About three months ago I wrote a comment here on the blog about the first NAMU conference, which was held in Linköping in Sweden. I was excited about the first NAMU conference in terms of the networking opportunities, the keynote speakers as well as the personal response I had on my research. However, I felt that there was stagnation or a repetition relating to the way we work with museums - that there were too many similarities, especially theoretical resemblances, which meant that the conclusions and discussions that different researches proposed pointed in a very unified direction. Bringing matters to a head, my initial (and critical) response to many of the papers and discussions that took place in Linköping seemed to be: Let’s try something different than Foucault and the perpetual exposure of the modern museum. If other perspectives and theories are used then perhaps the field would be more diverse and the discussions a bit more intense!
And in a way I got this in the second NAMU conference held in Leicester - especially though an extremely inspiring and very provocative key note speech by Donald Preziosi. This conference had the issue of Narrative as its focus point. Putting a question mark by the whole idea that objects, representation and narrative can be linked, Preziosi, as far as I can see, is debating the foundations of the museum and especially the form and mission it has today. This talk really set the frame for the idea of narrative and had a profound impact on the way I approached the rest of the conference as well as underlining and adding to my own thoughts about the unstable and dialogical museum narrative. The other key note speakers were a bit less radical in their conclusions, but still interesting - a shame that I had heard Eilean Hooper-Greenhill’s talk about the latest research at the Research Centre for Museum and Galleries before.
After keynotes we continued to the poster session. Instead of having numerous papers presented as in the first NAMU, it was decided to use the poster as a medium for communicating ones own research. Personally I found it quite interesting to structure my research as a poster for the first time, but other than that I must admit that I did not get that much out of it. I think, partly because I had been up very early that morning to arrive in Leicester by mid day, and partly because the session was held in a very small room with bad acoustics, it was just too noisy and too unstructured for me. The conversations that I did manage to have were brief and it was difficult to get valuable feedback from anyone, just as it was hard for me to grasp people’s complex projects there and then. It will be good to see them online on the NAMU website.
The second day of NAMU was devoted to group work in London’s National Museums. I must admit that I had dreaded this and it was the reason why I was a bit reluctant to apply for this NAMU conference. Often I find that practical group work without preparation ends up with very general and superficial conclusions, which are based nor on structured methodology or on theory. And in a way this was also what happened, but in addition we had some really great debates and thought provoking discussions. It was great to spend several hours talking in depth about narratives with colleagues who all had perspectives from around the world to add. The questions we were asked to engage with were brilliant and focused and structured our conversation. It was such a shame that these groups were not allowed to present their ideas together the following day. Instead we democratically were divided into new groups, where we did not have enough time to engage with the new questions, which resulted in very boring and repetitious presentations. Imagine the interesting debates we could have had if the work done in London was unfolded, debated and contested. But this is a very personal narrative of the second NAMU conference and I am sure there are many others that could be told.
The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.