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You might have heard recently that the Museum has been successful in a round one HLF application for a project called Our Country Lives. Over the course of the year, we will be researching and planning for a major redisplay of the gallery, aiming to put stories about people and experiences of rural life at the centre of the new displays.
The ‘tree’ – the heart of the wood section in the current displays.
The main MERL blog has also changed to reflect the work of Our Country Lives, and you can follow updates on the progress of the project, as well as other features which will give you more of an insight into what’s going on ‘behind the scenes’ in the Museum, Library and Archive. There will be posts that show how other projects at MERL are feeding into the redevelopment work, including a recent post in the ‘Focus on Collections’ series about how the work of A Sense of Place might be contributing to the redisplay of the wagons.
Tags: blog, Collections, HLF, MERL, Museum collections, Museum of English Rural Life, Our Country Lives, Reading, redisplay, Sense of Place, University of Reading
If you’ve seen any recent news updates from the Museum you might know that MERL was recently awarded funding from Arts Council England for a major project in collaboration with Reading Museum, called Reading Connections.
The project started in April, and we’ve got lots to tell you about the different things that are going to be happening. There are a number of themes to the project, including world cultures, local collections, craft, and Reading in conflict. This will include collections work and engagement, including events, exhibitions and online resources. In particular there will be a series of events to commemorate the centenary of the start of WWI in 2014. But I shan’t go any further here – to find out more, go along to the Reading Connections blog. (There’s a separate blog for this new project to reflect that fact that it is a partnership with Reading Museum.) If you’ve enjoyed following this blog (which will continue to run, don’t worry!), do take a look at Reading Connections, and see what’s happening!
Evacuees at Reading Station.
Tags: ACE, Arts Council England, collaboration, Collections, conflict, craft, Engagement, evacuees, Events, exhibitions, First World War, Great War, local communities, MERL, Museum collections, Museum of English Rural Life, online resources, partnership, Reading, Reading Connections, Reading Museum, University of Reading, war, world cultures, WWI
As you will have read from Greta’s post Crowdsourcing with the Bucklebury History Group, we’ve been doing a lot of work over the past couple of weeks on our MERL Historypin channel. A large number of the Collier photographs of Bucklebury have been re-pinned to more precise locations, and some of them are even pinned to street-view, where possible. The next stage for us was to start to make proper use of some of the other features of Historypin, so Danielle and I spent an afternoon this week experimenting with ‘Tours’ and ‘Collections’.
A Collier photograph of Bucklebury ford, recently re-pinned to street-view.
Tours and Collections are essentially features that enable users to group together and highlight particular sets of ‘pins’, according to whatever theme they choose. The Collections feature is particularly suited to grouping pins by theme. A Collection could be created to show a set of photographs taken by a particular photographer, or a set of similar objects. The user can add some introductory text to explain the rationale of the collection and any other information they want to include. The selected pins can then be viewed either in list-form or as a slideshow.
The ‘Tour’ feature initially appears to be similar, but its potential lies in the use of pins that are pinned to street-view. Where relevant, the pins appear in the slideshow automatically in street-view, with a small map showing their location and a small space for extra text to its left. If all the pins are on street-view, then, a tour can enable the user to virtually ‘walk’ down a street, fading pins in and out of view and following their progress on a map.
Describing the features doesn’t quite convey their potential to enhance a Historypin channel, so the best thing to do would be to take a look at some of the tours and collections Danielle and I created this week, on the MERL and Bucklebury History Group channels. Simply go to the channels and select the ‘Collections’ or ‘Tours’ tabs.
The ‘George Lailey, Bucklebury Craftsman’ collection, on the MERL Historypin channel.
The ‘History Walk around Bucklebury’ tour on the Bucklebury History Group channel is a particularly good example of what these features can do. You’ll see that the tour includes photographs and objects pinned by MERL as well as those pinned by the History Group. In this way, users are not confined to their own content, but can make use of any photographs and objects pinned on the website.
A Collier photograph of Bucklebury pinned to street-view, as seen in the ‘Bucklebury History Walk’ tour.
And there are a lot of pins to choose from. According to the counter on the homepage, there are, to date, over 210,000 pins and comments on Historypin, and this can sometimes make the website (and individual channels) a victim of its own success. The more that is pinned the better, but this makes it harder to sift through the content to find particular images. If you look at the main list of pins on the MERL channel, for example, you will have to trawl through a lot of pages of object pins before you reach the Collier photo pins, which were added at an earlier date. A major benefit of the tours and collections features is that they provide solutions to this problem. They can highlight particular sub-sets of pins and make it much easier for their users to find what they might be looking for. We think they also make the channel more interactive, informative and enjoyable to browse.
