This summer we are offering small groups the opportunity to book one-day Museum Studies workshops at the University of Reading.
More details below.
Museum Studies workshop
University of Reading
10 June 2019
This one-day workshop at the University of Reading will bring together staff working in higher education and the museums, archives, libraries and heritage sector to reflect on previous practice and share current practice on teaching with collections in higher education. We will also explore the possible development opportunities and future for this work.
This conference is organised by Dr Rhi Smith and Dr Nicola Pickering at the University of Reading’s Museums and Special Collections Service.
To find out more about Museum Studies at the University of Reading please see www.reading.ac.uk/merl/LearnatMERL/merl-museumstudies.aspx
The workshop will take place at the Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading.
You can download the Call for Papers here:
Dissertations are done, exams are over, and, like the Von Trapp children (who we appear to be channelling in this photo), it is nearly time for me and my fellow Museum Studies finalists to say goodbye to the University of Reading. The last three years have definitely changed my life for the better, and in this post I thought I’d share a few thoughts for anyone thinking of applying for a Museum Studies course at Reading.
Yes, Museum Studies is a thing…
When I was looking for a course, I knew that Museum Studies existed as a subject and that I wanted to study it. But pretty much everyone outside the museum world doesn’t seem to know this, so be prepared for a lot of “You study museums?”, “What’s that all about?” and my personal favourite “Oh, that’s… different”.
… but it can mean different things
There are not many undergraduate Museum Studies courses out there (it’s usually a postgraduate subject), but their content can vary significantly. For example, Reading’s courses are combined with either Archaeology or Classics modules, while others have more of an Art History focus. So read the syllabuses thoroughly and think about your own interests. Having worked in museums for a few years before uni, I wanted a course that was practical, relevant and comprehensive (and wasn’t just Art History in disguise), so when I read the Museum Studies and Archaeology syllabus, I knew it was the one for me.
And it is very practical
If you are thinking of taking Museum Studies, it’s pretty likely that you want to work in museums, so the course is very much focused on trying to make that happen. There are lots of practical elements, ranging from object handling seminars, skills-based assignments and museum visits, to an assessed work placement in Part 2 and a group exhibition module in Part 3. If you take the Archaeology option, you also have the chance to attend the Field School over summer. I’m definitely an indoor person so the Field School wasn’t for me, but I’m very grateful I was offered the chance to go on a real archaeological dig! Field experience is essential if you want to be an archaeologist, yet many universities no longer run their own field schools, so Reading has a real edge here.
Image: Installing a display for the group exhibition module in Part 3.
Grab every experience
Because Museum Studies is such a vocational course, you will definitely get more out of it if you can do some museum work or volunteering while you study. This allows you to put what you learn in lectures into practice and network with other people in the sector. As well as the placements mentioned earlier, there are also lots of opportunities to get work experience outside the course. In Part 2, I got a summer job through the Reading Internship Scheme (RIS), which offers paid internships with local companies in various sectors, and is only available to University of Reading students. I spent eight weeks with the Curatorial department at the River & Rowing Museum in Henley on Thames, which was a wonderful experience. I helped install a temporary exhibition, learnt some new collections management skills, and even got taken on a “works outing” to Henley Royal Regatta!
Image: Installing a temporary exhibition at the River & Rowing Museum with Assistant Curators Caroline Brown and Chelsea Eves.
The staff are great
I probably should have mentioned them earlier, but the course lecturers, Rhi Smith and Nicola Pickering, are brilliant too! Rhi’s background is in archaeology and anthropology, and Nicola is an art and architectural historian, so their combined expertise provides a really broad insight into the museum world. Some of the staff at The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), where the course is based, also deliver some of the content, such as object handling sessions and guest lectures. This is a real bonus as you are learning from people who actually do the kind of jobs you are hoping to do. And who better to learn from than the people who brought you such social media sensations as this surprisingly effective mousetrap and this magnificent woolly hero?
