Workshop Announcement and Call For Papers: “Teaching with Collections in Higher Education: Demonstrating Value”, 10 June 2019 at the University of Reading

Teaching with Collections in Higher Education: Demonstrating Value

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

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:

Call for Papers_Teaching with Collections in HE_10 June 2019

Call for particpants: Who are you calling ‘boring’?

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.

The project team at the Science Museum

The project team at the Science Museum

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 (

Careers in Museums #4: Internship Season

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

Cultural Co-operation is offering SOCL internships across the UK for 18-25 years old from BAME backgrounds LINK

The Museum of the History of Science in Oxford has a paid collections internship LINK

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

Orleans House Gallery in London has a paid traineeship in Heritage Learning, Interpretation and Participation 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

The Intrepid Museum in New York has two summer internships LINK

Dulwich Picture Gallery is offering a Curatorial Internship LINK


Student Volunteering Week

We celebrate Student Volunteering Week with a post by Katie Wise who talks about the benefits of volunteering and the opportunities that her experience at MERL has brought.

Katie Wise at MERL fete

As a student on a humanities course, one thing I have a lot of is time. What’s a good way to spend it? Instead of pigging out watching Netflix, I decided to volunteer at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL). Volunteering is the best way to gain experience, develop skills, meet new people and discover a new passion.

When I started volunteering at MERL in September 2013, I began by researching one of the objects in the collection and although I had, and still have, little interest in wagons, it showed me just what I could achieve. It also gave me a chance to blog about my research and add a new section to my CV. After that I started volunteering on reception which is a great way to develop communication skills – greeting visitors and dealing with phone enquiries. I have had a lot of customer service experience and I’m super organised so this role was perfect for me. For both of these jobs I was only giving up 2 or 3 hours per week so I still had plenty of time for my studies and to relax.

I also got lots of opportunities to help out with events that were run by the museum. These included small workshops, such as bread making or crafts, and large events such as the May Fayre. This was an amazing event to be a part of as each volunteer and staff member worked together to put on a great day for a huge number of visitors and it was so satisfying to see everyone having an amazing time. Even just being on washing up duty, I felt like I was an important part of the team and had contributed to the event.

Due to the financial situation museums are under, some places use volunteers as ‘free labour’, only interested in keeping costs down. However, I have never felt like I have been taken advantage of in this way and MERL are definitely interested in the development of their volunteers and helping them achieve. My skills and interests were used to find a role that suited me and that I would enjoy and they are always willing to help me to develop skills, build up my CV and give me incredible opportunities.

You never know what volunteering can lead to. I was very lucky as a temporary weekend post at MERL opened up and, as I was already volunteering in that role during the week, I was suggested for the post. As I had museum volunteering experience, I was also able to apply for another museum job which I have been working in for nine months now. When I started volunteering, I never imagined that I would have two paid museum jobs by my second year of university.

From volunteering I have gained research skills, IT skills, communication and customer service skills as well as experience working in large and small groups. I gained paid work and have discovered my passion and the career I want as well as having lots of fun. All this is definitely worth giving up a couple of hours a week and I would strongly recommend it.

This post originally appeared as part of ‘Volunteers’ Voice’ on the Our Country Lives blog

Colonial Williamsburg

In case the last post about my trip to the CZAP Project excavation in Kurdistan didn’t make you jealous enough, this post deals with a trip to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, USA. I was invited over to discuss our exciting new collaboration on the Performing the Past Summer School which teaches the basics of costumed interpretation.

After the crowds had gone home

After the crowds had gone home

As I mentioned in last year’s postcard, Colonial Williamsburg is a hard place to get your head around due to the sheer range of facilities. This time I was staying right in the heart of the Historic Area for two weeks and I got to see the full scope of what Williamburg has to offer.

The Governor's mansion

The Governor’s mansion

Firstly the site has it’s own state of the art museum and stores which hold both examples of furnishings and objects from the period and the wonderful Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. Behind the scenes its educational facilities are also top notch and include a TV studio where they film footage for their Electronic Field Trips.

The new-old tinsmith's shop

The new-old tinsmith’s shop

The Foundation also oversees the original and reconstructed buildings which are furnished to the standards of the time. In these buildings you may find costumed guides giving tours or the craftspeople and apprentices who form Williamsburg’s ‘trades’ department. With everything from baskets to wig making going on you can spend days just walking around talking to these extremely knowledgeable individuals. However, I was there for two reasons 1) to look at the live interpretation and (2) to explore my research into the reintroduction of ‘hidden’ or ‘silenced’ voices at heritage sites.

Great Hope Plantations

Great Hopes Plantation

On the second point, as Gable and Handler (1997)‘s study of the site makes clear, Williamsburg has always had trouble reconciling the nostalgic elements of its reconstruction with the less palatable aspects of its past. Since 1979 the site has had an African American programme which tells the stories of these enslaved and freed people who made up half of the population of the city. I attended an incredibly moving workshop called ‘Workin’ the Soil, Healing the Soul’ which was delivered in third person and took visitors through the experiences of enslaved people at a plantation site. It’s easy to miss Great Hopes if you jump on the bus to the Historic Area but I would urge visitors to take time to talk with these incredible interpreters. It is challenging but you need to experience it.

