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

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

 

Body Art in Museums

I attended a thought provoking lecture by Dr Matt Lodder on Victorian trends in tattooing yesterday. Matt stressed that the idea that tattooing is ‘a new fad’ is itself very old. The British royal family, including King George V, had Japanese tattoos. During the 1890s it was quite the fashionable thing amongst the upper classes. It was also much commented upon by the tabloid press of the time. Here is a link to an online article by Matt which does a bit of myth busting http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/01/myths-about-tattoos

The talk got me thinking about body arts in museums as a topic for museum studies students. One of the lecture slides showed an image of an ‘object’ from a museum which was a tattoo on the original skin. There are several examples of ethnographic objects which occupy this murky territory, being both human remains and art objects, and they raise interesting ethical and philosophical questions. From a collecting viewpoint body arts also unsettle object focussed techniques, as much of it is transitory and you can’t (for practical and ethical reasons) collect a body with its skin and hair. Matt and his fellow researchers use photography, diaries, paintings and newspaper articles to understand the history of tattooing and exhibitions of body art increasingly do the same.

When I was still a student I did some audience evaluation with the, then new, Body Arts display in the Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford. I was struck by how a discussion of the decoration of the human body unsettled certain ‘safe’ categories and engaged people in active debate. It’s an amazing topic for museums because the body is universal, but ways of shaping and viewing bodies are so varied. The Pitt Rivers dealt with the collecting issues by engaging in a bit of contemporary collecting with a tattoo parlour in Oxford and have included videos on the website: http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/bodyarts/

As a discussion point in class it can be uncomfortable. Many people don’t think they have any body art because they don’t have a large tattoo but hairstyle, perfume, make-up, ear piercings all count. Questioning how your own body is constructed can feel quite unsettling, but that’s what makes it such a great topic for debate.