So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu…

by Matthew Abel, Museum Studies Student at the University of Reading

Dissertations are done, exams are over, and, like the Von Trapp children (who we appear to be channelling in this photo), it is nearly time for me and my fellow Museum Studies finalists to say goodbye to the University of Reading. The last three years have definitely changed my life for the better, and in this post I thought I’d share a few thoughts for anyone thinking of applying for a Museum Studies course at Reading.

Yes, Museum Studies is a thing…

When I was looking for a course, I knew that Museum Studies existed as a subject and that I wanted to study it. But pretty much everyone outside the museum world doesn’t seem to know this, so be prepared for a lot of “You study museums?”, “What’s that all about?” and my personal favourite “Oh, that’s… different”.

… but it can mean different things

There are not many undergraduate Museum Studies courses out there (it’s usually a postgraduate subject), but their content can vary significantly. For example, Reading’s courses are combined with either Archaeology or Classics modules, while others have more of an Art History focus. So read the syllabuses thoroughly and think about your own interests. Having worked in museums for a few years before uni, I wanted a course that was practical, relevant and comprehensive (and wasn’t just Art History in disguise), so when I read the Museum Studies and Archaeology syllabus, I knew it was the one for me.

And it is very practical

If you are thinking of taking Museum Studies, it’s pretty likely that you want to work in museums, so the course is very much focused on trying to make that happen. There are lots of practical elements, ranging from object handling seminars, skills-based assignments and museum visits, to an assessed work placement in Part 2 and a group exhibition module in Part 3. If you take the Archaeology option, you also have the chance to attend the Field School over summer. I’m definitely an indoor person so the Field School wasn’t for me, but I’m very grateful I was offered the chance to go on a real archaeological dig! Field experience is essential if you want to be an archaeologist, yet many universities no longer run their own field schools, so Reading has a real edge here.

Image: Installing a display for the group exhibition module in Part 3.

Grab every experience

Because Museum Studies is such a vocational course, you will definitely get more out of it if you can do some museum work or volunteering while you study. This allows you to put what you learn in lectures into practice and network with other people in the sector. As well as the placements mentioned earlier, there are also lots of opportunities to get work experience outside the course. In Part 2, I got a summer job through the Reading Internship Scheme (RIS), which offers paid internships with local companies in various sectors, and is only available to University of Reading students. I spent eight weeks with the Curatorial department at the River & Rowing Museum in Henley on Thames, which was a wonderful experience. I helped install a temporary exhibition, learnt some new collections management skills, and even got taken on a “works outing” to Henley Royal Regatta!

Image: Installing a temporary exhibition at the River & Rowing Museum with Assistant Curators Caroline Brown and Chelsea Eves.

The staff are great

I probably should have mentioned them earlier, but the course lecturers, Rhi Smith and Nicola Pickering, are brilliant too! Rhi’s background is in archaeology and anthropology, and Nicola is an art and architectural historian, so their combined expertise provides a really broad insight into the museum world. Some of the staff at The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), where the course is based, also deliver some of the content, such as object handling sessions and guest lectures. This is a real bonus as you are learning from people who actually do the kind of jobs you are hoping to do. And who better to learn from than the people who brought you such social media sensations as this surprisingly effective mousetrap and this magnificent woolly hero?

Reading is nicer than you probably think it is

Finally, if you like the sound of everything else but think Reading isn’t a very interesting place to live, think again! I was really surprised by how much cultural activity there is in Reading, and initiatives like Place of Culture and the Abbey Quarter are all about promoting this and trying to engage people with it. One of my highlights was seeing the cell where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned during the Inside project at Reading Prison. I also got to meet historian Dr Lucy Worsley when her father Peter did a book launch at The MERL (fun fact: Peter Worsley used to be a professor at Reading and Lucy herself was born here). The British Museum is even planning to open a new research centre in Reading in partnership with the University, so there is a lot to look forward to.

Image: Meeting Lucy Worsley at The MERL.

If you are considering a Museum Studies course at Reading, I hope this post has shown what a great opportunity it can be. As someone who dropped out of another uni at 18 and vowed never to go back, I never even expected to finish a degree course, let alone enjoy it so much. But this just proves that if you find the right course at the right uni, and do it at the right time for you, anything is possible. Auf Wiedersehen!

