Introducing PK’s Citizen Curators and International Research Interns

This year the Citizen Curators (CC) are working as part of an exciting new project titled PK150 Connected Collections, funded by Arts Council England. All of the CC are students at Exeter University partnered with an international student based globally at locations associated with telegraphy.

PK150 Connected Collections is an international project to enable remote access to the PK archive and to explore it from new perspectives. It is part of a larger project to create a searchable online database for the PK Porthcurno website.

The students

Libby and Ian

Libby is studying English at Exeter University and is partnered with Ian, studying Archaeology, Museum and Heritage Studies at Great Zimbabwe University. Ian has told me fascinating stories of the impact of telegraphy in Zimbabwe. It is inspiring to hear these stories as we don’t have information about these in our archive as the PK collection specialises in undersea telegraphy.

“The first Anglo-Ndebele war of 1893 in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, was partly caused by the damaging of telegraph wires by indigenous people. The telegraph wires were frequently stolen by the locals to make bangles and snares for trapping game. Chief Bere resisted European occupation by repeatedly cutting telegraph wires between present-day Masvingo and Bulawayo. The European settlers responded by fining Chief Bere for the offence. Chief Bere was requested to hand over cattle which he said were his, but had been left in his safe-keeping by King Lobengula. Chief Bere then sent word to Lobengula saying that white men had stolen the cattle. This in turn started a chain of events that contributed to the onset of the 1893 Anglo-Ndebele war.” Ian

The collection at PK exists in relative isolation, yet the story it tells is a global one. Part of this project is to learn and highlight new stories about telegraphy from a global perspective and explore their relevance to people today. Drawing on this, Libby wants to develop a project that engages the BIPOC community in Cornwall with the PK collection.

Prabhat and Jay

Prabhat lives in Mumbai, India and is studying a bachelor’s in Technology at ITT Bombay. Jay is studying Politics and International Relations at Exeter University.  Jay is really interested in the Zodiac magazine – particularly its connection to astrology and its allusions to the mystical. The Zodiac is the internal staff magazine of the cable companies from 1906 to the 1990s. It is our richest source of social history. However, most of it, is not scanned and for it to be accessible to the public it needs to be interpreted. Jay is interested to combine the poetical, personal and mystical aspects of the Zodiac with the technological side of telegraphy that Prabhat has been researching.

Rutvi and Hannah

Rutvi is based in India and is studying Chemical Engineering at ITT Bombay. Hannah is at Exeter University studying Modern Languages. They are both interested in linguistics. It has been intriguing to look at what is in the archive that relates to linguistics. We found a Marconi code map that depicts the main language used for communications in different countries and a Marconi code book printed in lots of different languages. They compared this map, with a colonial map of the same year. They have decided to focus their project on the linguistic aspect of colonialism and the telegraph.

Anwar Akhtar of the Samosa Media in London, has been chairing a series of discussions, workshops and giving lectures to the students. We had a captivating talk a few weeks ago about the power of the English language and how this effects communication today. Some of the discussions have explored identity, education, empire, trade, commonwealth history, including, through the collections of the Lahore Museum explored in the film Pakistan’s Best Kept Secret – Lahore Museum. Other workshops explores different parts and elements of the British Island Story, such as regional identity, class, history, empire and the contribution of Britain’s BAME communities to Modern Britain.

Nadia and Jasmine

Nadia is doing a Phd in Heritage of Portuguese influences, University of Coimbra (Portugal) and Jasmine is studying Archaeology at Exeter University. They are also interested in linguistics, with a particular focus on Singapore and the cables that went from there to Macau and Hong Kong. They have been looking at a landing licence for one of the Singapore cables and also interested to know if the PK archive have any material in other languages, particular those spoken in Singapore. I recently found an article in the Zodiac that has been translated into Chinese and a landing licence in Chinese. They are interested in telegraphy, language and imperialism.

“We are considering studying the Eastern Cable, starting in Singapore and look for how language and translation worked. I.e. who were the workers (natives / not natives); what were the main languages; try to find samples of sent messages; translations; its relevance in the empire; and its evolution along time. Singapore seems to be a good starting point since it is multilingual: Cantonese, Malayan, Chinese, English, languages from India.” Nadia and Jasmine

Vida and Eleanor

Eleanor is an English student at Exeter university and Vida is a recent graduate of an MA in Religious studies at Victoria, New Zealand, University of Wellington. They are focusing on the history of telegraphy in New Zealand. It has been really fascinating to search our database using certain words that relate to New Zealand and seeing what these come up with. It has been just as interesting to discover what words produce no results as the ones that do. Of particular intrigue is the use of land, as the location where the cables landed in New Zealand are sacred places to Māori people. Vida and Eleanor have been looking into whether there was any opposition to the cable when it first came ashore. Vida also told me a story she heard from a friend recently, that a boat, at Cable Bay, where a cable once landed, goes out each day to stop people fishing over it. She is not sure if this is true, but even so it is intriguing to think about how that story came about.

Staying Connected

It feels important that at a time when we are unable to meet with friends and family at museums, that we find other ways of coming together with shared interests. Enabling remote access to the archive at PK and connecting with students in the UK and globally has formed new lines of communication. After such as interesting start, I very much look forward to seeing how the group projects develop and sharing the final results with PK’s online audience.

Alice Howard, Archives and Research Facilitator

Citizen Curators is a work-based introductory curatorial training programme led by Dr. Tehmina Goskar of the Curatorial Research Centre, provided by Cornwall Museums Partnership, and funded by the Museums Association’s Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund.

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