Workshop Announcement and Call For Papers: “Teaching with Collections in Higher Education: Demonstrating Value”, 10 June 2019 at the University of Reading

Teaching with Collections in Higher Education: Demonstrating Value

Museum Studies workshop

University of Reading

10 June 2019

This one-day workshop at the University of Reading will bring together staff working in higher education and the museums, archives, libraries and heritage sector to reflect on previous practice and share current practice on teaching with collections in higher education. We will also explore the possible development opportunities and future for this work.

 

This conference is organised by Dr Rhi Smith and Dr Nicola Pickering at the University of Reading’s Museums and Special Collections Service.

To find out more about Museum Studies at the University of Reading please see www.reading.ac.uk/merl/LearnatMERL/merl-museumstudies.aspx

The workshop will take place at the Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading.

 

You can download the Call for Papers here:

Call for Papers_Teaching with Collections in HE_10 June 2019

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!

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

University Museums Group Conference: What are University Museums For? Oxford 2013

Last Thursday and Friday I attended the UMG 2013 conference, held at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Overall the message of the conference was that university museums are doing relatively well, but that strong leadership and ingenuity was the order of the day. Speaking of leadership Dr Nick Merriman (Manchester Museum) stepped down as chair and Kate Arnold-Forster (UMASCS Reading) and Sally MacDonald (UCL Museums) took over as joint chairs of UMG. On a side note, before the conference started I went on a tour of the Oxford University Natural History Museum’s roof and have included a few images in this post.

whale skeleton

whale skeleton OUNHM

 

The conference kicked off with a speech from former Secretary of State for DCMS Baron Chris Smith of Finsbury, a general celebration of university museums. The next day the conference started with a presentation from David Sweeney from HEFCE talking about state funding and the impact of tuition fees. He stressed the need for university museums to actively demonstrate their importance to their home institutions and argue the case for financial support.

Tour Group

Roof of the OUNHM

The nest session was one close to my heart as it dealt with students. Rebecca Reynolds talked about a joint project between Reading and UCL called OBL4HE which created digital resources for students. Gemma Angel talked about a fantastic project at UCL using PhD student to engage visitors with research and collections Researchers in Museums. Dr Giovanna Vitelli got us all jealous and inspired talking about the Ashmolean’s, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Funded, Museum University Engagement Programme.

 

on the roof

OUNHM roof

After that it was onto a research panel chaired by Prof. Nicholas Thomas during which I was taken back to my student days listening to one of my former lecturers Prof. Chris Gosden talk about the way that the university museums at Oxford shaped its research history. Panellists also discussed how historic collections which may seem sidelined from cutting edge research can be made relevant today.

In the afternoon we had a keynote from Hedley Swain (Director Museums and Renaissance ACE) in which he discussed how university museums can contribute to the wider museums sector. Then a ‘provocation’ from Dr. Maurice Davies (Museums Association) and Nick Poole (Director of Collections Trust). Nick pronounced himself too British to provoke, but presented a range of challenging visions of alternative futures for Higher Education, and as a consequence university museums. Maurice talked about Museums 2020 and the challenge and potential of focussing on ‘impact’.

looking up

OUNHM roof

What really struck me about the conference was how the history of university museums in the UK as liminal and often endangered organisations has made everybody raise their game. Nobody was sitting back and relaxing, everybody that I talked to was looking forwards towards the next project. Here ends a whistle-stop tour of the conference, hopefully it gives a flavour of what was discussed and provides links to further resources.