Come sail your ships around me

I spent 5 days working at the Historic Dockyard Chatham, as a volunteer alongside the Archives and Collections team. The Historic Dockyard is a former naval dockyard, which now operates as an independent museum. The site contains many listed buildings, and must balance typical museum work such as exhibitions and events while generating funds through renting office space to local businesses and operating a functioning ropery.

My main role was to help them carry out an extensive library audit by digitising record forms which other volunteers has produced. Many of the forms were incomplete, or contained superfluous information, and I needed to not only type them up but also edit them. This required great attention to detail, and some research was necessary to fill in the blanks and make the appropriate edits.

I also handled a selection of archival items, such as cannonballs, swords, and ropes. This was a wonderful opportunity to get hands on experience with primary sources, and to learn about the work that goes into preserving these items. An examination of the museum’s different exhibitions and galleries followed this. As a former teaching assistant, I thought it was very interesting to see what they chose to present to the public, and which contextual information they had chosen to accompany it. This gave me a useful insight into the link between the research and preservation work that is carried out behind the scenes, and the museum’s public face.

Furthermore, examining the three warships currently preserved on-site at the Dockyard was a unique opportunity to learn more about daily life aboard a sailing vessel, something which provides important context to my ongoing studies in Maritime history.

This work experience has given me a useful insight into the nature of archival work, and work in the heritage sector. Seeing how the Historic Dockyard operates, and the different ways it raises funds, has massively improved my understanding of the challenges facing such organisations, and of the nature of work in the Heritage sector.

– Stewart Murphy is a recent University of Kent History graduate.

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