What is Museum Studies at the University of Reading?

 

What is Museum Studies?

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

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

 

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.

 

Moving on Up 2014 at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester #mou2014

Thanks to our Guest Blogger Richard Kelly (Volunteer at the Cole Museum of Zoology and student on our Curatorship and Collections Management Module) talking about his experience at Museums Association’s ‘Moving on Up’ career development conference earlier this term.

The Museum Association’s conference for the young, up and coming professionals of the heritage sector was held at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Manchester. It was primarily meant as a networking event where professionals in the first five years of their career could mingle with each other as well as some more experienced professionals. The feeling of the day was extremely positive and everyone seemed to be having lots of fun with the various activities and talks that were held. Towards the end of the day it was obvious that everyone was in high spirits and that even the more experienced amongst us had learnt a lot. The closing speech by David Anderson, the president of the Museums Association heralded the day as a massive success and stated that he would be going back to the National Museum of Wales which he directs and will be seeing what changes he can make after the revelations of the day.

The day began with a key notes speech on leadership by Richard Wilson, an empowering talk where young professionals were encouraged to be the ‘anti-hero’ and to take control of their lives and their careers. Three provocations on the essence of a radical workforce were particularly inspiring and looked forward to the next generation asking them to make the changes necessary to keep the heritage sector relevant in the modern world. The Ministry of Curiosity was also in attendance and gave a talk on how they had set up an independent museums blog for London (@curiositytweet). The blog discusses behind the scenes gossip of the museum circuit in London and tells its readers interesting titbits that might not usually be heard. They are careful to mention that they have a strict code of ethics when it comes to posts and will not post anything that puts the security or safety of museum workers or collections in danger.

Workshops included discussions on how to make a career in the heritage sector including specific hurdles that must be addressed. Also a discussion on how to plan for the future by making a career timeline was led by Tamsin Russel from National Museums Scotland. One of the most useful workshops looked at how to prepare the perfect pitch. Hillary McGowan a professional advisor to the heritage sector explained her method for making a professional pitch with the premise of meeting someone you want to give you a job in the lift and having 30 seconds to get yourself across to them. Others speakers were Tom Andrews from People’s United who spoke about the importance of being kind in the professional world and how to temper dreams with reality to make sure you get the most out of your career. Liz Hide from University Museums Cambridge spoke about leading when you’re not in charge and discussions followed on how to lead and how you would like to be led.

One of the big issues that came up during question time was the importance of qualifications in the heritage sector and whether those without them would hit a ‘glass ceiling’. The debate got rather heated with supporters on both sides of the argument. Personally I can see the benefit of qualifications and agree that some positions probably will require specialist qualifications, especially in the science heritage sector and research positions. That is not to disregard the benefits of staff with a wide range of non-academic skills but employers should also be careful not to disregard the hard work put into getting qualifications. There were several comments from senior professionals regarding the privileged upbringing that must accompany higher qualifications. Personally I find this quite insulting, having grown up in a small town in Lancashire and having to work for everything I’ve achieved to this day the notion that employers could see my efforts as merely a sign of privilege is worrying to say the least.

All in all the experience was truly amazing and the things I learnt about the heritage sector and about taking control of my career will definitely come in handy in the years to come. As will the connections I made with the many cool and friendly people I met. The next big event for the Museums Association is the annual conference held this year in Cardiff in October. I am looking forward to attending and hopefully seeing some of my new friends again.

Richi (@Worldwide_Richi)

A-level Archaeology Event at Glastonbury Abbey Monday 3rd February 2013

Just a quick post to flag up an event. On Monday 3rd February we are running an outreach event for schools as a collaboration between Glastonbury Abbey and the University of Reading. It runs 10:00-13:00 and pre-booking is essential. It’s mainly aimed at A-level students but we’re happy to hear from enthusiastic GCSE or Foundation level classes. I’ve been e-mailing teachers throughout the region but messages don’t always get through so please spread the word.

Eminent archaeologist Professor Roberta Gilchrist will be talking about archaeological practice, medieval archaeology and brand new findings from the Glastonbury Abbey Excavation Archive Project.

There will also be workshops, careers advice and tours of the Abbey. I’m going to be there talking about the challenges of caring for and interpreting monastic heritage sites. Send me an e-mail at r.smith@reading.ac.uk if you want to get the full details or make a booking.

Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey

Life after Reading #2 Katy Jackson (Wiener Library)

Welcome Week begins today for our new students so it seems like a good time to celebrate the excellent work being done by former students. Katy trained as tour guide with us ages ago and was put back in contact a few weeks back. She is now Community and Outreach Officer at the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide and kindly agreed to write a blog post in our ‘Life after Reading’ series.

Katy at the Wiener Library

Katy at the Wiener Library

What are you doing now?

I am the Community and Outreach Officer at the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide[1] based in Russell Square, London. I am responsible for the overall community and outreach strategy at the Library in line with a four year Heritage Lottery Fund project which is focused on widening audience engagement with the Library and its collections. I enjoy the diversity of my role; one day I can be networking at a foreign embassy, another day I can be running an exhibition project with an activist group. My other key responsibilities include events management, volunteer management, partnership brokering and social media PR and marketing.

How did your time at Reading prepare you for this line of work?

Academically, my time at Reading gave me transferable skills which I use every day in my job. I regularly give presentations and speak in public where I also put to use the historical knowledge I gained in my degree. A large part of my day to day work is research based whether it’s finding speakers for an event, looking for potential partner organisations, contacting community groups or researching content for an exhibition.

Reading gave me the opportunity to gain professional experience outside of my degree. I volunteered as a tour guide and family learning assistant at the Museum of English Rural Life[2]. Additionally, I volunteered as an assistant archivist at the REME Museum of Technology[3] during my second year and was offered a temporary paid position for September 2009, before I began my third year. Both these opportunities offered me the chance to learn about working in museum environments and confirmed my aspiration to work in the museum sector.

What training/experience did you get after leaving Reading?

Prior to beginning at Reading I had volunteered at Portsmouth Records Office and City Museum[4], which included a short stint at Portsmouth D-Day Museum[5], so in addition to my volunteering work in Reading I had already built up my practical experience. After finishing my BA I knew that I wasn’t finished with studying and I was torn between doing an MA in Museum Studies or an MA related to the area of history I was interested in (20th century conflict). Despite wanting to work in the museum sector, I decided that having a more specialised masters in history would make me stand out and so I chose the MA War, Culture and History at the University of Manchester[6]. During my MA I had the opportunity to apply for work placement, which I was lucky enough to get, at the Imperial War Museum North[7] on a community outreach project. The combination of my work experience and my degrees meant that I was well placed to work at an institution like the Wiener Library.

If you could give just one piece of advice for current students what would it be?

My advice for current students is this: do everything. Take every opportunity to volunteer, network and get your name known. Build up a professional profile using social media, Twitter is particularly good for that as you can interact with organisations. Don’t forget to use your initiative, just because an organisation isn’t advertising for volunteers or work placements it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask anyway. Don’t forget it’s also important to do things that aren’t necessarily related to your career like joining sports clubs or societies – it will make you a more rounded person. Social skills are equally as important as anything else.

I know the question asked for one piece of advice but I just want to finish with this one point: do what you love. No one ever worked in museums to become a millionaire, but we do usually have a high level of job satisfaction. As Confucius said, ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’.

The Wiener Library holds Britain’s largest archives relating to the Holocaust and Nazi era. Follow the @wienerlibrary for updates on events, exhibitions and more.

Follow @Katy_WL for day to day community and outreaching as well as other museumy stuff.


Guest post #1 Hannah Neifert: Maier, Randolph and Reading

I mentioned in a previous post a visit to the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College. One of our talented student guides Hannah Neifert kindly agreed to write a guest post on the opportunities for student research at the Maier. Hannah also visited the University of Reading as part of their ‘The World in Britain’ programme and she also talks a little about her time in Blighty.

Hannah in the Maier

Hannah in the Maier

During the summer of 2012 I spent 8 weeks as an intern with the Maier Museum of Art located at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia. As an art history major with an emphasis in museum studies, this was the perfect opportunity for me to gain experience working in the museum/gallery setting. Under the supervision of the museum staff, my duties varied from writing extended wall labels for paintings on campus, researching artists for the upcoming exhibition, providing tours of the galleries, filing and organizing documents, and working hands-on with the hanging, dismantling and transferring several paintings.

They have a Hopper!

They have a Hopper!

