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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Break out the bubbly!

Silver champagne bottle ticket, ca. 1750
V&A, M.84-1944

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Photo Resource Online

A quick heads-up about a new photo archive resource available online. The American magazine LIFE has done a deal with Google to make it's photo archive available (and searchable) online. Check out this Google search term: exhibition source:life. Hours of fun!

[Via This Blog Sits At The]

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Material Worlds: A belated review of the conference at the University of Leicester, 15-17 December 2008

Trying to avoid computers this Christmas has not been too much of a chore. However I was reminded that I intended to write a brief (for me!) review of the recent-ish Material Worlds conference organised by the Award-winning (can we say that now???) Department of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester in honour of Sue Pearce. I think I should furnish some links or something but being a 'researcher-on-holiday' I have reverted to a laziness which induces in me a wilful abandonment of my usual attention to detail so apologies - I am sure that Amy has posted some earlier links which can be referred to. Also I am sure you are well aware, this is purely an opinion piece and may bear little or no relation to the actual reality of the conference for other people there, which has since disappeared under a tinsel, trifle and present-induced haze of contentment.

My interest in the conference was directed mainly to the ways in which museums create meanings for objects, how these are or might be contested, how audiences engage with objects and how objects can be intangible as well as tangible. I found that 15 minutes a paper was not always enough to sate my appetite but it presented me with many new avenues for exploration. A session on 'The real and unreal in museums' presented the themes of 'absence' and 'presence' and how these (seemingly) opposed ideas can be used to potent effect in the museum e.g. the absence of a mannequin in historic costume enables us to imagine the shape of the person who wore it; the absence of a body inside the uniform of a gulag convict invites interpretations that may be broader than the story of the human who once wore it. In the desire to appeal, museums might perhaps be too anxious to fill every space with an object or a story - such as the open-air museum with its 'haunted' house - instead of using absence to more radical, and perhaps spectacular, effect?

The tangibility of the museum object is something which really comes into question when looking at visitor engagement with objects, often because visitors are denied an interaction with objects except through the medium of sight. I shared the frustration of examples of students who wanted to touch objects at the V&A to get a feel for their touch, weight etc but having to do so from behind glass. It was not surprising therefore that where handling is permitted, visitors report that they feel more engaged with a topic, in one example, prehistory. A collection of posters created at the height of the British Empire and trade with the colonies prompted an interesting discussion about the differences between how audiences and museum staff respond to such a difficult and challenging subject. In this case the audience were able to make broad connections with the past and the present whilst the staff were much more institutionally focused and anxious as a result. The findings from research looking at audience reactions to the 2007 Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade was alarming in that certain visitors felt that they were being forced to feel guilt and shame over Britain's role in the Slave Trade and thus felt disengaged from the museum exhibitions that they had willingly gone to visit. It seemed important to me however to me that museums were creating such feelings in visitors; rather than giving them a cosy narrative of how Britain was wonderful because we 'abolished' slavery in 1807 they seemed to present a more complex picture. I look forward to seeing more results from this study in the future.

A final session on how objects and their meanings / uses in the museum might be contested saw museums (excuse my vulgar phrase) experience a bit of a bashing! It looked at the limitations of the 20 word label and how limited numbers of objects are supposed to speak for entire cultures (you can also extend this to historical periods and entire civilisations if you so wish). Alternatives to the 'norm' are silenced through convention or fear, ways of presenting objects that are seen as standard or traditional which often exclude more challenging or complex narratives for a more simple, recognisable alternative. There might also be political reasons, as in the display of material related to the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

So. Museums - what are they good for?

I suppose the conference made me despair a little about museums, probably not its intention. As the world seems to be enveloped in a large degree of trauma it makes me wonder why the way in which objects are presented in museums should be a matter for such minute concern. It speaks to me however of larger concerns, the difference to me between truth and an approximation of the truth which all too easily slips into everyday culture - the difference between myth and history for instance. History is 'dry' whilst myth is spiced with the thrill of what we want to happen in history, the difference between real life and Eastenders for instance. Perhaps if museums were more open about the choices that they have made in presenting material to the public it might begin to make more sense as to why particular narratives endure at the expense of others?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 23

The Poor Actress' Christmas Dinner
Robert Braithwaite Martineau (1826 - 1869)
Ashmolean Museum

Monday, December 22, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 22

Today's featured object was found by Jim Roberts...

The World's First Commercial Christmas Card, 1843
The British Postal Museum & Archive

Attic Advent Multicultural Intervention, part 2

In honour of the solstice:

Chris McCaw (American, born 1971)
Sunburned, GSP #166, Mohave/Winter Solstice (2007, gelatin silver print)
34.7 x 26.6 cm (13 11/16 x 10 1/2 in.)
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), 2008.386–.389 Purchase, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, 2008

Attic Advent Multicultural Intervention

In honour of Channukah, the Jewish festival of lights:

Hanukkah lamp, 16th century Gilt bronze from Italy
Height 16.5 cm
Width 22 cm
Victoria and Albert Museum: M.419-1956, Dr. W. L. Hildburgh FSA Bequest
"Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. It celebrates the victory of Judas Maccabeus over the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC. This winter festival lasts eight days and an extra flame is lit for each night of the festival."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 20

Christmas Day, by Colin Self (b. 1941), 1995
Tate Collection

A long long way off Topic - A Review of 'Twilight'

