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.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Conference Panel: Beyond Text? Synaesthetic and Sensory Practices in Anthropology

Message from Sandra Dudley:

Dear all

I am, at relatively short notice, convening a panel at the 'BEYOND TEXT? SYNAESTHETIC AND SENSORY PRACTICES IN ANTHROPOLOGY ... Image:Voice::Sound:Object' conference at the University of Manchester (June 30- July 2 2007 ) (the conference will run in conjunction with the 10th Royal Anthropological Institute International Festival of Ethnographic Film, so would be a good thing to go to if you are interested in cutting edge documentary film).

The panel is entitled 'The sensory experience of materiality in the museum'. I envisage it including papers addressing this broad area particularly in displays of ethnographic, archaeological, 'folklore' and related material - but I am open to proposals for papers in different areas. Papers should engage with the challenges of - and/or creative approaches to - communicating 'snapshot' experiences of the other in a setting which traditionally and conventionally relies entirely on the visual. Speakers might address such questions as what are the challenges in conveying, in the visually-oriented museum space, wider sensory aspects of human experience such as touch, smell, taste and sound? What particular issues are there given that ethnographic objects are much more likely than other museum artefacts to be brown (!), and how can the museum visitor be enabled to explore and respond to those objects' meanings and values - including aesthetic values which so often depend upon such qualities as texture, surface, temperature and resonance rather than or in addition to, say, colour and shape? How might innovative museum practices in this area intersect with engagements with and representations of the senses in fieldwork and academic anthropology and other disciplines? What might be the role of contemporary artists in the museum space in finding new ways to represent and develop dialogues with the full sensory range of ethnographic objects? And beyond the five Aristotleian senses, in what ways might ethnographic and/or archaeological and/or 'folklore' museum objects be utilised to communicate other sensory aspects of human experience, such as proprioception, and awareness of pain, temperature and time?

Presentations can be of conventional type, or might include film, sound or other.

If anyone would be interested to propose a paper or can suggest someone particularlyappropriate whom I should approach, I would be delighted - in which case please email me **BY 6 APRIL**.

Many thanks,

Dr Sandra H. Dudley
Lecturer & Programme Director for the MA in Interpretive Studies
Department of Museum Studies
University of Leicester

Friday, March 30, 2007

Graduate Students and Mental Health

Mary Stevens has written, what I believe is, a very important article in GRADBritain which raises the oft taboo subject of mental health problems faced by PhD students. Well worth a read.

Cultural Policy Research Award

European Cultural Foundation and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond

Cultural Policy Research Award (2007)for applied comparative cultural policy research

Europe’s Cultural Diversity in Focus

The main aim of the Cultural Policy Research Award (CPRA) is to stimulate academic research in the field of cultural policy. The overall area covered by the award is applied comparative cultural policy research. Emphasis is placed on research which analyses various aspects of cultural diversity in Europe and which seeks to inform policymaking and benefit practitioners active in the field.

Proposed research projects must focus on matters related to the challenges of cultural diversity. Proposals may tackle this highly topical issue affecting contemporary Europe at three levels: a) locally/regionally/nationally; b) at European level; and c) globally, in relation to its impact on European cultural development. The term ‘research in cultural diversity’ is used inclusively to refer to cultural policies, education and training, civil society activities, aspects of foreign and security policies, aspects of migration, enlargement and European neighbourhood policies. However, a clear emphasis must be placed on the role of arts and culture in this context.

In exploring the role of arts and culture at a time of increased heterogeneity, the research project must address the political and cultural urgency of diversity within our societies and within Europe. It must provide new insights and suggest practical policy orientations and/or recommendations for decision-makers and thinkers (new policy solutions and proposals of new instruments and/or procedures which will create favourable conditions for cultural diversity).

Priority will be given to evaluative, comparative and action-research projects which cover the European or macro-regional space. The research outcomes should contain relevant policy proposals for systemic and structural changes, or innovative ideas for rethinking cultural diversity as a resource in the current European context.

Young academics, researchers and policymakers (aged 35 or under) are eligible for the €10,000 award. Applications should be submitted between 20 December 2006 and 1 May 2007 through the online application form on the CPR Award website. Before applying, candidates are strongly advised to consult the website for advice on how to prepare their applications.

The winner of the CPR Award will be announced in the framework of the kultur.schafft.europa. conference (7-8 June 2006) in Berlin (

For more information, please visit CPR Award website

Publication: Museum Education Monitor (MEM)

From H-Museum:

Ongoing museum education research or evaluation project?

MUSEUM EDUCATION MONITOR (MEM), the e-newsletter, is now compiling a list of ongoing research and evaluation projects on questions related to museum/gallery/historic site education and interpretation for our upcoming April 2007 issue. Projects by students, academics, practitioners (paid and volunteer) are equally welcome.

If you wish to share your research or evaluation with others around the world, please send an e-mail to that includes:

- name of project
- research or evaluation question(s) [no more than 50 words, please]
- how the data will be presented [report, article, dissertation, program, training event, workshop, curriculum, plan for change, etc.]
- principal researcher(s)/ evaluator(s)
- site(s) where research is being conducted
- time span
- contact information
- key words to describe the project [no more than 4 or 5, please]

Deadline for this issue is *Friday April 13, 2007*

Listings are, of course, free of charge. Submissions are included in the current MEM and catalogued afterwards in our archives, which now contains over 1,000 entries. Full access to the MEM Archives is available only to subscribers. However, time-limited guest passes are available to students and interested others by contacting MEM at

FYI, the following research projects were listed in MEM, February 2007:

- The Impact of the Kids' Science State (KSS) Initiative on Scientific Literacy in the Western Australian Community (Australia)

- Blogging, Podcasting, Web 2.0 and social networking in Art Museums worldwide and its affect on internet traffic in comparison to a independent and underground art gallery in Montreal (Canada)

- Front-end, formative, and summative evaluation of a school program on climate change and future mobility at the Deutsches Museum Munich as part of the EU PENCIL project (Germany)

- Teacher Usage of Art Museum Online Curriculum and Lesson Plans (USA)

- Learning in and from Museum Study Centers: A Harvard University Art Museums (HUAM) / Harvard Project Zero Research Collaboration (USA)

- Engagement in an Art Museum [MOMA](USA)

- Museums and Communities: A Case Study of the 2005 Institute of Museum and Library Services National Award Winners (USA)

- New Perspectives in Historical Interpretation [National Trust](USA)

- The Art of Problem Solving [Guggenheim](USA)

Also including UPDATES on research listed in earlier issues of MEM:

- Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Science Centre Impact Project (Australia)

- Contemporary Art Practice and Pedagogy: an investigation of the Artist-Teacher Scheme (UK)

A complimentary copy of the February 2007 issue of Museum Education Monitor noted above is available upon request to .

Please get in touch for more information about this call or to discuss your research. We look forward to hearing from you.

M. Christine Castle, Editor, Museum Education Monitor Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
For more information about Museum Education Monitor, please visit

Conference Alert/CFP: Researching Destination Management, Policy and Planning - Linking culture, heritage and tourism

From H-Museum:

Conference announcement and call for papers
Riga, Latvia
24-25 September 2007

Jointly organised by:
Centre for Tourism and Cultural Change, Leeds Metropolitan University Ministry of Economics of the Republic of Latvia / Department of Tourism Development European Union of Tourist Officers
Culture(s) and heritage, both tangible and intangible are at the heart of the visitor experience of destinations. At the level of policy making and planning, the importance of destinations' unique and distinctive cultural attributes for the tourism sector is commonly articulated, at least rhetorically. The management of cultural and heritage assets for tourism is also a critical issue for destinations. However, working connections and collaboration between agencies and stakeholders in these domains are often weakly developed in practice. Inter-disciplinary research at the interface of the complex linkages between these sectors and professional interests has much to contribute to terms of critical, reflective debate on key issues affecting the relationships between culture, heritage and tourism at the destination level.

Research in destination policy, planning and management also explores the competitive opportunities and pressures associated with the emergence of new and diverse international tourist markets. Such research makes a critical contribution in the development of creative and sustainable strategies for the culture, heritage and tourism sectors in destinations.

The aim of this conference is to bring together researchers who share interests in destination policy, planning and management in relation to culture(s), heritage and tourism. These research areas are also clearly relevant to professionals in destination management and the conference will provide a unique opportunity for researchers to share leading edge ideas, innovations and critical thinking with the professional destination manager participants at the European Union of Tourist Officers (EUTO) Study Visit to Latvia which coincides with the conference. There will also be opportunities for delegates to participate in parts of the EUTO programme.

Theoretical and applied issues and themes to be explored at this conference include:

* Creative uses of cultural and heritage resources for tourism
* Cultural events and festivals as animators of place
* Transnational approaches to and conceptions of destination planning in urban and rural contexts
* Community participation in destination development
* Building sustainable partnerships and stakeholder relationships between tourism, culture and heritage in destinations
* Managing cultural heritage and sensitive sites for tourism
* Competitive advantage, new tourist markets and destinations
* New and emerging technologies in destination representation and marketing
* Destination image and branding

If you wish to submit a paper proposal, please send a 300-word abstract with full address and institutional affiliation details as an electronic file to Dr. Philip Long ( The deadline for the reception of abstracts is 13 July 2007. Please find regularly updated information regarding this conference, registration procedures and (at a later stage) a
full programme at our website

Thursday, March 29, 2007


...affects even the best of us. What a relief!

Darwin was just too busy to publish his work on evolution theory.

Science and art: a leap of faith

Thanks to David Unwin for flagging up this article from Nature, which looks at controversial new methods for understanding Renaissance masterpieces through mathematics and geometry.

Seminar: 8th Cambridge Heritage Seminar

8th Cambridge Heritage Seminar
12 May 2007
Cambridge, United Kingdom

Contact name: Benjamin Morris

The 8th CHS focuses on the visual rhetoric of states and societies emerging from post-conflict and post-crisis situations, and the ways in which cultural heritage is appropriated in this process.

Organized by: University of Cambridge
Deadline for abstracts/proposals: 22 February 2007
(Check the event website for latest details.)

