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.