One of the audiences that museums are keen (nay desperate?) to attract is the elusive teenage audience, for which there seems to be no agreed 'plan' so to speak, although teenagers themselves are rigorously stereotyped as narcissistic, melodramatic, rude, obsessed with themselves and bodily functions.  Having been a teenager I can see the point however it strikes me as very difficult to appeal to persons whose hormones are all over the place and who probably don't know what they want themselves.  Which is why it is so interesting that other cultural providers seem completely clued into what teenagers want.  One example of this is the film Twilight, something of a cultural phenomenon since the last one (Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings...) although this one is unashamedly aimed at susceptible teenager girls who are in love with the idea of being in love with a handsome, brooding, unobtainable hunk, plus a bit of action for their (probably very bored) male dates.  Having read many reviews of this film which signified it was scoring very high on the 'crap-o-meter' I was rather disgusted with myself for being entertained by this film, even admiring the slow, very slow build up in the relationship between the two main characters; a pale and interesting (supposed) loner/Geek (?) Bella (who actually attracts a lot of friends despite her stand-offishness, it is helpful being pretty), and the object of her teenage crush (and probably most of the teenagers flocking to see it) a pale and interesting enigmatic, dare I say it Byronic, Vampire called Edward.  I liked the subtle honesty of this film - Bella doesn't seem to see herself as attractive whilst at the same time having such a high opinion of herself that she ignores every other boy's attempts to woo her.  Mind you, whilst the boys are nice enough this film taps into the prevalent idea that girls do not want 'nice' - they want the dark brooding man, the rude, obnoxious loner such as Edward.  Just as long as he is attractive mind!  I suppose it is the idea that there is a kind, caring person just waiting to come out.  This film does nothing to dispel that notion and revels in it, having our heroine do all the work to ensnare her beau whilst all he has to do is stand around, looking pretty, occasionally stalking her and watching her sleep at night.  Oh and he does save her life like an old-fashioned gentleman, opens car doors, formally introduces himself to her father... ahem you probably get the picture by now.  Even writing it down has me reaching for the sick bucket.

Nevertheless it is bizarrely compulsive viewing.  I find it hilarious that this film is so honest about the fact Bella is in love/lust with a serial killer, someone who likens his desire for her like being on heroin, although it seems to me that it is Bella who is addicted; for anyone who has read Dracula it is evident that the Vampire has a dangerous charm built in to attract victims so how far her love is 'real' is a moot point. Never does she question it either which makes it seem more real to me than the Dawson's Creek versions of teenager-dom and their endless blathering about the meaning of things.  Ironically, less real are the Vampires, which the film romanticizes to the point of lunacy.  No longer do they have any hideous traits left, such as withering in sunlight, losing their attractiveness if they don't drink blood etc. All that is icky is the fact that they drink BLOOD, but even this is conveniently dampened down in the film except at a key moment.  But in another way the film does turn the conventional romantic story on its head - Edward is apparently harmless, he plays piano, likes long walks blah blah however he is technically evil inside despite being 'good' on the surface.  I sort-of liked the tension this creates.  Perhaps he will get fed-up with being nice and go all Anakin Skywalker on us at some point?

So an appeal of the film is that it taps into the apparently universal desire for trauma which makes life meaningful.  Bella already has the divorced parents, the enforced move to a new school, an aloof Father and now she has the Vampire boyfriend to add to the list.  The film also makes much of the idea that Bella constantly attracts a stream of bad events, some induced by her own actions.  Like soap operas you wonder how so much can happen to one person whilst thinking that at least she has an interesting life... for what else is there to do in a small town except gaze wistfully at the mountains or into the amber eyes of your Vampire companion (of which there is a tedious amount).

As a story though the rest was pretty standard; the stoic, but somewhat misguided heroine who will do anything for her man, the cast of friends who are waiting in the wings to help her out (including here a Vampire family), random events of peril and a distant, aloof hero who is battling his own inner demons.  Even despite all this awareness I was still completely entranced by this film, which makes me feel slightly tainted and dirty, rather perhaps like the Vampires when they welcome (a rather ungrateful) Bella, a human after all who tests their will power enormously, into their home and everything starts goes wrong as a result.  What can I say except there is still a part of me that has never got past the teenage phase...

Like teenagers, Vampires think a lot of themselves and are obsessed with their own needs so like Lost Boys before it, this film is very cunning in bringing the two together.  The adults are practically non-existent, boring and embarrassing.  I am not sure what museums can learn from such blatant attempts to attract the teenagers like this; it is not exactly challenging nor is it subversive, suggesting that for all their posture most teenagers are actually very conservative, they just want to feel that things have been made especially for them and to cater exclusively for their desires.  Museums in all their authority are perhaps too symbolic of the adult world, into which some teenagers don't want to enter just yet (and maybe some of us never want to at whatever age).

Friday, December 19, 2008

Museum Studies @ Leicester: Open Day

From the Department:

There's never been a better time to study with the Department of Museum Studies at Leicester. Our world-class reputation has been given a further boost in the recent Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) with the Department being rated as having the 'greatest cluster of world-leading researchers of any discipline in any university in the UK' . The University was also recently recognised as the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2008-9.

I would like to extend a warm invitation to you for our annual Open Day and Evening on **Wednesday 18 February 2009**. This event will give you the opportunity to get to know more about our courses, meet some of our staff, and explore our campus. Separate sessions are being organised for those interested in studying on campus, or by distance learning.

Full details of the event are available at To book your place, simply e-mail providing your name, the course(s) you are interested in, and stating whether you will be attending in the day or evening.

