Squeaky bum time: new year, new exhibition

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

Being a culture vulture in Reading #2

So the Bank Holiday was a lot more about sitting in the sunshine than being a culture vulture. However, I did go to the Beer Festival which had live music from local bands all night and beer…obviously. The music has a bit of a blue grass feel and some of the acts from ‘Are You Listening?’ Festival popped up again. I decided to be patriotic and drank Welsh, which was also a chance to revive my Welsh GCSE. Brewers seem keen to fox the English with Welsh names i.e. I vaguely recall seeing an ‘Ysbyty Seidr’ (Hospital Cider) there before. ‘Cwtch’ means cuddle so you had to ask the bartender for a hug in order to get a pint of that. My favourite name was the cider ‘Gwynt y Ddraig’ which I believe means something like ‘Breath of the Dragon’. I don’t know whether it’s everybody’s idea of cultural activity but it is a pretty big date in the Reading calendar and CAMRA have an interesting place in sustaining our brewing heritage. I remember one museum curator told me that they got CAMRA members to help out with a display on the local pub in village life which is a really nifty way or interacting with different kinds of organisations.

Aunt Elsie's

Aunt Elsie’s Spring Fling stall holders

I was a little more refined at Aunt Elsie’s Spring Fling which was held in Market Square in Reading. Tea and bunting, vintage clothes and furniture, local arts and crafts – yay! It’s a really great show case for local makers. When I wanted to try on a vintage dress from Alexandra Vintage I ended up strolling into the HQ of the organisers 42 Market Place where there are open days and workshops.

One of the affiliated organisations Jelly has been around for ages (I still call it by its original name ‘Jelly Legg’d Chicken’) finding space for art and artists around Reading. It has parallels in the wider ‘slack space’ movement. This is an interesting phenomenon where artists and makers set up shop in disused retail spaces, and it seems to flourish in times of recession. It certainly brightens up the town centre to see art instead of ‘for rent’ signs and piles of bills through the windows of disused outlets. I’ve come across another nice example Slack Space Colchester.

I have made it a mini-mission to uncover some more detailed research on ‘slack spaces’ and these kinds of community art projects, specifically how museums may support them. When I hunt down some more information expect another post.

Aunt Elsie's 2

Tea at Aunt Elsie’s Spring Fling

Being a culture vulture in Reading #1

Lisa Dwan looking at script for 'Not I'

Lisa Dwan looking at script for ‘Not I’ (UniRdg Communications)

I’ve had quite a ‘cultural week’ which gave me the idea for a series of blog posts. Being so close to Oxford and London, Reading can sometimes feel a bit like a cultural ‘Narnia’. However, this week reminded me that there are lots of committed and talented people doing things in the local area. These blog posts will highlight some of the stuff that’s available to the culture vulture. NB there will be no attempt to be comprehensive – just things I hear about/go to. That being said, if you tell me about things then I am more likely to attend and talk about it. Also these are not intended to be artsy critiques, just some info and musings.

Lisa Dwan performed Samuel Beckett’s rarely staged ‘Not I’ in the Minghella Building at the University of Reading last Friday. We got a chance to see the original manuscript and I would recommend following Lisa on Twitter, she’s got some interesting behind the scenes photos. The play was just under 10 minutes long but it was really hard to get a sense of time or space in the darkness as ‘Mouth’ talked incessantly from 8 feet above the stage. I came out feeling shellshocked but in awe of Lisa Dwan’s performance. It’s something I would never have thought of going to see before I came to Reading, which is why it’s so great to have the Beckett Collection on campus.

The other event was the ‘Are You Listening?’ Festival. For £10 (which went to Mencap) you could listen to local bands at a range of venues around the town. Of what I saw I can recommend The 3.1419 Wonders, Quiet Quiet Band, and Tail Feather. Damien a Passmore and the Loveable Fraudsters’ ‘garage-country’ or ‘CowPunk’ take on Warren G’s Regulate was brilliant. I also listened to and liked, but did not see, Sophie Henderson through the floorboards of the excellent cafe Milk while munching on my chocolate and banana cake downstairs. The festival was a bit ‘men with guitars’ heavy so it was nice to have a talented female singer songwriter on the programme.

Image of Reading Gaol's Aliens and Irish ledger (Berkshire Record Office)

Image of Reading Gaol’s Aliens and Irish ledger (Berkshire Record Office)

And finally last night I went to something organised by the University of Reading Department of English Literature and the Berkshire Record Office last night. Oscar Wilde made Reading Gaol famous but this exhibition and event looked at the internment of Irish detainees following the 1916 Uprising. The ‘Enemies of the State’ Project is an interesting example of how research, collections and public engagement can come together. There was also nice veggie food and a live Irish band which is always a good thing.

This weekend there’s the Reading Beer Festival. Which is CAMRA so I’m counting it as ‘cultural’. I am also going to try to make it to Aunt Elsie’s Spring Fling which is a kind of pop-up art/vintage market – usually with tea and cake. And in case you start to suspect that I am in any way highbrow I should mention that tonight at the cinema it’s ‘Iron Man 3’