Call for particpants: Who are you calling ‘boring’?

If you’re feeling bored this summer the Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading is running a joint project with the Science Museum and Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. We’re looking for young people to help us with this boredom busting project.

In museums we know that some of our objects don’t get people very excited. We want to change that. We need people aged 16-25 to help us bring some ‘unloved’ objects to life. You will help us to come up with ideas for a Late Night Event for 30th September at the Science Museum London. We’re also looking for young people 18+ to come along and make the case for these collections on the night.

The project team at the Science Museum

The project team at the Science Museum

What do I need to do?
• We need people to come for a couple of hours during August to meet the team, learn about the project and have a look around some of our stored collections.
• On 25th August museum expert Mar Dixon will run a 2.5 hour workshop to help you develop ideas with the rest of the team.
• We’ll run some short drop in sessions on Wednesday afternoons in September where you can work on your big ideas for the Late event. If you can’t make it in person you can talk to us via e-mail or Skype about your project.
• You may also want to do a little research or write some material for social media at home in the run up to the event.
• Then it’s September 30th at the Science Museum in South Kensington, London. We will be able to cover transportation costs for people (only over 18’s) who want to get involved on the night. Under 18’s will get a visit at another time by way of thanks.

What do I get out of it?
• Experience of being involved in a project with a national museum.
• Material for your CV or UCAS form.
• The chance to work with real museum objects and professional staff.
If any of your young people are interested in taking part, please can you ask them to email Dr Rhi Smith (r.smith@reading.ac.uk)

REME Museum of Technology

REME object handling 2015

REME object handling 2015

Last term we had a visit from Curator Jen Allison, of the REME Museum of Technology, who talked to our Curatorship and Collections Management students about the challenges of collections management at a military museum. Jen is a former student of the University of Reading and was our Volunteers Officer and Assistant Curator of the Ure Museum so it’s always great to welcome her back. Our University photographer Laura Bennetto took some brilliant photographs of our students with the REME handling collections so I thought I’d share some here.

REME object handling 2015

REME object handling 2015

REME object handling 2015

REME object handling 2015

The REME Museum was established in 1958 with mission of “preserving the heritage of the Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers”. It’s always been ‘on our doorstep’ as museums go, being located in a nearby military base in the town of Arborfield, Currently massive changes are afoot at the REME Museum of Technology, they are packing up their collections and moving to a new location. In this new space they’ll have brand new permanent galleries and they are working with designers to put this together at the moment. It’s all very exciting and you can follow their move to their new home Lyneham via their blog REME Museum Manoeuvres.

REME object handling 2015

REME object handling 2015

Careers in Museums #4: Internship Season

Summer is coming and that means that there are internship opportunities being advertised. This is a great way to gain some experience, especially if there is a bursary which helps you to support yourself financially. Here are a few which look interesting (please give me a shout if you have an internship that you would like advertised). I’ve noted where the advert mentions that the internship is paid. You’ll notice that the links come from the wonderfully comprehensive Leicester University Museum Studies Jobs Desk

Cultural Co-operation is offering SOCL internships across the UK for 18-25 years old from BAME backgrounds LINK

The Museum of the History of Science in Oxford has a paid collections internship LINK

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham has two paid internships on their Marketing and Communications team LINK, two paid Learning and Access internships LINK and two paid Collections internships LINK

Orleans House Gallery in London has a paid traineeship in Heritage Learning, Interpretation and Participation LINK

The Theatres Trust has paid summer archive internships in London LINK

The South West Heritage Trust has a paid Portable Antiquities Scheme Headley Trust internship in Taunton LINK

The Intrepid Museum in New York has two summer internships LINK

Dulwich Picture Gallery is offering a Curatorial Internship LINK

 

Spring update

It’s been an action packed term so we thought we’d update you on some of the things that are happening. We’ve had Visit Days for new applicants, we’ve been visiting and researching our local museums and we’ve been watching as the changes to the Museum of English Rural Life start to take shape.

students at reading museum 2015 4

This term we have the modules ‘Museum History, Policy and Ethics’ and ‘Curatorship and Collections Management’ running. On Thursday one of our former students and members of staff Jen Allison is coming back to talk to our ‘Curatorship’ students about her role as Curator at REME Museum. They have a big move coming up soon so she’ll have a lot to tell our students about.

students at reading museum 2015 3

Our ‘Museum History, Policy and Ethics’ students were welcomed at Reading Museum last week. They got to see the early records of the museum and to explore how the collection was formed. Staff also talked about what it means to work in a local authority museum in the 21st century. We heard about the new Reading Abbey Quarter HLF bid, the long running loans box scheme, and the recent project ‘Hidden Voices’ which explores Reading’s LGBT history.