Squeaky bum time: new year, new exhibition

by Matthew Abel, Museum Studies Student at the University of Reading

 

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

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

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

Museum Studies and Costumed Interpretation Summer Schools

Exciting news! We are running summer schools in the museum this year. The University of Reading has a whole suite of International Summer Schools designed to give people a taster of academic life and we’re looking forward to welcoming some new students over the summer months.

Ure Symposium

Introduction to Museum Studies is aimed at students who want to explore some of the theoretical and practical challenges which face museum curators. This course will include the opportunity to explore: UK Museum History and Ethics; Interpretation and Education; Collections Management and Conservation.The course runs 7th-18th July 2014 right here behind the scenes at the museum.

Performing the Past is being offered via an exciting collaboration between the University of Reading’s Museums and Collections, our Film, Theatre and Television Department, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Historical Royal Palaces and Past Pleasures. Learn the basics of costumed interpretation in beautiful surroundings with guidance form the UK’s oldest costumed interpretation company. The course runs 21st July-1st August 2014.

The application process is outlined by the International Office on their Summer School website. Reading alumni and their families get a special discount. Book now!

Untouchable England: this term’s seminar series

Intangible Cultural Heritage is a growing area of interest in the field of heritage and museum studies. However, the UK is yet to ratify the 2003 UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage. Do we have intangible heritage in the UK and “how can we best explore stories, performances, poetry, folklore, mythology, and skills and knowledge of rural people?”

The Museum of English Rural Life’s lunchtime talks offer fresh perspectives and thought-provoking content about how different forms of intangible heritage might help us explore and better understand rural England. As the term progresses I’ll report back on the talks and flag up interesting projects and articles regarding intangible heritage in England and the rest of the UK.

In an ideal world we’d like you to come along in person. Seminars run 1-2pm for the MERL seminars. Each event takes place in the Conference Room at MERL. Please register in advance if you plan to come along, or contact us on the day to check there are still spaces available.

Stave dancers

Somerset Morris: West Country Friendly Society Stave Dancers

Chloe Metcalfe, Independent Researcher

  • Tuesday 21st January
  • 1 to 2pm
  • Free
  • Register in advance

Somerset Morris has performed stave dancing across England and further afield for over 30 years. Using antique Friendly Society stave heads they perform dances resurrected from old minute books as well as newer creations. Whilst referring to the staves themselves, this talk concentrates on the team’s relationship and passion for this traditional and localised dance form. The talk was co-written with Barbara Butler, founding member of Somerset Morris

An informal pop-up display of Friendly Society pole heads (staves) from MERL’s extensive holdings will be available for viewing in the mezzanine store immediately after the Seminar.

Find out more about Chloe Metcalfe and Somerset Morris

 

The Full English: unlocking hidden treasures of England’s cultural heritage

Malcolm Taylor, Library Director, English Folk Dance and Song Society

  • Tuesday 28th January
  • 1 to 2pm
  • Free
  • Register in advance

The Full English is the biggest project the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) has undertaken since the building of its headquarters in 1930. It has created and made accessible an enormous digital archive of early twentieth century English folk arts manuscripts. In this talk the Director of the Society’s Library explores how the digitisation and cataloguing process has been enhanced through rich programmes of community engagement and creativity.

There will be a pop-up exhibition in the Museum mezzanine store immediately after the Seminar, offering the chance to see a hobby horse costume with connections to EFDSS as well as other relevant material from the collections.

Find out more about England’s Cultural Heritage

 

Basketry skills as intangible cultural heritage

Greta Bertram, Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading

  • Tuesday 4th February
  • 1 to 2pm
  • Free
  • Register in advance

The state of traditional craftsmanship has changed dramatically during the last century. While craft skills are recognised by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage, in the UK there is little public awareness of such approaches. Using the example of basketry, this talk will examine the idea of heritage craft, explore values that basketmakers ascribe to their work, and look to the future of intangible craft skills.

The Seminar will be followed by an informal pop-up exhibition of baskets in the Museum’s mezzanine store and a chance to talk about MERL’s current Stakeholders project.

Find out more about intangible heritage on the MERL project blog.

