Rod has been volunteering with us as part of the Wallace Correspondence Project since August 2012. But it isn't until you take the time to sit down and have a chat with him, that you realise we are one of four places he gives his time to.
The National Army Museum was the first experience of volunteering that Rod encountered. There is currently a huge behind-the-scenes effort by their staff and volunteers to prepare the Museum for a significant closure for building works. Rod has been working in the Department of Printed of Books, assisting to catalogue, scan, barcode and package a whole variety of material, ready to be moved off site. This has been a fascinating experience and has enabled him to see some very interesting material. A particular highlight has been MOD Army training manuals from the early 20th century, which included procedures for trench design.
The second place that Rod gives his time to is The Children's Society. His first project with them was to clean and flatten files dating from the 1880s to early 1900s. These related to successful applications made to the Society for individual children to be rehomed, the large majority having had some level of disability. This work was part of a project called 'Including the excluded', which Rod described as very interesting but emotionally charged, because you are learning about the circumstances these children found themselves in.
His current project involves going through the Society's quarterly journal and annual reports for the period covering the mid 1960s to the late 1990s, looking for references to specific CS homes and projects. The idea behind this is to build up a timeline of how the Society changed and developed during this time.
Rod's third volunteering position is as a reading helper at a primary school in Westminster. Here he supports children on a one to one basis, reading together for 30 minutes, with 3 children twice a week. He recalls on the first day being slightly apprehensive not knowing what to expect and whether the children would like him. However, once his first day was completed, he couldn't wait to go back!
His work with us is one day a week for the Wallace Correspondence Project. It involves transcribing letters written by Alfred Russel Wallace to people all around the world, covering a myriad of subjects. He is given a batch at a time to go through, and has strict procedures to follow in regard to how he types up each transcription. Since starting he estimates he has dealt with approximately 100 letters. Originally Rod completed a Geography degree which included a Geology module which he thoroughly enjoyed. It has been fascinating for Rod to be able to read letters between Wallace and the great names in geology such as Charles Lyell. Rod is well read up in regard to Darwin and evolution, and therefore had a general awareness of who Wallace was, but it wasn’t until he volunteered with us, that he was able to really gain a true understanding of the man himself. One particular set of letters were written to a young entomologist called Frederick Birch, fl.1905, who was working in Trinidad at the time of the correspondence. Rod found it interesting because Wallace is giving his younger counterpart practical tips and advice regarding areas such as getting the right price from dealers and sourcing supplies. Currently we know little about Birch, which is a little frustrating because it would be nice to find out how he got on in his profession. Another interesting example were letters from Wallace as he tried to secure work for his son, having returned from his travels.
Whilst working with us, Rod has made sure to take advantage of our temporary exhibitions: in particular he thoroughly enjoyed the Salgado Photography display in 2013, taking his daughter on the Darwin Centre Spirit Tour, and the current Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story Exhibition.