From Outlander Obsessive to Numismatics Volunteer

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A student post by Stephanie Shakay Tierney, MSc Museum Studies (Grad Dec 2019) at the University of Glasgow.

Introduction by Hunterian Education Manager, Ruth Fletcher.

Reflecting on volunteering at The Hunterian both pre and during the pandemic, Stephanie Shakay Tierney, MSc Museum Studies (Grad Dec 2019) gives an insight into the professional and in this case pastoral benefits of working with collections. Stephanie was one of four volunteers assisting our Numismatics Curator, initially in the autumn term of 2019.

Upon moving to Glasgow to obtain my Master’s in University of Glasgow’s Museum Studies programme, I immediately put my ear to the ground for opportunities to be of service and enhance my education. Throughout my academic career, volunteerism has been among the most skill and character-building experiences I have participated in.

In October 2019, I attended The Hunterian’s EMOTIVE Public Demo Event and connected with Curator of Numismatics, Jesper Ericsson. Through conversation and my curiosity, I learned of the planned Jacobite medal exhibition and jumped at the chance to be involved. Shamelessly, as an American reader of the infamous ‘Outlander’ series for well over a decade, how could I resist an opportunity to interact with actual Jacobite objects? Who could have predicted at the time, what was intended as a straightforward cataloguing project, would become such a valuable and long-term part of my life?

GLAHM:40107, Scottish Coronation of Charles I, 1633 (obverse) and
GLAHM:40109, Baptism of Prince James, Duke of York, 1633 (reverse).

I began the second semester of my programme, and my volunteer duties, in January 2020. I was introduced to cataloguing and object handling in the course, Managing and Using Collections. I attended lectures dedicated to The Hunterian’s collections management system, EMu, and sessions on object handling, with Head of Collections, Malcom Chapman, and Digital Collections Manager, Lizzie O’Neill.

Object Handling class, MSc Museum Studies,
The Hunterian Collections Study Centre at Kelvin Hall.

Having long held a fondness for data, spreadsheets, and content management systems. I was delighted when presented with a collection of 230 Jacobite medals, ranging from the Death of Henry, Prince of Wales, during the reign of James I in 1612; to the Death of Charles Edward Stuart in 1788. My duties were to assign new object numbers to physical objects, research their history, including name, date, material, production person or reigning sovereign, condition, and diameter. I input this data onto a spreadsheet, to be used as the ‘vehicle’ for uploading information to EMu. I settled easily into weekly two-hour shifts alongside three other volunteers, working on their own projects. Attributing to the longer-term nature of the volunteer role, I was able to ask questions, make (and remedy) mistakes, and gain translatable experience.

Charles Edward Stuart Death Mask.
GLAHM:112143, Death mask of Charles Edward Stuart.

The Jacobite exhibition was scheduled for April 2020, and would overlap with the Outlander Conference in June 2020, for which I had a paper topic proposal accepted. My wee world was filled with Jacobites (I was even given the chance to handle a copy of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s original death mask, not an opportunity I would have had, without volunteering!) and I was quite comfortable in the fact it would remain that way through summer.

It did not.

In March 2020, shortly after I began photographing the objects to accompany the data in the final upload, The Hunterian, along with the rest of the world came to a life-altering halt. Glasgow went into lockdown, staff were furloughed, exhibitions and conferences cancelled, and uncertainty descended.

I finished out the semester via Zoom and wrote my dissertation from my bedroom.

My lockdown experience was (and continues to be) privileged. However, when I received word that in-person volunteering could resume in October I was overcome with gratitude and joy. Due to the logistics of the Numismatics Library in Kelvin Hall, the curator and two volunteers could safely, and legally, adhere to the social distance requirements at the time. What used to be a simple commute became a monumentally exciting task.

On my first bus ride in, I was like a puppy out a car window, feeling the breeze on my face. The impact on my mental health was invaluable; to have somewhere to go, a commitment, was so important. I resumed my weekly two-hour shifts, finished the cataloguing spreadsheet and was just beginning to photograph the objects as winter holidays approached. I decided to visit home in the states and find myself still here waiting patiently – while the doors to The Hunterian, and much of the rest of Glasgow, are closed for Scotland’s winter lockdown – until I can safely return to Glasgow and Kelvin Hall to finish taking the photographs, uploading the final spreadsheet to EMu, and the icing on the cake – at some future point, attend the Jacobite medals exhibition in the Hunterian Museum.

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