Experts look deep into Historic World Objects

As the Reading Connections project draws to an official close, a number of consultancy visits have been run as part of its ‘World Cultures’ theme. The most recent of these was a seminar to assess the potential of the Historic World Objects collection for future community engagement, but we’ll hear more about that in a blog post to follow. A wide range of people have been involved in organising and attending these sessions, and towards the end of February one of the Reading Connections interns, Farah Qureshi, helped facilitate an object research visit. She’s written a post about her experiences of the day:

‘As part of the Reading Connections project, a selection of historic world objects collected and donated to Reading Museum between the late-nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth century have been highlighted for further study. Including clothing, weapons, musical instruments and tools, the objects represent historic international cultures and give us an insight into the cultural interests and travels of Reading residents.

As an intern involved in Reading Connections, I joined in helping while museum consultants visited the Reading Museums stores at the end of February to have a close look at these objects. Two of eight consultants who will contribute to the World Cultures theme of the project, Len Pole and Marina De Alarcón, were invited to Reading on the basis of their expertise. Len (freelance, formerly Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter) is predominantly a specialist in West-African material, and Marina (the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford) is mostly a specialist in South American material, although their knowledge seemed to know no limits!

After studying Anthropology for my University Masters, I appreciated the opportunity to spend two days working with Len and Marina, learning from Reading’s ethnographic collections. Both consultants have worked extensively with ethnographic collections across the world, and had an impressive wealth of information to share. While they analysed a range of objects, I found that my knowledge of world cultures was greatly enhanced observing the functionality of objects, which often shed light on cultural practices. I wrote down their observations, preparing notes to be attached to database records, and enjoyed being involved in their discussions exploring the purposes of the objects.’

Sword

This ‘executioner’s sword’ from the DRC seems to have been a hit with multiple consultants and project staff!

Historic World Objects: photography and beyond

Felicity McWilliams – Project Officer

This summer was very busy for the Historic World Objects team. By the middle of July we had pretty much put together the final shortlist of the six hundred objects from the Historic World Objects collection that will be featured on the new Reading Museum online catalogue. The next stage was to make sure there are good quality photographs of each of the objects to accompany their online catalogue records.

Photography in progress

Photography in progress at the Reading Museum store.

To this end, Greta, Ollie and I spent a significant portion of the sunny months of July and August inside Reading Museum’s remote store, an Aladdin’s cave of objects in a warehouse-style building on the outskirts of Reading. Buildings designed for objects rather than people don’t always make fantastic working environments, but the lack of natural daylight did mean we could control the light applied to the objects during photography very well! We had two days of training from the University’s photographer and used new photography equipment supplied as part of the project – a fancy DSLR camera, a pop-up illuminated background, and flash lights with soft-boxes and umbrellas. We hope that, once they’ve been tweaked during the editing process, the new photographs will really make a valuable addition to the online catalogue.

A recently photographed object from the Historic World Objects collection.

A recently photographed object from the Historic World Objects collection.

I am now moving on with the research phase of the work on this collection. A new member of the team, Adam, will also be working on this with me for one day a week. We will be carrying out further research into the objects, documentation and collectors. This research will then enable us to write short pieces of text to accompany the basic object information on the online catalogue records. Adam and I will be starting by researching some of the collection’s known collectors. These include Dr Joseph Stevens, the first curator of Reading Museum, and Robert Gibbings, an artist and wood engraver who collected objects whilst travelling in the Polynesian Islands. Last Friday Adam and I attended a Museum Ethnographers Group study day in Birmingham, entitled ‘Researching Donors of Museum Ethnography’. The day was full of really useful tips and advice, and we made some real progress researching some of the donors whose names we had taken along to the event. We hope that some of the objects in the HWO collection will be brought to life in new ways by the stories of the people who collected them and brought them to Reading.

New gadget alert!

Written by Danielle Mills, Digitisation/Data Officer for Reading Connections

MERL have recently had an ICAM ‘GUARDIAN’ camera installed for the ‘Reading Connections’ project, funded by Arts Council England and Renaissance Strategic Support Fund. The GUARDIAN is a large freestanding piece of photographic equipment consisting of a digital camera mounted on a column with a base unit that can accommodate many different formats and sizes of documents, as well as bound volumes through the use of the book cradle which is situated under a piece of glass.