Students at Reading Museum 2015 2

Blog wise we’ve been a little quiet this year. However, we have plans for much more regular updates which will explore Reading based projects, talk to people in the sector about their careers, and provide hints and tips for people interested in museums. Last but not least there is a new vlog series in town called ‘How Many Curators?’ It is an informal and light hearted look behind the scenes of our museum, library and archive service. We hope you enjoy it.

students at reading museum 2015

Student Volunteering Week

We celebrate Student Volunteering Week with a post by Katie Wise who talks about the benefits of volunteering and the opportunities that her experience at MERL has brought.

Katie Wise at MERL fete

As a student on a humanities course, one thing I have a lot of is time. What’s a good way to spend it? Instead of pigging out watching Netflix, I decided to volunteer at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL). Volunteering is the best way to gain experience, develop skills, meet new people and discover a new passion.

When I started volunteering at MERL in September 2013, I began by researching one of the objects in the collection and although I had, and still have, little interest in wagons, it showed me just what I could achieve. It also gave me a chance to blog about my research and add a new section to my CV. After that I started volunteering on reception which is a great way to develop communication skills – greeting visitors and dealing with phone enquiries. I have had a lot of customer service experience and I’m super organised so this role was perfect for me. For both of these jobs I was only giving up 2 or 3 hours per week so I still had plenty of time for my studies and to relax.

I also got lots of opportunities to help out with events that were run by the museum. These included small workshops, such as bread making or crafts, and large events such as the May Fayre. This was an amazing event to be a part of as each volunteer and staff member worked together to put on a great day for a huge number of visitors and it was so satisfying to see everyone having an amazing time. Even just being on washing up duty, I felt like I was an important part of the team and had contributed to the event.

Due to the financial situation museums are under, some places use volunteers as ‘free labour’, only interested in keeping costs down. However, I have never felt like I have been taken advantage of in this way and MERL are definitely interested in the development of their volunteers and helping them achieve. My skills and interests were used to find a role that suited me and that I would enjoy and they are always willing to help me to develop skills, build up my CV and give me incredible opportunities.

You never know what volunteering can lead to. I was very lucky as a temporary weekend post at MERL opened up and, as I was already volunteering in that role during the week, I was suggested for the post. As I had museum volunteering experience, I was also able to apply for another museum job which I have been working in for nine months now. When I started volunteering, I never imagined that I would have two paid museum jobs by my second year of university.

From volunteering I have gained research skills, IT skills, communication and customer service skills as well as experience working in large and small groups. I gained paid work and have discovered my passion and the career I want as well as having lots of fun. All this is definitely worth giving up a couple of hours a week and I would strongly recommend it.

This post originally appeared as part of ‘Volunteers’ Voice’ on the Our Country Lives blog

Costumed Interpretation one day workshops

Just a heads up about some one day workshops on costumed interpretation that we are offering in collaboration with our pals from the Historic Royal Palaces and Past Pleasures, the UK’s longest running costumed interpretation company.

Performing the Past
Workshop 1: costumed interpretation on a budget
Workshop 2: creating historic costume

Past Pleasures at Hampton Court

Past Pleasures at Hampton Court

These unique one day workshops are perfect for heritage professionals and volunteers who want to learn about managing and planning costumed interpretation from the experts.

  • Chris Gidlow (Head of Live Interpretation HRP) will examine how heritage managers can be strategic about costumed interpretation.
  • Through a series of talks and workshops Past Pleasures team Mark Wallis and Kate Howard will offer valuable tips and advice. They will assist participants as they engage with best practice and identify models and strategies which will work for them.

Workshop 1: Monday 24th November 2014

Workshop 2: Spring 2015 Date TBC

 10:00-16:30 Museum of English Rural Life

Booking: £40 per workshop (includes lunch)

For further information, or to book a place contact:
0118 378 8660
merlevents@reading.ac.uk

Careers in Museums #3 ‘everybody’s talkin’

This week my colleagues have been sending me some interesting online articles about careers in museums: top tips; what it’s like to work in museums at the moment; and the pros and cons of a career in the sector. I thought I’d share them with you so you can get another perspective on museum work.

Museum work???

Museum work??????

The Ministry of Curiosity blog offers an ‘insider’s view to London’s museum-centric social life’. It’s always a fun read and their ‘top tips for getting into museums’ post is no exception. Their points about career funneling, tailored volunteering and the importance of networking and finding a mentor definitely resonate with the advice of most museum professionals that I know.

When You Work At a Museum is a fun Tumblr based blog/ GIF-fest and their crowd-sourced response to a request asking for advice on working in museums ‘so you think you want to work in a museum’ makes some really good points. 5. Don’t be smug and and 3. Be flexible are particularly important.