Reading is nicer than you probably think it is
Finally, if you like the sound of everything else but think Reading isn’t a very interesting place to live, think again! I was really surprised by how much cultural activity there is in Reading, and initiatives like Place of Culture and the Abbey Quarter are all about promoting this and trying to engage people with it. One of my highlights was seeing the cell where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned during the Inside project at Reading Prison. I also got to meet historian Dr Lucy Worsley when her father Peter did a book launch at The MERL (fun fact: Peter Worsley used to be a professor at Reading and Lucy herself was born here). The British Museum is even planning to open a new research centre in Reading in partnership with the University, so there is a lot to look forward to.
Image: Meeting Lucy Worsley at The MERL.
If you are considering a Museum Studies course at Reading, I hope this post has shown what a great opportunity it can be. As someone who dropped out of another uni at 18 and vowed never to go back, I never even expected to finish a degree course, let alone enjoy it so much. But this just proves that if you find the right course at the right uni, and do it at the right time for you, anything is possible. Auf Wiedersehen!
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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
In basic terms Museum Studies is the study of museums, this however is not a very detailed description. On the Museum Studies course at the University of Reading we cover a wide range of topics and get the opportunity to gain practical experience within museums. To try and provide a fuller description I got a friend to ask questions about the subject and I have answered them here:
What is a museum?
Let’s start with the essentials, a museum is an organisation that preserves history through the care and curation of objects and stories. They help to reflect on current issues in society and work alongside the community to make history accessible to all.
When did museum studies start as a subject?
People started to study museums, discuss and produce theories on them from about the 1960s onward, and the debate and discussion continues today. Our undergraduate course in Museum Studies at the University of Reading began as a series of modules that were made available to students from 2006. Now students can study for a degree in either Museum Studies with Archaeology, or Museum Studies with Classical Studies.
We do a bit of everything, with theory thrown in, from designing new exhibitions to looking at the history, policy and ethics of museums. We get a chance to study what goes on behind the scenes at these important cultural institutions. This year I am studying museum learning and engagement, which I really enjoy as it’s the area I want to go into. Next term we are studying museum curatorship and management which will help us with our final exhibition we have to plan in the final year of the course.
Who teaches it?
We have two museum studies lecturers, Dr Rhi Smith and Dr Nicola Pickering, both of whom have experience in museums and have a brilliant knowledge of the subject.
Why did you choose to study it?
I have always enjoyed museums, but I didn’t realise I could study it at undergraduate level until I started looking at Classics courses. It is rare to find a course for museum studies at undergraduate level so when I found the Classics and Museum Studies degree in Reading I knew it was the one for me, and it has definitely been the right choice.
Volunteering! It is almost impossible to get a job in museums without previous experience, so volunteering is the way to go. Currently I volunteer in a school helping in their GCSE art classes and I also work at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading (the MERL). At the MERL I participate in the teachers’ panel and work on the front desk. I am also currently helping to organise the new Saturday club for Reading Museum Trustees. There are always so many opportunities in museums so my advice to prospective students is to get involved!
What do you plan to do after your course?
Hopefully I will find a job in education or outreach within the museums sector, as I enjoy working with the public organising activities and events. I am also considering a job in teaching as I enjoy volunteering in schools and the museum studies degree has enabled me to develop transferable skills and knowledge, such as learning how to design session plans. So whilst most people studying the course will go on to have careers in museums, the varied modules also allow you to identify an area in which to specialise or to explore alternative career possibilities.
Absolutely! Museums are part of an amazing sector, and there are many different jobs possibilities so you are likely to find the perfect role for you. Museums allow you to work with people from different backgrounds who share common interests and passions and I can’t wait to see where my degree will take me!
Marina Rogov, Museum Studies Student at the University of Reading
If you’re feeling bored this summer the Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading is running a joint project with the Science Museum and Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. We’re looking for young people to help us with this boredom busting project.
