5 Jun 2017

Volunteering with the Curators

Hi, I’m Claire and I have been volunteering for Birmingham Museums for close to three years in various ways; at Weoley Castle, Blakesley Hall and perhaps the most intriguing of which is as a Curator’s Assistant to the History Curator working with the Sound Archive at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

Claire volunteering at Weoley Castle

The Sound Archive is somewhat of an unknown treasure, with over 1,400 recorded interviews from everyday Birmingham people! The collection began in the 1980s as an attempt to uncover the lives of the general public of Birmingham… an attempt that was wonderfully successful if you ask me. I have listened to the stories from Cadbury’s workers, to Caribbean immigrants, to button-makers. These people have taught me so much! For example, during the First World War, a reading book would be torn into its individual pages with children taking home one page each to read, as books were too hard to come by.

Cabinet containing the Sound Archive

I have not only enjoyed learning a lot about the past, but also about cataloguing data. Our role is to catalogue these interviews by listening to them, writing a transcript or summary, then data-basing information such as: key words and themes; date recorded and date period discussed; associations with people, places, events and organisations (which we then research further); and much more! This data will be used to update the internal database but we also then download these interviews as MP3 files (they are currently stored as CDs) and edit them (into 1 long track per interview, rather than 10 separate ones), before uploading them onto SoundCloud for free public access. We are just starting to get to a point where we can upload the interviews, along with key words and information, to Birmingham Museums SoundCloud account. It is so exciting and rewarding knowing that what we’ve spent months working on will make a difference and enable the public to enjoy these fascinating interviews as well!

Screen showing an audio interview

My particular favourite project has been on Bournville. I was first interested in it because, well, who doesn’t love Cadbury’s chocolate?! But it began a curiosity that expanded further than my taste-buds! The interviewees talk about the community atmosphere of Bournville, getting the train through the rural fields of Selly Oak, the tunes of the Carillon (some of which are sung to me!), and dancing out of work and into the centre on Armistice Day 1918. I am now buying books on the Cadburys (and more chocolate!) to develop this interest and it’s all thanks to the captivating interviewees and Birmingham Museums for allowing me to listen to them in the first place and preserve their invaluable insights.

If you are interested in volunteering for Birmingham Museums then take a look at the current volunteering opportunities we have available across all our sites.