Lessons in Ephemera: Teaching and Learning through Cultural Heritage Collections

Melissa McMullan, Joanna Cobley


This article synthesizes an intern’s experience assessing the University of Canterbury’s (UC) theatre and concert music program ephemera collection for its teaching and research potential, and evaluating its storage and preservation needs. Held at the Macmillan Brown Library and Archive (MB), the collection comprises around 6,000 items and takes up seven linear meters of physical storage space. The ephemera functioned as a portal into the evolution of Christchurch’s theatrical and concert music history, giving weight to the collection as a rich local historical resource worthy of keeping. The ephemera reflected how British, European, and American cultural practices were infused into colonial Christchurch’s theatrical and concert music scene. The collection also revealed a tradition of UC teachers who, since its establishment in 1873 as Canterbury College, actively shaped, participated in, and facilitated the development of Christchurch’s theatre and concert music heritage. Overall, the collection’s research value was its localism. Different ways of engaging researchers with the ephemera were considered, in addition to identifying the transferable skills the intern gained. With growing interest from students about internships, the authors also address questions about long-term impact and scalability of cultural-heritage collection-based intern and/or classroom-based learning projects more generally. Our main message for higher education management and those charged with the custodianship of cultural heritage collections is that hands-on learning helps students appreciate and value these locally significant collections.

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