Squeaky bum time: new year, new exhibition

It’s a new year and that means two things. One, we’re all still a bit fat after Christmas. And two, there are just a few weeks until we Part 3 students launch our Belonging exhibition! It is, in the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, “squeaky bum time”.


Belonging is a multi-site exhibition which draws on the varied University of Reading collections to explore issues around inclusion, exclusion, loneliness and sense of place through five themes – Countryside, Culture, Clubs, Conflict and Community. Because Museum Studies is so brilliant, this exhibition is actually our ‘final project’ and doing a dissertation is optional (although three of us have foolishly chosen to do both!). In this post, we are each going to tell you a bit about the work we’re doing to put our exhibition together:


Matthew Abel (Countryside) – You could tell so many stories with a broad subject like the countryside, but I’ve been focusing on three key subthemes. Making Rural Communities considers how the idea of community is constructed in the countryside, and how people come to feel that they belong in rural areas. Right to Roam explores how the law has historically excluded people from the countryside, and looks at the ongoing campaign to improve public access. Finally, with immigration dominating the headlines, Seasonal Workers reveals how the countryside has always depended on migrant labour, and how these workers have been treated. Putting these displays together involves lots of practical work too, from planning case layouts to working out how to hang works of art – I am pleased to say I now know what ‘hollow wall fixings’ are! Emily and I will also be donning our boots soon to interview a local walking group!

Image: Two ramblers in a footpath protest at Ribchester, Lancashire, in October 1930. The Museum of English Rural Life, SR OSS PH5/J53.

Samuel Peters (Conflict) – War, what is it good for? Not just a catchy song, this question is one that has plagued history throughout time. Conflicts are quite often the markers used to recognise the passage of time. Centenaries marking various conflicts are commonplace, these happen to remind us of what has come before, the devastation, the loss of life, the irreversible damage. But do humans ever learn? After one war comes another, humans appear to be intrinsically linked to conflict, an inescapable inevitability. As tensions around the world appear to rise yet again, are we moving towards another conflict, is nuclear devastation on the horizon? Throughout conflicts and throughout wars people live, ordinary people, they leave behind innocent markers, things which would not appear to be from within a war, it is through these that we hope to analyse the extent to which humans belong to conflict; and answer the question, what is war good for?

Charlotte Rout (Culture) – To belong is the feeling that you are in the right place or suitable place; to feel happy or comfortable in a situation. Identifying to a culture can give people a sense of belonging and the feeling of being secure and accepted within a society. In the modern world, culture and self-identity are entirely linked, and when the two are disconnected this can often affect a person’s wellbeing, due to feeling isolated or excluded. Themes for this case include migration and globalization and how these can affect the way that individuals feel, especially when they feel that they cannot connect with a culture, including in the place that they call home. This case will use the University of Reading’s Art Collection and display pieces such as Max Weber’s Brooklyn Bridge and Robert Gibbings’ Man in a Tree to show how migration and globalization affect culture and how people feel that they belong.

Emily Thomas (Community) – Community connections are vital to museums and can be difficult for universities to build. ‘Threshold Fear’ is a phrase that many museums are aware of and defines what many people feel when visiting museums in which they feel they do not belong. This could also define the problem many university museums experience, so section will attempt to break some of these barriers down, with a case that will hopefully be held within the Reading Central Library’s exhibition area. It will use stories and images of children brought to Reading during World War II from the evacuee archive, displaying a time when community was a fundamental part of society. The case will also display responses to the word ‘home’ by Berkshire primary school children, bringing the thoughts of past and present Berkshire communities together. A second similar case will also be placed within MERL which will demonstrate the value of MERL’s Reading Room, a useful research facility that anyone can use.


Image: Activity sheet created for primary school children on which they could respond to the word ‘home.

Lucy Wilkes (Clubs) – Optimising each of the university’s collections is one of the main aims of this exhibition project. Because of this, we began to think about the Ure Museum and what ancient artefacts could offer in terms of showing a sense of belonging. We quickly realised that one way that ancient people experienced inclusion was via symposiums; elite males would gather to drink and socialise, and this made them feel that they belonged to a group. Women and slaves were excluded from these get-togethers. These ideas are the foundation of the ‘Belonging to Clubs’ case. This subtheme will subsequently explore the idea of belonging to clubs in other ages and communities, linking the Ure collections to the university archives, to discover whether the ancient idea of belonging through gender exclusive clubs has disappeared or simply evolved. Researching this subtheme has involved reading both student newspapers and theatre programmes from the 1920s, and it is surprising how quickly my enthusiasm for archives has grown!

Belonging will run from 20 February to 13 April 2018, with displays at The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, Reading Central Library, and the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology. You will find maps at each site to help you find your way around. We hope you enjoy it!

Museums in Reading

by Gracie Price, Museum Studies Student at the University of Reading

We are very lucky in Reading to have many different museums in the town, covering a variety of subjects. There are eight museums within Reading (one is slightly outside the town however) and so far, I have managed to visit five of these and volunteer in two of them. Reading museums are benefiting from lots of renovation projects, which are improving the access to these museums for the public.

The Museum of English Rural Life

This is the first museum I visited when I started studying at Reading – mainly because we have the pleasure of using the building for our lectures and as I work in the front of house team there. The Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL) reopened last year after a redevelopment funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The museum tells the story of rural life in England and has a gallery highlighting some of the Ladybird book art work collection. The MERL is an excellent place for us to learn about museums and we often get ‘behind the scenes’ tours and talks from museum staff.

