Morgan McCarthy: the ‘Dirty Work’ behind the scenes to preserve Wales’ Heritage

Morgan McCarthy, a History undergraduate at Cardiff University, shares his ‘Insights Placement’ experience with WCIA over Summer 2022.

Cardiff University ‘Insights’ placements Morgan McCarthy and Georgia Ash.

Over August and September, it was a privilege to help the WCIA with their Archivethon sessions through Cardiff University’s ‘Insights’ work experience scheme. The Temple of Peace is a fascinating building, and even as someone Cardiff born and raised, is clearly an overlooked part of local and national history. The work being conducted was helping remedy this, as we catalogued much of the Temple’s archive collection and library in hope of eventually making available for public use both online, and in person.

The main ‘Archiveathon’ sessions involved cataloguing the Temple Library held within the Council Chamber, an amazing space to work in for a history geek! This was, admittably, laborious work but invaluable in understanding the effort and groundwork needed to maintain historical sites and resources. It gave me an appreciation of how information was distributed before the internet; with large collections of Hansard pamphlets (the UK House of Commons) and ECHR cases (European Court of Human Rights) for example. Today someone would just google such things but seeing all this – and how much space it took up – it made me appreciate the information needed, and difficulties involved for someone trying to run an organization in the 20th century.

On the other hand, it was fascinating to see how peace movements based within the Temple would themselves distribute information to engage local communities. My favourite example was looking through a collection of League of Nations leaflets from the 1920s-30s: one contained the script to a play based on working class women – one in the UK and one in Japan – trying to convince their apathetic families of the League’s importance. It read very much like a modern-day TV commercial. However, it gave a real sense of how information and propaganda was promoted by voluntary organisations ad networks beyond the reach of national government.

The biggest culture shock personally was the number of Politicians who contributed to arguments for peace. As I worked my way through publications such as those of the New Commonwealth Society of the 1930s, it was surprising to see so many contributions from MPs across the political spectrum towards a broad and cohesive stance against war. Big names, from Labour Party leader Arthur Henderson to Conservative Viscount Halifax, were among these and it came as a stark contrast to the modern day where such movements and arguments seem to be on the fringes of mainstream political parties.

The Temple Attic – and just a few of the 350 bound ledgers documenting the work of Wales National Memorial Association for Eradication of Tuberculosis (WNMA), catalogued through this work experience placement.

Beyond the grand panelling of the library, I helped with the slightly dirtier work of cataloguing old Ledgers in the Temple Attic. These were mostly medical records from hospitals around Wales dating from the Wales National Memorial Association (WNMA) for the Eradication of Tuberculosis – active from 1920 to 1947 – and were used as part of the administrative process of creating the Welsh NHS, in the aftermath of World War Two. This made them fascinating artefacts to work with, even if at the end of the day I found myself covered in red paint and dust! This exercise was a great experience in navigating old documentation, and in trying to relate the information they hold to the modern day.

Overall, my time at the Temple was exceptional! The skills and focus needed to complete the task will stay with me for a long time and the contents of the library were fascinating to work through – a month was nowhere near enough to absorb. I often found myself thinking back to my work in my degree on digital history, how we as people interact with history – when listening and thinking how to organise the library, and to plan and present things in ways accessible to ordinary, everyday users now and into the future.

And it’s made me appreciate the work that librarians and archivists do, just that little bit more!

Morgan McCarthy is an undergraduate student of History with Cardiff University, and undertook this Insights Placement with WCIA through the Career’s Service at Cardiff’s Centre for Student Life. WCIA have a ‘rolling programme’ of heritage work experience Insights through CSL, as well as opportunities for individual volunteering through WCIA’s peace heritage team. For more information visit Peace Heritage Placements.

WCIA’s ‘Archiveathon’ team of placements and volunteers hard at work in the Temple Library in August 2022, with Morgan (front RH) cataloguing a cabinet of records from the European Court of Human Rights.