The Unguide Project – Ryan Adams (Chawton House Library Internship 2017)
During my tenure as an intern at Chawton House Library, I was requested to take part in the assistance of a project alongside a PhD candidate, Matthew Tyler-Jones, from the University of Southampton. The project concerned ‘heritage response narratives’, and I was keen to take part due to my active interest the heritage field. It seemed like a great project for me to get involved with. Essentially, the aim of the project was to turn heritage tours on their head. Instead of one tour guide leading a group of guests around an historic house on a predetermined route, the guests would lead their own path, and choose where to go independently. The tour guide would then provide information when appropriate according to the rooms and directions the guests carried themselves.
One of the ‘untours’ in action
Matthew had devised an online information database which mapped out in information ‘natoms’ (narrative atoms, small nuggets of information relating to this specific section, which told a narrative story) and ‘kernels’ the text information he would read to guests on the tours. My first duty with him was to upload supportive media to his database. At first this consisted of uploading pictures of every painting around the house, with supporting information, and linking them to their appropriate ‘natoms’. The final goal was to create a web of information that pieced together the house, and which would make tours flow easily, regardless of where the guests went. Perfecting the links between the natoms, editing information, and making sure the database was more than sufficient took a couple of weeks, with intermittent meetings with Matthew to update him on what progress had been made.
The online web of information ‘natoms’ that mapped the house for the tours
The project tours took place over a week in the middle of June. We had pieced together a special exhibition around the house for the experiment, and my role alongside Matthew was to observe his tours. During each tour Matthew would shadow the guests as they explored, using his tablet to bring up information when necessary. At first I would hover behind and take notes, making observations on the reactions of the guests to the information, the differences in routes and directions each would take on their tours, and the nature of questions asked. If they permitted, I would also film them. Each would last between roughly 45 and 55 minutes. All guests who took one of these tours were happy with the nature of the tour, and provided very positive feedback through comments and the survey that they were asked to fill in at the end.
Overall, the Unguide project was extremely enjoyable. Being able to experiment with the way tours are run and observe the different ways visitors to historic houses react was very insightful. As someone who is aiming on entering the heritage sector, specifically in the archival field, it was a highly enjoyable experience to work alongside a PhD candidate in the heritage sector and expand on my interests, and also be the assistant to someone who was thoroughly enjoyable to work with.