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12.05.2020

Caring for the Mary Rose - a Coronavirus Case Study (3)

Karoline Sofie Hennum writes about life as an Erasmus+ student on lockdown in the UK.

Part three - Heritage science at home

I am a student in my last semester of a two-year long master’s degree in Objects Conservation from the University of Oslo. Before my master’s degree, I completed a bachelor’s degree in Cultural Heritage and Conservation Knowledge at the same university. My choice of education is related to my love for cultural heritage. Coming from Norway, a country with a rich cultural heritage and amazing archaeological finds, I have always had a profound liking to the cultural heritage left by my ancestors and wanting to save it for future generations to come – with Viking ships and objects being my first big interest when it came to archaeology and conservation. Over the course of my soon-to-be five years as a conservation student, my academic interest quickly grew to cover the big field of conservation of cultural heritage found in marine environments, and I carried out research of wooden boat fragments from such environments as part of my thesis. My thesis research truly opened my eyes when it comes to heritage science. Do not get me wrong, I love conserving objects too, but being able to use scientific approaches to better understand the behaviour and deterioration processes of organic and inorganic materials in different burial environments, particularly marine environments, has made it clearer to me that conservation science is the direction I want my conservation career to head. My predilection for conservation of marine archaeological objects is what led me to apply for an internship in the UK as part of my last semester as a conservation student.

mrt_internship_1.jpgBack in February, I packed my suitcase and went on an adventure from a small city in Norway to Portsmouth to start a 4.5-month internship in conservation science at the Mary Rose Trust (MRT). At that time the Coronavirus (COVID-19) was yet to spread intensively in most European countries, and back then I did not once think that it would actually come to a point where it would actually affect my internship. After working at the MRT for about six weeks, the UK Government announced a lockdown to prevent further spread of COVID-19. These Government-issued rules also led to museums all over the UK closing their doors, including the Mary Rose Museum. This decision led to me having to consider what I wanted to do – whether I wanted to cancel my internship and go back to Norway or if I wanted to stay put in Portsmouth. The introduction to this article probably reveals what I decided to do, but I want to explain further what I decided and why. There are several reasons, but my internship at the MRT is the main one. Throughout my five years as a conservation student in Norway, I have repeatedly referred to the conservation work of the Mary Rose team in many of my essays and it has, therefore, been a big dream of mine to be able to work with them. Yes, the ongoing situation in the society might have changed the outcome of my internship a little, but I did not want to give up on this dream now that I had finally made it here.

Luckily for me, I had already done a lot of practical work, such as the conservation of a 19th century Treasure Chest and learning new scientific approaches to investigate conservation issues  I had also started working on a much  bigger research project on looking at the drying process of the Mary Rose hull. Due to the extensive amount of data I have for this research project, I have more than enough data analysis to keep me busy at home whilst being on lockdown. In addition to working on a research paper related to this data analysis, I am doing frequent video calls with my supervisor at the MRT (Eleanor Schofield, Head of Conservation) to be able to thoroughly write the research paper. I have also been given the opportunity to work with another student named Gabriel Lipkowitz, who studies Applied Computational Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, to better understand the enormous amount of data. Together we mix our different academic backgrounds to represent the data in a more understandable and organised way.   

As a result of the lockdown, I have had to create a “new normal” to be able to adjust from my normal daily life where I went to work at the MRT from 9-5 to now being stuck indoors in a tiny studio flat on my own all day long.

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I am the type of person who needs daily routines to function properly, so I soon realised that I had to create some routines in this new life to be fully able to cope with the unknown number of weeks to come. Therefore, I quickly decided that I would continue working like “normal” from home – even though my workspace has now become at least ten times smaller than what I had all to myself at the MRT. Every morning I get up at the same time as I did before lockdown, do my hair and makeup and put on some nice clothes – as if I was heading to the MRT. I figured that this was the best way to avoid sneaking back to bed after waking up in the morning.

mrt_internship_3.jpgAfter making myself ready for “work”, I either move to my desk or my breakfast bar to log on to my laptop where I do all of my work. As soon as my work motivation starts slowly dying out around lunch time, I make my way into my tiny kitchen to make myself a cup of coffee and some lunch. Before lockdown I did not even like coffee, and now it is one of my daily highlights! While enjoying a cup of coffee and my lunch, I usually go online to read the latest news from both UK and Norway, before I message some of my friends and family back home just to give myself a little dose of social contact.

After my break, that sometimes lasts a lot longer than I like to admit, I go back to working for three or four more hours before I log off for the day. I spend the rest of my day making dinner to watch in front of the telly with one of the many British game shows, exercising (apparently Portsmouth is great for my newfound hobby: running), binge-watching Netflix shows, or doing video calls with friends and family.  

Overall, I am doing pretty great in lockdown. Of course, I feel lonely and a little demotivated at times, but I am making the most of it and still managing to have a good time.

I hope everyone is staying safe.                    

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