Conference Alert: Upheavals of Memory: Defining, Imagining, Creating, Contesting


Upheavals of Memory: Defining, Imagining, Creating, Contesting

27 to 28 April 2007
Dublin, Ireland, Dublin, Ireland

Contact name: Organizing committee

To examine the identical, oppositional, complementary, and contradictory boundaries of the powers of remembrance across various disciplines. This event focuses on the overarching theme of identity, memory, and meaning.

Organized by: UCD Humanities Institute of Ireland
Deadline for abstracts/proposals: 16 February 2007
(Check the event website for latest details.)

Profile of William Wilberforce

I found an interesting profile about William Wilberforce on The Times website if anyone is interested finding out more about one of the key players in the abolition of slavery. I like the fact that it does not shy away from detailing his less heroic characteristics as well as his campaign against slavery.

Incidentally The Times website have an entire section on Slavery with articles and other interesting profiles if you are interested.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Conference Alert/CFP: NaMu - Making National Museums

NaMu: Making National Museums

A series of Marie Curie- funded international workshops comparing institutional arrangements, narrative scope and cultural integration

Call for participation for Workshop 2: National museum narratives
University of Leicester, UK,
18-20 June 2007

In the second of a series of 6 workshops examining facets of national museums, organised by the Universities of Linköping, Oslo and Leicester, this workshop will explore the explicit and implicit narratives of nation to be found in national museums. The workshop provides 30 funded places for existing PhD students and 10 for post-doctoral students with no more than 6 years research experience. The meeting will also fund a number of internationally renowned keynote speakers. Participants from the first workshop may apply for a place at this meeting. Applicants should be able to demonstrate that they can contribute to the central debate of this conference series which concerns the place of the national museum in society and nation. It is not essential that attendees are specifically researching national museums but they must be able to demonstrate that they can contribute to the aims of this workshop and will benefit from engagement with the wider delegate group. Full details of the programme for Making National Museums are presented at

The aims of the Leicester workshop are two fold. Firstly, it is an opportunity for those in the early stages of their research careers to engage in an exchange of ideas with their peers. Participants will achieve this through structured discussion sessions and small group work centred on fieldwork at the major national museums in London. To facilitate these conversations, participants will contribute a poster paper which outlines their research, its theoretical influences, its research context and methodologies, and any research outputs already achieved. The posters should indicate how this work might contribute ideas, approaches, framing questions and so on, for the study of national museums. The posters will be exhibited at the meeting and will form the basis for individual conversations on the first day which will provide direct benefits to individual participants in terms of enriching their research outlook and approach.

The second aspect of the meeting is rather more experimental, and will explore how a group of individuals – the delegates themselves – locate narratives of nation in these museums. Both as individuals and in small multidisciplinary and multinational groups, delegates will attempt to locate the nation within the museum. Through structured explorations and conversations both in the museums themselves and subsequently, delegates will unravel the narratives and semiotics of these important institutions. Are these just great museums or do they really say something to – or about – the British?

In the first meeting of the series, held in Norrköping, Sweden, we explored the range of studies currently being undertaken by researchers in Europe. These raised a large number of potential research themes, topics, methodologies and questions which will be pursued in greater detail at this and other meetings in the series. Each meeting focuses on a different perspective and each will have a different complexion in terms of the kinds of sessions, topics, and debates. The workshops themselves will evolve as the series progresses. The Leicester conference is centred very much on narratives, individual and group interaction, and on information exchange which aims to support research development. It will permit researchers at various stages in their research careers to discuss their research and its applicability.


Programme in Outline

18th June 2007
12.00 Registration, followed by lunch, keynotes, poster exchange, dinner.

19th June 2007
Small group work in the London national museums. Conference dinner, Leicester.

20th June 2007
Interaction and debate: National museum narratives. Depart 13.00-14.00

Details of poster session

The first workshop privileged short communications and longer written submissions. This second workshop requires a rather different kind of effort on the part of delegates and, indeed, attendees from the first meeting will generally be able to distil information from their original presentations for these posters. The poster presentations will be used to tell other attendees about the research an individual is undertaking. Specifically: the research context (the intellectual background from which the research questions emerge), the research questions, theoretical shaping, methods and results or preliminary results if known. The research described may not specifically discussion national museums but it should have some applicability to this topic. By this means it is hoped that participants at the conference will have their horizons extended. Posters should be A1 in size and also carry title of research project/thesis work; author; author location. Further details will be placed on the NaMu website.


Funding covers two nights accommodation, a contribution to travel expenses and all meals whilst at the conference. In order to apply please visit the NaMu website ( ) and register (or update your personal details if necessary) and also email Amy Barnes stating how you believe you could contribute to the proposed meeting. You will also need to supply Amy with details of your likely travel costs (see below). Final selection will be made to ensure a rich disciplinary and national mix of delegates.

Travelling to Leicester

Travelling within the UK: Leicester is just over an hour north of London by train leaving from St. Pancras station. Midland Mainline operates this train service. For tickets and times try Leicester is centrally placed in England and thus fairly easy to get to from other parts of the country as well. It is on the east-west train line which passes through Birmingham, Peterborough, Norwich. If travelling from Scotland, flying can be cheaper. There are numerous cheap train tickets available on the web. Full price tickets can be very expensive but it is usually possible to avoid them

Travelling to Britain: The most convenient airports for Leicester are London Luton and Birmingham International. London Luton is less than an hour from Leicester by train and is home to low cost airlines Easyjet and Ryanair. Free bus service from outside the airport terminal takes you to Luton Airport Parkway station a few minutes away. Catch the train north from there. You may need to change at Luton town station. This latter station is not particularly helpful in terms of information but screens on the bridge/entrance will say which platform. Alternatively, Birmingham International Airport is also very easy. Catch the train from there northwards to Birmingham New Street Station, then take the train to Leicester. From East Midlands Airport catch a bus to Leicester – this airport is a little less convenient because it lacks a train connection. Of the other London airports: from Heathrow catch the Heathrow Express (expensive but fast) to Paddington, Circle line tube around to St Pancras Station, and train north. From Stansted Airport take the train into London (unless advised otherwise) and make your way to St Pancras. From Gatwick Airport, again head north across London to St Pancras. London City Airport is a tiny airport in the centre of the capital. It is often quite useful for that hop across the Channel. Alternatively, you can catch the Eurostar train from Paris or Brussels.

Useful weblinks: (Luton Airport) (Birmingham International Airport)

Past, present and future meetings in the NaMu series (specific titles to be confirmed in some cases):

· Workshop 1: Setting the frames, Cultural Studies, Linköpings universitet, Norrköping, Sweden, 26-28 February 2007

· Workshop 2: National museum narratives, Department of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, UK, 18-20 June 2007

· Workshop 3: European national museums in a global world, Department of culture studies and oriental languages, University of Oslo, Norway, 12-14 November 2007

· Workshop 4: Comparing European national museums: territories, nation-building and change, Cultural Studies, Linköping University, Sweden, 18-20 February 2008

· Workshop 5. National museums in a technological Europe, Department of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, 16-18 June 2008

· Workshop 6. Concluding conference: European national museums encountering a globalized culture, Department of culture studies and oriental languages, University of Oslo, Norway, 17-19 November 2008

Organising Committee

Professor Peter Aronsson, Culture Studies, Linköpings universitet, Sweden.

Professor Arne Bugge Amundsen, Cultural history, Oslo University, Norway.

Professor Simon Knell, Museum Studies, University of Leicester, UK.

Website launched for national bicentenary commemoration events

The following came from the Diversity-Forum mailing list

The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, Awards for All and 24 Hour Museum have joined in partnership to announce their support of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade with the launch of the website

This will act as the cultural sector’s premier website for news of national bicentenary events and activities. The site features abolition-related events taking place in local areas and offers a searchable database of events, news stories and has a special area for teachers and schools.
Funding opportunities for groups that wish to apply for National Lottery money to help fund their commemorative events and activities are also featured.

Museum closures

Continuing the recent theme, here's a recent article by Tristram Hunt (an 'Attic' favourite, I believe) bemoaning the current spate of museum closures and collection sell-offs. The link is interesting for the reader comments alone, many of which reveal contemporary ideas and misconceptions about museums and galleries - and the museums profession.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Please help save the William Morris Gallery

Received this in my inbox this evening:

Please help save The William Morris Gallery by signing our online petition:

The William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, London, is the world's 's only museum specifically devoted to the Life, Work and Influence of William Morris. Housed in the beautiful 18th century family home of William Morris (who was born in Walthamstow in 1834), the internationally renowned collection includes:

• Decorative art by William Morris is and his circle and by his followers in the Arts & Crafts Movement
• Pictures and sculpture donated by Sir Frank Brangwyn, R.A .A.
• An archive of manuscripts and other material relating to Morris, his family and associates

In order to save £56,000 the local Council (Waltham Forest) has dramatically cut the opening hours to weekends and 2 afternoons per week. It is proposed the exhibits will be taken to schools, rather than schools visiting the Museum. The curator and prominent historian has lost his job, and is to be replaced by library staff as well as many other gallery staff. The cuts will lead to a dramatic decline in visitor numbers, services and will no doubt lead to the eventual closure.

The cuts effect the William Morris Gallery and Vestry House Museum.

The local Council do not appreciate the asset they have on their doorstep.

Please help us reverse this decision by signing the online petition and by visiting the website where you’ll find more information and the addresses of people to write to.

Museological Review: Back Issues available online

Jim Roberts has provided us with an electronic version of Issue 1 (1994) of the Museological Review, which can be downloaded as a PDF file by clicking here. He's very kindly said that he'll make more issues available in this way as and when he has time. Thanks Jim!

P.S. Don't forget! We're looking for abstracts for the next issue of the Museological Review at the moment. Click here for more details.

Assembly - a museum education blog

I just wanted to recommend an Australian blog in case you had not seen it. It focuses on museums and education and I think there are some good debates going on - often similar to ours!

CFP: "Amateur images: valorisation and manipulation"

From H-ArtHist:

Call for Papers

"Amateur images: valorisation and manipulation"
(21-23 January 2008, Luxembourg)

International conference on the use of amateur films and photographs, organized by the Centre national de l'audiovisuel du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg in collaboration with the University of Luxembourg.

