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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
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
Apologies for the Wizard of Oz reference in the title – I couldn’t help myself. To finish the week, I thought I’d post an update on what I have been working on over the past couple of weeks. We recently asked some of our MERL tour guides for feedback about what sort of objects visitors seem to be most interested in, with a particular interest in place. The answer that came back was “wagons and ploughs”. This didn’t really surprise me, as I remember on my own first visit to the museum I immediately wanted to find a wagon from Worcestershire, the county in which I grew up. As it turns out, we don’t actually have a wagon from Worcestershire, but we do have plenty from many other counties. I spent a few days enhancing the catalogue records for all the wagons in MERL’s collection, and after than moved on to the ploughs.
Cataloguing in this way does have certain advantages. Spending a number of days immersed in information about a particular type of object gives you a much better chance of getting to understand those objects, and what is most relevant and important to record about them. This is particularly useful when trying to tidy up the object name thesaurus for such objects. In contrast, if you only catalogue one wagon in every 300 records it is much harder to get an overall picture of wagons and their variations. Of course, it does help when you are interested in the objects you are spending up to week cataloguing exclusively. On the other hand, cataloguing chronologically gives a really good insight into the history of the collection and how it developed over time, as well as being a logical and consistent way to progress towards our goal of 10,000 records by the end of the year. It is interesting to consider how the order in which we catalogue objects might be influencing the way in which we are cataloguing them.
As well as the wagons and ploughs, I have also catalogued the objects in one particular gallery location: the saddlery case in the ‘Leather’ section of the Museum. This is part of a small part of the project I am working on, where we’re trying to think of ways of making the enhanced catalogue records more accessible to visitors who are actually standing in the Museum, looking at the objects. One of the ways we are thinking of doing this is using QR codes. This is one outcome of our work with iMuse (see Working with iMuse and Historypin), and we have been able to think a lot about the benefits and practicalities of using QR code technology in a museum context. Now that all of the objects in the saddlery case have been enhanced, we will be able to generate a QR code which, when scanned using a smartphone, will direct the visitor to the enhanced database entries for those objects. As a starting point, this should enable them to access far more information about the objects than would be possible with in-gallery text labels. Of course, QR codes aren’t perfect: not all of our visitors will have smartphones, for a start. As an initial idea to trial, though, we hope that it will give us some useful feedback with which to move forward.
One of the displays in the Saddlery Case, one area of the gallery in which we will be trialling the use of QR codes.
Tags: Adlib, Cataloguing, collection, Database, iMuse, Museum of English Rural Life, Place, Ploughs, QR codes, Records, Saddlery, Sense of Place, Wagons, Worcestershire
In the absence of a ‘Blue Peter’ style counter, I am confined to a mere blog post to let you know that we have now catalogued over 5000 records! Next target: 6000.
Tags: Adlib, Cataloguing, Database, Progress, Records
Just in time for a well-deserved Easter break, Project Officer Greta Bertram has just completed improvements to catalogue information associated with all the artefacts that entered the museum’s collection during its founding year of 1951. This is no small achievement, entailing as it has the enhancement of some 1344 records in the collection database. Well done Greta!
The initial object in this run of entries was a humble animal bell, which had been allocated the accession number ‘MERL 51/1‘ to indicate that it was the first item to be formally acquired during the year 1951. Undertaking research for a recent temporary exhibition I had the opportunity to speak with the man who gave this object to the museum. Back then he was a student in the University of Reading’s Department of Agriculture and he remains a local farmer, still living in the same place he did when the object was donated. In order to track him down I simply searched for the farm name online and gave one of the phone numbers I found a try, not really expecting to have very much luck. In actual fact, his wife answered the phone and, after my long-winded explanation for ringing, she told me that he was in the next room and got him to come to speak with me.
The first artefact to be recorded in 1951
The object donor remembered giving the object but had no idea that it had become the first item to be formally recorded in the museum’s accession register. Some of the details that Greta has added to this artefact’s catalogue entry stem directly from this conversation. Of course, many farms are also family businesses and are therefore owned or operated by the same close-knit group of people for generations. This kind of successive connection represents a powerful attachment to place that rural museums should seek to capitalise on and harness when attempting to foster a stronger sense of stakeholdership in their collections.
Earlier today I was reminded of that same conversation whilst visiting another potential object donor who, as it happens, was also a student in the Department of Agriculture during the 1950s. He too had lived in much the same area for over 30 years and, although he was a newcomer all those decades ago, he had become very much ‘hefted’ to his current home. He’s a basket specialist and collector, which is really more Greta’s area of interest and expertise than mine. After editing the 1000-plus records pertaining to the ’51 objects, I think Greta deserves a break from her computer screen. So, I’m going to encourage her to visit his collection, giving her the opportunity to find out more about the University in the 1950s, but more importantly to help contribute towards shaping the MERL collection for future generations.
Tags: 1950s, 1951, Accession, Basketry, Bell, Catalogue, Complete, Database, Department of Agriculture, First object, Founding, Greta Bertram
The project team have just completed their 3000th entry. This is fantastic news. The speed at which they have been working echoes the rapid expansion of the museum in its early years.
So many objects and so little space!
Following its establishment in January 1951, the first few years saw expansive growth of the artefact holdings at MERL. Despite modest beginnings the response from object donors and other institutions was huge. By late 1954 the Museum already held over 3500 objects. Its first public displays opened in 1955, by which time the collections had already doubled in size to 7000 items. Perhaps this incredibly rapid expansion meant there was no other space available other than a wagon from which to hold the speeches at the public opening!
The Sense of Place team are currently working on material acquired in the early 1950s during this phase of rapid growth. I hope you will join me in congratulating our Project Officers for such swift, efficient, and effective cataloguing!
Tags: 1951, 3000th entry, Catalogue, Collections, Database, Establishment, Foundation