Thursday, 20 July 2017

Interning with Object Collections

On my desk is a stack of papers and books on housing from around the world, a drawer full of little cards labelled ‘CLOTHING COATS – E,’ and a heavily-annotated list of disability-related objects from the Pitt Rivers Museum Objects database. These are some of the tasks that I’ve been working on as part of a four-week funded internship with Object Collections under the Oxford University Internship Programme (OUIP).

OUIP allows University of Oxford students to apply to a few internships based in the UK and abroad: all of the UK-based placements are either paid or have grants attached to them, while quite a few of the internships in other countries also have funding available. For this internship, I received a £1,000 Oxford University Recruiters’ Group Research Bursary: this more than covered all of my living costs for the month, working out at the equivalent of around £10 per hour, and I stayed in college-owned accommodation in Summertown.

The Pitt Rivers took on two interns this summer: I had originally applied to what had been the only internship on offer, working with Photo Collections (for more on that internship, you can read the Photos blog). After not being shortlisted for this, I received an email stating that the Pitt Rivers was now offering a second internship, with Object Collections on the floor above, and that my original application could be forwarded on. This new internship sounded far more suited to my skills and interests than the initial internship I had applied to, so I was excited to hear about this. I attended a casual interview with Zena McGreevy – who is now supervising my internship – where we discussed what it would involve and what I was interested in doing. I mentioned that I particularly wanted to work on creating a disability trail for the museum similar to the Out in Oxford LGBTQ+ trail the museum was part of for LGBTQ+ History Month earlier this year, ideally to debut in UK Disability History Month (22nd November – 22nd December). Zena was interested in accommodating this into my work, and, as it stands, this, along with a display, will hopefully be ready by the end of 2018.

Outside of my academic work as a second-year English undergraduate at Hertford College, I’m currently the president of the Oxford Students’ Disability Community (OSDC), which is the Oxford University Students’ Union (OUSU) disabled students campaign. We’re in the middle of undergoing a name change this summer, as we’re merging with Mind Your Head, the OUSU’s mental health awareness campaign, but we can be found under our new name at the student union’s website from 17th August 2017. I got involved with OSDC myself primarily due to my own experiences with mental health – social anxiety disorder – but also close second-hand experience of other conditions including my mum’s Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and her strong sensitivity to fragrances, such as scented laundry detergents and cleaning products. Since then, I’ve made many friends in the campaign and the Staff Disability Network with a wide variety of conditions, who will hopefully be getting involved in the disability trail over the course of the year. In our campaign, we work to raise awareness of disability and issues affecting disabled students, as well as hosting weekly accessible social events during term time and trying to improve accessibility across the university.

In my blog posts over the coming weeks, I’ll be going into more detail about some of the projects I’ve been working on at the Pitt Rivers. Some of the tasks, such as audience research (reviewing the effectiveness of a new display by surveying and tracking visitors) are also carried out by volunteers, so an internship isn’t the only way to gain experience with the Pitt Rivers if you have a few hours spare per week.

I’ve really enjoyed being involved with the museum behind the scenes and contributing to a variety of areas, and all of the staff have been very welcoming. The insight into anthropology this internship has given me has been exciting, especially being able to see how it overlaps with and differs from what I do as an English student, and how disability can be approached through it. I hope to continue my relationship with the museum as we develop the disability trail and am definitely interested in studying anthropology more in the future.

Pitt Rivers Museum Photo Blog:
Oxford University Students’ Union (OUSU):

Miranda Reilly