'The Hated Spy'

‘The Hated Spy’

The challenges of telling the whole story of Williamsburg can also be witnessed in the Historic Area where staff are constantly discussing and debating how programmes such as ‘Revolution in the Streets’ can convey the full range of historical lived experiences. Watching ‘The Hated Spy’ or ‘Jumpin’ the Broom’ made it hard, for me at least, to simply tune out and enjoy the beauty of the place and forced me to engage with these complex and contradictory aspects of the past. As I was over there on a research grant I got to talk to the team behind this research and interpretation. Williamsburg as an organisation, and individual interpreters, sometimes ‘get flack’ for their depiction of the past but it’s clear that they’re tough on themselves and are always trying to improve what they do. It’ll be interesting to see how the site develops over the next couple of years and I’m really looking forward to welcoming some of their team on ‘Performing the Past’ this summer.

The fife and drums

The Fifes and Drums

Glastonbury Abbey Study Day: Guest Post

Earlier this year we ran a Medieval Archaeology and History Study Day for A/ AS level and GCSE students at Glastonbury Abbey. We had a fantastic turn out and I challenged the students to come up with a blog post describing the day. The winner Olivia Bishop (Bruton School for Girls) will get a day behind the scenes with the curators at the Abbey. This is the day in Olivia’s words…

Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey

“Archaeology is a subject that has always sat in the back of my mind as a possible interest; however, despite my love of history, I have never studied or seriously researched it. The talks at Glastonbury Abbey, on Monday 1st February have helped to change that!  From learning about the excavation of bones, to the science behind the archaeology itself, the whole day was fascinating and I came away with new interests and a desire to know more.

Professor Roberta Gilchrist’s talk on how archaeological techniques can help us to understand the medieval world was enlightening and brought alive a subject I hadn’t previously considered. The idea that, using carbon dating techniques, a piece of pottery can give us accurate data on the age of the monastery is amazing. Learning about and seeing a geophysical survey was exciting and I was surprised by how much archaeologists can learn without digging-and destroying the evidence.

Although I had previously heard a few of the Glastonbury Abbey myths, I didn’t know much about it before I arrived and the influence it once had was completely unknown to me. The mind map we were asked to write at the beginning of the day certainly highlighted that; however, by the afternoon, I could recount a detailed chronology of the abbey’s history alongside some of its many legends, and the reasons behind them. I think what captured my attention most, was the idea that when, in 1191, the monks at Glastonbury claimed to dig up the grave of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. They were probably just trying to make money and had no idea of the effect that the myth would have, not only on the thousands of visitors that were attracted to the Abbey by it, but on how it would influence future historical research of the site.

The talk

The talk

Meeting leading archaeologists and learning about their work was really interesting. The range of information and different types of work they are doing is incredible and has opened my eyes to many aspects of archaeology I hadn’t previously thought about. How it is presented, for example, is key in how much people learn and how much of an interest they take in the subject. The bones found at the site help us to discover what type of lifestyle the monks at the Abbey lived and the ecosystems and fossils found, work with the geophysical technology to show where buildings would have once been.

Although the day showed that real archaeology doesn’t happen like it does on ‘Time Team’, it opened my eyes to career options I had never previously considered and gave my love of history a new dimension.”

Behind the scenes at UCL

Where can you see death masks and Darwin’s tweezers? The University College London collections. I love to scope out what other people have hidden away and last Wednesday Curator Nick Booth kindly took me and my colleague Andrew Mangham to look at their stores.


Andrew is an expert in 19th century gothic fiction, real life Victorian murder cases, and Charles Dickens so we were particularly interested in the criminology collections. We weren’t disappointed when confronted with a collection of death masks. The masks of the great and good sit alongside a morbid collection of masks taken from executed criminals. Read Nick’s own blog post for more information about this fascinating collection.


One mask had several cut marks where the swordsman had not found his mark the first time around. Another was mysteriously split in half. Andrew noted that Dickens witnessed and described an execution by guillotine in which the head was severed in half. He also noted that in Dickens’ work such masks are described as decorating the office of a lawyer (I am not a Dickens expert so I’ll get the exact quote for anybody who is interested). Isn’t inter disciplinarity great?


We looked around the Galton collection and saw examples of early fingerprinting and phrenology equipment. Galton was Darwin’s cousin and idolized him. Thus, in his collection he had Darwin’s tweezers, pruning scissors and coat clasps. There were drawers full of fascinating and baffling looking pieces of equipment so we are planning to head back soon to quiz the specialist curator Subhadra Das.


Nick’s remit is the science and technology collections, however, the most famous ‘object’ under his care is the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham. Jeremy Bentham was a philosopher and social reformer and he asked that his body be dissected and displayed in this unusual manner. If you want to stop by and visit Bentham you can find him in the South Cloisters of UCL…


In the stores with our curatorship students

Last Friday our Part 2 Curatorship and Collections Management students got to check out their research objects in our store. We had conversations about the eating habits of hawks and crows, tried to work out the mechanics of traps, and hunted for exactly the right shire horse bit to study. We also had students looking at our Women’s Land Army collections and being puzzled by ‘8 years of service’ on one armband (they actually served from 1939-1950!) Students come from a range of disciplines and they always have a fresh perspective and ask new questions. It’s also great to explore some previously overlooked contraptions and gizmos such as our miniature singer sewing machine or this fabulous mouse trap…

Mouse trap

Mouse trap

Open Day for the SWW Doctoral Training Partnership

Thinking about a doctorate? Are you a UK or EU student? Then check out this event!

This is a last minute reminder that you need to book by midday on Monday 13th January for the South, West & Wales Doctoral Training Partnership’s Open Day at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol. The event itself is on 22nd January 2014 and you can book via to meet potential supervisors, find out about different universities and learn an out about research opportunities.

The South, West & Wales Doctoral Training Partnership has designed a unique programme called ‘The Professional Arts and Humanities Researcher’. I’m flagging it up here as Reading is involved and because it’s really well suited to people with an interest in museums, heritage and collections based research.