Find the Memories of the Past

Hi, I’m Muzhi Zhang an international student from China. I am currently studying for the Museums and Galleries in Education MA at UCL. Although I originally applied (and was successful!) to do my MA work placement at Dacorum Heritage (DHT) I’ve also been volunteering in DHT’s Collections, helping to select the 30 objects as part of the museum’s 30th anniversary project.

My main task has been to take photographs of the selected objects with the help of our Collections Manager, Therese Clews, and Public Engagement Manager, Nina Glencross. This process involves retrieving items from the Stores, photographing them in DHT’s photography studio, and returning them to their original locations. Therese has also taught me about how to register and package Collections objects. This has given me the opportunity to learn more about Dacorum's history and the memories of its current residents.

It's all so fascinating to me! From all the objects I have photographed, I’ve begun to understand Dacorum's narrative and that DHT has preserved, intact, the history and memories of the area. I’ve worked with medieval brick fragments that are really difficult to put together, but the original designs are still visible on their surface. There is also a kettle that came from the people who lived on the Grand Union Canal, with their distinct, hand painted flowers creating really vibrant household objects.

A box containing artefacts from the Second World War sits quiet and undisturbed, with a layer of dust from some nearby pottery settled on the lid. It provides a glimpse into a period of history when the tranquility and beauty of Dacorum were abruptly disrupted. There are a mix of emotions contained in the Store’s boxes from this time: Nina showed me a love letter between Bruce Da Cunha and Joyce Redding, but there are also other objects from those who were evacuated to Dacorum, who I think would have been worried about their new life and scared for the safety of their families they left behind and those on the frontlines.

The power of common memories is so strong in the Collection that, even as a person who lives in a different country, I can still understand the stories about Dacorum’s communities from the objects in the Collection. This has been different from my past experiences as a volunteer in other museums. At DHT, I’ve had the opportunity to explore the narratives of different communities throughout Dacorum’s history, rather than the typical museum’s focus on large cities and aristocratic objects crafted from gold and gems. I believe museums should not only focus on interpreting the past to present-day audiences, but also on interpreting the present for future generations. This encompasses the essence of collecting, preserving and curating community events.

For the next two months, I will be continuing my placement, focusing on the heritage of the Ovaltine factory in Kings Langley. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next and welcoming more volunteers to join us to help bring back the sweet memories of Ovaltine together.


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