An Attic Advent: Day 19

Tinned Christmas Pudding, 1940s
Buckinghamshire County Museum

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More good news, for prospective PhD students

Thinking about doing a PhD at Leicester? The University is offering a number of (frankly generous!) PhD scholarships for UK/EU students, to celebrate being named as the University of the Year 08/09 by the Times Higher Education Supplement.

For more info, see here.

An Attic Advent: Day 18

Christmas Stocking, 1906
Museum of London

RAE Success

More media coverage...

BBC Education News, 'Many UK Researchers World Class'

UoL Press Release, 'Museum Studies Emerges as Britain's Top Research Department'

It's good to note that completed PhD research also contributes to the RAE.

BREAKING NEWS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Big gold star! By Larsz


If you ever doubted that Leicester was THE PLACE TO BE for museum studies, then think again! The latest Research Assessment Exercise (the outcomes of which have been published today) reveal that not only is the Department of Museum Studies Undertaking WORLD CLASS research, but it has, to cut a long story short, received the HIGHEST rating in ANY discipline in ANY institution in the WHOLE country!!!!! Basically,


Congratulations to everyone involved!

For more info see here, here and here (with comments from Richard).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Material Worlds: An Epilogue

Cross-posted at Material Worlds

So, Material Worlds is over. My first conference paper is presented. My love-hate relationship with University Catering has been renewed. I've caught up with old friends and met new, always a joyful occurrence. My hopes for the Material Worlds blog were not fulfilled, but to be fair, the action-packed programme left little lee-way for 'panopic' (good word, eh?) blogging. But, while the conference is over, the blog will remain open and active, at least in the immediate future. Place your doubts and fears aside, seize the day and BLOG, dammit! We'll be gentle with you...honest. ;)

An Attic Advent: Day 17

Vegetarians, look away now!

A Christmas poultry and game display at Leadenhall Market , 1953-12
By Henry Grant
Henry Grant Collection, Museum of London

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

Conference Alert: Jewish Cultural Treasures in Europe After the Holocaust

From H-ArtHist (I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit to the Jewish Museum, in fact I'd even go so far as to say that it restored my faith in museology in practice! One day I'll get around to writing a post about it...):


24th and 25th of JANUARY 2009

The Conference is part of the supporting program for the exhibition

SATURDAY, 24th of JANUARY 2009


10:00 Introduction
Inka Bertz, Jewish Museum Berlin

10:30 Reconstructing Jewish Cultural Landscapes –
The »Tentative Lists« Project
Elisabeth Gallas, Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and
Culture at Leipzig University

11:15 Hashavat Avedah: JCR, Inc. and the Rescue of
Heirless Jewish Cultural Property After WW II
Dana Herman, Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives,

12:00 Lunch Break


13:30 To Whom do the Jewish Cultural Treasures belong after 1945?
Conflict of Interests in the City of Frankfurt am Main
Katharina Rauschenberger, Jewish Museum Frankfurt am Main

14:15 The situation in Berlin 1945–1953

15:00 Displaced on Three Continents.
The Fate of the Material Heritage of the Jewish Community in Vienna
Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek, Jewish Museum Vienna

15:45 Coffee Break


16:15 What Happened in Prague?
Michaela Sidenberg, Jewish Museum in Prague

17:00 Dealing with the Jewish Cultural Assets in Post-War Poland
Nawojka Cieslinska-Lobkowicz, Art Historian and Provenance Researcher,

17:45 The Jewish Historical Institute as a Repository for Jewish
Cultural Treasures in Poland
N. N.

SUNDAY, 25th of JANUARY 2009

10:00 A Matter of Conscience? Legal and Moral Aspects of Dutch
Restitution Policy
Julie Marthe Cohen, Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam

10:45 The Fate of Jewish-Owned Cultural Treasures in Paris and in France
Laurence Sigal, Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme, Paris

11:30 Looted Jewish Art and Cultural Properties in Italy.
The Difficult Restitution and Compensation after 1945
Paola Bertilotti, Sciences-Po, Paris / Ecole Normale Supérieure Lettres
et Sciences Humaines, Lyon

12:15 Lunch Break

13:45 Lviv 1944 – Now. Jewish Cultural Objects and Property. Some Cases
and Tendencies
Tarik Cyril Amar, Center for Urban History of East Central Europe, Lviv

14:30 Restitution Issues in Post-War Romania
Hildrun Glass, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

15:15 »Disappeared?« The Fate of Jewish-Owned Cultural Artifacts in
Hungary after 1945
Eszter Gantner, ELTE University of Budapest – Center for Central
European German Jewish Culture

16:00 Final discussion: Open Questions, Ongoing Controversies


PHONE +49 (30) 25993 353
FAX +49 (30) 25993 330
10969 BERLIN

An Attic Advent: Day 15

Everyone loves chocolate at Christmas...

Three Tin-Glazed Earthenware Chocolate Cups (c.1740-45)

The British Museum

Sunday, December 14, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 14

Material Worlds blog

Next week sees the Material Worlds conference, in honour of Professor Susan Pearce, here in Leicester. Some of us will be blogging the event here.

If you're attending the conference, please do pop by and say hello. I'm the one with the partially purple wonky hair, likely to be sporting some form of leopard print upon my person. ;)

Friday, December 12, 2008

CFP/Publication: University of St Andrews Postgraduate Journal of Art History and Museum Studies

Open Call for Papers

The University of St Andrews Postgraduate Journal of Art History and Museum Studies

The annual journal that publishes original and innovative research by current postgraduate students from the UK and abroad seeks articles 1,500-4,000 words in length, written in English, for the 2009 publication.

Submission closing date: 14 February 2009

We invite papers from the disciplines of Art History and Museum Studies on any topic from all periods and geographic areas.

