Friday, 24 May 2013

Leah Mellors – Community History Cataloguing Internship Report

Leah Mellors – Community History Cataloguing Internship Report

I have spent 30 days working with Marek Romaniszyn, in the Community History team at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre, documenting his digital film archive and a collection of London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic objects.
Community Film Archive

The digital film archive contained around 70 films that needed to be documented retrospectively. The films included the ‘Contemporary Collectors’ series, the ‘Faith in the City’ series and the ‘A Greener City’ series and most had accompanied an exhibition or display in the Leeds City Museum. I watched each film, taking detailed notes on what was said by the interviewees and, where possible, took direct quotations from the films. These quotations helped to give a greater insight into the content of the films but also gave some of the descriptions a more light-hearted feel. Having taken detailed notes, I documented each film on ‘The Museum System’ database, recording information such as provenance, constituents, exhibition history and date. I wrote a comprehensive description of each film, which could also be used on the website.

Having ensured that each film had a full database record, we needed to create a DVD playable copy and a MP4 data copy of each film. I burned a MP4 data copy of each film onto an archival-grade disc, whilst the DVD copies were burned by an external party, as the software was not available to us. Each disc was labelled with its title and accession number and placed in storage boxes. Seeing all 140 discs neatly labelled and lined up in their storage boxes was surprisingly satisfying! All the films were then placed in the Discovery Centre store and located on the database.

Not only did this project give me a thorough understanding of documentation using a museum database, it also gave me a really good insight into oral history films and how they can be used to complement an exhibition. It was fascinating to hear people’s experiences and memories and I learnt a lot about Leeds and the different perspectives, cultures and faiths in the city. By far my favourite series of films was ‘Faith in the City’: I have always been interested in religion and belief and these films taught me a great deal about different faiths, from the first-hand perspective of ordinary people practising religion in Leeds.

London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic collection

Alongside the documentation of the digital film archive, I also documented a collection of London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic objects that had been collected by Marek. Many of these objects related to the Olympic and Paralympic experience in Leeds and included the lamp that carried the Paralympic flame to Leeds and a wheel-guard from the Canadian Wheelchair Rugby team, who stayed in Leeds to complete their pre-Games training.

I completed the documentation process of these objects from start to finish. Firstly, I assisted with ‘Entry’ and ‘Transfer of Title’ forms, to accession the objects. Then, I labelled the objects with their accession numbers, either writing the number onto the object using ink and varnish or writing the number onto cotton tape and sewing this into textile items. I photographed the objects before recording information such as date, provenance, materials, dimensions and physical condition. Some research into the context of the objects was also required. All of this information was input onto ‘The Museum System’ database, before the objects were packed into boxes and stored in the Discovery Centre store.


As with the digital film archive, this project taught me about the documentation process for objects and the minimum standard of information required. It was really useful to see the entire process from beginning to end. I also learnt how to pack objects with acid-free tissue paper, using rolls of tissue-paper to cushion the folds of textiles. More than anything, this project improved my confidence when handling objects and an unexpected bonus was a slight improvement in my sewing skills!

I have really enjoyed my time as an intern here and have gained valuable experience, especially in documentation. I have also gained a good awareness of conservation and outreach work, simply by speaking to members of staff and sitting-in on outreach sessions. I have recently secured a full-time curatorial traineeship at the Herbert Museum in Coventry and the skills and experience I learnt during my internship at the Discovery Centre undoubtedly helped me to secure this job. I am very grateful to have been given such a great opportunity. 

Leah Mellors April 2013

Monday, 20 May 2013

Two Tiny Roman Treasures

A guest blog-post by ...

Ian Marshman,
School of Archaeology & Ancient History, University of Leicester

I made the not-too-taxing train journey from Leicester to Leeds to take a look at two unusual silver finger rings in the museum’s collections. Both date to the late Roman period and came from the countryside about 10 miles west of modern Leeds.

The first ring (below) was uncovered during excavations at one of the wealthiest settlements in Roman West Yorkshire, the villa at Dalton Parlours (near Boston Spa). It was found at the bottom of a deep well, which the owner’s used as their main source of water. The ring shows signs of having been deliberately broken, and it may have been thrown down the well as an offering. Its owner might have hoped the gift would persuade the gods’ to keep the new well full of clean water, or perhaps just to get good luck! The ring is made of silver and is set with a piece of marbled glass moulded with the image of a ‘stick man’ holding a staff or spear. We can’t be sure what its owner thought of the figure, but it may been a warrior god such as Mars.

The second ring (below) was found by a local metal detectorist who was searching in the fields near the A1(M) not far from Micklefield. He promptly reported it to a member of the Portable Antiquities Scheme so that it could be recorded on their database. Since it was more than 300 years old and made of silver, the ring was declared ‘Treasure’ and donated to Leeds City Museum. This ring would have been much more valuable than the one from Dalton Parlours because it was set with an engraved carnelian gemstone. Gems like this came from right across the Roman Empire from the Sahara desert and even India. The intricate engraving shows the goddess Fortuna holding a cornucopia (horn of plenty) and steering a ruder, and would have been cut by a skilled craftsman - evidently with very good eyesight! Signet rings like this were used for sealing documents, and by choosing an image of Fortuna, its owner could express their wishes of good fortune whenever they sent a letter or signed a contract. The gem is rather worn and it must have been used for a long time, and was probably an heirloom by the time it was lost in the fields near Micklefield.

My PhD research has involved cataloguing Roman signet rings like these from right across Britain. By doing so, I hope to be able to study the way people in different parts of the province chose different images for their seals, and the kinds of messages they might have expressed. The Romans used a huge range of images on their seals, from heroes, gods and goddesses to animals, symbols and scenes from daily life. As well as this I will also be studying the types of gemstones that were popular. This is can be particularly interesting because ancient people believed different gems possessed different magical powers, which could do everything from give luck to a soldier on the battlefield to even preventing drunkenness! These two rings from rural West Yorkshire will be added to those in my database to help me study how people right across Britain used such objects about 1,700 years ago.

Good Luck with the rest of your research, Ian. This is a fascinating project that the collections here in Leeds are proud to have made a contribution to.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

West Dean College furniture conservation students visit Temple Newsam House

West Dean College is a very special educational institution near Chichester, West Sussex. It was the place where I studied and trained in furniture conservation after my training and experiences in cabinetmaking, design and joinery. West Dean College first year furniture conservation students, and their tutor, Norbert Gutowski, visited Temple Newsam House today. As one of the great decorative arts museums in the UK, with an outstanding furniture collection, Temple Newsam has long been a standard visit every year for West Dean students, both furniture, and clocks. And as usual a very international lot they were, the students coming from Poland, New Zealand, Germany and England.

Posted by Ian Fraser