From History to Heritage: How Shikha Dwivedi’s time in London led to her first job in a museum

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Shikha Dwivedi (MPhil in Heritage Studies 2022) used her love of London museums to gain work experience in the heritage sector and an internship through the Change 100 programme, developing her confidence and transferable skills to secure her first full-time job at Kettle’s Yard. 

By the time I finished my high school in a small Indian city, I was already sure that I wanted to be an historian. In pursuit of my dream, I went to Delhi University to study for a bachelor’s degree in history with a focus on South Asia. Set to build an academic career, I focused on building my research, writing, editing and presentation skills.  

After finishing my undergraduate, I was fortunate to be awarded a scholarship to study for a postgraduate degree in the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Whilst studying history of the modern Middle East, I got opportunities to explore the wonderful museums and galleries in London. I was fascinated by the cultural landscape of the city, and how (hi)stories were narrated through varied objects and artworks. Curious to know more about the significance of preserving the past in modern nation-states, I explored the role of museums in shaping identities and determining what is knowable by examining curatorial practices of museums in Turkey in Israel. Piqued by the idea of political uses of suffering, I delved deeper into it in my dissertation, where I explored the Anglo-American photographic representations of Palestine during the Great Revolt (1936-9) and the Second Intifada (2000-5). Working with photographs made me aware of how a closer examination of the context in which the image appears, the way it is circulated, its potential uses, what it shows and hides and how it is manipulated can tell us much about the politics of the time and the multifaceted realities that shaped its production.  

My interest in visual culture grew and I started thinking of building a career in the cultural sector in the UK. Amid the uncertainty of the Coronavirus pandemic and an urgent sense of being financially independent triggered by my father’s rapidly declining health, I joined the University of Cambridge to study for an MPhil in Heritage Studies. The course broadened and complicated the definition of heritage for me, whilst giving me insights into the politics of the past along with diverse facets of heritage management.  

“I was determined to get as much work experience as possible during my degree and gain confidence to work in public facing roles with my disability.”

So I started volunteering in the Front of House team in the University Museum of Zoology and the Polar Museum. I first learnt about the Equality Act of 2010 and the inclusive practices adopted by most employers to support disabled people in workspaces through webinars organised by Cambridge Careers Service. Whilst talking to visitors about museum collections and helping with activities like object handling in my volunteering role, I not only got a sense of how people engaged with museums in this country but also became more confident in my body. 

Soon after, I got to know about Leonard Cheshire’s Change100 programme, offering paid internship opportunities to disabled students, through the Careers Service. I immediately applied, and to my surprise, I was selected to work with Historic England for 4 months on the #Rooswijk1740 Project (a Dutch shipwreck found off the coast of Kent). As part of my internship, I studied how visitors engaged with excavated objects from the shipwreck on display in an exhibition in Ramsgate and created a report for Historic England to inform and develop their future public engagement strategies. I used the same data I had collected in my MPhil dissertation, where I explored how attempts to humanise historical objects to make them interesting for visitors leads to a neglect of the processes of natural change in objects, which could potentially be used to show planetary inter-relationships and challenge perceptions of human exceptionalism and nature-culture binary. It was a rewarding experience. In addition, as a Change 100 intern, I also attended the monthly Professional Development Sessions, which taught me a lot about resilience, teamwork, time-management, inclusive communication skills as well as about the rights and needs of disabled people.  

It is gratifying to know that my work contributes towards improving visitors’ experiences.

After graduating from the University of Cambridge, I started looking for jobs in the cultural sector. I was very fortunate and enthusiastic to join Kettle’s Yard here in Cambridge as an Administration & Reporting Assistant in January 2023 (my first full-time job!). As well as bringing some transferable skills from my previous degrees and volunteering/internship experiences, I acquired several new skills at work, facilitated by a supportive and flexible environment. Although no two days are alike, my work broadly involves providing admin support to the Assistant Director, conducting audience research and evaluation of exhibitions, and managing reporting to funding bodies like Arts Council England. My favourite part of the job is creating a better understanding of how visitors engage with specific artworks as well as the broader themes of Kettle’s Yard’s exhibitions. To get better in my work, I am currently trying to learn new evaluation and data analysis and visualisation techniques. It is gratifying to know that my work contributes towards improving visitors’ experiences. On the other hand, I also enjoy managing board meetings in my administrative capacity as it gives me insights into how arts organisations are governed.  

I feel lucky to be a part of one of the University of Cambridge Museums as it has given me access to a wealth of resources to grow professionally and share knowledge with brilliant people working with varied collections across the 8 different museums and the Botanic Gardens. It has been especially empowering to be a member of the UCM Change Makers Action Group, which works towards improving diversity, inclusion, access and representation in the museums.  

If I ever decide to carry on my journey of becoming an historian, my path will surely have an indelible mark of Kettle’s Yard on it.  

For more on the Arts, Culture & Heritage sector, check out our Arts and heritage management and Museums, libraries and archives webpages 
Further resources 
Creative industries – building experience 
Working with your disability


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