Tags: Bucklebury, Collections, Historypin, MERL, Museum collections, Museum of English Rural Life, Place, Sense of Place, University of Reading
Next week, the Sense of Place team will have another chance to tell people about the work we have been doing as part of the project. We will be giving an informal lecture, ‘A Sense of Place: putting MERL’s objects on the map’, as part of the Museum’s popular Lunchtime Talk series. We will give guests an introduction to the project, an update of our progress so far through interesting case studies, and a demonstration of some of the resources that we have created.
The talk will take place at the Museum on Wednesday 5th December, from 1-2pm. It is an informal event, so do feel free to bring your lunch with you. You can book in advance from the Museum website but don’t worry if you haven’t had chance to book – come along on the day anyway.
Tags: 5th, Catalogue, Cataloguing, Collections, Database, December, Events, Historypin, lecture, Lunchtime Talks, map, MERL, Museum collections, Museum of English Rural Life, objects, project, QR codes, Sense of Place, University of Reading, update
The 1960s. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The Chinese cultural revolution began. The first series of Star Trek was aired. MERL acquired object number 60/1/1-2, a pair of candle snuffers from Binfield. I know this because we have just finished cataloguing every object accessioned to the Museum in the 1950s!
Our first main motivational target (‘leave the 1950s’) has therefore been reached! This leaves us with our main personal target remaining: finish 10,000 records by the end of the project. We’re currently at 8570, so I’d better get started on those candle snuffers…
60/1/1-2: Candle snuffers from Binfield.
Tags: Adlib, Binfield, Catalogue, Cataloguing, Collections, Database, MERL, Museum collections, Museum of English Rural Life, Reading, Records, Sense of Place, University of Reading
As you might have guessed from recent blog posts, the past couple of months have been incredibly busy. Over the last few weeks, then, it has been a real relief to get back to some solid days of cataloguing again, and as a result we have finally reached another milestone – 8000 records enhanced! Hopefully we’ll pick up pace again over the next couple of months, as we really want to reach that target of 10,000 records by the end of the project.
To celebrate, I thought I’d share with you an object record that always makes me smile. Whenever I’m getting fed up of cataloguing yet another auger or chisel, I return to this sketch for a bit of cheering up.
Tags: Adlib, Catalogue, Cataloguing, Collections, Database, MERL, Museum collections, Museum of English Rural Life, Place, Sense of Place, University of Reading
Last night Felicity and I actually had an opportunity to share news of the Sense of Place project via an ‘old fashioned’ presentation, as opposed to virtually though our blog and other online media. It’s important to mention here that it was Greta who arranged this talk and had spent time planning it but was unfortunately unable to attend.
We presented a summary of the project and progress made so far to the University of Reading’s Women’s Club. The Women’s Club was established in 1948 and membership is open to all women who have a connection with the University. The aim of the Club is to provide opportunities for social interaction, with particular emphasis on supporting those who are combining a career and family life and on welcoming newcomers and their families to the University.
They hold various events throughout the year and have a range of interest visiting speakers, talking about a range of topics.
Felicity and I were able to show some examples of the object record files that we have been using to enhance the database with and explain more about how reliant we are on the details which are recorded at the time of acquisition, as well as through research over the years.
We then moved on to demonstrate the applications of our work on Historypin where we have begun to plot some of our collections, alongside photographs. As previously mentioned, we’ve focused on the area of Bucklebury initially so have therefore been able to make use of the ‘collection’ tool on Historypin, by pulling together some information about George Lailey. Have a look and you can try it out for yourself!
The talk went well and it was really enjoyable to present our work to a non-museum audience and see that it really is of interest to those who may not be so familiar with accessing this kind of information through the internet and mobile devices.
Apparently, many members of the Club were keen to get online and explore these developments for themselves. Success!
Tags: Bucklebury, Collections, guest speaker, historic photographs, Historypin, lecture, maps, Museum of English Rural Life, plotting objects, presentation, Sense of Place, talk, University Women's Club
We’ve gone a bit quiet over recent months on the progress of our work with Historypin, so I thought it was perhaps time for an update on what we’ve been doing behind the scenes. If you go to the MERL Historypin channel you will be able to see some of the first objects we have pinned to the map. Most of these are from the Berkshire village of Bucklebury, but there are also some wagons and ploughs from a wider geographic area.
Inevitably, these first trial uploads have thrown up some technical issues that we hadn’t considered. When we export data from our own Adlib database, we want to minimise the alterations made to that data before it is then uploaded to Historypin. The fewer changes we make in that intermediate stage, the more manageable and future proof the whole process becomes.
Initially, we had exported our data into a CSV file (it stands for ‘comma separated values’, apparently). When we looked at the resulting pins on Historypin, we realised the limitations of this approach. Whilst most of our objects have only one known ‘place made’, ‘place used’ or ‘place acquired’ (if at all), there are some objects for which we have more complete object biographies, where we know perhaps two or three previous owners. Similarly, there might be a composite object, with multiple parts made by different people.