Attach submissions via email as a Word document:

Or send to: Kate Groninger, Editor
School of Art History
University of St Andrews
9 The Scores
St Andrews KY16 9AR
United Kingdom

Enquiries for further information:

An Attic Advent: Day 12

Snow Knife, c. 1845
National Maritime Museum

Thursday, December 11, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 11

To ring the changes, today's choice was made by Anna.

A Christmas carol : in prose : being a ghost story of Christmas
Charles Dickens ; illustrator John Leech ; engraver W.J. Linton
London : Chapman & Hall ; 1843
National Art Library

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 10

I want one of these!

Working model (scale 1:2) of a machine for making candles (c.1888)
Price's Patent Candle Company Ltd, Battersea, London.
Science Museum

Conference Alert: Tourist Experiences - Meanings, Motivations, Behaviours

International Conference: Tourist Experiences - Meanings, Motivations, Behaviours, to hosted by the University of Central Lancashire, UK on April 1st - 4th 2009. (Keynote: Prof Chris Ryan).

The conference will focus on three broad themes within the context of tourist experiences, namely: the social / anthropological meaning or significance of tourism (individual to societal); tourist demand and motivation; and, the analysis of tourist behaviours.

Further information (including a booking form) may be found at

Webcast TODAY: How The National Gallery of London Manages Image & Document Libraries

V. short notice I know, but this might be of interest to those of you into digital heritage...

How The National Gallery of London Manages Image & Document Libraries

TIME: 4:00pm GMT

WHO: The National Gallery Head of Photography, Colin White


Find Out How The National Gallery:
§ Manages thousands of digital images and documents
§ Implements DAM best practices
§ Achieves ROI and plans for the future


Click to register
Join Colin at the end of the webcast for a live Q&A.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 9

Ceri was determined to get some sheep in...

'Annunciation to the Shepherds'
Stained glass panel
About 1340-1345
Victoria & Albert Museum

Monday, December 08, 2008

Sunday, December 07, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 7

Better late than never!

Swimming Reindeer
Late Magdalenian, around 12,500 years old.
From the rockshelter of Montastruc, Tarn et Garonne, France
British Museum

Saturday, December 06, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 6

I'm sure there are some of these in my late Grandma's Chrimbo decorations stash...

Christmas decoration (Pale green paper lantern with floral decoration suspended from a wire), 1961-1970
Manufactured in Hong Kong for F.W. Woolworth and Company Ltd.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Brilliant opportunity to get your work published!

Information on a proposed National Museums Book (emerging from the NaMu project) is now available on

Please read and respond to Simon Knell if you're interested in submitting a contribution.

Conference Alert: Traditions and Transformations

From the icme listserv:

Traditions and Transformations: Tourism, Heritage and Cultural Change in the Middle East and North Africa Region

4 - 7 April 2009, Amman, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

We are pleased to send you the link to a brochure for the above event which outlines the programme as it presently stands:

We hope that you will agree that we have put together a fascinating conference which, as well as providing an important forum for research, also allows you to network with a truly international group of academics and professionals involved with tourism, culture and heritage. The conference will also allow delegates to see at first hand some of the issues being discussed in Jordan.

We would recommend that you register for the conference as soon as possible to avail yourself of the 'early bird' registration rate. The registration form can be downloaded at

Please check on the conference web pages for updates -

For any enquiries please do not hesitate to contact us via email at

Museum Study Days at the British Museum

Museum Study Days

Thursday 29 January 2009
BP Lecture Theatre, Clore Education Centre
A day of talks by British Museum staff giving a behind-the-scenes insight into the running and organisation of an internationally-celebrated museum. Education, Marketing, Curatorial and Collections Management staff discuss museum theory and practice. Students wishing to broaden their knowledge of museums and the culture and heritage sector are welcome.

Friday 13 February 2009
Stevenson Lecture Theatre, Clore Education Centre
British Museum staff and volunteers discuss the varied roles the volunteers have in the Museum, including assisting and working with curators, working on outreach and community projects, interpreting the collection through tours and object handling, and supporting the learning programme. Speakers will highlight the advantages of working with volunteers, the mutual benefits, diversity and best practice.

Thursday 19 March 2009
Stevenson Lecture Theatre, Clore Education Centre
The British Museum's interpretation team give an introduction to the world of interpretation practice, and describe how this relatively new field is becoming integrated into the planning of new displays and public programmes. The day will feature sessions covering aspects of visitor studies, display development and text writing, using a current exhibition as a case study.

For full programmes visit,

Admission for these events is free, however, booking in advance is advised. Booking may be done in person at the Box Office or by telephone at +44 (0)20 7323 8181. The Box Office is open every day from 10.00-16.45.

An Attic Advent: Day 4

Today's object is a wonderful example of mid-century festive kitsch.

Pink Evergleam Aluminum Christmas Tree
Six-foot Evergleam Christmas tree with 94 branches made by the Aluminum Specialty Company of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, c. 1966
Wisconsin Historical Society

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 3

Today's object is a donkey.

Isokon Penguin Donkey Bookcase, 1939
Designed by Egon Riss and Jack Pritchard
V&A Collection.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 2

Today's choice, is a mince pie. But not the sort of mince pie we know today...

Banquet Piece with Mince Pie, 1635
Willem Claesz Heda
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Monday, December 01, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 1

To celebrate the run-up to Christmas I, aided and abetted by researcher extraordinaire Ms Ceri Jones, will post an image of a Christmas-related museum object - both religious and non-secular- everyday until Christmas. Enjoy!

