Posted by: robbedlyric | September 18, 2012

Intern Interview with Helena Sinclair

Name:  Helena Sinclair

Specialisation: Collections

Education:  B.A. (Hons) English Literature, Newcastle University; M.A. Literary Studies, Newcastle University


How did you find out about the internship? What made you decide to apply?

When I was in my third year at university we visited the Jerwood Centre (the Wordsworth Trust Collections Centre) for a talk given by the curator Jeff Cowton. I thought it was incredible but I already knew I wanted to do an M.A. so I concentrated on that. Whilst I was studying I visited three more times and just waited for the applications to open.


Was the interview and application process easy?

It was daunting but a good way of assessing how people gel with one another. It was also interesting to be taken out of that typical interview situation and to chat. At one point I even discussed the Guardian’s gardening column with Jeff! It was really nice to get a sense of what life here would be like; we went to the pub and met last year’s interns.


What made you decide to focus on the Collections program as your special project?

Well, unlike some of the other interns I didn’t really come here to learn about working in a museum, it’s just not what I want to do. I want to continue studying Wordsworth and the Romantics so being able to access the collection not only gives me interesting research topics to investigate but also helps me pursue my academic interests. It’s been very hands-on and I have learned a lot about collections management and conservation.


What sort of projects have you been involved with so far? Tell us more about your day to day work.

The main project I’ve been involved in is what we call the ‘Women’s Letter’s Project’ this involved transcribing letters sent between the women of the Wordsworth circle and getting that information onto our Collections website, hopefully making them accessible. We’ve currently done around 500 letters and this will continue to grow. It’s been an interesting project right from the start as it involved assessing what we have in the collection, learning to read and transcribe the letters and using MODES. We even gave a talk on the letters at the Women’s Poetry Festival, people actually paid!


Why do you think the Wordsworth Trust is a good place to train in collections management?

They’re just so willing to give you the experiences you want and need. You’re really supported here. If you want to try something new or learn something specific then you are able to do that. Plus the collection is vast and for a Romantic Literature scholar like me, it’s just amazing to be able to get your hands on.  The knowledge that Jeff and Becky have is fantastic. They are excellent role models.


The Trust houses 90% of Wordsworth’s surviving, working manuscripts as well as a large collection of first editions of Romantic literature but what is your personal collection highlight?

For me it has to be Emmeline Fisher’s botany book on flowers and mosses. In between the pages she has pressed examples of the different species. You can be looking through and all of a sudden, on the page, is a cutting taken by a young woman in the mid-nineteenth century that she never imagined would last or be seen this many years later. It gives you such a tangible connection to this woman and a sense of her hobby. A combination of that discovery and connection to the past is amazing.


What are the positives of the internship as a whole? Any negatives?

In terms of positive I’d say that not only is it a really well designed programme but that you really are treated as a member of staff. You have real responsibilities and it can be very intensive which is good. You feel like you are expanding your knowledge and skills. Also, for me, the opportunity to be a real part of the community has been wonderful. I’ve joined the village Glee Club and the Grasmere Players amateur dramatic society. The chance to be involved in things like that has helped my confidence improve and I hope helped me grow as a person.

The only real negative is the geographical isolation. My tip is to buy good books for the trains! It can also be tough moving back into shared accommodation if you’ve been used to living alone, but you soon get used to it.


What do you hope to go on to achieve after this year is over?

I have no immediate plan set in stone. My long term aim is a P.h.D, so if I can write a proposal and get a plan of action together for funding then hopefully I’d be ready to begin around the autumn of 2013. My interest is women writers in the Romantic period and I’ve developed an interest in Quaker authors too.


What has been the biggest highlight of your internship so far?

Well, a “work” highlight would be the talk we gave at the Women’s Poetry Festival. I was really scared at first but we got such a great response from the audience. However my extra-curricular highlight, if you will, was the concert the Glee Club gave for the Jubilee. Seeing the W.I. get all misty eyed at our rendition of Jerusalem was surreal but joyous.


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