For a long time, amateur images have been considered with suspicion and a hint of contempt by the professional milieu. Film enthusiasts, filmmakers, photographers, archivists and academics have denied any aesthetical or documentary value whatsoever to amateur films and photographs. But more and more these images, which had not been made with the intention to be shown in the commercial circuit, catch the attention of professionals. They are integrated into fiction films, documentaries, books and exhibitions, shown on television and dissected by researchers. The use of these images, often of unknown origin, raises a number of questions.

The Centre national de l'audiovisuel (CNA) ? member of the FIAF and the AEI(Association européenne Inédits) ? archives and valorises the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg?s audiovisual heritage. Among others, it keeps over 5.600 amateur films that have either been or are about to be digitized.

From the 21 September 2007 to the 15 February 2008, the CNA presents the exhibition "Hidden Images/ Images cachées", based on photogrammes taken from amateur films. This exhibition focuses on a number of questions as to the nature and the value (personal, documentary and aesthetical) of amateur films and photographs. It also questions the use of these documents and the degree to which they are ? knowingly or unknowingly ? manipulated when they are (re)used in a context to which they were not originally destined.

In the context of this exhibition, the CNA organises an international conference in January 2008, which will focus on these questions.

The following topics will be particularly highlighted:

- juridical and ethical problems on the use of amateur images
- historical aspects of the valorisation of amateur images
- sociological aspects of the valorisation of amateur images
- aesthetical aspects of the valorisation of amateur images
- the use of amateur images in the professional media
- when does valorisation become manipulation?

The call for contributions is aimed at academics, archivists, photographers, and filmmakers. Every participant will be attributed half an hour for his presentation.

The proposed papers, with title, summary (250-500 words) and a C.V. of the author, should be sent to the CNA in French or English language. They can be sent either by e-mail ( ) or by post (Centre national de l'audiovisuel, BP 105, L-3402 Dudelange) before April 15th, 2007.

A selection committee formed by the Centre national de l'audiovisuel and the University of Luxembourg will choose the papers presented at the conference and inform the candidates by May 15th, 2007.

As from the end of March, the photos of the "Hidden Images/Images cachées" exhibition, as well as additional information can be viewed on a website entirely dedicated to amateur images (see under ).

The transcripts of the lectures will be published after the symposium on the same website.

Furthermore, we are looking for films based upon amateur images. Such films (short or long) should be sent by post, on dvd, Beta SP or digibeta with French, English or German subtitles to the Centre national de l'audiovisuel, BP 105, L-3402 Dudelange. Deadline: 15th May 2007.

Public screenings followed by discussions with the audience will be organized during the symposium with a selection of these films.

More information on the conference and on the exhibition "Hidden images/Images cacheés": Viviane Thill (e-mail:, tel: +352 52 24 24 1, website: )

Organized by:
Centre national de l'audiovisuel, with the collaboration of the University of Luxembourg

Conference: Museums and the Web 2007 - Papers online

Forwarded from Museum-L:

Features the Department's very own Mayra Ortiz-Williams and Dr Ross Parry!

Museums and the Web 2007
April 11 - 14, 2007
San Francisco, California, USA

** MW2007 Papers: Now On-line **

The first of the papers to be presented at Museums and the Web 2007 are now available on-line. Follow the links from the speakers list or click on any highlighted title in an Abstract to view the full paper text. (All papers will be available on-line before the meeting.)

** Pre-Register for MW2007: April 6, 2007 Deadline **

Register for MW2007 before April 6, 2007 to take advantage of the reduced pre-registration rate. You can also register on-site. Download the PDF Registration Form from the web site before you come.

** Participate in the Crit Room or Usability Lab **
This is your last chance to volunteer your site for the Crit Room or the Usability Lab. If you'd like instant feedback from your peers, this is the way to get it. Email with an indication of why you are interested.

** See You In San Francisco **
If you are planning to come to MW2007, make your hotel reservation right away. While there is no more space in the Westin St. Francis, you can get the special MW rate at the Omni San Francisco. Reserve before March 27th from

Monday, March 26, 2007

RCMG in the news

Culture Minister David Lammy highlights RCMG research.

Comments Policy

Comments are gratefully received, with a few conditions:

Comment moderation has been enabled. This is largely to prevent spam emails getting through, but it also means that we can exercise control over which comments are posted.


Comments that use, or refer visitors to blogs or websites that use, offensive language (i.e. unjustifiable use of swearing, and sexist, racist and homophobic language) will not be posted.

Anonymous comments

Neither will anonymous comments - if you have something to say, stand up and show yourself (nicknames and online identities are, of course, acceptable - it's just psychologically very difficult to maintain a conversation with someone with no name)!


While it's fantastic to know that so many people out there in cyber-space are reading and enjoying the blog, a decision has been made to restrict comments to subjects related to specific blog posts or museum studies in general.


If you're advertising a new blog or website, please feel free to email The Attic, and if we feel it would of interest to other readers we'll blog it. If not, sorry!

Finally, this is our blog and we reserve the right to post what we want. If you don't like it, start your own blog!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

In pursuit of the real? Where fantasy meets history in '300'

As Amy has mentioned below, Hollywood has often been accused of fabricating or misrepresenting history in the pursuit of a good story. This is true for '300' the recent film version of Frank Miller's graphic novel about the resistance of 300 Spartans against the might of the thousand-strong Persian army. For anyone who was sickened by 'Sin City' (the first film based on one of Frank Miller's novels) like I was they will be relieved to know that this is a fraction less gory, so only recieves a 15 rating. However it is still packed with the same themes as the former, notably violence, aggressively sexual women and 'freaks' but this time transported to the ancient times. However for any who thinks this is history then think again because it comes from the same mythical stable as 'Lord of the Rings' and other sword and sorcery epics... and the fact that one of the actors from the Lord of the Rings was in it (Sean Bean's brother whose name escapes me) had me very confused. However they wore far less clothing so that helped to distinguish the difference, and this time there was no ring to speak of, instead the symbolic piece of jewellery is a simple necklace made of rope and shell.

Before I launch into everything I found disagreeable about this film can I say that I was gripped from start to finish purely because of the highly stylised method of presentation. Filmed on a blue screen, the film has been animated in gorgeous colours and stunning backdrops that help to preserve its status as a graphic novel. The figures are larger than life and this helps to remind you that in no way is this story a true one, nor is it real. So maybe you can and will dismiss all my concerns with "but it's only a film, it is meant to be entertaining, nothing more." And that is fair enough because on the level of a spectacle the film scores highly. But... but... Firstly, the story is based on a 'true' story (if we can claim with any certainty that events which happened in the dim and distant past are true); when 300 warriors from Sparta, under King Leonidas, suicidally faced the Persian king Xerxes at the Battle of Thermopylae. As you would expect from an entire film based around one battle there is a lot of fighting... however there is also an introduction to the society of Sparta and a plot running alongside where the Queen attempts to drum up more support for her husband's illegal decision to go to war amongst the Council. The lack of plot suggests I should not say too much in case I spoil it for you and instead I will launch straight into my reflections on this film.

What I found interesting is that we are watching a film about a relatively (to us) barbaric people - the Spartans - and asked to identify with them in their struggle against the Persians, whom they consider barbaric. So this films seems to be saying to me it is okay to throw babies from a cliff if they are deemed too weak to be warriors, it is okay to subject young children to horrific violence to make them strong, it is okay to take their 'liberty' and subject them to social engineering on a huge scale... just as long as you believe in freedom and justice etc etc. This rings a little hollow to me but it fits in completely with the world Frank Miller creates, the world of the anti-hero who is little better than a thug in some respects but has a curious sense of honour which gives him (and it is always him) moral authority.

There is much mention of the Spartans enmity against being enslaved by the Persians - they also deride the Persian warriors for being 'slaves' although as a Spartan you too have little choice over what you will become. They all must be warriors (although there are also politicians which makes me wonder if they have to go through the same ruthless initiation as it is never explained). However as almost every reviewer of this film has pointed out, the Spartan society was based on and driven by slavery. Ahem.

This film was dripping in so much testosterone that I felt the need to wear pink and be all girly in response. The Spartans are MANLY because they fight in only leather y-fronts (yes really) and boots - the Persians are 'girly' because they cover themselves from head to foot in armour and robes. This gets me nicely onto the horrible stereotypes that litter this film and are so blatant as to really surprise me that this film can be taken seriously. The West (Sparta) is good because it represents freedom of the individual, manly virtues, dedication, honour, commitment, brutal honesty, simplicity, strength... The East (Persia) is bad because it represents effeminacy, greed, tyranny, decadence, corruption, bribery... the most ancient of stereotypes abound and leave a sour taste in my mouth. The fact that Sparta represents an ideal aesthetic which cannot be compromised in any way (the strong, butch white male) is made to be all in this film; only the sick and the weak are fit for the Persian army but the acceptance by Xerxes of the (what we would call) disabled is made to look wrong, to look bad... and my response is 'urgh'.

And this is the trouble, here in this world of black and white (ironic I know considering its graphic origins) beauty means good and ugly (e.g. anything that is not white, straight, even limbed) means bad. No grey, no question. Maybe it is irony but it responds to every sick stereotype, xenophobia, racism... everything that is wrong in Western ideology, the overwhelming arrogance and the superiority complex which often floats beneath the surface. It just becomes stupid when the Persian elite, who wear masks, are found beneath to look like demons from hell... or rather orcs from the Lord of the Rings (which was also questionable in its equation of ugly = bad and good = pretty little Hobbit). But then it's only a film and filmmakers should be allowed to be creative with history, yeah?

The role of women is equally disappointing - no Spartan warrior women here to redress the balance. Mostly they are sex objects; the heaving breasts and writhing movements of the teenage Oracle especially disturbed me especially when it is hinted that the priests who interpret her words are ancient, inbred and... paedophiles. You begin to see that 'graphic' is a just term.

