Company in the lab: podcasting by and for conservators

The C Word Logo based on artwork by Jenny Mathiasson.

By Jenny Mathiasson, Kloe Rumsey, and Christina Rozeik

Lots of conservators spend long hours at the workbench or commute to their place of work: that can be pretty lonely. If you own a pair of headphones you can now have some company via a podcast called The C Word: The Conservators’ Podcast. You may have heard of us!

Podcasts are hardly a new thing, but one aimed at conservators in particular is surprisingly novel; our show can be listened to by anyone in the heritage industry but at the core we’re all about talking conservation. We approach a variety of subjects from the angle of being conservators, and our aim is to get people talking and thinking about their opinions and experiences as professionals.

Each episode offers up a topic for discussion amongst ourselves (sometimes with the help of guest hosts) and usually includes an interview or two with some interesting people, a review of something useful, and a much appreciated agony aunt feature in the form of ‘Dear Jane’ (with answers by Jane Henderson). Finally we address previous comments, questions, or corrections sent in by listeners from previous episodes. These are always encouraged as our foremost aim is to be part of a larger conversation rather than presenting topics in isolation.

We’re now on our fourth season so if you’re new to the show there are plenty of episodes to choose from!

IN THE BEGINNING

The three of us have been hosting and producing The C Word since early 2017. It started much earlier than that as a niggling idea in Jenny’s head at Cardiff University which is also where she met Kloe, but the idea truly developed when Jenny and her partner, Fox, moved to Cambridge. He’d spent a lot of time creating podcasts whilst at university and was yearning to get back into the production side of things. Finding that vital third host proved surprisingly difficult (lots of conservators are shy!) but as luck would have it, while Jenny and Kloe were working at the University of Cambridge Museums they met Christina. With that, the pieces fit together and a show was born.

There is, of course, an awful lot to talk about when it comes to the profession of conservation, and when conservators get together there’s nothing like a really good chat about shared interests, experiences, and common problems. It was this that inspired Jenny to form The C Word team, not just because we had something to say but because we wanted to give fellow conservators a platform from which to speak, share, and learn.

Dealing with websites, Twitter handles, domain ownership, and copyright law will take the romance out of any idea, but we pulled together a pilot episode on 2nd January 2017 and prepared ourselves for the launch of season one and rather shyly going public.

THE STORY SO FAR

We’ve discussed a huge range of topics so far so we’ll just pick out a few examples: conservation in churches, collections issues of human remains, hazards, food, emerging professionals, and well-being at work. The inspiration for topics mainly comes from our own interests or from articles or projects that we have encountered. That said we’ve used some great suggestions from listeners and would love to have more.

Our first two seasons were ten episodes each but we’ve since slimmed it down to an eight episode format to give ourselves time to recharge between seasons. Podcasting is time consuming work that doesn’t end when the microphones are turned off. While this project is hugely important to us we have to remember that we must make time for paid work, family, and fun too.

The biggest challenges other than work-life balance have had to do with planning more than the technical side of things. Anyone can pick up basic audio editing skills and with some (relatively inexpensive!) equipment you can record decent audio, but coordinating interviews, reviews, guest hosts, and even our own hectic schedules have proven to be the real challenge. We no longer live near each other and to keep audio quality high we try to have two people in the ‘studio’ (Jenny’s living room) and another in a 'studio' 130 miles away (Christina's study). We use internet voice calls to allow us to speak to each other during recordings, and guests can join the conversation over Skype too.

We have been very lucky that so many people have wanted to contribute to interviews and be guest hosts, as well as offers from various bodies for materials, books, and apps to review. In season three particularly we have been joined by Jenny Van Enkevort, Janet Berry, Lorraine Finch, Nerys Rudder, Sarah Buck, and of course Jane Henderson. Voices from all levels of the profession are welcome, from students through to mid-career conservators and all the way to the top of the conservation food chain.

LOOKING AHEAD

Involvement from the conservation community has grown since season one and we are constantly surprised at the size and support of our growing audience and by the geographical spread of our listeners. Our third season saw us embracing this by inviting listeners to record brief biographies of themselves, and we were grateful for contributions from Spain, America, Egypt, Germany, Taiwan, Norway, Australia, and the Netherlands. The internet makes the world a much smaller place and we’re learning that our global community is a truly vibrant and enthusiastic one.
This, in a way, is a goal we never dared to have: that we would be speaking to (and bringing together) friends and colleagues from all over the world. Not only do we often not have the chance to interact with other conservators, but attending conferences (whether regional or international) is often financially out of reach, and our podcast provides a free platform that you can enjoy from your bench.

You can download The C Word wherever you normally get your podcasts or directly from our website (http://thecword.show). We can also be found on Twitter (@thecwordpodcast) and Facebook (facebook.com/thecwordpodcast). Finally, this might shock you but we even have an email address - thecwordpodcast@gmail.com

AUTHOR BYLINE:

Jenny Mathiasson is a Swedish expat living and working in the UK. She studied heritage and archaeology before embarking on her conservation career via Cardiff University. She is now an objects conservator working commercially from a museum in South Yorkshire.

Kloe Rumsey started academic life as an archaeologist but came to her senses in 2011 and enrolled at Cardiff University's MSc in Conservation Practice. She now works in a museum in Manchester and maintains her claim as the UK’s only belly dancing conservator.

Christina Rozeik trained as an objects conservator at University College London and has since worked on many antiquities, ethnographic, and scientific collections. She was the founding Editor of IIC’s News in Conservation in 2006-8 and Editor of JIC in 2011-12.