical nature of the collection.

Museums are not just made up of historical artefacts. Volunteering has provided a perfect pedestal from which to interrogate staff and other volunteers about their varied interests and training backgrounds, and who define, mould and care for MUSA and its contents.

Despite my short spell at MUSA so far, I have gained valuable workplace skills, met wonderful and inspiring staff and volunteers, and have viewed a diverse range of the museum’s treasures. Although I remain unsure of exactly what profession I want to pursue, MUSA has convinced me that the heritage and museum sector are for me. Few organisations would have been able to give me such an informative and flexible insight into museum life, and I am very grateful for the opportunity.

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