Reflecting on Dundee Study School

By Laila Benhaida, Trainee Archivist

On April 29th I embarked on a four day study school held at the University of Dundee. The aim of this trip was to become familiar with the university, meet the tutors and fellow students and to understand a bit more about the content of the modules I will be studying before I start my online distance learning post-graduate course in Archive and Records Management.

Photograph showing a building at the University of Dundee

The first day was a bit daunting as we immediately started with introductions and then a workshop on record keeping where we began discussions on the topic. After the morning session we were able to mingle over coffee and find out a bit more about each other, I finally began to relax as I realised a number of the students have not studied for a number of years like myself and the whole concept of learning again was as alien to them too! I was pleasantly surprised by the good mix of students from all over the U.K. From Kent, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Skye, to Newcastle and Liverpool. It was an interesting array of accent throwing across coffee.

A photograph of a door stating Strangers Must Ring This Bell

Each day involved a number of workshops and talks on topics such as digital preservation, disaster plan management, professional ethics, copyright, business case planning and palaeography. I was a bit in awe at how broad the record keeping profession really is, the scope of work and knowledge involved is much wider than I thought.

Each workshop involved a task or practical element where in groups we would work through a case study and present our findings and thoughts on issues that crop up when working with records. I really enjoyed the tasks as it was interesting hearing other perspectives. One case study was receiving a physical collection from a well-known mathematician who was leading in his field of work at the university. We each looked through the material and decided what we would keep and explained our reasoning for this. The collection contained what you would expect, some working notes, correspondence and published research. But there was a surprise – well I thought it was a treasure – we had hit the jackpot. Hidden amongst the mathematician’s intricate, detailed working diagrams was a nice number of 1950s porn magazines. Just wow! I picked them up straight away had a good look through, I have to say the women of the 50s had amazing bodies and the poses were most tasteful.

Several old manuscripts and papers from an archive spread across a table

After assessing the collection our tutor immediately asked us if we would preserve the ‘surprise’ as part of the collection. Quite a number of students thought it would be better to remove and dispose of the material through fear of damaging the well-regarded mathematician’s reputation. What about his family? What about his public image? All very good questions I thought. This made me think how subjective selection or ‘appraisal’ in archive terminology really is. My thinking was that those magazines must have helped him work, they probably provided some inspiration and relief so to speak! It would be important to show that this very important and clever chap was in fact a human like the rest of us. Plus, how often we come across surprises like this? This is what makes history interesting to me and I am sure many others would agree.

On the whole it was a very full and enjoyable trip, I do feel much more prepared than before in terms of starting my studies. The tutors were very welcoming and made us all feel part of the university. On the last day, our heads were so loaded with information that we resorted to playing with sticks at the V&A Museum… I must point out that some of these students have PhDs. This made me smile.


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