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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
I was reading the BBC News Magazine online this morning and came across this article about Google street-view, and how, in the author’s opinion, its immersive nature is changing the way we interact with places in a way that paper maps are not able to. It’s an interesting article, and well worth a read, and I feel like I know what the author means. Because I have a dislike of the unknown (and a tendency to over-plan), I sometimes use street-view to ‘practice’ an unfamiliar walking or driving route before I make the actual journey – bringing about a strange sensation of familiarity when visiting places that I have physically never been before.
A photograph on the Bucklebury History Group Historypin channel, pinned to street-view.
Primarily though, the article made me think of the work we have been doing with Historypin as part of the A Sense of Place project, as it briefly mentions the fact that the galleries of some Museums are now available to tour on street-view, referring to the Google Maps Art Project. Historypin uses Google Maps as its mapping tool, and users can view some historic photographs pinned in street-view, seeing the old photograph overlaid onto the modern view of the same location. In an earlier post we introduced the tours and collections feature on the MERL and Bucklebury History Group Historypin channels, and one of the nicest features of these is the potential to create a walking tour that a user can follow in street-view, viewing the overlaid historic photographs as they go. I wonder how virtually interacting with places both now and in the past might add another level of complexity to the changing relationship with places that the author of the article claims the technology is fuelling.
Tags: A Sense of Place, Bucklebury, Google, mapping, maps, MERL, Museum collections, Museum of English Rural Life, Place, Sense of Place, Streetview
You may have noticed over the past couple of months that our blog posts and updates have slowed down as we approach the end of the Sense of Place project. But don’t despair! We’ve all enjoyed contributing to the blog so much that we’ve decided to keep it going, in its new role as a MERL Projects blog!
We hope that you’ve enjoyed following the progress of the Sense of Place project, and we’ve really valued the comments and feedback we’ve received so far. We’ve still got quite a bit more to tell you about the final stages of the project, but we’ll also be telling you about other projects that are happening at MERL. In the very near future, Greta will be writing a post to introduce the new project that we have both started working on, Countryside21.
So keep reading, and keep commenting!
Tags: A Sense of Place, Countryside, Countryside21, MERL, Museum collections, Museum of English Rural Life, Place, Reading, Sense of Place, University of Reading
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
The Sense of Place team pointed out to me earlier this week that I had been notably quiet in terms of posting on the project blog. In return I admitted that I had been secretly blogging quite a lot but on another blog that we have recently launched. Readers of the Sense of Place discussion posted here may also be interested to learn about this other ongoing project at the Museum, which culminates this week in the opening of a new temporary exhibition.
The exhibition is entitled What to Look For? Ladybird, Tunnicliffe, and the hunt for meaning and runs from 6 October 2012 until 14 April 2013. It represents the labours of many people including myself and my co-curator in this enterprise, Dr Neil Cocks of the University of Reading’s Department of English Language and Literature. By working with a range of colleagues and specialists, Neil and I have sought to present a diverse range of responses to a single illustration of rural life. Indeed, the whole this focusses on just one small watercolour by the artist Charles F. Tunnicliffe.
‘The huntsman, on his dappled grey..’ by Charles Tunnicliffe (Image © Ladybird Books Ltd)
This was one of many artworks created by him for Ladybird children’s books. The painting featured in What to Look For in Autumn, published in 1960. This was part of a four-book series printed between 1959 and 1961. It was written by the biologist Elliot Lovegood Grant Watson and charted seasonal change in the countryside.
The original Ladybird artwork is held alongside the collections of the Museum. This juxtaposition inspired us to invite specialists to examine a countryside image. Their responses form the core of the exhibition and together offer different answers to the question of What to Look For. They reveal the diverse stories that one illustration can tell.
This is not simply a history of Tunnicliffe’s artwork or an exploration of the rural history underpinning this particular image but seeks to be much more. Indeed, much like A Sense of Place it aims to stimulate debate and discussion and to raise a wider set of questions concerning what the Museum holds and how these rich resources might best be understood. With this in mind, the project blog related to the exhibition asks its readership how they might choose to look at this image or read the accompanying text? As the exhibition progresses we hope that you will share your responses and join the conversation here.
By way of apology to my Sense of Place colleagues and to you, our enthusiastic readers, for allowing my blogging efforts to be channelled in another direction, I offer you this link to a posting that I made earlier today in relation to the exhibition. It is concerned with the notion of object biographies and with the important role of ‘place’ in governing how we might come to think about the history of and value of material things. It therefore touches directly on ideas that have proven such an inspiration and driving force in this context and stands as testament to the influence that the Sense of Place team themselves have exterted on this parallel project.
I’ll be away for a couple of weeks but I’m sure the project team will be blogging in my absence, and I promise to join in this important discussion when I return. I might still write an occasional post on the other blog too!
Tags: Biography, Charles Tunnicliffe, Display, Exhibition, Huntsman, Ladybird, Museum collections, Museum of English Rural Life, object biography, Place, Sense of Place, University of Reading
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