Heritage, history, and books.

Category: Museum Stuff Page 2 of 4

Chawton House Library


Chawton House Library exterior

“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands.” – Persuasion, 1818.


The store room

This time one month ago I was packing my bags, ready to begin a month-long residential internship at Chawton House Library. It was somewhat of a dream come true; I had visited three times before, and have always been impressed by the library in general. However, this time I was able to get behind the scenes, and try it out for myself, all the while being able to stay in the very grand converted Old Stables.


Conservation work drying

Fast forward one week and I find myself deep into the various different aspects of running the library. Each morning I was taking the ritual readings for Environmental Monitoring, and making sure the dehumidifiers were empty for the day. I had also been taught the basics of book conservation by a very knowledgeable volunteer, learning how to repair tears, holes, and ‘lifting’ of edges. I also had the chance to assist the Wedding Manager with two Saturday weddings. As many of you probably know, the pressures of funding often means other possibilities are explored, and with CHL’s beautiful house and setting, it is ideal for the use of a beautiful wedding venue, so was a valuable experience. On top of weddings, CHL also hosts other events such as conferences and lectures, and an ever-growing programme for visitors. Even in my inexperienced eye, I can tell that in the year or so that they have been functioning both as a library and an attraction, Chawton already seems remarkably comfortable with balancing both aspects.


Corridor leading to the Dining room

Other tasks I was busy working on included cataloguing the secondary research material donated by Deirdre Le Faye, proof reading The Solemn Injunction for their Novels Online Project, letting visitors in and out of the charming Lower Reading Room (and hearing MANY a good word), writing the information cards for the future ‘Adopt-a-book initiative’ display, and also assisting the Librarian with the general upkeep of the storeroom collection.

Alongside my work with the team, I have gained quite a good knowledge about the history of the house itself, and the grounds that surround it. CHL is unique in that it has a rich history to each aspect of the house, including the grounds, ancestry, paintings, architecture, and the collection, and is an endless source of fascination to staff and visitors alike.

The past month has been an invaluable experience, not only have I progressed my own skills, I am able to say that I have had experience with a very special collection, in a very special location, with some very special people. It has further fuelled my passion for literature and heritage, just in time to begin my Masters course in Cultural Heritage and Resource Management in the autumn. Thank you, Chawton, this is not goodbye!

Working with a special collection naturally involves handling rare and interesting items, and it would be a little mean of me not to share some of what I found with you:


Yarrow for staunching blood


Yarrow illustration – with seeds

A Curious Herbal (1737) by Elizabeth Blackwell is an oversized book about herbal remedies. It is an impressive and beautiful book in itself, with each remedy alongside delicate botanical illustrations. The story behind the book, however, adds a new level of meaning. A Curious Herbal was born out of a  period of financial and emotional stress, Elizabeth’s husband having gone to debtor’s prison, and it provided her with an incentive to gain financial stability and focus her mind upon something positive. Chawton’s Garden Manager has created a unique herb garden inspired by Elizabeth’s work.


By Mary Astell – 1694

A Serious Proposal (1694) by Mary Astell is essentially a pocket sized letter addressed to the women of England, to refine their minds, not their aesthetics. Astell says, “your glass will not do you half so much service as a serious reflection on your own minds.” Not a lot is known about Mary’s biographical details, and, as a woman, details of her life were little documented. However, her ideas and publications have had a lasting effect upon feminist thought, and she promoted the idea that women were born capable of equal intelligence to men.

“If all men Men are born Free, then why are all Women born Slaves?” – Astell – ‘Reflections’ 1700.

IMG_5220Diverse Observations (1617) by Louise Bourgeois Boursier is the second publication by Louise, the first being Diverse Observations on Sterility and, as it stands, is the first known publication on midwifery by a female author.  Louise was midwife to French Royalty, and was respected enough to have been awarded 6000 livres and 300 livres a year pension by the French Royal family. She spent her retirement writing about obstetrics and passing on her knowledge to other women. Her publications were translated in several different languages, and were widely used into the 1700s.




“Not relevant to their everyday lives”: A Millennial Problem

millennialsThere has recently been a tonne of discussion surrounding Millennials, and how on earth do Museums engage them?

I find this question of Millennials in museums especially interesting and relevant considering I am one who both visits and works in them. Also, when you think about it, a large number of young people make up a museum’s workforce. Probably most of the people I know in museums are under 35.


In 2013 Time issue this cover, addressing the warped opinions about Millenials.

Now, I don’t think this is a new ‘phenomenon’, but young people are working in museums probably more than perhaps three or four decades ago. But how do we encourage young visitors to fully engage with museums? Firstly we need to get rid of any preconceptions about millennials, just as Time Magazine wanted to do in 2013. Despite what the media loves to report as a growing tidal wave of narcissistic and idle youths, a recent survey highlighted the fact that out of a choice of valuing a good career trajectory against a good social life, most chose the first. Perhaps this is because of a deep dissatisfaction with the movement of careers, many of us feel as though its near impossible to graduate and get a job in your desired sector within a few months. Just as people believe money will equal happiness, many believe the same for a good job.

So, who can blame us for wanting to relax? There is perhaps a misconception for many young people, especially those who didn’t grow up with trips to cultural venues, that museums require serious thinking and a lot of spare time. With this train of thought, it isn’t purely because millennials don’t care enough about their heritage, its a question of accessibility.

But many museums are hosting late night arts and culture events to cater for those millennials who work during the day, and do indeed like a party in the evening. Much of these events are proving extremely popular, even if they are only feasible for larger museums.

There is a lot more to late night events than just keeping the doors open for an extra few hours, and music, DJ sets, poetry readings and film screenings regularly feature.

Julie Nightingale wrote a great article for MA about millennials in museums, who points out that a huge variety of events need to be offered if a museum is providing late nights, not all young people enjoy loud music and dance, and the same can be said about interactive workshops. She also points out that if museums are to take on this task then it should be vital to communicate with local universities, youth clubs, colleges, employers etc not only to get the word out, but to learn what those young people in their area are looking for. In other words, setting up Youth Panels should be a given. But evening events aren’t the only option we should be considering, a regular timetable of classes, workshops, lectures, and temporary exhibitions at various hours of the day should be on the card; not all millennials enjoy late nights.

What I believe to be the most effective answer for the future, is to encourage the next generation of 18-35 year olds by engaging them now as a family. Kids in Museums commissioned a review entitled ‘Hurdles to the participation of children, families and young people in museums.’ which, in short, showed that if parents had not regularly taken their children to cultural venues, then these children grew up with a “negative view of museums as remote and inaccessible, and not relevant to their everyday lives.”¹ And I truly believe that is this idea that museums do not fit into the ‘everyday’ that stops many millennials from engaging.  The defining features of our generation, arguably, is our interest in diversity, culture, technology, self-expression, and everything unique. Therefore ensuring that all museums try to host events and put on exhibitions that are relevant to the shared experience of young people is the tool to unpick the issue.

Here is a list of exhibitions that are accessible for all but particularly young people:

(Of course these are all subjective to personal interests)

¹ Whitaker, Sally. Hurdles to the participation of children, families and young people in museums: a literature review. Kids in Museums. p.2


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