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Betsy Morgan-Cutright: "A Summer in Shropshire, England"

“The Shropshire Archives is located in the picturesque town of Shrewsbury in Shropshire, England, a largely rural county in the West Midlands that borders Wales.  The Shropshire Archives is the major repository for all records relating to the county and is dedicated to the cataloging, conservation, and digitization of Shropshire’s remarkably well-preserved documentary record, in addition to performing educational outreach and making these records available to the public.  Moreover, the Archives has an extremely robust volunteer program, which greatly depends on a legion of local residents who transcribe, catalogue, conserve, and digitize documents, as well as staff public areas and answer public research queries. 

My current research project is a local study of poor law administration within the Shropshire parish of Myddle under the Elizabethan or ‘Old’ poor law during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  My summer internship at the Shropshire Archives was designed with this project in mind and has allowed me the time and access to research materials needed to complete my dissertation research as well as the opportunity to learn new skills in archival management.    My internship, which is overseen by Ms. Mary McKenzie, Team Leader, has two key aspects.  First is that directly pertaining to my dissertation research and involves digitizing those poor law administration documents in Myddle that up to this point have remained un-filmed.  This facilitates my own research but also succeeds in making additional records relating to Myddle available to the public and thus accessible to future researchers. 

My second project is the organizing and cataloging of the Archives’ collection of various parochial records from the parish of Clun in south Shropshire through the Windows-based CALM archival management system.  This project has allowed me to gain more familiarity with parish records, something that aids in putting evidence from Myddle into a somewhat wider perspective.  My duties have also been generously designed so that I have been able to experience the entire gamut of the archival process – from the sorting out and assessment of bundled and boxed documents – such as one might find in an attic or storeroom – to their organization, cataloging, conservation, and finally conversion into digital form.

This has been an immensely satisfying experience, both in terms of preserving items for the historical record and for the information this process has revealed about the lives of ordinary people within the parish community.  Far from fitting the description ‘parochial’ – and containing anything from slips of paper detailing parishioners’ donations to missionary organizations like the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, to the British Committee of the French Red Cross during the First World War, all the way down to parish bread lists and Harvest Festival expenses – even something as mundane as a bundle of churchwardens’ receipts from a small rural parish can tell of the complex and fascinating web of interaction between the global, national, and local.”