Ecce Ancilla Domini! (The Annunciation) 1849-50
Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882
Tate Collection

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Fetishism of Artefacts

Let's talk some more about collecting; a subject of endless fascination for me. More specifically, let's talk about how museums choose objects to enter into their collection.

When I read Peter Gathercole's essay, "The Fetishism of Artefacts," the first time, several years ago, I didn't really understand it. Sure, I got the Marxist undertone, the bitter cynicism, and his call for greater openness in the museum profession. But when I re-read it a few days ago, I realized just how much he was speaking from experience; and my own work experience in a collection echoed back at me through his words. Last night, Gathercole -- “To put the question more generally, are artefacts regarded by curators as basic to the existence of museums, or is it the knowledge concerning artefacts which is basic, the artefacts being merely illustrative of that knowledge?” -- came to mind again.

My colleague and I went to the house of a potential donor, a woman who over 35 years has amassed a vast collection of Victorian and Edwardian hat pins, hair jewelry, and brooches. Initially, the donor approached us to take the entire collection, which she estimated at over 300 pieces; for a variety of reasons, including the prohibitive appraisal costs of such a large quantity of small objects, we refused. However, she suggested that we could choose the items we wanted, and so, armed with a list of criteria, we went to her house to "shop" for artefacts.

Even in compiling the criteria, it became clear that objects were interchangeable, so long as they represented something; materials, condition, style all took precedence. We honestly didn't even consider provenance as a good enough reason for acquiring an object. Of course, a museum cannot take everything, which would be truly representative: the whole world might be a museum in that case, where every object had innate historic importance. But it was painful, looking at the treasures that this woman had collected, knowing that we had to choose a maximum of two dozen objects, and filter even further her own filters for her collecting activities.

The other thing that I realized last night was that many objects gain significance as part of a series: when we isolated particular pieces, they either looked too ordinary, or too extraordinary. To choose something "representative," to be a synecdoche for the whole, was difficult precisely because that was not how the original collection had been formed. Every item there gained meaning because it was similar to and yet different from every other item.

The next day, I am still torn. I can't be sure that we chose the pieces we did for the right reasons. After all, we already have hatpins in our collection, and they are in situ, in hats; these pieces, removed several times over from their original context, have been fetishized multiple times. And my own curatorial expertise has only served to obscure the objects even further.

So let's consider this my mea culpa. Forgive me, future museum audiences, for I have sinned. It has been 13 days since my last confession.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

After NaMu

By Park Geuntae

Greetings to everyone.

I have been to Oslo for NaMu last week. It was my first conference and my first visit to Nordic country as well. Well, I do not deny that was a crucial trigger point for me to be at NaMu. The conference and the city, both of them were wonderful. Actually it was more than wonderful. At NaMu, I met a couple of Leicester people-Sally and Allan who made me much more comfortable there. After meeting them, I felt that I’m not in enemy’s territory any more.

I was very impressed by three things at NaMu. First, I found that people at NaMu had a various backgrounds and interests. From objects to marketing, people covered almost everything I can imagine in the museum filed. Of course I found some scholars whose interests are similar with me. Some are from even profit sectors.

Second, I realized that there is museum booming in Eastern European countries. Well, I do not know which one is correct politically, Eastern Europe or central-eastern Europe, but it seems true that they are trying to create many national museums (many of them huge money projects). I know when one country gets independence, the first things they do are to make national universities and museums. They are doing same things now with help from EU, and it was a hot discussion how they present and interpret their history under the Soviet Union. Objects, voice of objects and something like that. I just heard that countries in South America experienced same situations some time ago. It was very interesting. (The next one would be China? Actually many projects are on-going now in China.)

Third, I saw many young people at NaMu! Except some organizers and experienced museum professionals, a lot of people looked very young like around 35. Many of them were at the end of their PhD journey. I was just happy to be there with them.

The first part of NaMu is over now. But there will be the second part of NaMu soon. Currently NaMu publication project is going on so if anyone who attended at NaMu before and is interested in publishing her/his article, you had better contact Simon Knell.

Geuntae with Pille and Sally

I brought my digital camera to Oslo but I could not take nice pictures. I couldn’t have much time to look around the city and I’m not that good at taking good looking photos. However, here I show some pictures of our hotel. Simon said that this is the nicest hotel in NaMu history.

One more thing. The night at Oslo. It was just too beautiful to sleep.

Hope to see you at NaMu 2 or somewhere else again.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Kim Cattrall poses in Diana and Actaeon recreation

You may be aware that The Art Fund has pledged to give £1 million towards the £50 million needed by the end of the year to keep the great Renaissance painting by Titian, 'Diana and Actaeon' in Britain. Well Kim Cattrall (of Sex and the City fame) has done her bit to help by posing for a photograph recreating the painting! I think this is fantastic, not only is she bringing this cause more media attention but it may also, hopefully, promote more interest in the arts, museums and galleries from some sections of the public who are primarily interested in 'sexy' TV (rather than beauty). I can't wait to see this photo

If anyone is interested there will be a bit in tonight's BBC2 Culture Show

There is also a wee preview here: at 10pm.

Monday, November 24, 2008

CFP: Histories of Misunderstanding

From H-Material Culture (N.B. this sounds really interesting!):

Histories of Misunderstanding
Second Annual UVa History Graduate Students Conference

Call for Papers

The Graduate History Students Association at the University of Virginia is happy to announce the second annual History Graduate Students Conference, to be held in Charlottesville, Virginia, on *April 18-19, 2009*.

