Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

June 6, 2014

Student helps mastermind museum exhibit

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — Tomorrow Alex Betts, a 2009 Batesville High School graduate, will be standing at a museum door in England, welcoming his family (parents Bill and George Ann Betts and brothers Jairus, 19, and Arno, 14) to an exhibit he helped create.

“Diving into Durham: Hidden History Under Elvet Bridge” can be viewed June 7-Sept. 7 at the Palace Green Library, part of the Durham Castle/Cathedral area. Betts explains, “Durham Cathedral is an impressive and beautiful construction that began in 1093. The nearby castle was constructed as a Norman fortress around the same time. I believe UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site because it is one of the best surviving examples of Norman architecture, and the cathedral houses the remains of three saints (St. Cuthbert, St. Oswald and St. Bede).”

The completely student-run exhibit explores the history of a local bridge, first built in the 1100s, as a center of trade, industry and daily life, according to the 22-year-old. “This story is told through artifacts that have fallen off the bridge over the centuries into the River Wear, which winds through Durham. The artifacts come from a massive collection of over 3,500 objects retrieved from the riverbed by a local underwater archaeologist, and range from an ancient Roman coin to a 2010 Blackberry phone.”

More glimpses of the exhibit are offered at www.divingintodurham.com/.

Betts is part of a team of eight students who are working on master’s degrees in museum and artefact (the British spelling of artifact) studies at the Durham University Department of Archaeology. They are responsible for all aspects of the exhibit, including research, curation and artifact care, exhibit design, public relations and promotion, education, budget and project management. Betts notes, “We have also had the invaluable help of our supervising professor and various museum staff along the way, from whom we’ve learned so much.”

He says, “The tasks I have taken the lead on include managing the opening event and authoring the text labels that go in each display.”

“I think our entire group would agree the greatest challenge has been putting everything together on a tight budget. It’s been a great learning experience, as museums deal with budget constraints every day.”

The path to this day was pretty straightforward for the graduate student. “Working in a museum has long been something I wanted to do when I ‘grow up.’ I even have a Batesville Middle School timed writing, from sixth or seventh grade, in which I write about wanting to be a museum curator.”

He adds, “I’ve always been interested in the study of other cultures, but I started at Indiana University as a history major. I had no idea when I applied that IU has one of the largest anthropology departments in the country. It quickly became my favorite subject and I paired it with history as a double major.” He received a Bachelor of Arts degree with highest distinction a year ago.

Durham, a city of about 80,000 in northeast England, was founded in 995 A.D. by a group of traveling monks who were looking for a place to build a cathedral and bury the remains of St. Cuthbert. So it’s not surprising Durham University is England’s third oldest college. “Features from medieval times and earlier still survive everywhere in the city, which, nestled on a river, is truly one of the most amazing places I could hope to go to school.”

Betts has been working too hard to get much sightseeing in, but later this summer he hopes to travel to Rome, Italy; Budapest, Hungary; and possibly Krakow, Poland.

The student will finish the program in September, with graduation slated for January. The friendly young man is looking forward to “coming home ... to reunite with family and friends!” Perhaps then he’ll have time for favorite pastimes that include playing piano, going to Cincinnati Reds games, country drives, cooking and hiking.

A job hunt is in the mix, too. “I’ll go just about anywhere job opportunities turn up. I’d like to live somewhere rural, but not far from the benefits of a city. I think Batesville strikes a great balance in that way.”

Betts’ dream job is to become a museum registrar or collections manager, someone in charge of the safety and care of artifacts when they’re “behind the scenes.”

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.