I think you should still see the film (especially if you have a strong stomach for gore, battle scenes and writhing Oracles) and it is stirring stuff with all its talk of defending the homeland, justice and liberty (there is one scene where you can see the actor reeling off a list of significant verbs which convince us this war is for GLORY). It is interesting however that most reviews do dislike/argue against the lazy stereotypes perpetuated by this film and I find myself agreeing with most of them that this film is enjoyable fluff. But can ‘fluff’ be dangerous – too much can be suffocating that is certain but by allowing these stereotypes into our subconscious, are they simply being perpetuated for future generations? We know it’s not ‘real’ but does a part of us wish it were real? Do we long (as Frank Miller seems to) for a world where men are ‘men’ – brutal but honest - and where you know whom your enemy is because he looks uglier or is inhuman or has the most jewellery?

I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

New Leicester Reader

Museum Management and Marketing
Editor(s) - Robert R Janes, Richard Sandell
Series: Leicester Readers in Museum Studies

List Price: £70.00
ISBN: 9780415396288
ISBN-10: 041539628X
Publisher: Routledge
Publication Date: 28/02/2007

Binding(s): Hardback | Paperback

Drawing together a selection of high quality, intellectually robust and stimulating articles on both theoretical and practice-based developments in the field, this Reader investigates the closely linked areas of management and marketing in the museum.

The articles, from established and world-renowned contributors, practitioners and writers at the leading edge of their fields, deal with the museum context of management and how marketing and management practices must take account of the specifics of the museum and the not-for-profit ethos.

Key writings from broader literature are included, and the collection of key writings on the investigation and study of management and marketing in the museum are of great benefit not only to those studying the subject, but also to professionals working and developing within the field.

Lecture: Palace or Power Station? Museums Today


Palace or Power Station? Museums today

Mr Duncan Robinson, FSA
Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum and Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge

Wednesday, 2 May 2007
5.30pm - 6.30pm
The British Academy, 10 Carlton House Terrace,London, SW1Y 5AH

Free Admittance

In 1965 Isaiah Berlin delivered the AW Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. With his inimitably rich blend of philosophy and intellectual history he sketched for his audience not only 'Some Sources of Romanticism', but also the mixed blessings that movement, born of the European Enlightenment, bestowed upon the world in the twentieth century. Careful though he was to maintain his distance from contemporary politics and ideologies, Berlin nonetheless implicated the museum, as the site of his discourse, in a wider discussion of art and society.

This lecture outlines the development of the art museum in the later twentieth century, using recent architectural interventions to illustrate some of the changes that have taken place in attitudes and expectations. The lecturer will discuss both the opportunities and challenges which face cultural institutions in Britain today. As Berlin recognised, they are both intellectual and political: rendered all the more pressing in a multicultural society which is unsure about identity and values. Foolhardy though it would be to exaggerate the extent to which museums can transform society, it is equally unwise to ignore their social and economic impact. At the same time they have a duty of care for the objects they contain, the tangible evidence surviving from the past of that creativity which belongs, in Berlin's phrase, to 'common humanity'. The lecturer will argue that the curator's task is to rise to these challenges to ensure that the museum operates as both a palace and a power station, preserving the past and generating new ideas.

Please visit our website for full details of our Spring Lecture Programme

Telephone enquiries: 020 7969 5246 /

Please note our ticketing and seating policy:

British Academy Lectures are freely open to the general public and everyone is welcome; there is no charge for admission, no tickets will be issued, and seats cannot be reserved. The Lecture Room is opened at 5.00pm, and the first 100 audience members arriving at the Academy will be offered a seat in the Lecture Room; the next 50 people to arrive will be offered a seat in the Overflow Room, which has a video and audio link to the Lecture Room. Lectures are followed by a reception at 6.30pm, to which members of the audience are invited.

How Hollywood misrepresents history

Okay, I know I said I wasn't going to blog for a while, but Ive been completely distracted from my work by stuff and can't possibly concentrate on anything too serious, so - continuing the theme of recent discussions - here's a couple of links to some recent news reports, which demonstrate quite clearly the problems that arise when Hollywood attempts to take artistic licence with historical events.

Academic takes on Mel Gibson (Good for her ;))

Culture Clash

Friday, March 23, 2007

Can I just say....

...I LOVE this blog! Many, many, thanks to all our regular contributors and readers.

Just wanted to let you all know that you are truly appreciated. But I really must get on with some work now so, if things go a bit quiet from me over the next few days, you know why. x

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Event: Resistance and Remembrance

The British Museum is hosting a day of events to commemmorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade.

Resistance and Remembrance
Sunday, 25th March 2007
14:00 - 18:30
free to all

“Resistance and Remembrance is a day to remember the past, to live in the present, to look toward the future.” Bonnie Greer, Trustee, British Museum

14.00–18.30 Programme
The afternoon will feature a wide range of events and activities including:

• The Brodsky Quartet playing in the BP Lecture Theatre
• Simon Schama reading from his book Rough Crossings
• Romuald Hazoumé talks about his artwork La Bouche du Roi
• Storytelling with Beyonder and H Patten
• Bonnie Greer and Tony Sewell in discussion (PDF file)

There will also be space for the quiet contemplation and remembrance of the achievements of Africans, the African diaspora, and those everywhere, past and present, involved in the resistance against slavery in all its forms.

The day will culminate in a Ceremony of Remembrance, featuring the telecast of a special message from Nelson Mandela. The ceremony will also feature a choral performance, short readings and testimonies from a variety of guest speakers. Hosted by Colin McFarlane, the ceremony will include contributions by among others, Diran Adebayo, Kwame Kwei Armah, Shaheera Asante, Jean Binta Breeze, Bonnie Greer, Fergal Keane, Kofi Mawuli Klu, David Lammy MP, Mike Phillips, Trevor Phillips, Hugh Quarshie, Wole Soyinka and Baroness Lola Young.

In association with the Royal African Society, Rendezvous of Victory, Pan-Afrikan Youth and Students Internationalist Link (PAYSIL) and National Union of Students – Black Students Campaign (NUS-BSC). Film programme in partnership with the London Borough of Camden.

Conference Alert: Making History Public

From H-Material Culture:

Join the American Association for History and Computing (AAHC) and Brown University's Public Humanities Program for an innovative look at how technology allows increased dialogue between historians and a broad public audience. This conference will be of interest to anyone concerned with bringing history to a general audience, including museum professionals, archivists, librarians, historic preservationists, filmmakers, as well as academic historians.

The conference will explore:

* The role of technology in breaking down the barriers between historians and the public
* Ways that historians have used technology to communicate with diverse audiences
* How the practice of ³academic history² changes when made public
* New forms of collaboration between historians, archivists, librarians, historic preservationists, teachers and students
* New forms of display and historical representation

If you are an historian (academic, public, secondary education, graduate student), or engage history through a related discipline (librarian, archivist, publisher, editor, etc.), this conference will provide a chance to meet other professionals to discuss technology¹s use in history. We hope you can join us in Providence!

April 19-21, 2007
Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island

Special Events:
* Brewster Kahle, Director and Co-founder, The Internet Archive, presents the keynote address: ³Universal Access to Human Knowledge (Or Public Access to Digital Materials)² -
* Mark Tribe, professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown, and founder of, on The Port Huron Project
* Workshops on digital libraries, video in historic preservation, 3-D laser scanning. text encoding, Zotero, and GIS!
* Papers on on-line history, using geographic information systems in historical and historic preservation work, preserving digital collections, archives, and more!

For more information:

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Blockbuster Fatigue

The Times has an interesting article about how museums are hyping up their 'special' exhibitions too much and it is becoming meaningless.

In the context of other leisure activities... are we are so used to having everything marketed to us as 'spectacle' that there is the danger that museums will otherwise be ignored if they do not push what they offer?

Museums and how they can help your love life

Right, I'm going to start hanging out at blockbuster exhibitions! ;)

BBC NEWS Magazine We met at the Tutankhamun exhibition

Conference: The Studio in the Gallery?

From H-Museum:

(Apologies, the conference alert in in German only, but - using my v limited Deutsch - it looks like it could be really interesting. Perhaps a German speaker out there in cyber-space could give us a quick English-language summary?)

The Studio in the Gallery? / Das Atelier in der Galerie?
Akademie der Künste Berlin
Sonnabend, 24.3.2007, 10.00-16.30 Uhr

Organisiert vom Henry Moore Institut, Leeds, in Zusammenarbeit mit der Akademie der Künste, Berlin.

Thema der eintägigen Tagung ist die Präsentation des Künstler-Ateliers in Galerien und Museen.

Am Vormittag kommen Kuratoren zu Wort, die in Ausstellungen rekonstruierte Ateliers der Künstler Constantin Brancusi, Francis Bacon oder Eduardo Paolozzi gezeigt haben. Nach einer kurzen Vorstellung ihrer Arbeit folgt eine Diskussion über die heutige „Rekonstruktion des Ateliers“ unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der verschiedenen Aspekte des Raumes, der Architektur, Archäologie, Biographie und des Standortes. Am Nachmittag folgen Vorträge dreier Kuratoren, in denen das Atelier als ein Objekt sowohl der Kunstgeschichte als auch der zeitgenössischen Praxis untersucht wird. Die Tagung soll Fragen zur heutigen Bedeutung des Künstler-Ateliers aufwerfen. In welcher Form kann es in den Räumen einer Galerie oder im musealen Kontext reinszeniert, installiert und eingebunden werden? Jeder Vortrag wird ca. 30-40 Minuten lang sein. Am Ende jedes Vortrages wird es Zeit für Fragen und Diskussionen geben. Veranstaltung in Englisch.

Konzept: Jon Wood (Henry Moore Institut, Leeds)


Beginn 10.00 Uhr

Jon Wood (Henry Moore Institut, Leeds), Angela Lammert (Akademie der Künste, Berlin): Einführung

Marielle Tabart (ex-Curator des L’Atelier Brancusi, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris): Brancusi studio memories

Margarita Cappock (Curator of Francis Bacon Studio, Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin): Organized chaos: Francis Bacon at the Hugh Lane

Daniel Herrmann (Curator (Paolozzi Collection), Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh):On Transplants: A Frame Analysis of Artists’ Studios in Art Galleries

Mittagspause 13.00-14.00 Uhr

Suzanna Héman (Curator, Stedelijk, Amsterdam): Mapping the Studio: the making of an exhibition

Christina Kennedy (Curator, Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin): The Studio: exhibiting the contemporary studio

Angela Lammert (Curator, Akademie der Künste, Berlin): Raum. Orte der Kunst. An exhibition about and beyond the studio

Schluss 16.30 Uhr

CFP: Architecture and Digital Archives

From H-Museum:

(This might interest Francophone digital heritage people.)

