An Introduction to the University of Dundee Museum Services by an early career museum professional

Hope Roberts, Assistant Curator of the University of Dundee Museum Collections, gives an introduction to her path into museums and the projects she has been working on over the past three years

My job includes, but is not exclusive to exhibition hanging, caring for our collections (which hold over 30,000 artefacts and artworks), developing and delivering education and outreach programmes and – most importantly – making people aware of the museum and the services we offer.

My entry into the museum sector was almost as shocking and quick as the Big Dipper in Blackpool, but I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that beginning a career in the museum sector is one of the best examples of “hitting the ground running”.

In 2013, I applied for an internship run by Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS), the National Development Body for the museum sector in Scotland, and funded by The Heritage Lottery Skills for the Future fund. By the end of that year I was in Dundee with a set of keys and alarm codes, knee deep in visitor questionnaires, exhibition plans and database training manuals. I was being whisked away to Edinburgh every other month to get training on topics from object handling to event planning. I had the opportunity to develop a fantastic network of people and loved being able to share ideas with the other 19 interns.

When my year as an intern was up, I applied for the two-year Assistant Curator post, funded by MGS, and was over the moon when I got it!

The University of Dundee Museum Services  has only two paid members of staff, the Curator, Matthew Jarron, and myself, which means we rely on our wonderful volunteers to help us with a lot of tasks.  I like to look at this as a win-win situation. We recruit volunteers and train them in a variety of skills so they are able to keep up and help with everything we do. We encourage them to let us know what skills they are lacking in so we can work around their needs and make them excellent candidates for upcoming heritage jobs.

We design and host between 11 and 15 exhibitions a year and each exhibition comes with at least one event: be it a special opening night,  a guided tour, a workshop and/or talks by artists or scientists or a mix of everything!  Many mornings are spent arranging loans to and from the museum, answering enquiries from the public, arranging artworks to be displayed in University hall ways and offices and hanging said artworks. I design and deliver educational and outreach workshops, inviting school groups into our stores and the zoology museum so we can use collections for creative learning.

However, this post is not all about my work at the University of Dundee’s Museum Services. There are plenty of museums in Dundee and Scotland to write about and more than enough to convince you to visit. One that I am particularly fond of is the award-winning Verdant Works, part of Dundee Heritage Trust. Verdant Works walks you through the amazing story of old Dundee when the jute industry was strongly connected with life and work in Dundee.

Dundee Heritage Trust have been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland, Leisure & Culture Dundee and numerous charitable trusts, companies and private individuals to embark on a £2.75 million project to restore the 1833 High Mill located at Verdant Works. I had the opportunity to visit the new renovated High Mill and was completely blown away by the beautiful architecture and use of space.

Louisa Attaheri, Curator, explains: “The innovative conversion reveals the skeleton of the building and the monumental scale of the architecture. Viewing platforms at the first and second floors give amazing views over the building and displays below.

This exciting multi-million pound development has almost doubled the size of the museum with new displays exploring a different side of the jute story, highlighting themes such as engineering, the development of power and the city’s mill architecture.  The highlight is the 1801 Boulton and Watt steam engine, on kind loan from Dundee City Council via a partnership with Leisure & Culture Dundee. This internationally significant object was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution and is one of only five Boulton and Watt engines remaining in the UK. Regular demonstrations allow visitors to see this spectacular historic engine in motion.”

I highly recommend visiting Dundee in the future and taking the time to look at our amazing museums and heritage sites. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch for more information or even just a quick chat and can contact myself at [email protected] or Louisa at [email protected].