Postgraduate Curators is a programme that offers curatorial skills training to PhD students, and gives them the opportunity to curate their own exhibitions. This programme is organised by the Graduate College and SCOLAR, and open to PhD students from all disciplines – this year we had attendees from ENCAP, WELSH, JOMEC and SHARE.
The format consists of a half day workshop, with Peter Keelan speaking on project management, Alison Harvey on research and selection, and a senior lecturer from SHARE, Jane Henderson, on conservation issues. At the end of the workshop, we ask the students if any of them would like to volunteer to spend the next week planning a small exhibit on their PhD topic. This year, five of the eight students agreed to take part, and of these five, three had never visited SCOLAR before.
For those who wish to take part, we ask that in the week following the workshop, they use Voyager and our Excel lists to collate a long-list of potential material. We retrieve the items and they visit SCOLAR to examine them and make selections to cut the long-list down to a short-list. We ask them to research and write captions for each item on the short-list, and we ask them to design a poster for the exhibition. Once they have their short-lists, captions and poster, we ask them to all come in on an agreed half-day to set up the exhibits. We then talk through each exhibit to review each other’s work, and generally reflect on the experience.
The students gain time management and project management experience, as well as research and information literacy skills in searching for relevant material. In the case of those who have not visited us before, they may discover untapped resources for their research. They gain employability skills, and two types of work experience which can be very difficult to obtain – specifically in special collections work, but more broadly in the creative and cultural industries. They learn to think visually, and to phrase their research in non-specialist terms.
If the students gain a new perspective on their work – so do we. They extract and draw significance from material in our collections, of which we are often unaware. We have the opportunity to promote our collections to new audiences, and demonstrate our support of postgraduates from a range of disciplines, in a very visible way.
This year, we are featuring the following exhibitions:
Victorian medievalism: the fallen women of Tennyson’s Camelot
Sarah Clausen, Centre for Late Antique Religion and Culture
The Victorian author: artist or businessman
Helen McKenzie, English Literature
Representing the workhouse
Laura Foster, English Literature
From Celtic languages to the Roman alphabet
John Caulfield, Welsh
Welsh architecture from the Salisbury Collection: a selection of original artworks
Mark Baker, Archaeology and Conservation
All the students produced excellent exhibits, but one in particular made a significant discovery. Mark Baker is working on a historical study of Welsh country houses, and found an image in the Salisbury prints collection, which is thought to be the earliest depiction of the Hafod estate, which has since been demolished. In the case of the earlier building to the right, it is the only image in existence. It’s a watercolour, not a print, so it’s entirely unique – it only exists here in Cardiff.
Mark has notified the Hafod Trust, who confirmed his hunch. As well as being a discovery which is very significant for his research, he has succeeded in interesting the local press. Both the Western Mail and the Cambrian News in Aberystwyth will be including a feature on his discovery, and by extension, the postgraduate curators programme. Mark may also be volunteering with us in future to research and prepare a full-scale exhibition on the prints contained in the Salisbury collection.
The exhibitions will be on display in SCOLAR until the end of February. Extracts from the exhibitions can be found on the SCOLAR website.