Architecture in the digital age: a question of memory

Paris, 8-10 Nov. 2007

Call for papers
Within the framework of the Gau:di European Project (Governance,Architecture and Urbanism: a Democratic Interaction, a research programme supported by the European Union under the Culture 2000 Programme), a conference is being organised on the long-term preservation and use of architects’ digital archives, to be held in Paris, at the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine and at the Institut national d’histoire de l’art.

For digital archives in general, research carried out over the last few years on the long-term preservation is starting to produce some convergent recommendations. In the world of architecture, however, these recommendations prove to be inadequate because of at least three factors: the structural complexity of the digital files produced (consisting of layers, integrating a variety of presentations, referring to linked external files etc.), the great variety of new kinds of documents (graphics, 3D models, animations, fly through, mixed presentations and so on), and finally the large number and extremely variable size of architecture firms. ‘Archival care awareness’ and a general knowledge about preservation needs are not current among architecture firms. All these factors result in very diversified behaviour. Archiving institutions who are responsible for the historic preservation of architecture archives are encountering, through a lack of professional specialisation, as many problems as the firms themselves. The objective of the conference is to bring together archivists, architects, researchers in architecture or history of architecture as well as researchers in computer science and IT practitioners and to encourage discussion on the preservation of digital architectural archives, on their use and their enhancement.

Preservation implies technical choices, in particular in terms of migration to other formats than the original file format, and poses the question of the choice of permanent and open formats. Since this is not without consequence on processing times and necessary investment, it is important to evaluate and compare with the processing of traditional archives. On the other hand, this new documentary material reorientates the consultation of archives, research and enhancement. The very nature of digital archives poses questions on their circulation and their use by researchers.

The conference will be organised around a series of presentations of real-life cases that are integrated into a particular action of the Gau:di European Programme, the Architectural Archives action. Since 2002, this action has brought together a group of European Institutions managing architectural archives and resulted in 2004 in the creation of a website
( , a documentary and information resource portal on archives for use by architecture firms). Since 2005, each institution in the group has been working on a case study with an architecture agency or on an architect's archives (the firms Snøhetta, Wilkinson Eyre, Mario Botta, Alfonso Mercurio, Cesare Valle, and the archives Giancarlo De Carlo et
Pierre Riboulet). As well as the presentation of these studies, the conference will be the opportunity to compare them to other experiments conducted elsewhere, and also to lay out the general data of the issue (the longterm preservation of plan files), and to evaluate the consequences for historical research and their restitution into the public domain.

1. Electronic data management in architectural firms
2. Preservation and access to digital archives
3. Dissemination and use of digital archives by researchers

No registration fees - 250 delegates as a maximum
For more information, please visit the website from 15 March 2007.

Paper selection:
Presentations of between 20 and 30 minutes, in French or English, on the general features of the longterm preservation of architecture archives and on experiments that are underway or completed(archiving, research and enhancement) are therefore expected. Beyond architecture, the presentation of researches in connected fields (engineering, design, etc.) can also be of

Contribution proposals should be e-mailed to:
Reception of proposals by 20 April 2007
Notification by 31 May 2007

Authors guidelines
- Word format
- File name: "name of the author_country"
- Title (font: Arial 11, bold)
- Information on author: name, first name, organisation/company, function,
address, e-mail and a short biography (5 lines) - (font: Arial 11)
- Text in English: 1500 to 3000 characters (200 to 450-word) (font: Arial
- Summary in French: 500 to 1000 characters (font: Arial 11)
- Please also enclose the author's résumé (file name: « name of the
author_CV »)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Guest Blogger: Conference report: ‘The Memory of Nations? New National Historical and Cultural Museums: Conceptions, Realizations and Expectations’

I am very happy to present a guest post from Mary Stevens, whom many of you will recognise as a regular Attic 'commenter'. Mary is a PhD student in the departments of French and Anthropology at UCL, researching the project for a national museum of
immigration (Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration) opening in France this summer. She has a BA in Modern History and Modern Languages(French) from Oxford University and an MA in Cultural Memory from the University of London (Institute of German and Romance Studies). She is particularly interested in how the museum of immigration is attempting to use public history as a tool to promote a more inclusive vision of national identity. An article about memories of the Algerian war in French museums is forthcoming in
museum and society (March 2007).

Last week Mary attended a conference in Berlin and has very kindly written a review of the event. Thanks Mary. :)

Conference report: ‘The Memory of Nations? New National Historical and Cultural Museums: Conceptions, Realizations and Expectations’
German Historical Museum, Berlin
14-16 March 2007

By Mary Stevens

The German Historical Museum in Berlin is an exceptionally suitable place for collective reflection on the long entanglement of the presentation of history with politics and power in national museums. The building, the oldest on Berlin’s historic ‘Under den Linden’, served as a weapons depot before becoming a military museum. It retained this function during the Nazi period before being converted by the communist authorities to tell the story of Germany from a Marxist-Leninist perspective. After reunification it was taken over by the Federal government. The on permanent exhibition German history opened in the summer of 2006.

Designing this exhibition entailed difficult choices. Germany itself is not yet 150 years old; should the museum show the history of the territories today known as Germany, or rather the history of the German peoples? And if so how should they be defined? Above all, how could the museum walk the tightrope between recognizing collective achievements and endorsing a potentially aggressive nationalism?

In order to address these questions the museum has engaged in sustained methodological reflection.[i] In particular it has sought to address the challenged presented by the work of German thinkers such as Jürgen Habermas and Ulrich Beck, who has argued that the nation-state is becoming increasingly obsolete. What place for national museums in the era of Beck’s post-national ‘second modernity’ ?

Beck, it should be noted, is more than a little ambivalent about museums[ii] and it is therefore perhaps apt that a central premise of these three days was that national history museums have rarely been in such good shape. After a welcome lecture on day one, day two focused on the national museums that emerged in the 1980s. Presentations from Te Papa in New Zealand, the National Museum of Australia and the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa placed issues of bi- and multiculturalism at the centre of the discussions. Te Papa has pioneered forms of respectful, mutually empowering community engagement. However, questions were raised about the extent to which its community-based approach allows for the hybrid identities of many of today’s young New Zealanders. In this context it was interesting to hear how the National Museum of Australia is now looking to find ways to tell the national story by highlighting moments of encounter between the indigenous population and the wide range of settler communities, rather than showcasing difference. Museum histories, are always a matter of institutional choice, never raw ‘fact’.

It was easy to lose sight of this in the afternoon as we were taken on tour of the DHM’s vast (8000m2) permanent exhibition. Organised chronologically, a ‘fast track’ takes visitors past key moments, from which they can branch off to explore certain episodes in more depth. In our case the key moments were dictated by our guide, who, after a brief demonstration of the technology used for communicating medieval manuscripts, led us from great man to great man: Luther, Charles V, Frederick the Great, Napoleon…Where, I asked, were the little people? Where were the women? In response I was told, quite correctly, that the artefacts often hadn’t survived and that I should think of the exhibition as the story of German political history. Yet nowhere in the gallery is this made explicit. Moreover, the physical experience of an unbroken walk through time serves to naturalize this rigid linearity. Despite the reflexivity and scholarliness of its research in practice the DHM remains a teleological ‘modernist’ museum experience (even if the new narrative situates Germany firmly in the European context).

The museum visit contributed to my growing that Beck’s concept of ‘second modernity’ – characterized by a critical reflexivity and a non-linearity antithetical to the modernist museum – is in fact often being treated by museums (and their sponsors) more as a threat than as an opportunity. Whilst museums may talk the new museological talk, they may seek in a very traditional manner to counter the trends observed by Beck and affirm the nation’s continued centrality. Nowhere was this so apparent, or so disturbing, as in the presentation by the Director of the State Historical Museum in Moscow. Here the implicit dominant paradigm is not Beck but Fukuyama; the revival of nineteenth century bourgeois culture in the museum suggests the inevitability of the triumph of liberal democracy in the post-Soviet era. The future Museum of the History of Poland’s ‘history of freedom’ theme is similarly teleological. The Russian case is cause for much greater concern however; as Dr. Alexander I. Shurko told us cheerfully, one visitor enthused that the exhibition had given him a sense of the ‘greatness and might of the Russian people’. In a national context where many argue that ‘fascism is in fashion’[iii] such remarks should set alarm bells ringing.

Even in more established democracies museums are increasingly being seized upon as a tool in conservative identity politics. As Prof. Ronald de Leeuw, Director of the Rijkmuseum informed us, the government of the Netherlands is thinking of setting up a national history museum in order to reinforce a sense of national identity to address the ‘problem’ of immigration. In this context the presentation by Agnès Arquez-Roth from the Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration (CNHI), France’s forthcoming national museum of immigration, was very refreshing (and not least because she was the only woman on the podium over three days). Rather than positing a nothing-but-the-facts neutrality, she acknowledged the museum’s ideological operation, in this instance in the service of questioning rather than reinforcing France’s dominant identity discourses.[iv]

The final round-table discussion between four journalists (in which the floor was not invited to participate) did include a degree of reflexivity, although mostly at meta-institutional level. What purpose do national museums serve? Is the desire to create a national history museum in fact a sign of ‘belatedness’ and of political immaturity? How should museums position themselves with regard to other media? What was lacking was a discussion of the knottier and more technical problem of narrative: how do museum chronologies act to reinforce a given ideology (such as Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ thesis)? And above all how might we encourage visitors to also adopt a more critical attitude towards museum discourse, especially in national museums? It is not enough for professionals to gather and agonize over these questions if they do not also pass their conclusions on to their visitors. For unless national history museums encourage a shared reflexivity and a participative debate they will be reduced to offering little more than (potentially dangerous) ‘amnesia swaggering out in fancy-dress.’[v]

[i] See for example ed. Beier, Rosemarie, Geschictskultur in der Zweiten Moderne: heruasgegeben für das Deutsche historische Musuem von Rosemarie Beier (Historical culture in second modernity: edited for the DHM by Rosemarie Beier) (Frankfurt: Campus, 2000). Some of the essays in this volume are translated from English; others have not appeared elsewhere. Beier is a curator at the museum, as well as being an established academic who has published widely in historical and cultural theory.

