Why Museums?

There is no point in pretending that I have always known I’ve wanted to work in a museum, because that simply isn’t true. As a student of Modern and Medieval Languages – a pretentious name for a course that should be called ‘French and Spanish: not just the languages, but the old cultural stuff too’ – there are many directions I could have, and still could, choose to go in. Arts and Heritage is certainly not the most obvious direction. The assumption is that language students end up as translators, teachers, or in corporate roles at an international level. I have always been firmly against the idea of entering the corporate world, the reasons for which are plentiful, and frankly irrelevant to discuss here. I am not good enough/ confident enough at the languages in which I am most proficient to jump into translation work, IMHO. And whilst I love education, and have enjoyed the experiences I have of teaching, *language* teaching is not something that really appeals to me at this stage. Language teachers are those that had the biggest impact on me going through secondary school – hence why I grew to love language learning so much – but I personally don’t feel that I am capable of giving lessons to classes of increasingly apathetic students. I have heard stories from teachers who take joy in the fact that the odd one or two pupils are particularly keen to learn more, whilst the majority treat language classes as a doss lesson, because “what’s the point?”. It saddens me that this is the case, and luckily there are many passionate graduates who are lapping up the government’s financial incentives to teach languages in the UK. I am just not one of them.

So, the question still stands: why museums?

On reflection, an archaeology and/or anthropology degree might have been better suited to my extra- and intra-curriculum interests. When I planned my year abroad, my plans revolved around travel – not ‘oh my god I’m living my best life on my gap yah’ travel, but rather ‘I want to see more of other cultures’ travel. I wanted to see temples, and huacas, and geological sites, and wildlife, and ranches, and cities, and cathedrals, and castles… and museums. I went to South America with the intention of gaining valuable teaching experience whilst also absorbing as much of the cultural heritage as possible. After my year abroad – which ended up being somewhat more eventful than intended – I finished my dissertation on the short stories of a female Argentine author who wrote under military dictatorship, and signed up for a load of final year papers focussing on language and linguistics. It didn’t take long for me to realise that my paper choices were awful, and that I’d chosen them for the wrong reasons. No doubt this added to my already very poor mental health, which led me to intermit for the remainder of the academic year. And it was whilst I was intermitting from study that I had a real chance to reflect on what it was that I actually enjoyed. Much introspection, reflection and self-dissection led me to the answer: I enjoy cultural heritage.

I started looking for jobs I might enjoy, thinking about the times I felt happiest, and what I could do to make myself even happier. I reminisced to the many times when my mum and dad took me and my siblings on holiday as kids, to English Heritage sites, to castles and abbeys and manors. I remembered going into London to visit galleries and museums. I vividly recalled examining the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, aged maybe 9 or 10, in awe of the ways history was documented in early civilisations with already such complex languages and scripts. And it all started to make sense.

Throughout my intermission I continued to teach, tutoring children, teens and adults just to keep my brain active and my finances stable (ish). I looked at summer jobs I could perhaps take, in archives and libraries and heritage properties, but realised before I even got round to finishing my applications that I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready *yet*.

Fast-forward to September and I had successfully applied to work at Education and Outreach events at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge. I was an ideal outcome: I could work one-off events over the course of my second attempt at my final year of university study, doing something I would theoretically really enjoy. I don’t think I appreciated on applying for a position that I would enjoy my work with the MAA quite as much as I do. I get to lead handling sessions, where members of the public can come in and touch artefacts that would normally be in storage or behind cases. I get to run activities that encourage kids to engage with celebrations like Día de los Muertos, using knowledge I have accrued from my own studies to help them learn about significant aspects of world heritage. I get to be part of huge teams of people from all different walks of life that run university-wide events, including Twilight at the Museums, which took place this week. I love the work I get the chance to do, because it is no chore to do it. It is all I could have asked for, after a difficult couple of years of not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life or where I wanted to be.

Museums are the happy meeting point of all the things that I love: travel, culture, art, history, education – learning and teaching – and outreach, people, places, and so on. And what’s more, I love visiting museums too! I can’t guarantee where I’ll end up or what I’ll be doing, and I am only a fraction of the way through my life of learning and growing and working and living (I hope). However, whether behind the scenes or simply visiting for leisure, I sincerely hope museums will always be a part of my life.