In museums we know that some of our objects don’t get people very excited. We want to change that. We need people aged 16-25 to help us bring some ‘unloved’ objects to life. You will help us to come up with ideas for a Late Night Event for 30th September at the Science Museum London. We’re also looking for young people 18+ to come along and make the case for these collections on the night.
What do I need to do?
• We need people to come for a couple of hours during August to meet the team, learn about the project and have a look around some of our stored collections.
• On 25th August museum expert Mar Dixon will run a 2.5 hour workshop to help you develop ideas with the rest of the team.
• We’ll run some short drop in sessions on Wednesday afternoons in September where you can work on your big ideas for the Late event. If you can’t make it in person you can talk to us via e-mail or Skype about your project.
• You may also want to do a little research or write some material for social media at home in the run up to the event.
• Then it’s September 30th at the Science Museum in South Kensington, London. We will be able to cover transportation costs for people (only over 18’s) who want to get involved on the night. Under 18’s will get a visit at another time by way of thanks.
What do I get out of it?
• Experience of being involved in a project with a national museum.
• Material for your CV or UCAS form.
• The chance to work with real museum objects and professional staff.
If any of your young people are interested in taking part, please can you ask them to email Dr Rhi Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last term we had a visit from Curator Jen Allison, of the REME Museum of Technology, who talked to our Curatorship and Collections Management students about the challenges of collections management at a military museum. Jen is a former student of the University of Reading and was our Volunteers Officer and Assistant Curator of the Ure Museum so it’s always great to welcome her back. Our University photographer Laura Bennetto took some brilliant photographs of our students with the REME handling collections so I thought I’d share some here.
The REME Museum was established in 1958 with mission of “preserving the heritage of the Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers”. It’s always been ‘on our doorstep’ as museums go, being located in a nearby military base in the town of Arborfield, Currently massive changes are afoot at the REME Museum of Technology, they are packing up their collections and moving to a new location. In this new space they’ll have brand new permanent galleries and they are working with designers to put this together at the moment. It’s all very exciting and you can follow their move to their new home Lyneham via their blog REME Museum Manoeuvres.
Summer is coming and that means that there are internship opportunities being advertised. This is a great way to gain some experience, especially if there is a bursary which helps you to support yourself financially. Here are a few which look interesting (please give me a shout if you have an internship that you would like advertised). I’ve noted where the advert mentions that the internship is paid. You’ll notice that the links come from the wonderfully comprehensive Leicester University Museum Studies Jobs Desk
The Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham has two paid internships on their Marketing and Communications team LINK, two paid Learning and Access internships LINK and two paid Collections internships LINK
The Theatres Trust has paid summer archive internships in London LINK
The South West Heritage Trust has a paid Portable Antiquities Scheme Headley Trust internship in Taunton LINK
It’s been an action packed term so we thought we’d update you on some of the things that are happening. We’ve had Visit Days for new applicants, we’ve been visiting and researching our local museums and we’ve been watching as the changes to the Museum of English Rural Life start to take shape.
This term we have the modules ‘Museum History, Policy and Ethics’ and ‘Curatorship and Collections Management’ running. On Thursday one of our former students and members of staff Jen Allison is coming back to talk to our ‘Curatorship’ students about her role as Curator at REME Museum. They have a big move coming up soon so she’ll have a lot to tell our students about.
Our ‘Museum History, Policy and Ethics’ students were welcomed at Reading Museum last week. They got to see the early records of the museum and to explore how the collection was formed. Staff also talked about what it means to work in a local authority museum in the 21st century. We heard about the new Reading Abbey Quarter HLF bid, the long running loans box scheme, and the recent project ‘Hidden Voices’ which explores Reading’s LGBT history.
Blog wise we’ve been a little quiet this year. However, we have plans for much more regular updates which will explore Reading based projects, talk to people in the sector about their careers, and provide hints and tips for people interested in museums. Last but not least there is a new vlog series in town called ‘How Many Curators?’ It is an informal and light hearted look behind the scenes of our museum, library and archive service. We hope you enjoy it.