[ii] See for example Ulrich Beck, ‘How not to become a museum piece’, British Journal of Sociology 56.3 (2005): 335-343. This article has nothing to do with museums directly; however, the idea of the museum is clearly negatively connoted in the title.

[iii] Anna Politkovskaya, ‘Fascism is in fashion’, The Guardian 17/03/2007 <>

[iv] The case for an explicitly ideological museum in the service of social justice is made by Richard Sandell in Museums, Prejudice and the Reframing of Difference (London: Routledge, 2006). Eric Gable and Richard Handler discuss the possible ideological implications of a just-the-facts discourse in The New History in an Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1997).

[v] Patrick Wright, cited in Gaynor Kavanagh, ‘Melodrama, pantomime or portrayal? Representing ourselves and the British Past through Exhibitions in History Museums’ in ed. Bettina Messias Carbonell, Museum Studies: an Anthology of Contexts (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 348-55: 354.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Second in a series of random film reviews: A Knight's Tale

Immediately as the recognisable beats of Queen's "We will rock you" blasted over the medieval jousting tournament, I knew, as an historian, I should hate this film. Hate it with a passion. I should have hated it even more because at it's heart is a very conventional story about how if you believe in yourself blah de blah you can achieve anything... surely we do not need to have this blatant lie forced down out throats at every opportunity? But still, I cannot hold this against what turns out to be a very entertaining film which also has helped me (along with Sophia Coppola's 'Marie Antionette' but I will come back to that later) understand the different ways in which we can gaze on history.

First a short synopsis of the film. Handsome lad William (Heath Ledger) works for a knight, going around medieval France to participate in the jousts (in one of the featurettes the director claims that these jousting tournaments were the sports matches of their day... fair enough but he did not mention that tournaments were also a substitute for war campaigns which is why they were so dangerous and were actually banned by most monarchs in Europe). By accident he ends up taking part and he and his friends, engagingly played by Mark Addy and Alan Tudyk, see a way out of their current poverty. So William ends up impersonating a knight and with the help of Chaucer, whom they meet in bizarre circumstances, he is able to enter the tournaments based on a deceit; a peasant pretending to be of noble birth. No medieval film would be complete without the 'unobtainable' lady, Jocelyn, whom William falls in love with. By doing so, he makes an enemy of Count Adhemar of Anjou, the token bad guy (because he is played by Rufus Sewell he is not nearly bad enough) who he has to beat in the "World Tournament" in London. If the outcome is rather predictable, it is the approach to history which this film takes which makes it interesting, as well as it being very funny in parts thanks to the sincerety of the actors who look like they had lots of fun making it.

This film presents history as though it were in 'the present.' I am still trying to work out how to best describe the difference... so bear with me! In my mind most historical films treat history very reverentially, getting the details right, but presenting it as though it were 'in the past' and the characters within the story know they are in the past and act accordingly. But films like 'A Knight's Tale' treat the past more irreverently and treat the past as though it were 'in the present' - happening 'now' so to speak. So for example, as the Director explained on the DVD he wanted to have modern music to convey to the audience that in the medieval times they would have had 'modern' music that was like Queen is to us today. However if he had used 'medieval' sounding music this point would have been lost as we (the audience) would see it only as 'historical' rather than modern. He also used words such as 'wow' because he felt the medieval times would have had their own versions... yet because we do not possess much evidence for how medieval people actually spoke how can we know what they said for 'wow'? 'Marie Antoniette' by Sophia Coppola took a similar approach, portraying Marie as an 'It' girl dancing to Adam Ant and Bow Wow Wow to convey to modern audiences how out of step she was with the rest of the French monarchy who were drowning in their own tradition. So yes at first it seems jarring with our view of history but it is a refreshing way to help engage with the idea that in the times depicted people did not think of themselves as 'medieval' but they were modern, they saw themselves in the here and now, as we see ourselves today. And I like that.

Review of “China displayed: ‘Glittering curiosities’ from the Celestial Kingdom in Victorian Britain”

Museum Studies Seminar Series
Monday 12 March 2007

Amy’s presentation provoked some difficult to answer questions in my mind, the most important in relation to museums being: do museums reflect popular opinion or do they create popular opinion?

First, to the subject at hand. Amy’s paper was a hugely detailed run-through of some of the ways in which the Victorian ‘public’ viewed China as based on popular media conceptions of the time and through two museum exhibitions, one at Hyde Park Corner in 1842 and the Great Exhibition of 1851. Amy set the context for the period very well – it was a time of Empire, of deference to royal authority and a time when Great Britain saw itself as on a civilising mission to bring the benefits of what it held to be progressive science, technology, art, literature to every far-flung corner of the globe where there were only 'savages' and darkness. It was very interesting that Amy picked up on the often contradictory approaches to China; not truly un-civilised but not civilised in a manner the British would recognise, a mysterious land of ‘exoticness’ that jealously controlled access to its wealth by foreigners… this created a skewed vision of what China ‘is’ and ‘was’ to the British people. This was aided and abetted by a series of conflicts cumulating in the fabulously titled Opium Wars which, in an attempt to justify their imperialistic ambitions, the jingoistic British press portrayed the Chinese as little more than savages, although the example Amy had of a cartoon showing a Chinese family looking on as a pretty and helpless Victorian female sat in a bamboo cage seems today quite tame. Nevertheless Amy captured for me in an entertaining way the confusion between admiration for the Chinese as producers of luxury commodities, loved by the upper classes and the Prince Regent most notably (although the Prince’s growing unpopularity must have contributed to the eventual unpopularity of Chinese-influenced design), and the lazy stereotypes perpetuated by a racist and xenophobic national press, supported by the Imperial ambitions of British policy-makers. As Amy said such visions of China tell us more perhaps about the West’s self-image rather than telling us anything helpful or ‘real’ about China.

And how do museums fit into this? Going back to the big question at the beginning, do museums reflect or create popular opinion, I think Amy’s paper helped me to begin to answer this question. On the one hand, museums are part of the public domain and at the time they were heavily connected with the upper and middle classes (who often funded and created them) who were likely to support the direction taken by the Government and the Monarchy. So they in many ways reflected the dominant opinion on China, the Great Exhibition for example consolidating prejudiced views of China which saw the country as backward and primitive, producing only one thing (luxury goods) and not participating in social and economic progress like the British Empire, not producing anything new. There was no attempt it seems to challenge popular views of China as exotic and mysterious, focusing on titillating glances of opium smoking and bound feet. However in reflecting these conceptions museums help to reinforce them in the public mind, so in effect re-create them for generations. Museums, being trusted institutions, are therefore in a position to be believed. At the beginning of her paper, Amy suggested that many of our views of China today are still influenced by views constructed in the nineteenth century, that they have endured, and I am very interested in this as this is one of the conclusions I have reached in my research, where our conceptions of the Middle Ages are greatly influenced by a resurge of ‘popular’ interest in the same period.

I am greatly looking forward to hearing from Amy in the future more about how changes in the political relations with China and the fall of the Empire and rise of Communism have altered popular conceptions of China and how museums have accommodated these changes. Thank you Amy for a stimulating and interesting seminar!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Guest Blogger: Presidential Patriotism or Propaganda?

I am delighted to present a review of The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library in Springfield, Illinois written by The Attic's Chicago-based North American Correspondant (aka Christa Lohman).

Presidential Patriotism or Propaganda?
--a review of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library in Springfield, Illinois

By Christa Lohman

One thing that I left American History class knowing, was that Abraham Lincoln was not a bad man. In fact, he is arguably the greatest president that my country has known, guiding the country as the democratic union that our forefathers imagined was put to the test during the American Civil War. The recently christened Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library’s (ALPML) apparent mission is to make sure I never forget it.

‘Combining scholarship and showmanship, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in downtown Springfield, Illinois communicates the amazing life and times of Abraham Lincoln in unforgettable ways.’ (ALPML,, 2007)

This is a very true statement, I have been thinking about the museum’s exhibits since visiting two weeks ago. I feel I should be moved by the power of Abraham Lincoln’s character, his perseverance in maintaining the union and his part in the abolition of slavery. Unfortunately, I find that I’m haunted by the manipulative, overly patriotic, subjective display of the life and times of this former president. The museum explores the life of Lincoln through four galleries, two multi-media theatre presentations, a traveling exhibit space and a children’s interactive gallery.

There are many things that are great about this museum which appeal to a variety of audiences. Multimedia and multi-modal learning are used throughout the exhibits.

• Auditory--music is used throughout exhibits, speeches are recreated and there is a modern day ‘newscast’ explaining the 1860 presidential race.
• Visual--recreated wax figures are used throughout the exhibits to make the president’s experiences come to life. However, the use of swelling patriotic tunes make it seem more like a Jerry Brockheimer film than an authentic recreation of music of an era.
• Spacial/perceptual theatre techniques are used to bring about certain feelings from the visitor. For example in the ‘Whispering Gallery’ crazy angles, eerie lighting and auditory negative comments of Lincoln and his policies are used to instill a sense of empathy from the visitor. These theatrical techniques are used to show how confusing and hard it was for him to lead the war and execute his plans such as the Emancipation Proclamation.
• Tactile--hands on computer areas, children’s interactive gallery where children (only those accompanied by ‘responsible adults’) can try on clothing, play with toys of the era and read books from the time period. I feel these activities could have been more accessible to the audience if they had been incorporated into the exhibits and been geared toward all visitors.

Experiential environments are used to recreate Lincoln’s boyhood home, the White House, and a decidedly creepy life-size recreation of Lincoln’s body lying in state in the capitol building of Springfield. The experiential learning attempted here, without opportunities for imaginative play or deeper critical exploration, made the exhibit remain two-dimensional and strangely flat. A plentitude of life-sized wax figures were used within the exhibits and the overuse of this may have been a contributing factor to the fakeness and, frankly, insincerity of the museum.

