Hello! I’m Evelyn Curl, and I started volunteering with the PAS at the Ludlow Museum Resource Centre in July of this year after completing my degree in Medieval and Early Modern History. Although my studies were largely focused on written sources and how to approach them as a historian, I have always been fascinated by material culture and how we use it to interpret the past. I grew up in Colchester, Essex, a town known for its rich history and archaeology. Permanently relocating to Shropshire last year was a bit of a culture shock as the area was completely new to me and I wanted to scope out all there was to know about its history. So what better way to do this than to get involved with the local Museum Resource Centre!
I started out by learning how to edit photographs in Adobe Photoshop, which would then be uploaded to the PAS Finds database. This is something I had no experience of, so I initially regarded the task as complicated and daunting, but I surprised myself by how quickly and easily I picked it up! I started out by Photoshopping small, round items like coins and tokens, and eventually moved on to more difficult things like intricate buckles and harness mounts. I then had the opportunity to photograph some artefacts, which proved to be a little more challenging than I initially thought it would be. The photographing process involves lots of regulating of colour, focus and light levels so as to produce the clearest image possible. Shiny objects in particular require lots of attention to avoid too much glare. I’m not very familiar with cameras and their lots of little buttons and functions, so this also took some getting used to, but I eventually got the hang of it and managed to take some really good photos.
In addition to all this, Peter Reavill, the Finds Liaison Officer for the area, provided me with some valuable training on how to write records, which nicely completed my PAS database skillset. You really have to inspect the artefact, and write about it in as much detail as possible. This involved some learning of new terms, and being aware of shape, colour and form. It gets you thinking about how much more there is to a small and simple object than meets the eye!
Perhaps my favourite part of being a PAS volunteer is how getting to handle some really interesting objects becomes a day-to-day occurrence. For example, I was lucky enough to help catalogue the famous Shropshire Piano Hoard – a hoard of gold sovereign and half sovereign coins that were found hidden underneath the keys of an upright piano. I personally love studying unusual and interesting coins of all different ages, so this was an incredible experience for me and is something that myself and PAS Intern Emily Freeman will be talking about at the PASt Explorers Conference in Cardiff on the 18th November. Needless to say, having the opportunity to handle all sorts of interesting objects like this really satisfied the history geek in me!
Volunteering for the PAS has meant that I’ve been able to do what I love, whilst acquiring some really valuable skills along the way. I have a view to developing a career in the Museum and Heritage sector, but I think that whatever your background or prospects, by becoming a PAS volunteer you are not only supporting a fantastic project, but it is also a great way to develop your own skills and connections.
Evelyn has been a brilliant volunteer and her work has been invaluable to the Shropshire team. She has recently accepted a full-time role with the Post-Excavation team at Border Archaeology and although we are a little bit sad to see her go, it is brilliant that she is progressing in her career and continuing to work with archaeological finds. Good luck Evelyn! – Emily Freeman