Ruth has been with us since mid-January as Archivist for the Wallace Correspondence Project. She is perfectly suited to the role, having joined us from a similar project at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG). That project concerned the correspondence of Victorian painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts (1817-1904). Her work involved organising, cataloguing and digitising a collection of 1500 letters. There are comparisons to be drawn between Watts and Alfred Russel Wallace. Both came from a poor background, became social reformers, their interests were much wider than just the study of the arts or natural history, and since the popularity of their day, are now relatively less known.
Ruth's first introduction to using archives came whilst completing her BA in History during 2005, which inspired her to apply for a post at Lambeth Palace Library. This interest encouraged her to undertake a Archives Records Management MA at UCL, where her dissertation studied black, minority and ethnic archives.
Since Ruth has taken over as Archivist to the Wallace Correspondence project, more than 40 extra letters have been added to the online collection. One of her main responsibilities is to increase the total number that have been transcribed: currently nearly 50% have been. As well as her own contributions, she manages a team of volunteer transcribers and proof reading their work before they are added to the website.
Each year for two weeks during the summer, the Library & Archives hosts a group of Harvard students as part of their 8 week summer school programme here in the UK. So in July, Ruth will provide the next group of students with a chance to learn about the work of Wallace, by meeting scientists and specimens behind the scenes and giving them each a selection of letters to transcribe. At the end of their visit, these will then be proof read and added to the online resource.
Part of Ruth's role includes finding letters in other repositories and arranging for scans of letters to be included in the Wallace Correspondence Project.
An exciting development is that one of Wallace's notebooks from Rio Negro, which is extremely faint and therefore illegible, is being sent to the British Library (BL) to be scanned on their new spectral imaging machine. This technique was used by the BL for their Livingstone Project. Once this is complete Ruth will ensure it is added to the website, making it accessible to all.
Currently Ruth is preparing extra unpublished material including some drawings, from the Wallace collection held in the Library & Archives, to be scanned in-house and added.
With a zoologist mother and geologist sister, Ruth was already immersed in the world of natural history, but has already learnt a lot through her work here. She grew up in London and of course visited the museum as a child, but "it's so cool going behind the scenes and being here before the museum opens its doors to the public each day!". Some of her highlights are the stain glass windows in the Central Hall, the Herbarium, the Bird Gallery and the Wildlife Garden. She, along with many others, is looking forward to seeing the new Mammoths exhibition.