The Lying in State Gallery (pictured left) ended up being most disturbing to me personally. It is in this gallery that the motivations of the museum become questionable. Visitors simply filed by a recreation of Lincoln’s wake... what does this really achieve? The previous gallery ends with a quote from the then secretary of state, Edwin M. Stanton, when upon the moment of Lincoln’s death said “Now he belongs to the ages.” In lieu of morbidity, a more productive and effective means of remembrance, or contemplation, would be to turn this gallery into an exhibit that looks at Lincoln as an icon, a symbol of all that America stands for. In this gallery I envisioned a space in which visitors could reflect on their visit by writing what Lincoln means to them. Visitors could send in found Lincoln iconography. The issues of democracy, war and slavery could be compared to current issues of war and immigration. Dialogue could be facilitated regarding ways we could adapt what we have learned from Lincoln’s life and times to solve today’s problems.

This Museum relies on the common-denominator of American’s showy, subjective and rather conceited by proudly boasting how exciting and advanced the museum is and how important and unparalleled the subject matter. The intro to one theatre production which gave a 15 minute presentation on the inner workings of the presidential library had a video from one of the Directors stating point blank that Abraham Lincoln was the greatest president. This subjective view was clear in the exhibits and critical views of Lincoln were rarely used within the exhibits. Many of the intros to the theatre productions felt like waiting in line at Epcot center and the shows themselves, well...felt much like a certain Michael Jackson video I remember watching as a kid at that very place. Their theatre productions involved overpowering patriotic music, pyrotechnics, boom machines under the seats and smoke machines to simulate the fiery battles of the Civil War.

The need for America to recreate history in this manner was explored several years ago by Ira Glass on the popular NPR (National Public Radio) show, This American Life. He looked at the particularly American need to recreate history in ‘maniacal detail’. This program examines how the ways in which we chose to display and create our environments may be linked to our status as a relatively ‘new’ country trying to understand and develop a sense of identity and history as a nation. As well, Glass suggests that a defining characteristic of American life is to create new communities and shed the past. In museums, themeparks, restaurants and shopping malls alike we are simply doing in miniature what we do for real in our culture. Definitely worth a listen...

ALPML, indeed, uses showmanship...but that isn’t necessarily what I am looking for when I go to a museum. This museum has blurred the lines between historical recreation and themepark, in what I’m sure is an attempt to meet AAM guidelines to make museums more attractive to visitors and more representative of the populations they are trying to include. A quote from their website reads,

‘As you can see, our primary objective in The Journey is not to fully explain all of the issues that confronted Lincoln but to inspire in the ordinary visitor a deep sense of personal connection and empathy with the man.’

To me, this museum serves as a great example of the mistakes that museums can make when they think that they are making museums more inclusive and accessible to audiences in the 21st century. The exhibits did not seem to display an inclusive, well-rounded look at the life of an influential man in the history of our nation. The exhibits do not naturally promote dialogue and critical thinking. From the above statement, the museum clearly has very specific views of what they want the exhibits to achieve. The museum presents a carefully planned didactic narrative to impart on its visitors, for what purposes I am unsure. Could it be a propaganda attempt to increase patriotic morale in a time when our country is, again, deeply divided, this time by the growing dissatisfaction with the current administration and the current war in Iraq (in the 2004 election there was widespread discussion, largely sarcastic, of seceding and forming a new country comprised of the ‘blue’ states)? Or is it simply the whim of an eccentric, personally motivated curator?

Sadly, it is hard for me to come to terms with the way that Lincoln was represented. When I think about what we as Americans are taught about Lincoln in history class it doesn’t coincide with the image and purposes of this museum dedicated to him. Lincoln is generally viewed as the epitome of honesty, humbleness and perseverance to task, a critical and fair diplomat. This museum, in its display and apparent mission seems contrary to the lifestyle and character of the man himself. As well, what we learn about Lincoln through high school curriculum is not given a space to be debated because we are not given an opportunity in the exhibits to critically examine and re-think this man whose life is surrounded by myth and legend.

The target audience for this museum is clearly families and children. From my observations it appears to be achieving its goal of making history come alive. As I was pushing through a crowded gallery, I overheard a teenager (who quite frankly looked like he could care-less) say, “Man, this place is awesome.” and his cohorts excitedly agreed. It is a shame, in my eyes, that these students could not have a more balanced exhibit in which to have a positive experience with a museum and history itself.

Here's something spooky for Ceri

- which is (loosely) about museums.

Who ya gonna call? A television crew, of course. But will the ghost show up? Review The Observer

I miss 'Most Haunted' (I don't have digital TV here). I'll be catching up when I'm at home over Easter. :)

Anybody got any tales of museum-related supernatural goings on?!

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Museum of Lost Interactions

This just caught my eye:

Students Score Web Hit With Innovative Online Design Museum - 24 Hour Museum - official guide to UK museums, galleries, exhibitions and heritage

The online exhibit, which the 24 Hour Museum article links to, is well worth a look.

(Which reminds me, have you all noticed the 24 Hour Museum news feed in the left-hand sidebar?)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Books available for review

Journal of Museum Ethnography - books available for review

If interested please contact Claire Warrior, Commissioning Editor for Book Reviews, for further details, guidelines for contributors and submission dates, or to suggest any other books for review in the Journal of Museum Ethnography.

Edwards, Elizabeth, Chris Gosden and Ruth B. Phillips (eds.). 2006. Sensible objects: colonialism, museums and material culture (Wenner-Gren International Symposium Series). Oxford and New York: Berg.

Henare, Amiria, Martin Holbraad and Sari Wastell (eds.). 2007. Thinking through things: theorising artefacts ethnographically. London and New York: Routledge.

Message, Kylie. 2006. New museums and the making of modern culture. Oxford and New York: Berg.

Paine, Sheila. 2006. Embroidery from Afghanistan (Fabric Folios series). London: British Museum Press.

Serrel, Beverly. 2006. Judging exhibitions: a framework for assessing excellence. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press.

Sloan, Kim. 2007. A New World: England’s first view of America. London: British Museum Press.

Weir, Shelagh. 2006. Embroidery from Palestine (Fabric Folios series). London: British Museum Press.

Claire Warrior, Curator of Exhibitions, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, SE10 9NF. or 020 8312 8562

Conference Alert: Museum Ethnographers' Group 2007 Conference

From the EthnoMuseums listserv:

Details of the Museum Ethnographers' Group 2007 Conference, to be held at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, on 21 and 22 May, including conference booking form and provisional programme follow. Please contact Claire Warrior ( ) for further details.

Booking Form

Conference Fees:
£50 MEG member (full) £80 non-member
£40 MEG member (concession*) £65 non-member (concession*)

Please note that MEG membership is only £25, concessions £20. (Airmail is £7 if required.) Therefore by joining MEG you will save money on your conference fees.
Conference fees include sandwich lunch and refreshments on both days as well as the drinks reception on Monday evening.

Conference Dinner:
A dinner will be held on Monday and the meal will cost approximately £25, with a £10 deposit payable in advance.

Greenwich is a popular tourist destination, and there are several hotels in the vicinity, including a Novotel (173-185 Greenwich High Road, tel. 020 8312 6800) and Ibis (30 Stockwell Street, tel. 020 8305 1177). Greenwich Council website has further information on places to stay ( ) and Greenwich Tourist Information Centre can also help (telephone 0870 608 2000 or e-mail VisitLondon ( ) also offer an accommodation booking service.

 I wish to book a place at the MEG 2007 Conference and enclose £40/£50/£65/£80.

 I would like to attend the dinner on Monday 21st May and enclose a £10 deposit.

 I would like to join MEG and enclose the appropriate fee: full -£25 (or £32 with airmail) or concession -£20 (or £27 with airmail).

 (if applicable) I have the following dietary requirements:


I enclose a cheque payable to ‘Museum Ethnographers Group’ for £…………..
Credit card payments can now be taken via PayPal; contact Claire via e-mail for further details.


Tel. (daytime):
Please complete and send to:
Claire Warrior, Curator of Exhibitions, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, SE10 9NF (Tel.: 020 8312 8562. E-mail: )

(*concession = those earning less than £11,000 per year)

Provisional timetable

DAY ONE – Monday 21st May

9.00 – 9.55 Registration

Welcome to the National Maritime Museum

10.00 – 11.00 Session 1: Networks of trade

Dr Janet Owen, National Maritime Museum, London
Collecting in the Arctic (title tbc)

Dr Cath Oberholtzer, Trent University, Canada
Trading amongst themselves: some examples from nineteenth century Canada

11.00 – 11.30 Refreshments

11.30 – 12.30 Session 2: Cultures of trade

Dr Sherry Farrell Racette, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada
My grandmothers loved to trade: the indigenization of European trade goods in Northern Algonkian material culture

Chantal Knowles, National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh
A 'National Collection': Scottish fur traders and their encounter with the Tlicho Nation

Dr Alison Brown, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen
Moving objects: fur trade artefacts and family histories

1.00 – 2.00 Lunch

2.00 – 3.00 Session 3: Objects of trade

Jeremy Coote, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
Sir Joseph Banks and the brass patus (title tbc)

Andrew Mills, Sainsbury Research Centre, Norwich
Western Polynesian weaponry and the permeability of cultural boundaries (title tbc)

3.00 – 3.30 Refreshments

3.30 – 4.30 Session 4: Colonialism and trade

Espen Wæhle, National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen
Ethnographic collecting in Congo (title tbc)

Dr Daan van Dartel, Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam
Batik and Dutch colonial culture in Indonesia

5:00- 7.00 Drinks Reception

7.30 Conference Dinner

DAY TWO – Tuesday 22nd May

9.30 – 10.30 Work in Progress

Jill Hasell, British Museum, London
Preliminary research on collections from maritime voyages

Tabith Cadbury, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter
Central African collections at Exeter

Chantal Knowles, National Museums Scotland
New World Cultures galleries and the Royal Museum project