From a more official perspective here is a blog post from somebody with Arts Council England controversially titled ‘reasons not to work in museums’.The post recognises some of the difficulties of working in the sector at the moment but ends by celebrating the hard working people who make the most of a less than ideal situation.

Finally the wonderful Emily Graslie makes some thought provoking wider points about career planning and a work-life balance in this ‘finding your dream job’ video, which applies to the museum sector and beyond.

 

Costumed Interpretation: an interview with Bill Weldon (Colonial Williamsburg)

In yesterday’s blog post on Colonial Williamsburg I mentioned some of the challenges of designing costumed interpretation which told a range of well-known and hidden stories. While I was over there I was lucky enough to meet with Bill Weldon (Creative Director, Revolutionary City, Colonial Williamsburg) who was a great help in shaping our Performing the Past Summer School. I wanted to find out a bit more about how you get into this slightly unusual line of work so I posed some questions:

Reading the Declaration of Independence

One of the CWF team performing the daily reading the Declaration of Independence

·     Bill, how did you get into costumed interpretation?

I began acting in high school, and majored in theatre in college, but decided not to pursue a career as an actor.  I did continue to perform as a folk singer and guitar player.  When I began working at Colonial Williamsburg, my love of acting returned as there were bountiful opportunities to portray historical characters.

·      Which character do you enjoy playing the most?

While I have had the good fortune to portray a diverse group of historical figures, the portrayal that has meant the most to me by far is that of Patrick Henry, Virginia’s legendary orator and statesman.  Henry’s declaration, “Give me liberty, or give me death,” on March 23, 1775 motivated his countrymen to take up arms and seek independence from Great Britain.  That was but one of many epic speeches and seminal events that Henry was a central figure in during the American Revolution, and the formative years of the early republic.  He is a delight to portray because he was such a “lightning rod” figure, people tended to love him or hate him.  After Patrick Henry, I am most fond of portraying William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific Ocean, 1804-1806.

·         Do you have a favourite venue to perform at?

I have never met a venue I didn’t think was workable, but the best of course are the actual historic sites where the characters operated, the places  that they are associated with.  For me, nothing matches portraying Patrick Henry in the restored and reconstructed environs of Williamsburg, on the ground where he made history.  I feel the same about the opportunities that I had to portray William Clark at the reconstructed site at Fort Clatsop near the mouth of the Columbia River at the Pacific, the expedition’s winter camp at the terminus of their exploration of the American west. 

·         Which event are you most proud of organising?

I am most proud of my role as one of the creators and the artistic director for Revolutionary City, Colonial Williamsburg’s outdoor drama that ran from March through November, 2006 through  2013.  Revolutionary City consisted of a series of scenes that revealed and interpreted actual events that occurred in Williamsburg from the spring of 1774 through September of 1781, the years of political and social upheaval and the war for American independence.  (For commentary on the outdoor drama please see: here and here)

·         How important is training and research to costumed interpretation?

Research is the bedrock for legitimate costumed interpretation.  All historical interpretation must be built on a foundation of well researched documentation.  Otherwise it has no validity as an instrument for education and social provocation.  There are so many elements necessary to the creation of effective interpretation; research (including language use, deportment, social norms and habits, etc) performing skills,  narrative construction, etc. These can only be accomplished through comprehensive training process.

·         What one last piece of advice would you give to anybody thinking about getting into costumed interpretation?

Make an honest assessment of your skill sets and sensibilities to determine how you can best contribute to the field of historical interpretation, and thereby realize the greatest degree of self-realization and fulfillment.  Ask yourself if you possess the passion that will motivate you to commit to the research, training, and rigors of daily public engagement that are essential to succeeding as an interpreter.

Bill as Patrick Henry

Bill as Patrick Henry

If you want to find out more about costumed interpretation (and the Colonial Williamsburg perspective) look into joining our Summer School Performing the Past

Colonial Williamsburg

In case the last post about my trip to the CZAP Project excavation in Kurdistan didn’t make you jealous enough, this post deals with a trip to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, USA. I was invited over to discuss our exciting new collaboration on the Performing the Past Summer School which teaches the basics of costumed interpretation.

After the crowds had gone home

After the crowds had gone home

As I mentioned in last year’s postcard, Colonial Williamsburg is a hard place to get your head around due to the sheer range of facilities. This time I was staying right in the heart of the Historic Area for two weeks and I got to see the full scope of what Williamburg has to offer.

The Governor's mansion

The Governor’s mansion

Firstly the site has it’s own state of the art museum and stores which hold both examples of furnishings and objects from the period and the wonderful Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. Behind the scenes its educational facilities are also top notch and include a TV studio where they film footage for their Electronic Field Trips.

