Part II student Jessica Freedland shares her experience working with English Heritage:
A few lectures into the second year Historical Themes in Practice module, Jeremey Ashbee from English Heritage came to talk to us. He discussed the work that he does now, and the steps he took to get there. I have always known that I want to do something with my degree that involves History, and as I have always enjoyed museums and historical sites, heritage seemed like a good area to look into.
Dr Ashbee said that he has been able to offer some work shadowing to students in the past. I plucked up the courage to chat to him after the lecture and I managed to get his email through Professor Grant. I had to chase it up a few times but I was able to negotiate getting on the Properties Historians team trip to the newly reinterpreted Stonehenge.
Stonehenge is English Heritages biggest site and so the project was of huge importance. I was taken around the new visitor centre by the historian who wrote the majority of the new displays. She talked through the whole planning process of the renovation project, which gave me enormous insight into what they do behind the scenes at one of the nation’s largest heritage organisations.
I then was able to sit on their monthly meeting where they all discussed the projects they were working on and their current progress. The organisation owns such a wide range of sites, and the team is full of specialists of all different eras and so it made for a fascinating discussion.
It is now a few months on, and rather than just sitting back and gawping at how much I wanted their jobs, I now have a role too. Everyone’s new projects have now begun and I was asked to join a few historians at Eltham Palace, a once medieval, now art-deco home in Greenwich. After having a wander through the palace, we discussed the plans for the new interpretation. There is a lot of research that needs doing and so they have asked me to help out. It is very daunting, that they are actually trusting me with something that could potentially be on display in the near future.
I have researched both medieval aspects for the project but also what life was like at Eltham in the 1930’s. English Heritage have helped me develop new skills that will undoubtedly help me with my third year work and in the future; from helping me get to grips with the British Library to listening to oral histories. The opportunity has allowed me to work with brilliant historians and build up numerous contacts that I will be able to call upon in the future.
Working with English Heritage has had numerous perks, not only have I had personal, expert tours around their own sights, they’ve taken me to their competitors also. I was able to join the team on a complementary trip to the British Museum to see the Vikings: Life and Legend exhibition, where I met the project leaders and curators involved who introduced the exhibition. It was great getting insight into a different heritage environment; being able to compare the differences with working with historic buildings, to working in a museum.
I do not know where my time with English Heritage will take me, I am just grateful for the experience I have had so far. It has been a very different experience to what I was expecting. I have gained insight into the heritage industry that I just could not have had if I had not been behind the scenes. I have found it very interesting to learn about, and experience how all the different departments work together. In my ignorance, I previously thought most of the work just came under the umbrella of a curator. Yet, my work-shadowing has opened my eyes up to the historian’s team and the interpretation team, who work alongside the curators. It has made me so much clearer on the path I want to pursue, and those that I now know are not for me.
I have had to chase people up a lot to get this opportunity, even when you are worried of being irritating or getting in the way you just have to do it. If you are showing an interest and are willing to learn then I have found that people are happy to help if they are in the position to. If they are not, what do you have to lose by asking?
I have got all of this through the compulsory module Historical Themes in Practice. Thanks to Professor Grant bringing in Dr Ashbee to talk to us all, and helping me get in contact with him, I have gained experience that has been an invaluable addition to my CV. The module gives everyone a chance to help decide what direction to pursue with their lives, as long as you are willing to take that chance.
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My experiences working with English Heritage, posted on my University’s History blog