Rachel Smith, Plymouth Museum, Plymouth
Launch of World Cultures @ Plymouth website

10.30 – 11.00 Refreshments

11.00 – 12.30 MEG AGM

12.30 – 1.30 Lunch

1.30 – 2:30 Session 5: Impacts of trade

Len Pole, independent researcher, Exeter
Trade and iron-working in West Africa

Dr David Zeitlyn, University of Kent, Canterbury
Trading Mambila objects on Ebay

2:30 – 3:00 Refreshments

3:30 – 4:30 Session 6: Trade and collections

Alison Petch, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

Commercial gain? The relationships between ethnographic collectors, dealers and auction houses: a case study

Sue Giles, Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, Bristol
Maritime collections at Bristol

4.30-4.45 Closing remarks


Session 1: Networks of trade

Dr Janet Owen, National Maritime Museum, London
Arctic collections and the relationship between Belcher and Lubbock (title tbc)
Abstract forthcoming

Dr Cath Oberholtzer, Trent University, Canada
Trading amongst themselves: some examples from nineteenth century Canada
I became intrigued with this topic during attempts to confirm the provenance of a pair of Cree leggings. The leggings were purported to have been collected by John Henry Lefroy at Eastmain on the East Coast of James Bay in 1843. However, Lefroy’s movements in the Subarctic indicate that he had never been in the James Bay area. It was only after researching Dr. John Rae’s ten year sojourn in the Moose Factory area that the connections between Rae and Lefroy were established and the provenance of the leggings tentatively confirmed. Based on this connection, the discovery of a number of other links implies the existence of a trading network. Within this network, the men were trading amongst themselves to build and augment their personal collections of Native items. This practice continued throughout the nineteenth century with the replacement and addition of various players, many of whom were involved in the activities of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Session 2: Cultures of trade

Dr Sherry Farrell Racette, Concordia University, Canada
My grandmothers loved to trade: the indigenization of European trade goods in Northern Algonkian material culture
In early 20th century Canadian historiography and ethnography, the introduction of European trade goods was represented as the trigger that set off a series of cultural implosions, causing Indigenous societies to collapse from within. However, Indigenous oral traditions, archaeology, and more recent scholarship concur that a continental trade network was fundamental to economic and social life. While trade was largely a male endeavour, the work of integrating new goods into everyday life was largely the cultural work of women. Excluding trade goods associated with hunting, much of the early trade conducted in Canada related to women as consumers and creators. Through the vehicle of trade and the human relationships that developed from that common purpose, indigenous materials, construction techniques and garment forms encountered new materials, a different repertoire of construction techniques and imported clothing. Over time, a widely disparate range of goods became deeply
assimilated into material culture and artistic production. Beads from Venice, British stroud, Indian calicos and Scottish tartans were, and continue to be, essential elements of Indigenous material culture. Language, symbolism and continuity of practice “grandmothered” ancient meanings onto new forms, and rather than marking a decline in material culture, illustrate the important work of women in the creation and synthesis of knowledge systems.

Chantal Knowles, National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh
A 'National Collection': Scottish fur traders and their encounter with the Tlicho Nation
During the period 1858-62 Hudson Bay Company traders working at company forts in Northern Canada diligently collected the 'important arts' from the aboriginal communities they met. They had been urged to do so by George Wilson, founding Director of the National Museums Scotland, and took up his advice in collecting contemporary and everyday artefacts. This collection has acquired an international reputation due to its early date and its significance in recording a period of great change for the Dene communities.
Today the Tlicho collection of material, relating to one of the Dene communtites, is on display in the Northern Territories and will remain so for a year. The partnership programme between the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, National Museums Scotland and the recently formed Tlicho Government has evolved over several years leading to a reinterpretation of the material, a new contemporary collection and an outreach programme taking objects back to remote communities for workshops and story telling. This new encounter between the Scots and Tlicho Nation has addressed the curation, interpretation and significance of the collections and its importance to the histories of both communities.

Dr Alison Brown, University of Aberdeen
Moving objects: fur trade artefacts and family histories
In Canada the production, exchange and consumption of raw materials and artefacts were central to the fur trade, and key to mediating economic and social partnerships between peoples of aboriginal and of European ancestry. Artefacts made by aboriginal people were often collected by fur traders during their service in Canada. Many of these are found today in museum collections and in family homes, most especially in Scotland, the primary recruitment source for fur trade companies.
Drawing upon current research in Scotland and northern Manitoba, this paper addresses how historic artefacts can figure not just as objects of exchange but as agents in the process of relationship-building. Before his untimely death in 1921, Henry Moir, the Hudson’s Bay Company Post Manager at Churchill, Manitoba, arranged for his two young sons to be sent Scotland to be raised by their paternal grandparents. Family stories recall that before they left Canada, their Cree mother, Christina Massan, gave them some beadwork to remind them of their Cree ancestry. Some of this beadwork is now in the collection of Glasgow Museums, while other pieces have been kept by family members. Though the beadwork was always a visible presence in the boys’ lives, they were not encouraged to speak of their Cree heritage or to remain in touch with their Cree relatives and they never returned to Canada. In 2004 descendents of Christina Massan living in the Canadian north were traced. They have shared their perspectives on the beadwork, on the impact within their family and community of the boys’ removal, and on the recent renewal of family relationships. By bringing together narratives from Christina Massan’s descendents on both sides of the Atlantic, I will explore how these intensely personal, diasporic artefacts have been used to recover knowledge and memories of a cross-cultural family history that has been blurred for some eighty years.

Session 3: Objects of trade

Jeremy Coote, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
Sir Joseph Banks and the brass patus (title tbc)
Abstract forthcoming

Andrew Mills, Sainsbury Research Centre, Norwich
Western Polynesian weaponry and the permeability of cultural boundaries (title tbc)
My doctoral thesis focuses on the stylistic analysis of a large sample of Tongan weapons from museums across the UK, US and Oceania itself, and seeks to contextualise formal and iconographic shifts in weaponry within the wider cultural context of Western Polynesia during the 18th and 19th centuries. Consequently, entirely interwoven economic, abstract cultural, artistic and military relations with Fiji and Samoa come prominently into play in my interpretations - as do the highly politicised unified religious and economic interactions with European peoples. If there is an available slot, I would present a holistic paper unifying both of these strands, in order to reflect the permeability of cultural boundaries in a region so often essentialised through assumptions about discrete insular traditions.

Session 4: Colonialism and trade

Espen Wæhle, National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen
Ethnographic collecting in Congo (title tbc)
From the 1870s to the 1930s some 1500-2000 individuals from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden Nordic took part in the exploration, colonisation, exploitation and administration of the Congo Free State (1885-1908) and later the Belgian Congo (1908-1960). A large number of the military officers, sailors, missionaries, lawyers, medical doctors, personnel of concessions companies and other experts collected ethnographica and there are at least 500 collections in museums in the Nordic countries totalling at least 38.500 objects. Recently the collecting and a selection of collectors have been analysed and presented in the travelling exhibition “Traces of Congo” ( ) and a related series of international workshops.

A preliminary analysis of museum files, letters, diaries and published sources tells relatively little about why they collected. Yet, when the collecting activity is analysed with reference to the history of museums and colonialism, the data reveals a combined importance of collecting as a “survival strategy” (tropical hygiene and providing skills), and as a means to map the cultural landscape, establishing relationships and create conditions for communication and commercial activities. Collecting artefacts was part of extensive trade and exchange relationships between the colonial agents and Congolese communities.

The presentation will cover material from two current projects. I will partly focus on the only large Nordic commercial entrepreneurs in ethnographic collecting in the Congo, the Danish-Norwegian sea captains Chr. Schønberg & Chr. Martini and their activities from 1886 onwards. This material is part of the project “Scandinavians commercial agents, traders and economic initiatives in the Congo Free State”. The research is undertaken as part of my contribution to the project “In the wake of colonialism. Norwegian commercial interests in Africa and Oceania” at the Center for Development Studies at the University of Bergen, Norway:

The other part contextualises the Nordic museums, collectors and strategies and relates this material to a monograph project (with Ann Vibeke Knudsen) on the Danish officer Johan Støckel and his well documented collecting (1891-94, 1903-04) in the Congo. I argue that this scramble for artefacts can fruitfully be studied as part of the wider colonial material and social relations and commercial interests.

Dr Daan van Dartel, Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam
Batik and Dutch colonial culture in Indonesia
Abstract forthcoming

Session 5: Impacts of trade

Len Pole, independent researcher, Exeter
West African iron-working (title tbc)
The general assumption is that as soon as externally produced sources of iron became available to communities in West Africa via the coastal trade from Europe from the 17th century on, indigenous iron-working technology withered and died. Yet iron-smelting could still be studied in detail in the late 20th century. How could this be? In this paper, I want to examine the economic and cultural forces at work on practitioners in iron during this period (both smelters and smiths) and on the consumers of their products, resulting from this international trade. This discussion is particularly relevant to the present focus on the effects of the external trade in human beings on this region during the period.

Dr David Zeitlyn, University of Kent, Canterbury
Trading Mambila Objects on ebay
This paper will discuss the trade in African objects on ebay using as an example records of all the objects offered for sale on ebay purporting to be Mambila over a three year period. Ebay provides an arena allowing issues about style, labelling and sellability, aesthetics and tourist art all to be addressed in a systematic fashion and one which suggest many possibilities for future research.

Session 6: Trade and collections

Alison Petch, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
Commercial gain? The relationships between ethnographic collectors, dealers and auction houses: a case study

The relationship between commercial sources of ethnographic material (such as dealers and auction houses) and ethnographic museums today is a fraught one. However, relationships were different in the past and many an ethnographic museum leaned heavily on these sources to build their collections, including the Pitt Rivers Museum. The relationship between such sources and serious ethnographic collectors has always been, and remains today, a closer one. By examining the relationship between the donor of the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, and commercial sources I hope to show that this relationship was complex and had both good and bad aspects. I will also contextualise this relationship with a look at the relationships that the Museum had in the first 60 years or so of its history with sale rooms and dealers at home and abroad.

Sue Giles, Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, Bristol
Maritime collections at Bristol
Abstract forthcoming