 

Ghosts and belief: religion and folklore

Dr Paul Cowdell, University of Hertfordshire / The Folklore Society

  • Tuesday 11th February
  • 1 to 2pm
  • Free
  • Register in advance

Barely anywhere in England lacks a ghost story. This is not just a collection of local legends, but points to a complicated history of eschatological thought. This seminar, based on recent fieldwork, examines that folk eschatology. It will look at its interaction with more institutionally expressed religious beliefs, and explores the implications of the apparent disjuncture between them.

Find out more about Dr Paul Cowdell and The Folklore Society

 

“- I catch them at intervals – “: Knowing and Not-Knowing in “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”

Dr Neil Cocks, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Reading

  • Tuesday 18th February
  • 1 to 2pm
  • Free
  • Register in advance

In this seminar Dr Neil Cocks will be discussing issues of language and narration in the central, mystical chapter of Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows.’

An informal pop-up exhibition of different editions of the book will be available for the audience to enjoy immediately after the Seminar.

Find out more about Dr Neil Cocks

 

Sounds Familiar? Exploring British Accents and Dialects’

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Sociolinguistics, British Library

  • Tuesday 25th February
  • 1 to 2pm
  • Free
  • Register in advance

Jonnie Robinson is responsible for the Library’s extensive collection of sound recordings that capture social and regional varieties of English. This talk will introduce the Library’s audio collections, resources and services and present examples from the Library’s sound archives that document British English accents and dialects.

Find out more about Jonnie Robinson

 

The Museum of British Folklore: A new cultural venture

Simon Costin, followed by Obby Robinson

  • Tuesday 4th March
  • 1 to 2pm Simon Costin & 2 to 2.45pm Obby Robinson
  • Free
  • Register in advance

At the moment there is no dedicated institution that explores the full richness of British custom, superstition, and tradition. The Museum of British Folklore aims to address this need. In this talk Simon Costin shares progress to date, reflecting on how the project has gained momentum in its bid to provide a physical home for a heritage that is both tangible and intangible.

The Seminar will be followed by a poetry reading in the Museum’s gallery. Obby Robinson will read from his most recent collection-“The Witch-House of Canewdon and Other Poems”. These writings draw inspiration from, and loosely improvise upon, English folklore.

Find out more about Simon Costin

 

The Dark Monarch: Magic and modernity in British art

Professor Alun Rowlands, Department of Fine Art, University of Reading

  • Tuesday 11th March
  • 1 to 2pm
  • Free
  • Register in advance

In 2010, Tate St Ives mounted an exhibition exploring the influence of folklore, mysticism, mythology and the occult on modern British art. In this talk Professor Rowlands revisits a performance commissioned from folk dancers and mummers and discusses how art has been used as a vehicle to explore legend and landscape.

Find out more about Professor Alun Rowlands

 

MERL and the BBC: Rural re-enactment and gestural reconstruction in the 1950s

Dr Ollie Douglas, Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading

  • Tuesday 18th March
  • 1 to 2pm
  • Free
  • Register in advance

MERL’s earliest curators rapidly adopted the techniques of public history in order to salvage a way of life seen to be disappearing and cement a technology-centred approach to the past. During the 1950s, their short set-piece re-enactments played a prominent role in television broadcast contexts. This talk explores how reconstructive approaches to rural objects provided insight into the less tangible world of past gestures and actions.

This Seminar will be followed by a small pop-up exhibition in the Museum’s mezzanine store featuring objects used in television recordings or with connections to radio.

Find out more about Dr Ollie Douglas

 

 

Museums Association Conference 2013

For those who aren’t in the know, the Museums Association conference is the big event of the year for museum bods in the UK. This year it was in Liverpool which also gave us the chance to look around some world class museums. I am only one woman so I couldn’t make every session. I am also unable to get into all of the individual debates here (that’s why I have lectures!) so what follows are some of my highlights with links which you can follow up at your leisure.

Liverpool Museum

Liverpool Museum from my window (with rain!)

On the first day I got up early to attend a breakfast tour of the recently opened Museum of Liverpool. The Museum was opened earlier this year by a 6 year old boy who wrote in and asked nicely. This story demonstrates the commitment of the museum to the people of Liverpool. The displays balance celebration of people and place with more serious discussions of controversial historical and contemporary issues.

