Working behind the scenes at one of the country’s most enchanting museums proved to be full of new experiences and expertise for interns participating in their Sensory Opportunity at Shandy Hall. Over a three-day period in February applicants from the Sensory Stories training day had the opportunity to acquire valuable skills such as object research, object handling, book preservation and using cataloguing systems, experiencing first-hand how literary history can be interpreted in a museum setting.
Shandy Hall, situated in the village of Coxwold, was home in 1760-67 to the witty and eccentric parson Laurence Sterne, author of Tristram Shandy, one of the most extraordinary novels in the English language, and A Sentimental Journey. Architecturally as intriguing and eccentric as its former occupant, the hall is still a lived-in house, more than 500 years old, full of books, pictures and amazing memorabilia that tell Sterne’s story and bring together his far-reaching influence for the experimental novel and for contemporary art. It was into this world that the Sensory Stories interns stepped to learn more about engaging visitors with Sterne’s life and work. Here are some of their thoughts on the experience:
‘Working as an intern at Shandy Hall was a wonderful introduction to the wonderfully eccentric world of small museums. I really appreciated the opportunity to think about research in an incredibly tactile sense. It was inspiring to see how literary academic research can engage with the public on such an immersive and interesting level. I have been very eager to come across an opportunity for archiving/cataloguing experience for a long time now and I feel fortunate to have been able to spend three days immersed in the world of Shandy Hall. Learning how to bind poorly books and photographing books for the digital catalogue are all new skills that I have gained. Researching book plates was also extremely interesting as we discovered the life that a book led before it worked its way to the museum collection.’
Lucy Barnett, Department of English, University of York
‘The Sensory Stories training day had revealed some of the ways in which research may be shared with a community across time and space in a manner that provokes laughter, recognition and delight. I was eager to find out how laughter, recognition and delight at the stuff-ness of things was being used creatively at Shandy Hall, just a few miles from York, to provide imaginative portals into that most literary of texts, Tristram Shandy. It wasn’t quite what I expected. In addition to creatively designing, exhibiting, teaching, supervising, promoting, filming, cataloguing, networking, linking, stabilizing and rendering accessible Tristram Shandy-related material ( … reader! I was shocked! horrified! and maybe slightly amused to discover), the Curator and Collections Officer of Shandy Hall also has to change the fuses, answer the phones, screw in the light bulbs, lower the shelves and catch raindrops in saucepans when the pipes burst. Busy pursuing the Sensory Stories arc like a rainbow, has been the trajectory of Real Lives outside the Ivory Tower. Our experience at Shandy Hall showed us where the happy little bluebirds fly!’
Hellen Jowett, Department of English, University of Newcastle