The new-old tinsmith's shop

The new-old tinsmith’s shop

The Foundation also oversees the original and reconstructed buildings which are furnished to the standards of the time. In these buildings you may find costumed guides giving tours or the craftspeople and apprentices who form Williamsburg’s ‘trades’ department. With everything from baskets to wig making going on you can spend days just walking around talking to these extremely knowledgeable individuals. However, I was there for two reasons 1) to look at the live interpretation and (2) to explore my research into the reintroduction of ‘hidden’ or ‘silenced’ voices at heritage sites.

Great Hope Plantations

Great Hopes Plantation

On the second point, as Gable and Handler (1997)‘s study of the site makes clear, Williamsburg has always had trouble reconciling the nostalgic elements of its reconstruction with the less palatable aspects of its past. Since 1979 the site has had an African American programme which tells the stories of these enslaved and freed people who made up half of the population of the city. I attended an incredibly moving workshop called ‘Workin’ the Soil, Healing the Soul’ which was delivered in third person and took visitors through the experiences of enslaved people at a plantation site. It’s easy to miss Great Hopes if you jump on the bus to the Historic Area but I would urge visitors to take time to talk with these incredible interpreters. It is challenging but you need to experience it.

'The Hated Spy'

‘The Hated Spy’

The challenges of telling the whole story of Williamsburg can also be witnessed in the Historic Area where staff are constantly discussing and debating how programmes such as ‘Revolution in the Streets’ can convey the full range of historical lived experiences. Watching ‘The Hated Spy’ or ‘Jumpin’ the Broom’ made it hard, for me at least, to simply tune out and enjoy the beauty of the place and forced me to engage with these complex and contradictory aspects of the past. As I was over there on a research grant I got to talk to the team behind this research and interpretation. Williamsburg as an organisation, and individual interpreters, sometimes ‘get flack’ for their depiction of the past but it’s clear that they’re tough on themselves and are always trying to improve what they do. It’ll be interesting to see how the site develops over the next couple of years and I’m really looking forward to welcoming some of their team on ‘Performing the Past’ this summer.

The fife and drums

The Fifes and Drums

Central Zagros Archaeological Project Bestansur

If the blog has seemed quiet for a little while it’s because Museum Studies at Reading went international during the Easter vacation. The first trip was with the Department of Archaeology’s Central Zagros Archaeological Project (CZAP). As you’ll see Kurdistan is beautiful in the spring and the people were extremely welcoming. I was over there to give some advice on the ‘public archaeology’ side of things and to explore the potential to develop some interpretation with and for local people.

The fields around Bestansur

The fields around Bestansur

The CZAP project focuses on the Central Zagros region of west Iran and east Iraq and explores the beginnings of the Neolithic. The project combines techniques from archaeological science and social archaeology to understand the move to farming in this area of the Fertile Crescent. Some of the earliest layers are 9700 years old so specialists are looking for tiny traces of past activity using techniques such as micro-morphology.

The team getting ready to dig first thing in the morning

The team getting ready to dig first thing in the morning

One of our students Mat sieving for tiny fragments

One of our students Mat sieving for tiny fragments

This kind of project difficult to explain to non-specialists. One of my dissertation students Mat Britten (pictured above) was also on the trip as part of his research into public understanding of archaeological science – specifically micro-morphology. He is lucky to have micro-morph expert Dr Wendy Matthews as his other supervisor. She is extremely well versed in trying to explain this process to archaeologists and non-archaeologists alike.

With Mat and the rest of the team helping I tried to see what we could do on the interpretation front. The local city of Sulaimaniyah (you’ll find lots of spellings and pronunciations of this) has a fantastic museum which recently received UNESCO funding for some refurbishment. We worked with their staff to bring in teachers and create resources in Kurdish.

Slemani Museum

Slemani Museum

In the UK something like this would probably take years to organise but the Director of Education for the region managed to get 28 teachers and 5 regional supervisors to the site only 4 days after we approached him with the idea. It was really impressive to see this level of commitment to archaeology, and the teachers seemed as interested in the behind the scenes science labs as they were in the site itself.

Mat explaining micro-morphology to teachers back at the labs

Mat explaining micro-morphology to teachers back at the labs

Later in the season the chemistry teachers in the region also visited to find out more about the scientific processes being undertaken by specialists on site. Mat and another member of the team Hawar managed to put together a simple but effective flyer explaining the site in English and Kurdish for the second visit which can be used again in the future.

Teachers on site

Teachers on site

I had a wonderful time in Bestansur. The Reading and the local team were extremely welcoming and the site itself was fascinating. From interviewing local workers we found that there is a great deal of regional pride in the results of this excavation. As the dig went on more and more people came to visit. The region is focusing a lot of energy on its archaeology and history at the moment. It will be interesting to see how the site develops over the next few years.