Placement Spotlight: ‘Histories of Childhood at the National Trust’
By Joanna Smith
I would recommend undertaking an Open-Oxford-Cambridge placement to anyone tempted or intrigued by the opportunities that they offer. This placement was not my first foray into the world of work. I came into my DPhil having worked in sectors including management consultancy and thinktank research. My professional pride was therefore a little dented when a housemate asked how my three-month “internship” and not “placement” at the National Trust was going. After all, I wasn’t looking for a position to help me to take the first steps on my career path. As valuable as this might be for some, I’d taken these steps already. Instead, I sought a placement to enable me to take my next professional steps with firm footing and furnished with additional skills.
The ‘Histories of Childhood at the National Trust’ placement fitted this brief and was jointly supervised by the National Trust, the University of Oxford’s Centre for the History of Childhood, and TORCH’s Heritage Partnerships team. In collaboration with a London-based doctoral student, I completed and delivered a research project on (no surprises) histories of childhood at the National Trust. Along the way, I undertook site visits to National Trust properties; carried out archival research; participated in and led meetings with National Trust staff; conceptualised and co-authored an online exhibition proposal, and designed a database. In conjunction with other work, these activities fed into producing the placement’s core outputs, a toolkit and an Excel database designed for distribution to Trust staff.
These details run through the placement’s headlines. Yet two snapshots of day-to-day activities convey some of its nuts-and-bolts. One is of me sat at my desk in front of two computer screens. On one screen is the National Trust Collections website through which I have been conducting collectionsbased research. On the other, an Excel database tab that I am building to capture and present related research data. I am currently musing how to rationalise the latter tab’s structure: I think that it now has a few too many columns and colours. Thankfully, cake and coffee are on hand to accompany streamlining it.
The second snapshot is of me at the top of a hill at Dyrham Park. After a day looking at on-site archival material, touring the property, and speaking to staff, I’ve just lugged my suitcase up one hill and am about to lug it up another on route to the exit. The moment is not glamorous but captures three things. First, it illustrates historical research’s hands-on potential. Secondly, set alongside the former snapshot, it is testament to the diversity of the opportunities I had access to whilst on the placement. Thirdly, and relatedly, it provides a tempting metaphor to end this piece on. Me, at the close of a day of productive placement work, standing in the sunshine: one hill surmounted, the next waiting to be tackled… Yet to leave metaphors behind and finish more directly, I will end by saying this. I thoroughly enjoyed the placement and I recommend exploring similar opportunities.