Reflections of a Research Assistant

Today is my last day working at Banting House NHSC, so I thought I would take this time to reflect upon what I have learned in this position. As part of my Master’s of Public History program at Western University we were given the option of becoming either a Teaching Assistant (TA) or a Research Assistant (RA). A TA is placed with an undergraduate history class to run seminars and mark assignments, while an RA is placed with a museum or archive in the London area to take on a number of different tasks depending on the institution. I chose to be an RA and was placed with Banting House NHSC for 10 hours a week for the last eight months.

When I sat down with Grant Maltman, the Curator at Banting House NHSC, in September 2018 we outlined five areas of museum work that my position would be responsible for. These included interpretation, exhibit design, collections management, social media, and special events.

Interpretation 

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Rachel on her first day of working at Banting House NHSC.

This was the area  that I was most familiar with coming into this position as I have worked for four years doing interpretation at another museum. I found the history of Dr. Banting’s life to be fascinating and I loved sharing it with the general public and school groups through tours. I gave tours to a wide range of people from individuals who have lived with Type 1 diabetes for 50 years to children who have never heard of insulin. It was exciting meeting these diverse groups of people and figuring out ways to tailor the tour to fit their interests and background knowledge of the subject. Each tour I gave was different and I always learned something new from interactions with the guests. Through this I learned that work as a museum interpreter is never done and I should continue to challenge myself to enhance my knowledge of the topics I am working with.

Exhibit Design

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A sneak peak at  few of the artifacts that will be displayed in the new exhibit.

I worked on all aspects of the summer 2019 exhibit. This included creating a theme and message, researching, identifying artifacts and archival material to display, writing text panels and labels, and creating the exhibit layout. I really enjoyed the process of identifying artifacts and archival material as it was sort of like a scavenger hunt, especially as a few of the items were not in our collections database yet and I had to search the collections rooms for them. Creating the layout for the exhibit was also an interesting process. One morning before the museum opened, Grant and I brought up all of the artifacts I had identified for potential display to the exhibit space and similar to a game of Tetris we rearranged everything until it fit comfortably in the room.  I am very  excited for the exhibit go up and for the public to see it! Check back in July for the new exhibit!

Collections Management

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Rachel holding a painting from the collection that she worked with.

I worked with Past Perfect 5.0, a collections database, to input two recent acquisitions into the system. This included describing, photographing, and writing condition reports for each item. This was slow and detailed work but I learned a lot about the uses of the artifacts and the history of the past owners. Through this process I realized that there was a gap in our collections policy in how we store and handle the specific artifacts I was working with so I wrote a policy to fill this gap. I also set up and recorded the data from our new relative humidity and temperature loggers to help in future collections management policy creation. I had never worked with collections in this capacity before and I learned that being detail-oriented pays off in the long run.

Social Media

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Some of the blog posts Rachel has written over the past 8 months.

Social media is the aspect that most of you may have encountered me! I have been researching and writing weekly blog posts right here on WordPress. It has been a fun and challenging process thinking up new topics about the life of Banting and the history of the museum that the public would be interested in. The topics I chose to focus on each week were often influenced by questions I was asked on tours or interesting facts I had encountered in the other projects I was simultaneously working on. I also helped to manage our Facebook, Twitter, and new Instagram page.

Special Events

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The staff and volunteers who helped on World Diabetes Day 2018.

I spent a good part of the fall planning our World Diabetes Day 2018 event on November 14th. This included creating the program, schedule, layout of the event, promoting the event on social media, contacting sponsors, and more. I also created a critical path and a detailed how-to binder to help in future planning of the event. It was interesting to see all the different facets that go into planning an event of this size and I learned the importance of creating strong community connections.

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Rachel on her last day of working at Banting House NHSC. 

Over the past eight months I worked on the above projects and many more that organically came up. I feel that I was challenged and developed new skills that has changed me as an emerging museum professional and a person. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the staff and volunteers who I interacted with through this experience. They welcomed me with open arms and made my time here amazing! I will miss Banting House NHSC but will take all of the memories and lessons with me throughout my career.

 

This post was written by Rachel Delle Palme, Graduate Research Assistant at
Banting House NHSC. Rachel is currently completing her M.A. in Public History at
Western University.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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