The session today -December 2, 2019), was in a cold Penlee Coach house. Keeping warm by hugging a cup of tea, it amazed me at the progress that some Citizen Curators had made in investigating their project. After several sessions thumbing through copies of Zodiac magazines without finding out much about what I was interested in I concluded that I need to define something associated
with objects and or photographs. At the moment this seems like a massive challenge. I’ve noticed in the magazines that there are listings of births marriages and deaths that there seem to be many very young deaths with no reason given for these. Objects? On Wednesday I’ll search for medical equipment in the catalogue.
The session was a lot about communication and how museums communicate with visitors. Is there a two-way communication? Objects that aren’t labelled may communicate memories. How could museums communicate more effectively? Sometimes they can do so more if away from a museum building: perhaps via social media, exhibitions and events in places away from the museum building may engage with more people.
At the end of the citizen curator programme, I have to present something in as a video. So whatever I decide on will need to be something to present visually. It could be me giving a short talk or, preferably, narrating a series of photographs. I’m browsing through Zodiac but I’m puzzled about how to present my findings. The other challenge is the subject I choose that must be small enough to research in the next few months, yet not so large that it would be more suitable for a Master’s degree!
A Cable and Wireless employee in Hong Kong treated a colleague with Chinese medicine:
I’m still interested in finding out about health and illness. I will think of some keywords to search when I go to the museum next week.
Alternatively, I could pick one issue of the Zodiac magazine and present ‘A year in the life of Cable and Wireless. I like the year 1953. Sports in Porthcurno 1953: the ladies line up for the egg and spoon race.
I continued looking through the 1950s Cable and Wireless magazine:
There is usually a women’s page: extolling the virtues of making the small meat ration last for several days, or how to be more glamorous. Most issues of Zodiac advertise the value of biscuits.
However, my quest this week was to explore medical records. I started with a large leger – one of several, from the archives. It was full of handwritten, almost illegible medical notes. Each page had a number and the name of the employee and notes about their medical condition. All the pages I read referred to male employees of the company working in various parts of the world returning to London for their medical check-ups in the 1920s to 1940s. There would not have been the medical tests nor medication available that we have today. The entries noted the man’s weight, and this seemed to be a useful measure of how well or ill he was. There were references to diabetes, renal stones and urinary infections. I wanted to gain a general impression but next time I will make more extensive notes about the medical conditions mentioned. I also plan to search the database to discover if there are more references to the health and wellbeing of the employees. My search will include looking for references to preparing employees for travelling to countries with very little medical cover.
I walked through bitterly cold winds and rain to find out more about searching for a subject to research during the Citizen Curators course. Duncan suggested I go to the shelves full of Zodiac magazines from the early 1900s until the college closed.
The college reopened in Porthcurno in July 1950 so I started looking through the 1950s and some 1951 magazines. They were full of news about Cable and Wireless employees working all over the world. There were also listings of Births, Marriages and Deaths. I was curious about the cause of death as there were many very young deaths recorded but few causes mentioned. I noted that one died ‘after an operation’ and another was a ‘sudden death’.
I’d been told previously that there were some medical records available in the archives. These are very sensitive documents since the people they refer to may have relatives living. They warned me I must act with utmost discretion and on no account should I should not mention any names if I use any of the information in these documents in my research project. I’m looking forward to discovering these documents when I go to the museum again next week.
On a lighter note, several adverts extolling the advantages of biscuits amused me!
The second session of the Citizen Curators programme was about discovering resources for research and how to use them. We met in the grand Council chamber in Falmouth. Tehmina Goskar reminded us about using open questions when researching our chosen topic. We discussed how biased some information we discover might be, even though people trust museums. The content may relate to the power of those contributing to the museum.
There are many resources to use for research but it’s important to use these with a critical eye.
Although at this stage I want to find out more about the health and wellbeing of the people who came from all parts of the world to learn about telegraphy in Porthcurno, I am also interested in the changing diversity in tourists who visit the area. Porthcurno was multicultural when it was a college. Then the area became mono-cultural until in the past few years, visitors have changed and the area has become multicultural once more during the holiday times.
Today was the first study day to take part in the Citizen Curator Course. Just two of us from the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum. Others were from Penlee House, Falmouth Art Gallery, and Helston Museum of Cornish life.
It was a very interesting day. We discussed what a curator does and what is the purpose of museums. We read some very wordy descriptions and realised that museums may have differing agendas from being a meeting place and for storing the spoils of war and to keep memories of other times. They may be very narrow in what they portray about a community. These days there is more emphasis on discovering varying meanings and recognising the diversity of communities.
Later we saw how to treat artefacts carefully and, except for paper, to wear gloves when handling objects that might spoil from touching them directly. A discussion about what can damage artefacts such as light, dust, insects and mould followed this.
There was time for a warm drink:
We will make time before the next meeting to visit our museum and think about what sort of project to work on.
I’m interested in the diversity of people who came to learn at the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum and would like to find out more about their general health and illness they suffered while in Porthcurno.