Originally from Florida, USA, I came to the UK in 2007 to study maritime archaeology at the University of Southampton. I loved learning about maritime history and archaeology, but my favourite part of the course was doing archival research for my dissertation. I moved to Oxford after graduating and worked in the conservation and collections care department at the Bodleian Library. I love working with library and archival collections, and I plan on enrolling in an MLIS programme in autumn 2012 to gain a professional qualification in archival studies. I was the Institute of Archaeology’s part-time librarian in 2011, and I also volunteer remotely with the National Maritime Museum, where I help to research and catalogue prints and drawings. Although I returned to the USA in winter 2011, I continue to be a ‘digital volunteer’ with the Institute’s archives – whenever any Internet-based research or technical work needs doing, I’m happy to help!
Shortly after moving to Oxford, I joined the Oxford University Archaeological Society. I began volunteering to do finds processing with the OUAS, and one morning when I was waiting to begin, I saw a notice on the bulletin board requesting volunteers to help out in the archives. I thought it sounded like fun and contacted Sally and Katharina; I began volunteering with them in November 2009, and they haven’t been able to get rid of me yet!
The work that we’re doing in the archives really should have been done years ago; I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that what we do is really making a difference for the collections, whether it’s making sure that they’re stored properly for the future or making them accessible for people to use now.
To me, the archives are important because they not only provide documentation and information about archaeological digs and artefacts but also shed a glimpse on the history of archaeology as a discipline. I think that every item we come across would have an importance to someone, but as a great deal of our collections are uncatalogued, many people (including us!) don’t fully realise the wealth of resources that we have to offer.
Most recently, I helped to create a comprehensive catalogue of all of the images held in the Jacobsthal Archive. This is turning out to be a much more tedious task than I thought it would be – Jacobsthal (by no means a gifted artist!) was fond of drawing rather hurried sketches of very similar-looking artefacts. In one box that I worked on, I must have catalogued over a hundred very basic drawings of spiral brooches that all looked nearly identical to me. Now that I finished the box, I definitely know more about the typology of Celtic fibulae than I ever thought I would!
Even though some very interesting letters and notes relating to archaeology and art history have come out of the archives, my favourite finds are ones that relate to the personal lives of the archaeologists. I have two favourites: the first is a photocopy of a photograph of Paul Jacobsthal as a young boy. When looking through the archive of Martyn Jope to see how much material of Jacobsthal’s had been incorporated, we found a very poor-quality photocopy of a photograph of two boys, both dressed in clothing that looked to be late 19th or early 20thcentury. After studying the photo, it was clear that one of the boys is Paul Jacobsthal, and the other must be his younger brother Ernst. Finds like this make the archive feel much more alive and personal and serve as a reminder that even the most esteemed academics were once small children reading over their little brother’s shoulder.
The second favourite find of mine is a series of “journal-letters” written by Stuart Piggot to his wife Peggy when he was stationed in India during World War II. He described over several lengthy letters his recent trip through the mountains of India and Tibet, and as he hadn’t processed his photographic film yet, illustrated the letters with exquisite watercolours of the landscapes, painted from memory. These letters describe what many of us nowadays would consider to be an adventure but what Piggot thought was just jolly good fun. Reading about his journeys makes me want to pick up my passport and head out the door (but not before taking a class in watercolours, of course).