Student Blog: Flints, Fossils and Fishermen

CLednYwWEAAxhjuThis summer, my first since the age of 14 spent being technically unemployed, has actually got me pretty excited about the scary grown up world of careers. In my seaside town of Scarborough opportunities for seasonal work in ice cream kiosks, cafes and hotels are plentiful, but after my first year studying history at Brasenose, I came home feeling anxious about going cold turkey and devoting my energies to serving fish and chips, so this summer I decided I would rather invest my time in doing something that would give me my history hit over the long break from full on study.

I sent a few enthusiastic emails and arranged a meeting with the volunteer coordinator at Scarborough Museums Trust who, undaunted by my complete lack of experience, seemed delighted to find me something to do.  I started working with a small team of volunteers overseen by PhD researcher Helen Williams, on the cleaning, re-bagging and accessioning of the finds from archaeological digs at the hugely important Mesolithic settlement site at Star Carr.  This wealth of material had been donated by York University where much of it had been stored, untouched since excavations began in the late 70s.  It was enormously exciting for me to be involved in this project, handling and learning about artefacts dating back to between 8770 and 8460 B.C.  Worked wood, bone, antler and flint provided a window into a distant chapter in human history; as the chance to work with and talk to experienced museum staff and academics showed me something of the opportunities, challenges and debates in the fields of conservation and curatorial work.

Later in the summer I was involved in the Yorkshire Fossil Festival hosted by the Rotunda Museum in Scarborough and featuring exhibitors focusing on palaeontology, geology and mineralogy, including the Natural History Museums of both London and Oxford.  This event was great fun to volunteer at, giving me the chance to help coordinate activities for school and sixth form groups as well as engage with the general public and enthusiastic experts in a variety of fields.

In addition to my time volunteering at the Museums Trust I spent a couple of afternoons a week at Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre, a completely volunteer run community history project aiming to preserve the social history, traditions, tragedies and triumphs of Scarborough's sea-faring past.  Here I was mostly helping with the cataloguing and indexing of the eclectic archive featuring everything from translations of 16th century charters relating to the towns markets to wills, letters, poetry and sea shanties, paintings, etchings and photographs.  It was difficult not to just sit and read for hours!  I suspect I shall be revisiting this resource for thesis purposes...

At points during my first year at university I had wondered sadly if the desire I had fervently expressed in my personal statement to work in museums or education (can I just be Lucy Worsley, please?!) was a bit of a childish fantasy but after this summer I am looking forward to getting real about a career in history.  Everyone I have met from museum directors, archaeologists, local historians and post graduate students to retired fishermen with a flair for storytelling has shown me the diversity, challenge and even fun that can be found in the not so scary and perhaps quite wonderful world of work.

By Megan Burnside (Second Year Historian)

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