Despite having spent three years as a History undergraduate at the University of Manchester, I realised that I knew very little about the history of the institution itself! Seeing University History and Heritage listed as one of the placement options as part of my integrated masters’ year piqued my interest. Its website revealed the University’s rich tapestry, and it was with this in mind that I decided to undertake the placement with the organisation.
As an organisation, University History and Heritage aims to preserve the University’s past, through means of conservation, research, and public engagement. The main part of my placement revolved around the latter, looking at ways of improving public engagement with the University’s collections and its historical sites. Most of my attention has been placed on creating a display piece at the Christie Bistro, which is located at the Old Quadrangle. The display feature includes information about the history of the building, and about Richard Copley Christie, the benefactor who sponsored the construction of the building. This was identified as an excellent opportunity to facilitate public engagement with the University’s history, given that the Bistro is a popular café with staff, students, and the public alike.
In addition to this, I also compiled information of the figures behind the paintings and busts of the University’s notables that are housed in the Bistro. The narratives were written and then produced in the form of a booklet, which will be distributed around the café. Some of the artwork and busts were initially unidentified, which required a great deal of research and sleuthing! This involved taking a trip to the University Archives to examine minutes and letters, and even searching through obituaries and genealogical records to glean information. My main role in this area was to gather, synthesise, and present the information in an interesting and accessible manner for the general public.
Throughout the process, I had the opportunity to learn more about the figures behind some of the University’s collections of artwork and objects. From Richard Copley Christie, who held three professorships simultaneously at the University and was behind the construction of Whitworth Hall which features prominently on the Oxford Road corridor, to Samuel Alexander, who was part of the efforts to secure greater rights for women within the University and in the local community. The placement has not only allowed me to develop my skills, but it has also given me a greater appreciation of the history of the University.
For more information, about the University’s history, please visit: http://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/history-heritage/