International Museums and Collections Award 2019

University of Birmingham student Erin Holder recently completed four weeks working with the University of Melbourne's collections as the 2019 recipient of the International Museums and Collections Award. Below Erin tells us about some of the highlights of her time in Melbourne.

'Over the last four weeks I have undertaken my placement at the University of Melbourne for the International Museums and Collections Award, run in conjunction with the University of Birmingham in the UK. I’ve always been interested in the communication and preservation of history through the heritage sector but my previous experience was working within Front of House teams in various historic buildings and archives in the UK.

I have been carrying out a wide variety of collections management tasks at collections across the University. Coming to the placement with my existing visitor services perspective has allowed me to approach projects with the very real impact that they have on the visitors in mind.  I have been exposed to both the highlights and the challenges of working in a museum context – from funding and staffing concerns, to the issue of decolonisation, where museums confront the origins of their collections which may derive from wealthy benefactors of colonial power.

Here is a brief summary of the projects and highlights of my placement;

Baillieu Library Print Collection

I arrived just before the opening of the exhibition Horizon Lines – Ambitions of a Print Collection so I was able to observe and lend a helping hand with the many last-minute preparations that go into an exhibition.

Cataloguing a collection of Louis Kahan print artworks proved to be a steep and rewarding learning curve – I don’t have a History of Art background so learning about the terminology, techniques and history of printing has been particularly enriching.

University of Melbourne Archives

At the University of Melbourne Archive I’ve been cataloguing papers belonging to George Tibbits, an architect, historian, lecturer, conservationist and successful composer.

One of the challenges of cataloguing personal papers is to provide just enough information to signpost visitors to the information they may need for further research but without too much detail which would be time- consuming to log. A highlight of this project was discovering an index card on which Tibbets had scribbled a musical composition whilst researching architectural faults. I felt as though I was relating to Tibbits more personally, seeing him in a moment of inspiration.

Grimwade Centre

The Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation is the leading conservation centre in Australia – it provides its services to museums, institutions and private clients, while also offering state of the art conservation education.

Over the course of my placement, I have been given the opportunity to spend time observing and to learn from professional conservators going about their day-to-day activities and to gain an introduction to the complex world of conservation work.

Notable highlights for me have included;

  • Washing 200-year-old fabric found in an archaeological dig
  • Washing paper
  • Learning about pigments and the history of paint.

Grainger Museum

The Grainger Museum was the first purpose-built autobiographical museum in Australia, built by Percy Grainger in the 1930s. Reorganising part of Grainger’s vast personal library has given me an insight into his extraordinarily eclectic collecting tastes ranging from Scandinavian folklore, percussion instruments and music, all manner of clothing, including fabulous towelling suits, ethnography and religious texts.

I have felt unbelievably privileged to experience such a range of tasks, issues and challenges across the University’s diverse collections. Staff have been supportive and generous with their time and I have had many fascinating and thought-provoking conversations. In the very near future I will be able to put into practice the skills I have learned in placements within the University of Birmingham’s own collections.'

Read Erin's full blog posts from her four weeks spent working with the University of Melbourne's collections.