 One of my lasting projects was to create an iPod audio tour guide for the galleries that hold our permanent collection. I recorded my voice reading a script which guided visitors through each gallery highlighting specific pieces and their relevance to the museum and art history. My work in the museum as an intern was exciting as I was surrounded by the Maier’s impressive collection during my time there. Aside from the internship position, the Maier Museum offers opportunities year-long for students on campus to engage with the art work. The curatorial seminar is an offered course by which students co-curate an exhibition drawing on artworks from the permanent collection, and other courses in English and Philosophy hold classes in the museum. Of course, the highlight of the year is the annual exhibition that has been taking place since 1911 and the Helen Clark Berlind Symposium. These events promote discussion and appreciation of contemporary art with the students and Lynchburg community. At the end of the year, the senior art history majors condense their final paper to a presentation which takes place at the Maier in the gallery which displays the senior studio art majors’ work. It is a conglomeration of student work devoted to studio art and art history.

Painting of a female sculptor

Painting of a female sculptor

   As I ramble on about my small liberal arts college here in Virginia, I would be remiss if I did not mention my time spent abroad at your very own University of Reading for the 2012-2013 school year. Leaving my beloved college was difficult, but I quickly found myself enjoying the experience Reading had to offer me. I was lucky enough to work hands-on with collections from the MERL and Typography department with Martin Andrews in his Ephemera Studies module. I found that while there was no Maier Museum of Art at Reading, the University’s campus held its own vast and unique collection of art and artifacts on campus with museums such as the Ure that satisfied my museum studies needs.

   Being a student at Randolph College and the University of Reading and having access to the museum collections at both locations has made a positive impact in my academic experience. There is nothing quite like being surrounded by wonderful art and artifacts on campus, and it is something I will cherish for years to come. Ars longa, vita brevis. 

Careers in museums #1 the basics

At the Open Days last week I had a lot of questions about careers in museums. We always get involved at our University’s careers fairs and we have even held our own Careers Event in the past (that’s where the photos are from). A couple of years ago I got a fellowship grant from the Center for Career Management Skills and a consultant Janet Bell came in to help us create some workshops and resources for our students. This being the digital age I thought I would make some of this information available online.

Careers Day 1

Careers Day 1

First of all a disclaimer. As we are based in the UK I am going to focus on the situation in Britain. I am also going to focus on advice for getting museum jobs. There are some really interesting and important debates going on regarding the impact of museum studies courses on the sector, diversifying the workforce and unpaid internships. I will discuss some of these issues but my main aim is to provide advice for those who are trying to break into the sector.

DSCN0177

Careers Day 2

There are already some great resources on the web. The Museums Association careers page is a good place to start and it’s pretty comprehensive. The Museums Association is a membership organisation for museum professionals but you can join at a low rate if you are a student or volunteer. You get a monthly copy of the Museums Journal and free/discounted entry into many museums and exhibitions. Tip: Before going into an interview in the UK have a flick through recent copies of Museum Journal and search for your potential workplace in the Journal via the website.

The other site that I always send people to is the University of Leicester’s Museum Studies Job Desk. That is where most people in the UK search and advertise. It includes information on internships and voluntary opportunities and even lists international job opportunities. Those two sites will give you a lot to be getting on with and I will talk about voluntary work in the next post.

 

Open Days

The open days were fun. I had two great students Georgia and Helen helping me out in the Ure Museum. We had a handling collection out and an iPad with apps designed by students and local schools

20130623-110808.jpg

Nearly everybody I invited to handle the objects said ‘I am clumsy I can’t be trusted with objects’. However, those who were brave enough to put on the white gloves were blown away by the age of the objects they were interacting with (2500 years for some of them). We even had a visit from our Twitter-bear Stu who was going around campus being photographed in different locations. Trying to get a tiny cuddly toy bear look like it is handling an object while protecting the object is really tough.

20130623-112231.jpg

We got a mix of people coming to talk. Some were just generally interested in the study of the past and looking at different programme options. They were amazed by the idea that you could have a museum at the end of your departmental corridor. Others were hunting out courses which offered museum studies teaching and experience. It made me realise how lucky we were to have the Ure Museum. Many university departmental collections have lost their geographical and intellectual connection to their once home discipline. Remembering this fact made me grateful for the foresight of the curators who fought to build this resource and keep it a part of teaching and research in the University.