Friday, 13 July 2012

To All Studious and Curious Persons

Rounding out the week, we had a visit to the British Museum Archives.

This tour was unlike any of the others we have had thus far, and was, for me, absolutely fascinating- begs the question whether I should be studying to be an archivist....

In any matter, our tour guide Stephanie is, quite surprisingly, the ONLY archivist for the museum and has been working for them for the last 6 years sorting and sifting through the mounds of archival material that date back to the beginning of the museum. She so kindly took some time out of her day to show us around the bowels of the building and to give us a taste of what kinds of items she works with.
  • The museum was started in 1753 by Sir Hans Sloane (the same man who found the British Library, as both entities were housed in the same building until 1997), and was opened to the public in 1759
  • The museum was first held in a mansion called Montagu House, and the current building was constructed on the same site about 60 years after the museum's opening
  • The museum had its first archivist in the 1970s, around the same time construction of the British Library began down the street
  • Each of the museum's eight departments look after there own archives (which contain all things pertinent to that particular department), while the Central Archive looks after all information about the building and the museum itself
  • Central Archive houses (among other things):
    • Trustees' minutes
    • Staff records
    • Finances
    • Building records
    • Temporary exhibit books
    • Round Reading Room archives
  • There are approximately 6-7,000 photos in the Central Archives (with a lot more located within the other departments)
  • They get about 30 inquiries a week for information from the archives- anywhere from scholarly research for a book to personal family geneaology
Some cool items in the archives:
  • The bomb that hit the museum during WWII (amazingly, the museum stayed open throughout most of the war, although most items had been moved out- therefore, very little was destroyed)
  • Stereoscopic photos from the museum's first photographer who was hired in 1854 (and we got to look at them through a stereoscopic viewer!) 
  • Round Reading Room signature book that contains the signatures of Beatrix Potter, Virginia Woolf, TS Eliot and the like

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