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 Internship Column

UCR student Gabriëlle La Croix spent her summer in London doing an Academic Internship in the National Archive. An Academic Internship is an interesting and valuable way for students to experience what it is like to work in a professional organization. Students may work in a variety of organizations, like a hospital, a museum, a court, a research lab, a ministry, an archeological dig, etc. Students will acquire knowledge and develop skills that are not readily learnt in a class room. An internship also gives students the opportunity to find out whether a particular workplace really suits them. Read the experiences of Gabriëlle below.

A summer at the National Archives (UK)

        By Gabriëlle La Croix

 

During the course of last summer I was lucky enough to spend 5 weeks doing an academic internship abroad, at The National Archives (TNA) in Kew, London, United Kingdom. TNA is the UK government’s official archive for the whole of the United Kingdom (incl.  Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England), though Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate national archives as well. The archives contain a thousand years worth of history, ranging from medieval government records to plans for airplanes made during the First World War. The internship was made possible by Prof. Dr. Arjan van Dixhoorn (UCR) and Dr. Amanda Bevan (TNA). My main activities revolved around a project called the ‘Prize Papers’ and my own academic primary research project.

The ‘Prize Papers’ are papers that come from ships that were captured by the British during the period 1652-1815. The admiralty court had all these papers stored for years, first in the tower of London - where they were kept in big sacks - and now in The National Archives. Through the years the papers have become unsorted and even letters and envelopes have been separated. Approximately a quarter of all the prize papers are Dutch, other languages are for instance French and English. Currently Huygens ING in collaboration with The National Archives is working hard to sort through these Dutch papers and to get them ready for digitalization and publication.

An interesting and rather unexpected discovery my colleague Dr. Randolph Cock (TNA) and I made were several letters referring to a tropical storm in 1780. This storm became known as the Great Hurricane of 1780, which was one of the deadliest of its kind. Sailors wrote to their wives, children or even parents that a storm had driven them off the coast. Furthermore that rations had been poor and the need for water had been high, until they found land again on the South American coast. Originally they had been off the coast of St. Eustatius when an 8-day hurricane swept over the area. According to some sailors there were only little houses left on the surrounding Islands. This ship all sailors described in their letters eventually turned out to be a Dutch war ship, which went by the name ‘De Mars’.

My own research project focused on the Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie (MCC), specifically focusing on ‘De Aurora’ on its last journey made under the Dutch flag during the years 1780-1781.  As a core to my research project I used papers and letters that had been taken prize and concerned ‘De Aurora’. I eventually found two other Dutch ships that were captured by the same British privateer: ‘De Eendracht’ and ‘De Zorg’. Both ‘De Zorg’ and ‘De Aurora’ belonged to the MCC and all ships came from Walcheren. Both captains of the MCC ships corresponded with the directors of the MCC in Middelburg describing what terrible events had happened to them and to the other captains. The British privateer ‘The Alert’ under command of William Llewelin captured all these ships off the coast of Western Africa during the early months of the year 1781.

The most shocking discovery came when doing further research on ‘De Zorg’” which in matter of fact became very well known as ‘The Zong” under the command of the British. The history of “The Zong” is a rather grim and dark part of history and it is important to be remembered. What happened on the ship became known as ‘The Zong Massacre”. When rations were running low and the destination was not yet in sight. The captain at the time made the cruel decision to throw a part of the cargo overboard. However the realization has to be made that this ship carried special cargo, meaning human slaves. First the women and children were thrown overboard, them being the least valuable.  Eventually 142 human lives were sacrificed for the survival of the crew and the rest of the cargo. When the ship finally returned home they tried to claim their lost ‘goods’ back on the insurance, which caused massive upheavals under the supporters of the abolition of slave trade.

During my internship I got to work with a vast amount of people throughout different departments of the archives. While I was mainly focused on the High Court of Admiralty archives I also met various Dutch, and even Danish and American academics. I helped out with the education department, saw the restoration labs and took a seat behind the help desk in one of the reading rooms. My internship was surely broad enough to make for a wholesome experience, yet specific enough to develop my academic skills. I learned a great deal about archives, academics and myself and I would do it all again if I could.