Research Week Review: Monday, 21st May 2007

By Magnus Gestsson

Attending the Research Week papers and seminars has always been a great source of inspiration and this week was another such event of fun, discussion, and chatting spiced up with a bit of gossiping.

This brief review you are about to read is a very personal account based on what appealed to me the moment it was said. I take these elements and improvise around them.

The day kicked of with tea, coffee and biscuits. A nice warm up before the future head of our department Richard Sandell opened the week with a welcome. He confirmed that it was 99.9% sure that the department of Museum Studies would take over the Educational Library building when the Education Library becomes a part of the main library. This is good news because the whole Museum Studies operation will be under the same roof: PhD students, academic staff, general office, distance learning, technical support and hopefully a nice tea room with art on the walls (that is my fantasy anyway).

Then Viv Golding introduced the program and informed us about the themes and papers of the week. The theme for the first day was Representation and Communication.

Jeanette Atkinson kicked off by telling us about her investigation into writing educational programmes that incorporate cultural values. it is not possible to repeat the talk but interesting food for thought was her statement that awareness of own cultural values helps one to understand and accept other cultures and values. This can of course be debated but I think there is a grain of wisdom in this.

Amy Barnes' research into the material culture produced to promote the Cultural Revolution in China is very interesting. There was a lot of this stuff around in Iceland back in the 70s. I remember that some of the Maoist sects survived until around 1980 when some of the Maoists became Punks after the first Icelandic punk band was founded in 1978. Other Maoists disappeared into state and private institutions. Apparently similar things happened in England but a bit earlier although it can be debated whether The Clash were originally Marxist or Maoist. Anyway I remember shopping for Mao badges and Mao's wisdom in the Red Book to support one of the sects. It is probably called something else in English but I use an English translation of the Icelandic title. Anyway it became a bit boring in the end. Punk and anarchy were much more fun and direct action instead of endless meetings analysing capitalism and finding ways to mobilise the masses. Anyway, it could be an idea to create an exhibition about how and why Maoism had such a strong influence on young people in the capitalist west instead of thinking about how it affected the population of China. However, the move from communism, Maoism to capitalism is interesting and somehow I remember having read in a Marxist study that the move from socialism/Marxism to capitalism was inevitable. I'll put a full stop here.

Vivian Ting discussed her research into the displaying of Chinese ceramics in museums. The title of her paper was 'An eye for beauty: Thoughts on looking at Chinese ceramics in museums'. She looked at aesthetics, static viewing and the lack of 'dynamic multi-sensory experience' when Chinese ceramics enter European museums. She also left me with an interesting sentence to contemplate: 'Going to a museum is a shopping experience' and I saw museums in a different context.: A place of symbolic shopping. You cannot really buy the objects but you can say: I would like to have something like this in my house and... Are the possibilities endless? Or is the endless possible?

Histories of slavery and histories of painful memory were at the heart of Donna McFarlene's paper. Another aspect of her paper was ignorance and how the idea of keeping both white and black people ignorant about apses of black history appear to go like a theme through history. This is a complicated story of power and counter power, slaves and slave owners, black and white. A history where binary oppositions play a main role. In the midst of all this I started thinking about how Icelandic/Nordic Vikings enslaved people in Ireland and other places. White people enslaving white people and when in 1627 Turkish ships came to Iceland and killed and enslaved Icelanders and took them to Turkey. The Turks were the barbarians in this case. Suddenly I saw the history of Iceland in a different perspective and the history of slave trade. And Iceland was a Danish colony back then and what sort of an enslavement is that? It is a serious and complicated multi vocal history. Thank you for bringing your voice to the choir.

The intention was to finish writing this last Wednesday 23 May but unfortunately I was interrupted by a leaking water tank in my new flat, plus problems with the gas. So I had to stay at home an wait for specialists to sort things out. Now it is Friday and I want to finish the job but realise that I forgot my notes at home. However, I remember bits and bobs from Heather's paper.

What caught my attention in Heather's paper was the ownership of research. She is looking at disability issues and was confronted by the fact that her interviewees demand as I understood it to be regarded as co authors or even authors because of the invaluable information they provide. They therefore demand a 1.000.000% visibility. I thought about my interviewees who did not demand anything in that direction and I felt relieved.

There were two cancellations on the day Professor Patrick Boylan's seminar about moving on from the PhD and have a careers and Wei Fen Lee's paper about the use of museums in urban regeneration.

A big thank you to all the speakers.


Ceri said…
Very entertaining review Magnus, thanks!

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