Nicky Sugar, our new Head of Special Collections, looks back over a busy few weeks.
It’s now 4 weeks since I came up the hill from Bristol Archives to join the university as Head of Special Collections. I still have a huge amount to learn, but thought it was time to share some first impressions!
Being local, I already knew that Special Collections holds a wide variety of unique and interesting material and is looked after by a fantastic team. It makes a huge difference to students and researchers to work with original sources, not just for scholarship but to find proof of past events which can impact the present. There is also enormous potential to work with people in the university and across the city to increase access to the collections, and that really excites me.
So these are a few of my highlights, in no particular order…
- I attended the launch of “The Uncertain Space” – the university’s brand new Virtual Museum. This displays treasures from our collections alongside curated items from other university art, archive and audiovisual collections in a unique virtual space. We met some of the young people who had worked on the first exhibition and tried out the headsets for ourselves.
- We hosted my first alumni event, for a group of ex-students who visited Special Collections. Several offered to send us items from their time in Bristol, and they were keen to hear how we can capture digital material to create the university archive of the future. As well as treasures from the university’s own archive, the alumni heard talks from colleagues about the Historical Photographs of China and the Wildfilm Archive.
- The Wildfilm Archive is a unique resource for studying the history of wildlife filmmaking, an important part of Bristol’s cultural heritage. In my last job I was involved in a project to examine the role of wildlife collections in responding to the ecological crisis, and I see huge potential here to develop this area of our work. With this in mind, some of us met with Peter Bassett, the wildlife history ambassador who rescued much of the collection, to discuss next steps.
- A team from the Brand Department at Penguin Random House visited us to look at iconic material from the Penguin Archive. This was a great example of the inspiration that historic collections can provide to innovation and business development.
- On a gloriously sunny day I had a trip off campus to the SS Great Britain, where our collection of Brunel material is held by the team at the Brunel Institute. The material has huge relevance for STEM education, the history of migration and many other topics, and we discussed our shared commitment to making it available to diverse audiences.
My other main highlight has been meeting new colleagues in the library and wider university, who have all been incredibly generous with sharing their expertise and future plans. The amount of new information I’ve absorbed has been almost overwhelming at times but I can definitely see it all coming together in some innovative ways to share the collections more widely. I look forward to providing an update on it all soon!