What’s it like to work in heritage education?

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From guest writer Natalie Webster (2nd Year English Literature student and Careers & Employability Information Point Assistant)

Last week, I attended a question and answer session delivered by Elizabeth Dollimore, Outreach and Primary Learning Manager at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, for students interested in a career in the heritage sector, particularly heritage education.

Elizabeth was an incredibly engaging speaker who really encouraged the audience to be involved in what she was expressing. The questioning of individuals as to why they haven’t visited the museums in Chester was at first a little daunting but soon got everyone understanding the problems that museums face in encouraging new people to visit. I felt that Elizabeth’s interactive way of communicating how the heritage sector works illustrated her skills as an educator.

We, as the audience, were being constantly encouraged to question all of our previous ideas of what museums are for. Are we being educated by simply attending? Are museums for children or for adults? Are adults inhibited from partaking in seemingly ‘childish’ activities?

In terms of how she gained the position at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Elizabeth explained how she firstly wanted to work in academia. After gaining a Master’s degree and PhD, she eventually applied for the role as a lecturer in Shakespeare at the Birthplace Trust?  She attributed her success in the interview process to her teaching skills and her willingness to entertain and educate large groups of teenagers which at times, Elizabeth said, she found difficult and intimidating.

Students asking questions were interested in how various problems within museums are addressed; how to get adults engaged and funding from the government were hot topics of conversation. Students were worried about the decline in heritage jobs since the economic downturn?, and Elizabeth explained that museums are all affected differently in this respect, dependent on their reliance on government funding.

The students also got an insight of how heritage education specifically can work. Trips out to schools are not always commercially viable, so most of the education takes place within the museum. However, this is not confined to a classroom hidden away but often expands to experiential learning. Giving children and adults the chance to dress up, handle objects and be immersed in the culture and experiences of a particular time period are some of the ways that the education teams get people involved.

The Q&A was certainly an interesting insight into a sector that many don’t get the chance to explore.

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