Marlborough Woman: Mikala Narlock in the English Archives

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Marlborough Woman

Marlborough Woman

By Dr. Molly McClain

Interdisciplinary Humanities major Mikala Narlock spent a beautiful English summer in Marlborough, Wiltshire, a market town located 75 miles west of London. Here, she had a unique opportunity to pursue an internship at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, an archive that holds everything from medieval manuscripts to World War I records. She intends to pursue a career as an archivist after she graduates in January 2016.

Q: Mikala, I understand that you interned at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in England. Can you tell us about your experience?

R: The internship gave me an opportunity to spend “a day in the life of an archivist” or, in this case, ten days. Principal Archivist Claire Skinner designed a series of tasks that gave me an overview of an archivist’s duties. I catalogued documents; drafted a receipt and thank you letter for a donation; pulled documents from store rooms and either photographed or photocopied them; and performed a collection evaluation, a two-step process in which we appraise the components of a collection and decide what to keep and what to “weed.” Claire made certain to keep me busy, and my time at the Centre was over before I knew it. It was a wonderful opportunity and I learned so much.

Q: What kinds of records, documents and/or historical artifacts did you encounter?

R: At the Centre, they have an incredibly wide variety of documents. Researchers can study birth, marriage and death certificates; building records; family history; and artifacts such as an old chest full of receipts and even a dead cat! I worked with the documents of R.J. Hill, a local architect and chartered surveyor working in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It included not only the drawings and sketches he had made for his jobs, but also correspondence, pamphlets regarding products he used within the houses, and even his legal records.

Q: What did you find most interesting?

R: One of my favorite tasks was recording information about 19th-century wills made by Wiltshire residents. Figuring out people’s names—not to mention the names of parishes, towns, and villages—was tricky but Claire provided two helpful books: a list of places in Wiltshire that included any previous names, and Kelly’s Directory of Wiltshire, a directory of names and addresses published annually. One moment stands out for me. I was working with the wills, and a particular last name had me stumped. In the directory, however, I found him AND saw an advertisement that he had placed to grow his business. Even though he had passed away in 1893, it felt like I was interacting with history on a deeper, more personal level, and it was absolutely brilliant.

Q: Did the skills that you learned in the Interdisciplinary Humanities Program help you to succeed at this job?

R: Absolutely, and I believe it will only continue to help me as I progress along my intended career path as an archivist. In the Humanities program, I’ve been exposed to a wide variety of subjects—art, history, philosophy—which in turn has inspired me to continue learning about whatever interests me. Claire noted that a historian, for example, knows a great deal about a relatively narrow field or period of time, whereas an archivist knows a little about a much larger field, and I think the humanities track has perfectly prepared me for this.

Q: Have you interned at a historical museum or archive in the past? Can you tell us about that experience?

R: I interned at the La Jolla Historical Society for a month in January 2015. I did some of the same things, such as cataloging, but at LJHS I interacted with and assisted a few people who were doing research on their homes or families. Even though I often find myself interested in doing historical research, I truly enjoy watching and helping others find their connection to the past. Also, the LJHS has a much better view than the History Centre (it looks out over the ocean) but that’s just my opinion.

Q: How did you spend your free time in England?

R: My dad and I spent the weekends travelling, both within Wiltshire and abroad. During the week, I liked to walk along High Street in Marlborough (the second widest street in England!) and simply pop into a café or peruse the charity shops. At least once a week I took the bus to places like Salisbury Cathedral and Woodhenge. I also enjoyed walking my dog along the River Kennet.

Q: What do you plan to do after graduation from USD?

R: Immediately after graduation, I will take some time to work, but my experience at the History Centre convinced me that I’m on the right career track, so I will be applying to a Library Sciences program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an intensive archivist program at University College, London. 

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us, Mikala. Good luck with your last semester at USD!


Molly McClain
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