Getting Started with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Last week, I started a placement with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

For one day per week over the next three months, I’ll be collaborating with the SBT as a Research Advocate. My task is to work with items featuring in the Trust’s Collections, and to think about what opportunities they pose for future research projects.

The SBT holds an enormous amount of material within its Library, Archives, and Museum Collections. As well as looking after the Royal Shakespeare Company’s archive, the Trust cares for tens of thousands of books dating as far back as the 16th century, an extensive collection of Anglo-Saxon objects, and Stratford-upon-Avon’s town records. Original artworks, items of 17th century furniture, manuscripts of Marie Corelli’s novels, and 19th century maps make up just a few of the Collections’ 1,000,000+ items.

The Trust is well-known as the place to go to study productions staged by the RSC. Other areas of the Collections are less widely researched, however. I’m excited to immerse myself in the contents of the SBT’s strongrooms and to share my findings with the world.

Ready to get started!

My brief for the next thirteen weeks is very much open. I might write a series of blog posts about items within the Trust’s Collections for the SBT blog, curate an online exhibition, or perhaps give a talk to members of the public. The archive is my oyster!

The placement will also help me to further my own research. Part of my PhD project will involve looking at the history of Elizabethanism in stage and costume design for Shakespeare, as well as the representation of Elizabethan/Jacobean England in recent RSC productions. The SBT holds a huge amount of material that I’ll need in order to do this. Video recordings, photographs, promptbooks, programmes (and much more!) relating to past productions will form a good proportion of the evidence I’ll analyse.

Collaborating with the Trust has all come about as part of my PhD studies, in fact. Midlands3Cities – my wonderful funding body – have partnerships with organisations all around the country, including the British Film Institute, the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the National Archives, and the SBT. One of the many benefits of being part of the M3C family is having access to placements and training opportunities offered as part of these partnerships.

As well as being useful to the SBT and for the development of my PhD project, this placement is going to be really valuable to me as I work towards a career in research. Working closely with Dr Paul Edmondson and the SBT team is giving me a great insight into a potential (and very appealing) career path, I’m making important contacts, and I’m learning a lot about the processes involved with archiving and curation. (Plus I got to sit in on a Q&A with Simon Russell Beale on my first day, which set the bar pretty high for the rest of the placement.)

Here’s to exciting times ahead! Stay tuned for updates on how the next few weeks unfold.