The book cradle with glass lowered and ready to photograph

Book cradle demonstration using a Ransomes engineering drawing register

 

Instead of scanning the negatives, a process that can take up to 15 minutes for 2 quarter plate (4.75” x 6.5”) glass negatives, using the GUARDIAN and a lightbox we can now digitise a box of 50 negatives in about an hour.

 

GUARDIAN with glass lowered, base insert in place and lightbox and negatives

GUARDIAN with glass lowered, base insert for flat documents in place, and with lightbox and negatives ready to go!

Photograph of a negative taken on the GUARDIAN that has not yet been inverted and flipped to a positive image

Photograph of a Collier negative taken on the GUARDIAN that has not yet been inverted and flipped to a positive image

 

I have been spending the last week getting to know our lovely new purchase and have found it really user friendly. I hope to make some good headway through the Collier collection over the next few months!

Internship Opportunities

Would you like to gain experience of working in museums and archives or know someone who would?

The 'Ayes' have it The National Union of Agricultural Workers conference

Yes? The Reading Connections project team are looking for three enthusiastic people to join them as interns this summer so you’ve come to the right blog!

One post will be based at Reading Museum and offer training and supervision of  the handling of museum objects. The intern will be assisting with the selecting of images related to war from the collection under the direction of project staff and looking into the history behind the images using facilities in the museums and library.

Timing: To start 1st August 2013 for 9 weeks full time. Closing date: 1st July 2013. Total remuneration: £2,000

Another will be based at The Museum of English Rural Life and will provide the opportunity to be involved in many areas of the project and gain experience of a wide range of museum and archive activities. The tasks will include assisting with the selecting of images related to war from the collection under the direction of the project staff and looking into the history behind the images. There will also be opportunities to be involved in several other areas of the project.

Timing: To start 1st August 2013 for 9 weeks full time. Closing date: 1st July 2013. Total remuneration: £2,000

The third intern will support the research of Dr Teresa Murjas  Senior Lecturer in Theatre & Performance at the University of Reading on a collaboration with MERL and Reading Museum. They will be looking for information from within the Evacuee Archive held at the Museum of English Rural Life under the guidance of Dr Murjas and the archive staff. The intern will record and file details of the information retrieved from the archive and assist Dr Murjas in the use of the material in a performance to be staged in the Spring/Summer of 2014.

Timing: To start 16th September  2013 for 8 weeks full time. Closing date: 1st August 2013. Total remuneration: £2,000

The interns will work with many members of the project team but also carry out some tasks independently so they must be motivated and keen to learn new skills. The tasks undertaken will provide excellent experience of handling and caring for museum and archive collections, engaging the community through collections and cataloguing and digitising records. Induction and any training required will be provided by project staff.

For more information and an application form please contact: Zoe Watson, Project Manager.  z.l.watson@reading.ac.uk or call 0118 378 8670

Digitising MERL’s Local Photographic Collections

Written by Danielle Mills, Digitisation/Data Officer for Reading Connections.

Local photography is one of the themes of the Reading Connections project and a large part of my role is to digitise and catalogue some of MERL’s local photographic collections. We are making these images available to view online via our catalogue Adlib to increase accessibility to these wonderful resources for local history.

I am currently digitising the Collier Collection. Phillip Osborne Collier (1881-1979) was a commercial photographer and postcard publisher working in Reading from around 1905. The collection consists of approximately 6000 glass plate negatives showing Berkshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire from 1905 to the 1960s.

The collection is split into three sections, early (1905-mid1930s), late (mid1930s-1960s) and miscellaneous plates (1905-1960s). I have scanned and catalogued the early Reading plates (P DX323 PH1/E150) and I am now making my way through the early series alphabetically by place name, from Abingdon to Yattendon. Whilst scanning Ascot negatives I noticed an image of the racecourse dated 1911-1912, and as Royal Ascot is this week I thought I’d share it!