This fork (60/290) was made in multiple places. Its handle was made by Bucklebury handle-maker Harry Wells, whilst the metal head was made by a local blacksmith.
Because of the way they work (something to do with being ‘comma separated values’) CSV files can only export one occurrence of each database field. We had to find a new method of exporting which would enable us to pin objects to all the places with which they are associated. We are currently trialling the use of XML files as an alternative. We’ve yet to try uploading to Historypin in this way, but our first tests show that we can at least export multiple occurrences using this type of file. So, we’re making progress.
Another problem we’ve been working through is trying to find a way to export latitude and longitude data for associated places. Focussing on place has already necessitated the addition of extra fields to the database – initially we recorded latitude and longitude in the notes field of the thesaurus records, but specific fields for grid references have since been added, and we now record the information there. Due to the way the database works, though, we were initially unable to export the latitude and longitude for places added as ‘associated places’ (rather than as a ‘place made’, ‘place used’ or ‘place acquired’). This problem has since been solved by extra changes to the databases, but it highlights how projects working with technology such as this require a significant amount of technical work behind the scenes to get museum data online. It is not always just a case of looking at the accession files and then bunging it all on a computer.
Tags: Adlib, Bucklebury, Catalogue, Cataloguing, Collections, Database, digitisation, handle maker, Harry Wells, Historypin, MERL, museum, Museum collections, Museum of English Rural Life, object biography, online, Sense of Place
Given that we spend so much of our time looking at places on maps, it is hard not to pay attention to some of the more memorable place names. There are some gems in the English countryside: places such as Nether Wallop in Hampshire, Wyre Piddle in Worcestershire, and my personal favourite address in Berkshire, Rotten Row, Tutts Clump. It certainly leads one to think about the origins and etymology of those names. We notice patterns when cataloguing collections from particular counties; there are lots of places in Sussex with the name component –hurst, and lots in Somerset that include Coombe or Combe. Incidentally, hurst is a reference to a ‘wooded hill’, and Combe essentially means ‘valley’ (see below for a link to a great website you can search for information like this).
As I mentioned in a previous post, I have recently spent a lot of time cataloguing ploughs, and one of the most interesting things about the earlier ploughs is that their names often include the name of the county in which they were designed to be used. Ploughs might be heavy or light for different soil types or the gradient of the landscape. It is interesting to think that the names of the places in which those ploughs might have been used often reflect those same features of the landscape. At school in Redditch we were often told that the town was named for the bright red clay that passes for soil in the local area, and like Combe above, many other place names relate to hill and valley features. As objects often show the links between people and places, so too do the names we call those places.
This is a Gloucestershire Long Plough (54/91), used at Bangrove Farm, Winchcombe. The farmer who used it said that the heavy plough was made to cope with the local clay-like soil, and that he had to hitch five Suffolk punch horses to it to get it going 'full pelt'.
Reading, like many other places, is formed of a personal name and the –ing component – it means ‘the people of Reada’. Reada, according to an article in The Independent, was ‘an otherwise forgotten man… whose name suggests that he had red hair’. This feels appropriate, given that I am a redhead myself. Another somewhat amusing place name etymology is that of Nottingham. It is formed of a personal name, the –ing component, and the –ham component. In total, it formed Snotta-ingas-ham – the village of Snot’s people. Nottingham is, all things considered, a rather better name.
It is outside the scope of this project to start recording the origins of the place names we are entering into a hierarchy. A project which is carrying out this valuable task is the Survey of English Place Names, at the English Place-Name Society and the Institute for Name-Studies at the University of Nottingham (or, the University of the village of Snot’s people). On their website, you can search a map with information about the origins of English place names. There is also a wealth of websites and books out there with information about this fascinating area. For me, it remains an interesting side topic to the main geographical cataloguing I do. Noticing these sorts of patterns in the names of places in different areas of the country helps me to get an even better appreciation of the significance of place and the landscape for people’s lives, and consequently, the objects in MERL’s collections.
Perhaps there are some other great place names out there that you know about, or places that mean something to you – do comment on this post and share them. We might even have catalogued an object from there – we can let you know!
Tags: Cataloguing, Collections, Database, Gloucestershire, MERL, Museum collections, Museum of English Rural Life, Nether Wallop, Nottingham, objects, Place, Plough, Reading, Redditch, Sense of Place, Somerset, Survey of English Place Names, sussex, Tutts Clump, University of Nottingham, Wyre Piddle
Just another quick message to let you know that this afternoon we reached another milestone total – 6000 records have now been enhanced! For something nice to look at, too, I’ve added a photo of one of the nicest (and certainly most detailed) pencil sketches I’ve come across whilst working through the catalogue records.
A pencil sketch of 55/300, a cart used in Hampshire for taking goods to market.
Tags: 55/300, cart, Catalogue, Cataloguing, Collections, Database, Hampshire, MERL, Museum collections, Museum of English Rural Life, News, Records, Sense of Place, total, wagon