Misunderstandings, misinterpretations, misconceptions, and miscalculations are an inseparable part of people's lives. Yet only rarely do historians pay special attention to these phenomena in the study of the past. This conference will provide a forum for graduate students of history and related fields at all levels to discuss misunderstandings in history.

Possible topics might include (but are not limited to) the following:

Miscommunications in Battle and in the Political Arena
Gendered Misperceptions
Cross-Cultural Misinterpretations
(first contact between settlers and indigenous people, etc.)
"Distorted" Memories
Technological Appropriations
Media Mistakes
Unforeseen Consequences

The papers should address the problem of distinguishing between unintended misunderstandings and intentional manipulation and misrepresentation.

Keynote address by Prof. *Allan Megill*, University of Virginia

You are invited to submit paper proposals based on seminar papers, master's theses, or dissertation projects. Proposals should be no more than one page and include the scholar's name, e-mail address, the paper's title, and a short description of the proposed topic.

Paper proposals must be submitted by *December 5, 2008*.

If selected, participants will be asked to submit a final version of their paper (no more than 20 minutes) two weeks prior to the conference.

Submit abstracts and questions by email to Mike Caires (**).

Brown Bag Seminar Programme: Date for your diaries

The next Brown Bag Seminar will be given by Clare Valentine (Museum Studies 1989), now Head of Collections - Zoology, National History Museum, on 10th December 2008 at 1pm, LT1.

Clare will talk about The Darwin Centre/Cocoon which has often featured in the news recently.

CFP: The Heritage Theatre

From H-Museum:

The Heritage Theater. The dynamics of cultural heritage in a globalizing world
Rotterdam Conference on Globalisation and Cultural Heritage
Erasmus University Rotterdam
May 13-15 2009

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, organizations for the preservation of heritage were founded as part of European national cultural policy, in countries colonized by the West, and in independent states outside Europe. In this sense, heritage institutions are early examples of cultural export on a global scale. The export of heritage concepts, heritage formats, and heritage knowledge from the West to other countries and vice versa is still going on, not only in traditional, well-tried ways, but also in other formats, like theme parks, games and internet sites. Similarly, in non-Western countries various other ways of protecting and presenting cultural heritage have developed over the last few decades. Institutions such as cultural centres and community centers displaying cultural heritage have no counterparts in Western countries. In the last decades, heritage institutions work together on a global scale. The perception of a shared past created new forms of cooperation between institutions in different nations and the legitimacy of traditional local museums was challenged by the migration of new, sometimes
transnational oriented communities.

The current interest in cultural heritage is also the result of the growing demand on the part of international tourism for places with a cultural heritage that can be experienced as part of leisure activities. All over the world, countries are beginning to realize the economic benefits of tourism, and searching for possibilities to expand tourism. Today, the interest in cultural heritage is global and diverse. Indeed, it is no longer correct to speak of a single audience, since cultural heritage visitors have different backgrounds and different expectations. The growing exchange of information between individual heritage institutions, and between those institutions and the public, is part of a global process that makes use of interconnected information networks.

The Department of Cultural Studies, Faculty of History and Arts, Erasmus University Rotterdam, is the location of two research programmes, 'Globalization and Cultural Heritage' and 'Community Museums Past & Present', funded by NWO (Dutch Science Foundation) and the Dutch VSB Foundation. See for more information and

The first research project is now coming to an end, the latter will start at 01-01-09. To conclude the first and to launch the second project, the Department is planning an international conference on the effects and causes of globalization and cultural heritage, 'The Heritage Theater. The dynamics of cultural heritage in a globalizing world' at Rotterdam, May 13-15, 2009. Subthemes will be the impact of tourism and the internet on cultural heritage and the institutional arena.

We invite researchers on globalization and cultural heritage to send us abstracts for papers to present at this conference. Abstracts (max. 300 words)can be send until December 15, 2008, to

For more information about this conference, please contact me:

Prof. Dr. Marlite Halbertsma
Faculty of History and Arts
Erasmus University Rotterdam
P.O. Box 1738
NL 3000 DR Rotterdam
tel. + 31 10 4082444
tel + 31 6 15126083
fax + 31 10 4089135

Saturday, November 22, 2008

CFP: Location/Dislocation

From H-ArtHist:


California State University, Sacramento
Sixth Annual Festival of the Arts Art History Symposium


Symposium date: Saturday, March 21, 2009

Proposal deadline: January 16, 2009

We invite 300-word proposals for 20-minute lectures on the theme of "location and dislocation" in the history of art. The symposium is open to a wide range of historical and contemporary topics on the placement and displacement of artists, identities, artworks, texts, collections, and cultures. "Location" is broadly defined as geographic, temporal, racial, sexual, virtual, invented, or actual. We welcome proposals from historians and theorists of early modern, modern, and contemporary art of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas with research interests in architecture, design, visual culture, and cross-disciplinary studies.

Please email your proposal with a one-paragraph professional biography to or mail them to Elaine O'Brien, Art Department, California State University, Sacramento, 6000 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95819-6061.

CFP: The Public Life of Things

From H-Material Culture:

The Public Lives of Things
Seventh Annual Material Culture Symposium for Emerging Scholars
Winterthur Museum & Country Estate
Saturday 25 April 2009

The Center for Material Culture Studies at the University of Delaware invites submissions for papers to be given at the Seventh Annual Material Culture Symposium for Emerging Scholars.

