Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Volunteering: Conquering the Castle

March 9, 2011 · No Comments

Last week I started volunteering with the Norwich Museums Learning Department, part of the Norwich Museums and Archeology Service. This organization runs several museums in the Norwich area, including Norwich Castle and Strangers Hall, and their volunteers are responsible for tasks ranging from helping give tours to caring for the museum collections. The Learning Department runs educational programmes in the museums, most of which are for school groups. The employees and volunteers in the Learning Department put on several events every week, most of which are themed history days for groups of students. These include Ancient Egyptian, Ancient Roman/Iceni, Tudor, Georgian, and Victorian days – every week is a different theme – and special programmes that schools can request for their students, such as exploring the fundamentals of archeology. Most of these programmes take place at the Castle, which is where I volunteer.

I was there during an Ancient Egyptian day, so many of the staff were dressed in sheets, wigs, and costume jewelry when I met them. We had a group of about 150 eight and nine year-olds in for the day, and they were divided into classes to rotate through different activities. They learned about mummification, explored the museum’s collection of Egyptian artifacts, and made Egyptian collars out of bits of coloured paper. I was helping with this craft – the woman leading the session would give the kids a short talk about the function of jewelry in Ancient Egyptian society and the meaning of the different colours, and then chaos broke loose as they were freed to make their own collars. At the end of the day bits of paper and glue were absolutely everywhere, but it was really fun. It was interesting to see how kids approached the craft: some stuck paper anywhere there was space while others tried to follow a picture and placed their paper very, very meticulously. I walked around making sure that all of the groups had enough paper, encouraging the kids, and helping out as needed.  Since I was younger than the other instructors I retained some measure of “coolness” with the kids, and once they realized that I was American they were very excited to tell me all about their cousins in Ohio or whatever connection, real or imagined, they could make with the States.

At the end of the day all of the students gathered together to talk about a central question that they were supposed to be thinking about during all of their activities. In this case, it was whether or not it was right for archeologists to excavate tombs. I thought that it was a really good idea to give them one overarching issue to connect all of their activities, and the kids all seemed to have opinions about it. The group was split half and half over the archeology question, and it was interesting to hear their reasoning.

After the activities wrapped up, the staff cleaned up and then spend the rest of the afternoon prepping for the next day and doing administrative tasks. I was put on craft preparation, photocopying, and random errand-running duty. Although it was a long day, I really enjoyed working with the kids and seeing them so animated about history. I think that this week I’ll be working the Roman/Iceni day, so I’m looking forward to that.

Date: 3/3/2011

Time: 9.30 – 16.00

Supervisor: Daniel Pounds

Categories: 2010 Holly

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