After a quick run to across the docks to the conference centre we were welcomed by a moving keynote from Ricardo Brodsky, Museum of Memory and Human Rights, Santiago, Chile. The keynotes are always interesting and sometimes controversial. Helen Goodman (shadow culture minister) was pro-museum but talked more about export bans and gifts in lieu than funding the care of existing collections. The Plenary Debate: Crisis? What crisis? between David Fleming (Director, National Museums Liverpool) and Peter Bazalgette (Chair, Arts Council England) dealt with the impact of funding cuts. The Rebalancing our Culture Capital Report was mentioned by several speakers (including new President of the Museums Association David Anderson) and some tweets behind Sir Peter Bazalgette in the plenary debate illustrated the frustration felt by many in the audience. Have a look at the hashtag #museums2013 on twitter to follow the debates. The Museums Association also has summaries up on their website.

MA conference

MA conference

It should be noted that when choosing activities I engaged in some obvious nepotism by attending sessions run by my colleagues e.g. ‘Overcoming your fears of managing volunteers’ and the University Museums Group session which launched a new report. Other than that I found the ‘Emotional Museum’ strand particularly thought provoking and it included my star session, a workshop on LGBT activism in museums. On a related note the Social Justice Alliance for Museums launched on the first day and the three conference themes The Therapeutic Museum, Tomorrow’s World and The Emotional Museum all referred to the bigger question of who and what museums should be for.

Teddy

Teddy

On a lighter note I had great fun mooching around the exhibition area, quizzing people about digital developments and picking up free pens (and teddy bears). However, there were also a number of sessions somewhere in the middle, giving concrete examples of how high concept ideas can be put into practice.The ‘I Tweet Dead People’ session from York Museum and Imagemakers was a great example of the kind of innovation which can marry new technology together with engaging interpretation. This is what the conference is really about for me, learning new things, meeting new people and developing new ways of moving forward together.

I tweet dead people

I tweet dead people

Postcard from America 4 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Anybody who has visited ‘the Met’ will know that it is impossible to summarize it in a single blog post. The place is humongous and I spent a lot of my time walking in circles.The Museum traces its roots back to 1866 when a group of Americans agreed to establish a national museum of art. The Museum opened in its current location on 5th Avenue in 1880 and provides more information on its own history via its website.

Medieval gallery at The Met

Medieval gallery at The Met

What I found interesting about the Met is that it defines itself as a museum of art in its mission statement but has large holdings of what might be termed archaeological material. As the work of Prof. Christopher Whitehead has illustrated the line between these kinds of objects is fuzzy and has an interesting place in the history of the development of academic disciplines in the 19th century. In the Met archaeological objects are displayed largely as pieces of decorative art. The visitor is encouraged to appreciate their aesthetic values over their social or economic function. However, the museum also uses it’s own architecture to create room sets which provide context for individual items. This works particularly well with the medieval collections in highlighting their function within larger religious buildings.

Frank Lloyd Wright room set at the Met

Frank Lloyd Wright room set at the Met

After an hour of aimless wandering I made a decision to seek out material which I couldn’t see in Europe. After visiting a haunting photographic exhibition Photography and the American Civil War I took about half an hour to find the American galleries. Unfortunately I was there a few months too early to see a new permanent gallery devoted to the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany but I did get to see some examples of his work in the current displays. Again, there were room sets, including a Frank Lloyd Wright room which I would have happily moved into.

Being a museum geek, what really impressed me was the visible storage which was accompanied by computer screens where one could type in the location of an object and get more information. It tested my jet lag diminished memory to get the numbers to the machine, but it was a great place to explore. They also had a wall decorated in tiny images of all of the gallery’s acquisitions drawn from their database. It created a striking visual effect and could be explored while you loitered on the benches in that space.

Visible Storage at the Met

Visible Storage at the Met

This might seem like an extremely partial account of such a world famous museum. A museum where you can get hand rolled sushi in the cafeteria and where every object is recognisable from a text book.However, visiting a museum with such vast collections can be overwhelming and these smaller spaces for exploration and reflection are a useful antidote.