 

 

Ascot Racecourse, 1911-1912 (P DX323 PH1/E6/10)

Ascot Racecourse, 1911-1912 (P DX323 PH1/E6/10)

P_DX323_PH1-E6-10_CROPPED_500px_WATERMARKED

Enlarged section of the image above to show spectators and police officers in more detail

Whether it’s a 1905 snapshot of the road that I drive down to work everyday, the beautiful architecture of churches and buildings in Reading, or people in Berkshire caught in front of the camera lens whilst going about their lives, each day I am coming across amazing images and I hope to share more of these with you over the coming year.

Historic World Objects at Reading Museum

written by Felicity McWilliams, Project Officer for Reading Connections.

One of the main strands, or themes, of the Reading Connections project is ‘World Cultures’.   A large part of this will involve the work that is planned for Reading Museum’s Historic World Objects, a small collection of just under 3000 ethnographic objects.  I’m based at MERL, but I’ll be spending a lot of time over the next few months at Reading Museum, as I’m primarily going to be working, alongside colleagues from both Museums, with this diverse and interesting collection.

The Historic World Objects collection was largely acquired from the late-nineteenth century to the 1950s.  Most of the objects were donated by local people who had gathered artefacts during their own travels abroad.  Smaller numbers were collected during the course of overseas expeditions, and others were donated as part of large collections, including the Museum’s founding Bland and Stevens Collections.  The Museum officially stopped acquiring objects for the collection in the early 1950s, and a number of significant items were sent on loan to the Horniman Museum.  Many of the objects are used in Reading Museum’s popular school loans box service, and some objects continued to be collected specifically for this purpose after the 1950s.

Mask

A Venezuelan Devil’s mask from the HWO Collection. Used as part of the School Loans Service.
Image © Reading Borough Council 2013.

The main objective for this aspect of the project is to create an online portal to a selection of 600 artefacts from the Historic World Objects collection.  This will essentially act as a ‘shop window’ for the whole collection, being a largely representative sample in terms of geographic origin and ‘type’ of object.  The online database will be searchable in a traditional way, but users will also be able to browse sets of objects by ‘topic’.  For the past month or so, my colleague Greta and I have been familiarising ourselves with the whole collection and starting to think about what those topics might be, based on the variety of objects in the collections and potential links between them.

We have also started the first main task, which is to work through the whole collection and carry out some basic ‘data cleansing’.  This involves a general tidying up of records – adding and moving relevant fields and adding easily available contextual information to the basic description about each object.  At the same time, we are starting to narrow down the collection to a long list of 1000 objects and ‘tag’ those records with potential topics and themes.  Once this phase of work has been completed (hopefully by the end of May), we will start to discuss the long list, carry out more in-depth research and consultation, and produce our final short list of the 600 objects that will be visible online.

But we’ll continue to let you know how we’re getting on in more detail as we go along, and hopefully have some interesting stories to tell you about the objects and some of the people who brought them to Reading.

Introducing the Reading Connections Project

 Welcome to the Reading Connections Project blog.

The purpose of this blog is to keep you updated with progress on a new project called Reading Connections. So let’s start at the beginning….

The Arts Council England Reading Connections project aims to develop community engagement through the creation of digital resources, oral histories, exhibitions around the theme of “Reading at war” and local Reading photography based on a partnership between the Museum of English Rural Life and and Reading Museum.

The Renaissance funding will enable both museums to share skills and collections to create a programme which reaches out to and engages with local communities and MERL will work with Reading Museum on a new programme for 2014/15, including a series of “Reading at war” events commemorating the First World War Centenary in 2014.

We are in the initial stages of this exciting project and this blog is going to be an important tool for providing an insight in to the work we are doing and for sharing news on all aspects of the project.   Evacuees at Reading Station

The Reading Connections Project team will be blogging regularly on different elements of the project all linked to four themes: Reading at war, Craft, World cultures and local collections. Look out for posts on  WWI commemorations, local photography, crafts, objects, oral history, evacuees, local collections, exhibitions and much more!

For now why not visit our project page www.reading.ac.uk/merl/research/merl-readingconnections.aspx and look out for our next blog coming soon.