Remote Volunteering on the Zodiac Project at PK Porthcurno

Remote Volunteering on the Zodiac Project at PK Porthcurno

Volunteering on the Zodiac project.

My name is Natalie Gunner, and I became involved in the Zodiac project at PK Porthcurno at the beginning of this year. I heard of the archive through an opportunity that came from the University of Exeter, and when I was told about the volunteer work possible with the Zodiac I was enthusiastic to join.

Cover of the Zodiac dated August 1922

What Is The Zodiac?

The Zodiac magazine was published by the Eastern Telegraph Company for their staff beginning in 1906. The content of these magazines includes a variety of articles and images provided by telegraph workers. As such, they are important documents detailing the lives of the telegraph workers. 

My volunteer work was to transcribe the contents pages of the collected volumes of the Zodiac. This was to make the volumes more easily searchable by having article titles and page numbers readily available. The documents I transcribed were from the early volumes of the publication, and through this, I was able to see the wealth of text types and sources the telegraph workers were writing and reading a century ago. 

Remote Volunteering at PK Porthcurno

My experience with this project has been overwhelmingly positive and enjoyable. I was able to complete the transcriptions alongside my university work, and be in contact with Alice Howard at the museum over email and Zoom. Occasionally, myself and other volunteers would meet as a group with Alice over Zoom to discuss what we were working on. Through this, we could share interesting thoughts on the content of the pages, as well as the process of transcribing them. It was a lovely opportunity to chat to others working on the project. 

Remote volunteering has also allowed for volunteers from all over to be involved in the project. Two volunteers from Australia, Raquel, and Isabelle, have been working on the transcriptions and thought the process was interesting and soothing. They especially enjoyed the ability to follow individuals from the past throughout multiple volumes of the Zodiac, and all the cultural events that shaped everyday life a hundred years ago.  Click here to check out their article on the Darwin subsea cables

I thoroughly enjoyed the systematic process of completing the transcriptions. It was fun to learn the various key things archivists seek in order to tag articles, such as place and people names, and major events. I was also able to see scans of a few pages from the magazines and get to see the articles and photographs published in full. 

Variety in the Valley-a scan from the Zodiac reporting on the Porthcurno Variety Show

The Importance of Social History

The importance of social history cannot be overstated, and to have such a wealth of sources in the Zodiac available is amazing. It has been fascinating reading about the events that impacted the everyday lives of cable workers and to be able to see the global reach of the industry. Raquel and Isabelle highlighted the ability to track certain cable workers as their job took them all across the globe as a particular point of interest in the work. For me, it was interesting to see how the Zodiac grappled with major historical events, on the level of individuals living through them. 

The insight gained from such sources is invaluable, and the experience of transcribing these volumes has been wonderful. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to learn more about work in archives, while also having access to the expansive volumes of the Zodiac, and as a result, the cable industry.


This article was written by Natalie Gunner.

Natalie is a final year English student at the University of Exeter. Once her undergraduate studies are completed, she hopes to study for a master’s in English in the United States and explore archival work even further. 

Remote Volunteering on the Zodiac Project at PK Porthcurno
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