Graduate intern update: Jenny

Graduate intern Jenny Coulton tells us what she’s been up to recently…

Hello again readers! I’m here to give another update on what I’ve been up to since October as an intern with Durham’s Archives and Special Collections.

One of the biggest projects I’ve been working on has been cataloguing my first collection. I’ve been working on the Backhaus family papers – a small group of material that will be part of our larger Else Headlam-Morley collection. The papers are centred around a woman (Frieda Backhaus nee Herzberg), her life in Germany 1893-1950, and her emigration and final years living in the UK under the employment of the Headlam-Morleys. It’s a fascinating insight into a family, and a great source for life in Germany just before and after the Second World War. One of the most interesting items, in my opinion, is a letter from Frieda’s father, Max, to the commander of the Russian occupation of Berlin, praising the Red Army and even sending the commander a copy of a manuscript he had been working on – and all this on a letter written only a few days after the end of the war! I’ve also been really enjoying the process of cataloguing, although learning how to not get sucked into reading every detail is surprisingly difficult. Nevertheless, it’s very satisfying to summarise, and even more fulfilling to realise that my work means that these collections are now mor easily accessible for future academics and research.

One of the letters from the Backhaus family papers, from (presumably) Max Herzberg to the leader of the Russian Occupation.

Alongside cataloguing, I’ve also been learning how appraisal works. I was tasked with going through one of our rare books collections and compiling information so our rare books librarian can appraise the collection and work out if anything should be removed from it. I went through each book, and noted if we had copies in our collections, if the book had any interesting copy-specific information (for instance, bookplates, inscriptions, marginalia etc), and recording how many copies there are in the UK or in local libraries. While this may sound dry, it meant I got to spend several weeks skimming through over 400 books ranging from the late 16th century up to the 21st century. A large section of the collection is travel literature from the 19th century, with a bunch of illustrations of people and daily life from the other side of the globe centuries ago. I’ve now more or less completed my part, and I’m looking forward to seeing how my data-collection will now be used in the next steps of appraising a collection.

Our Waggett collection – each book now has a (at least temporary) reference number and bookmark to find it.

Outside of these larger projects I’ve also helped on smaller tasks here and there between things. One of the more interesting ones was transcribing (and translating) some sections of Cosin MS V.iii.10, a late fifteenth century medical manuscript. Specifically, I was looking at a poem of rhyming couplets all about bloodletting. It contains instructions about the different veins, where to find them, and what they were connected to. For example:

Salva stella is his name

He is a veyne of nobyll fame

Þere ys no veyne þat clensyth so clene

For stoppying of þe lyver and of the splene

[Salvatella is his name / He is a vein of noble fame / There is no vein that cleanses so clean / For obstructions of the liver and the spleen]

Interestingly enough, these veins haven’t changed their names after all these years, and we still call the vein from the little finger the vena salvatella. Hopefully we may be using and displaying this manuscript more in the future and having this transcription will hopefully make it and its information more accessible for everyone.

A Zodiac Man inside Cosin MS V.iii.10. Certain parts of the body were associated with certain zodiac signs, and bloodletting could be dictated by these astrological considerations

Lastly, I have started attending my placements. For the next couple months I’m going to be spending time with different parts of the ASC and Library team, learning all about what they do. My first placement has been with the Teaching and Learning Team, where I’ve been shadowing them teach primary and secondary school children.  It’s a very different experience to what I’ve been doing for most of my internship, but its very gratifying. While I don’t think I have the energy to be a teacher, I’ve really enjoyed getting kids excited about the past, and seeing them eager to learn – whether it be about Shang China, Ancient Egypt, or eighteenth-century crime and punishment. I’ll be next doing a placement with our Conservation team, and I shall be sure to keep you all informed on what I get up to there.

With half the internship under my belt, I can’t wait to see what the next half has in store for me. Until next time, readers!

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