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

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.

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. 

PhD Studentship Opportunities

DSCN0411

Farm in Yorkshire Dales

This year has seen an exciting new development. We have a new collections-based research programme! This allows PhD students to undertake research with University of Reading collections and get specialised training. Two of these studentships connect with MERL and special collections, but the opportunity to apply for these two exciting scholarship opportunities ends 31 July. Spread the word! Prof. Alison Donnell has kindly given us some more details in a guest post.

The Programme offers students a learning environment in which to undertake original scholarly research in our outstanding and wide-ranging collections. Alongside high quality research supervision, you will benefit from exceptional access to primary sources and the associated professional expertise of a university museum. This nationally distinctive postgraduate training is underpinned by a focus on museum and archives skills training and placement opportunities that enhance both intellectual and employment horizons http://www.reading.ac.uk/collectionsresearch/DoctoralTrainingProgramme/cbr-dtp.aspx

Both studentships cover fees for the duration of the PhD and offer an additional payment of £3000 for the first year and £1000 per annum for the next two years (part-time options also available).

 A PhD around the topic of ‘Changes in farm business structure in England, 1936-56’ entails working with records at The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), the foremost repository for English agricultural and rural history archival material. The project will study agricultural and farm business change over 1936-56, a period of rapid and fundamental developments in the industry affecting not just the resource base, but methods of production and consumer demand. The approach taken could be historical, economic, behavioural or sociological. However, as the database lends itself to the use of GIS techniques, geographers could also find it useful as could those interested in environmental change at the regional level.

‘Animating the Evacuee Archive: Memory and Materiality’ offers an opportunity for practice-led doctoral research around the largest evacuee archive in the UK. The archive contains a wealth of autobiographical documentation produced by a range of socially and culturally diverse Second World War child evacuees from the UK to a variety of national and international destinations, including – via the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB) – South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. The available documentation includes written testimonies, diaries, letters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and a variety of ephemera, such as, for example, ships’ menus. We invite applications from appropriately qualified candidates in any relevant discipline, including theatre, museum studies, history, performance, film and media studies. You should have an interest in socio-political histories and their documentation. The project framework proposes practice-led doctoral research that will engage with, intervene in and animate aspects of this archive within a range of publicly accessible spaces, thus shaping and re-routing it via a hybridized range of potentially interactive events. The critical frameworks and practical outcomes of the PhD research will be informed by, and interlock with, an important new cross-institutional project funded by the Arts Council, in which the supervisors are involved. There is also a placement opportunity in a museum setting.

This is a really amazing opportunity so please do tweet, post and blog about the studentships. For further details see: http://www.reading.ac.uk/collectionsresearch/StudentshipsandFellowships/cbr-stufel.aspx

Postcard from America #3

Re-enactors train station

Re-enactors train station

It looks like I’m going to be posting most of these cards from the UK due to my full on schedule. However, that will give me the opportunity to add some cool photos from the places in question. This one is coming from JFK airport wi-fi willing.

The next stop was Carlisle, Pennsylvania which we reached through some stunning countryside. It’s a lovely college town with lots of great eateries. The college focus on sustainability is really impressive. They have a farm which is powered by student labour and is self sustaining due to the patronage of local food lovers and the hard work of the team who run the programme. They also ‘green’ the curriculum (most colleges just green their operations) by identifying and encouraging the development of sustainability teaching and tracking the students who engage with these courses.

On the museum side of things I visited the Trout Gallery which was running a really powerful student curated exhibition about reporting and illustration during the American Civil War. I also got to

see the African objects in the store and had a browse through some catalogues for past exhibitions. The work the students produce is up of professional quality and it was an object lesson (pardon the pun) in trusting students with bigger projects. We got to have lunch with the student archive interns and they got us thinking about how we engage students with our special collections. The Goodyear Gallery was another example of a student focused space in which individuals had studio space to develop their own artwork.

Obviously smaller staff to student ratios help a lot when creating a rich student experience, but that’s no reason to be defeatist. I am heading back to the UK thinking about how we can adapt some of these ideas to work in our specific HE environment. In case you are wondering about the photo, that’s what met me when I boarded the train at Harrisburg …is this standard at American train stations?