• Wales;
  • user engagement;
  • archive;
  • exhibition;
  • voluntarism;
  • public geographies

This paper aims to expand understandings of ‘public geographies’, not usually associated with historical geography, through considering voluntarism. It seeks to bring together debates on research practice, positionality and the ‘surprise’ instances of user engagement. To do so, it draws on two experiences and opportunities that emerged during my doctoral research in Wales on the cultural-historical geographies of scouting in Britain: first, curating an exhibition and second, cataloguing and ‘making’ an archive collection. Both of these were voluntary collaborative activities and outside ‘the research project’, and yet they shaped and influenced the research process in unique and unforeseen ways. Overall, the paper uses these examples as a way into exploring geographical debates on research users, non-academic communities and the role of the researcher as a volunteer.