Focus: Supported in part by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for public engagement in the humanities, this year's symposium encourages graduate students and other emerging scholars to submit papers that align their object-based research with some aspect of its potential role in society at large. Within that context, we seek diversity in topics, chronology, and disciplinary approaches. Travel grants will be available for all presenters. Disciplines represented at past symposia include American studies, anthropology, archaeology, consumer studies, English, history, museum studies and the histories of art, architecture, design and technology.

Format: The symposium will consist of nine presentations divided into three panels. Each presentation is limited to twenty minutes and each panel is followed by comments from established scholars in the field. There will be two morning sessions and one afternoon session, with breaks for discussion following each session and over lunch. Participants will also have the opportunity to tour behind the scenes at Winterthur's unparalleled collection of early American decorative arts.

Submissions: The proposal should be no more than 300 words and should clearly indicate the focus of your object-based research, the critical approach you take toward that research, and the significance of your research in the wider community. While the audience for the symposium consists mainly of university and college faculty and graduate students, we encourage broader participation. In evaluating proposals, we will give preference to those papers that keep that broader audience in mind. Send your proposal, along with a current c.v. (no more than two pages), to

Deadline: Proposals must be received by 5 pm on Friday, 30 January 2009. Speakers will be notified of the vetting committee's decision by late February 2009. Confirmed speakers will be asked to provide symposium organizers with digital images for use in publicity and are required to submit a final draft of their papers by 16 March 2009.

Laura Walikainen, Department of History, University of Delaware.

Katie Wood, Department of Art History, University of Delaware.
The Seventh Annual Material Culture Symposium for Emerging Scholars (MCSES)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Podcast #1: Cold War Modern (15/11)

Ever keen to extend the Attic's sphere of influence (!), last weekend's museum crawlers made a tentative foray into podcasting. In the salubrious surroundings of Costa Coffee on Old Brompton Road, Jen, Ceri, Aluah, Pippa, Serena and I recorded our discussion of the V&A exhibition, Cold War Modern, over caffeine and cheese.

And - ta da - I am delighted to bring you the results achieved on a wing and a prayer with, I might add, only a basic digital recorder. Thus the sound quality isn't great but, hopefully, it is still possible to follow the conversation. We'd be delighted to receive your comments!
Click the following link to listen: PODCAST #1: Cold War Modern (15/11/08) (27 mins)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A trip to London by Arthur Schopenhauer (the fingerpuppet)

Greetings students.  Like me I expect you are a student of life as well as the myriad of organisations that we pile into the descriptive bracket of the museum.  Like me I expect that you are unduly concerned with the way in which our world is organised to bring only maximum misery to its unwitting inhabitants, everyday exhibited by those modern peddlers of doom and destruction the tabloids and broadsheets.  I beg you to reconsider that you never step outside into the hateful reality in which we subsist everyday and instead fill your days with wonder and enlightenment, chiefly from the musical and philosophical arts.  I find that every time I forget to follow this simple maxim I am only incredibly disappointed by what I find that I must retreat to my bed for several days with a severe headache for my pains.  Such as it was after my visit to that infernal place they call London, a city where all the world's ills are magnified as if to a terrible cacophony, the squeaking and squealing masses of humanity crowding into the temples of fawning and... oh I have been informed that I must dispense with this lengthy introduction and so get to the point of this post which is to ruminate upon the recent visit of myself to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Library, to take in two esteemed exhibitions and so acknowledge my thoughts to you in the manner of a review.  I suppose I must and so let us commence.

Cold War Modern it has to be said did not assuage any of my fears about the narcissism and idiocy of those we deem fit to rule in our names.  The premise rested on the contest between the USA and USSR to see who could best each other in presenting to the rest of the world (who watched events unfold in fear and perhaps disbelief that grown men could be so flagrant with their powerful toys) their vision of a utopian future, dragging their (mostly) brainwashed populations along with them.  If the history of this hideous manifestation of the will to power was unpalatable to me, the interest of this exhibition lay in the myriad outputs from this titanic contest.  I admired the quantity of objects amassed by the V&A that had been influenced by the competing attitudes of fear and revulsion, hope and optimism that the Cold War seemed to inspire in architects, artists, craftsmen, scientists and manufacturers.  Although I do not generally admire the automobile for its capacity to destroy the very environment it claims for its freedom, I greatly coveted the appealing examples of German (I say proudly) design - the scooter which encased the driver in a protective bubble and the automobile of choice for East German dictators and bureaucrats.  Sadly I cannot provide an image of these marvelous creations still, imagine a useful form of transport masquerading as a friend (bulbous eyes, a smile you can trust) and you might steer close to my feelings for these amazing creations.

There was much to take in and so my impressions can only be sketchy; although I am an interloper of time in this 21st century I was intrigued to see the debt of the postmodern (or is that post post modern, I am afraid my great mind is getting too kerfuddled to understand these modern definitions) world attributed by this exhibition to the Cold War.  Simple plastic cups and saucers seemed to recall those designed by the great consumer giant IKEA.  Furniture that cocooned the participant against the fear brought on by State posturising a welcome sight.  That some of these future fantasies evoked an age where men would feel at home in ribbed stockings was not something I felt should have survived the nuclear fallout, let alone the Middle Ages.  But then the visions of artists can be as ridiculous as they can be sublime and this exhibition visited well the suggestion that whilst the artists etc had their heads in the Utopian cloud, often their designs did not make it past the prototype stage.  Perhaps there was a collective sigh of relief from some visitors (myself included) however the dreams of a few were strong enough to drag entire countries, whole peoples along with them.