Reading Museum

Reading Museum is in the centre of the town in a beautiful historic building shared with the town hall. The museum is currently in the process of redeveloping their Abbey Quarter gallery, but it is remaining open alongside the work. The museum has galleries covering a range of subjects including Silchester Roman town, Huntley and Palmers biscuits, Natural History, and the Bayeux Tapestry. One of the main things the museum is known for is their loans box service which started in 1911, the service offers boxes of objects to schools and groups for use in educational activities and they now have 1,500 boxes available.

Cole Museum of Zoology

The Cole is the second museum I volunteer in which is housed on campus at the University. Here I work with the microscope slide collection working to catalogue and organise the collection to improve access for researchers. We recently had a large increase in our volunteer force as the museum will be moving to a new building in 2019, so work is underway designing new displays, cataloguing the collection, and most importantly, to fundraise for the move. The museum was established from the collection of zoology lecturer Francis J. Cole in the 20th century and contains around 3,500 specimens, of which around 400 are on display at any one time. The star of the museum however is the complete male elephant skeleton who greets visitors as they enter the museum – he may also be the hardest one to move when it comes to it too!

Royal Berkshire Medical Museum

Housed in a building just off the Royal Berkshire hospital the Medical Museum provides a compact exploration of the history of medicine. The museum is run by volunteers and is opened on the second and fourth Sunday of the month for visitors and I would suggest you visit. The collection contains many examples of medical equipment and medicines including an iron lung used in the museum and a jar of live leeches. The volunteers are very knowledgeable and were very happy to discuss the collections with me and answer my questions which always makes a visit more engaging.

Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology

The Ure Museum is another museum housed on the campus and it contains a collection of mainly Greek pottery but also some Egyptian artefacts established by the University’s first professor of Classics, Professor P.N. Ure and his wife Dr A.D. Ure. The museum displays the collection of Greek pottery through 9 different themes, including Myth and Religion, Education and Body Beautiful. There are also cases exploring some of the Egyptian artefacts as well as the history of the museum and how the artefacts ended up within the collection.

Other museums

There are three museums in Reading I am still yet to visit, however I am hoping to rectify this in the coming months as they all look brilliant and I have heard wonderful things about them all. These museums are the Riverside Museum at Blake’s Lock, the Reading Typography collection on the main university campus and the Berkshire Aviation Museum, which is a short car or bus ride outside of the main town.

Gracie Price, Museum Studies Student at the University of Reading

What is Museum Studies at the University of Reading?


by Marina Rogov, Museum Studies Student at the University of Reading

In basic terms Museum Studies is the study of museums, this however is not a very detailed description. On the Museum Studies course at the University of Reading we cover a wide range of topics and get the opportunity to gain practical experience within museums. To try and provide a fuller description I got a friend to ask questions about the subject and I have answered them here:

What is a museum?

Let’s start with the essentials, a museum is an organisation that preserves history through the care and curation of objects and stories. They help to reflect on current issues in society and work alongside the community to make history accessible to all.

When did museum studies start as a subject?

People started to study museums, discuss and produce theories on them from about the 1960s onward, and the debate and discussion continues today. Our undergraduate course in Museum Studies at the University of Reading began as a series of modules that were made available to students from 2006. Now students can study for a degree in either Museum Studies with Archaeology, or Museum Studies with Classical Studies.

What modules do you do?

We do a bit of everything, with theory thrown in, from designing new exhibitions to looking at the history, policy and ethics of museums. We get a chance to study what goes on behind the scenes at these important cultural institutions. This year I am studying museum learning and engagement, which I really enjoy as it’s the area I want to go into. Next term we are studying museum curatorship and management which will help us with our final exhibition we have to plan in the final year of the course.

Who teaches it?

We have two museum studies lecturers, Dr Rhi Smith and Dr Nicola Pickering, both of whom have experience in museums and have a brilliant knowledge of the subject.

Why did you choose to study it?

I have always enjoyed museums, but I didn’t realise I could study it at undergraduate level until I started looking at Classics courses. It is rare to find a course for museum studies at undergraduate level so when I found the Classics and Museum Studies degree in Reading I knew it was the one for me, and it has definitely been the right choice.

What other activities are you doing as well as studying?

Volunteering! It is almost impossible to get a job in museums without previous experience, so volunteering is the way to go. Currently I volunteer in a school helping in their GCSE art classes and I also work at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading (the MERL). At the MERL I participate in the teachers’ panel and work on the front desk. I am also currently helping to organise the new Saturday club for Reading Museum Trustees. There are always so many opportunities in museums so my advice to prospective students is to get involved!

What do you plan to do after your course?

Hopefully I will find a job in education or outreach within the museums sector, as I enjoy working with the public organising activities and events. I am also considering a job in teaching as I enjoy volunteering in schools and the museum studies degree has enabled me to develop transferable skills and knowledge, such as learning how to design session plans. So whilst most people studying the course will go on to have careers in museums, the varied modules also allow you to identify an area in which to specialise or to explore alternative career possibilities.

Finally, would you recommend museum studies as a degree course?

Absolutely! Museums are part of an amazing sector, and there are many different jobs possibilities so you are likely to find the perfect role for you. Museums allow you to work with people from different backgrounds who share common interests and passions and I can’t wait to see where my degree will take me!

Marina Rogov, Museum Studies Student at the University of Reading

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

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.