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  • Will Mann

ArchI've Learnt

Explore Your Archive is an annual awareness campaign of The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association which is happening 14-22 November. Its aim is to celebrate the many and varied archive collections of the UK and Ireland. Visit the website to see what events are happening near you.

We published our first blog as part of last year’s Explore Your Archive. This year we have asked Will Man, our new Archives Assistant, to provide some thoughts on ‘ARCH’IVELEARNT’.

I started work as a part-time Archives Assistant in September and my experience so far has been almost exclusively a learning process. I hope to make a career in Archives, and this is my first professional archives position so I am not only gaining insight into the day-to-day work of an archive but am also trying to familiarise myself with our collection and with the history of the Jesuits in Britain. So there’s a lot to pick up! I am looking forward to getting more involved with the work as my knowledge and experience grows.

My first task was the calendaring of a bound volume of correspondence relating to the building of the Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church in Farm Street, completed in 1849. I have written archival descriptions before but this process required me not only to be able concisely to summarise the content of the letters in a few sentences but also to decipher the handwriting. Enter a large amount of palaeography practice! It was certainly a steep learning curve, and by the time I’d finished I had had quite a bit of exposure to nineteenth century handwriting styles. I also learnt how Rebecca the Archivist needs information presented in our in-house style, as well as practising the proper handling of nearly two hundred year old documents. I believe there are only 29 more volumes to go!

I am currently working on two boxes of photographs and other visual documents relating to Farm Street Church that appear to date from the early 20th century through to the 1990s. Rebecca has given me these tasks to help me develop a good understanding of the place and community in which I work (the Archives of the Jesuits in Britain in Mount Street are located in a building adjoining the church), and they are proving to be an excellent introduction to the history of the Jesuits in London and across the province.

This task is giving me plenty of practice of core archival processing skills such as appraisal, arrangement, description and preservation, as I attempt to identify and organise an unordered collection of pictures, and package them in appropriate materials. Many of the images in this collection are undated and without any identifying information, so I am learning to use other resources within the archives and beyond to attempt to add greater depth to our descriptions and finding aids. It also helps that we are able to walk around to the church to confirm the pictures’ subject matter ourselves, and, indeed, speak to members of the community to help identify individuals and approximate dates. It is hugely satisfying to be able finally to put a name to a face or a more precise date to a photograph after having puzzled over them. It is this sense of discovery that is one of the reasons I am so interested in working with archives.

I am at the start of my career and I know that there is much to learn, but the knowledge and skills that I am gaining will be invaluable for the future, and I am extremely pleased to have the opportunity to work in such an environment and to be able to contribute.

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