There are few universities in the world that have impacted history as much as the University of Manchester. It was founded during the Industrial Revolution—which can be considered Manchester’s Renaissance, and boasts being the birthplace of some of the most important discoveries in science, works of literature, and advances in philosophy. This rich history is what drew me to the University and I was absolutely ecstatic to find out that my placement would be with University History and Heritage as part of my Art Gallery and Museum Studies MA.

Physics 1910
University of Manchester School of Physics 1910

My placement supervisor is Dr James Hopkins, the UK’s first University Historian and Heritage Officer and all-around great guy. For my placement as a collections assistant, I was tasked with finding, cataloguing, and researching the University’s ‘orphan collection.’ Most of the objects owned by the University have been acquired and cared for by the its institutions: The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester Museum, John Rylands Library, and Museum of Medicine and Health. However, artworks and other objects on display across campus are of unknown provenance and have not been accessioned, making them orphans. Scant documentation, no catalogue, and unregistered moving of objects means that the University has no idea how many or what objects it actually owns. My job was to go to a building on campus, photograph all the objects I could find on display, research them, and add them to KE EMu, a museum cataloguing software. For now, the catalogue is just for the University’s knowledge, but eventually it will be made public for the benefit of the University community.

Though I gained valuable skills in data entry and label writing, the most memorable aspect of this project for me was simply getting to know the history of the University. Before I began my placement, I was vaguely aware of the historical significance of the University of Manchester, but I did not realise just how significant it was. Researching the scientific accomplishments made here has made me proud to be part of such a vital institution and I hope that sharing this information with others via object labels or the database when it is published will propagate the same feeling. To me, knowing the history of the University makes attending it much more exciting; a walk to the Rutherford Building is significantly more interesting when considering Ernest Rutherford discovered the nucleus of the atom here. It is discoveries such as these that have made the University into the world-class institution it is today and I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to work with University History and Heritage to help revitalise these histories.

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