I was made slightly less miserable to see that museums CAN have a sense of humour with the sign to the shop entrance replicating the famous sign when leaving the American sector in Berlin (we had a short discussion as to why in Germany after all the German language would be relegated to last on the sign but drew no sensible conclusions).  It amazed me more however how much more  attention was paid, by the young ladies in my group, to the consumables for sale in said museum shop than the objects in the exhibition.  That noted, I thought it would be a tremendous wheeze if the curators would only stick tiny price labels on their objects and visitors would flock in their droves!  Between you and myself I was rather enamoured of the secret camera that could be hidden in a leather briefcase, unfortunately they had not seen sense to replicate this in a format that could be placed on general sale.  So I left the shop with a few postcards of the striking images from the exhibition to serve as a reminder that tyranny never goes away, it continues to exist if only in alternative forms.

It was fitting that after the prolonged exposure to such a thought-provoking exhibition, we repaired to an eating establishment for snacks and all manner of hot beverages. To make you jealous I have supplied a picture of the tasty fare below.

So ends my miserable opinion on the trip to London, I could expand at length on the second exhibition we visited at the British Library, however I fear that I have exhausted myself and I must now return to my bed for a prolonged period of rest and some musical comfort. And so I will bid you all adieu, in whatever part of this ill-formed world you belong.

Note: huge apologies are made for the potential inadequacy and offense that this review may cause, Schopenhauer is grumpy at the best of times

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Conference Alert: Museum Ethics

From H-Museum:

Museum Ethics
Museum of World Cultures, Gothenburg, Sweden
3 December 2008

Museion invites you to participate in a meeting planned for Wednesday 3 December 2008 in the Museum of World Cultures, Gothenburg, Sweden relating to various aspects of Museum Ethics. While many of you will be familiar with the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums that generally reflects the principles accepted by the international museum community, there are still many areas of museum practice that require professionals to think much more deeply; there are some specific issues where the ICOM Code fails to provide sufficient detail because it sets only 'minimum standards'.

We have designed a day event which explores some specific ethical concerns, utilising experiences from within and outside Sweden. We have placed a focus on the ethical dilemmas that museums face in terms of dealing with problematical object (human remains;sacred objects); representation in exhibitions; environmental and sustainability concerns; and illicit trade. The programme is outlined in the attached document. You will note from the programme that we have included a 'workshop' session in order that all participants can make their views and opinions - and any new initiatives in dealing with ethical considerations - more widely known. Although most of the programme will be delivered in English, the workshop discussions can take place in Swedish. I do hope that you will be able to join us for what will be a fascinating day, and an opportunity to share experiences with a wide group of museum professionals in Sweden; if you know of colleagues who you feel may be interested in attending, please pass this information on to them.

On a practical note, Museion will provide teas and coffeee, but not lunch. However the Museum's restaurant 'Tabla' does good lunches, and we would be grateful if you could, in your reply to this e-mail, state whether you would like to eat at Tabla.

We hope that you will join us for this meeting. Could you please confirm your attendance by sending an e-mail to Staffan Lunden ( no later than Thursday 20 November. We look forward to welcoming you to Museion on the 3 December 2008.

We look forward to an informative and productive day.

With good wishes,

Professor Peter Davis
Guest Professor of Museology
Göteborg University
Box 111, SE 405 30
+46 (0)31 786 5815

Staffan Lundén
Göteborgs Universitet
Box 111
SE 405 30 Sweden



Museum Forum Meeting - Wednesday 3 December 2008

Museum Ethics

10.00 Welcome and coffee

10.30 Introduction to the meeting
Peter Davis, Guest Professor, Museion

10.35 Museums and the ethics of human remains and sacred objects
Malcolm Chapman, The Manchester Museum, UK

In 2006 the Manchester Museum started development of a new Policy on Human Remains. Following on from an earlier successful consultation process around its Acquisition and Disposal Policy the museum decided to open up the draft policy to widespread public consultation. This allowed other museums, scientists, archaeologists, faith and community groups as well general museum visitors to express their views and contribute to the final policy. The consultation process ran for six months and elicited a wide range of strong opinions. What was unexpected was the response from some sectors of the scientific community who viewed the proposed policy as an attack on science itself.

Following on from this the Museum opened a temporary exhibition entitled Lindow Man: a bog body mystery. Content for the exhibition had been developed following a process of consultation with various interest groups. At the same time the Museum began a process of consultation with visitors regarding the display of Ancient Egyptian human remains.

This presentation examines the Museum's approach, the controversies arising from it and where the Museum goes from there in developing an ethical approach to the display and uses of ancient human remains and associated artefacts.

Malcolm Chapman has been Head of Collections Development and Registrar at The Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester since 2000. His wide-ranging role encompasses all aspects of collections management as well as improving and increasing user access to the collection, including new technologies and media such as YouTube. He is responsible for development and implementation of all collection-related policies including human remains and acquisition and disposal. Working regionally he sits on the Renaissance North West Collections For The Future Steering Group and chairs the Roman Heritage Working Group improving access to and use of the region's collections. He has a Masters degree in Art Gallery and Museum Studies from the University of Manchester and regularly lectures on this programme on topics ranging from human remains, policy development, collections management and digital heritage. Before working in Manchester he was at The British Museum for eleven years working in collections management, developing a collections management system and cataloguing medieval archaeology collections.

11.0 The ethics of representation in museum exhibitions: cases from the
Paula dos Santos, The Reinwardt Academie, Amsterdam

What does it mean for a museum to operate in an increasingly multicultural
and globalized city? Museums in large cities in the Netherlands, as in other
countries in Europe and worldwide, have to face the new dilemmas of the 21st
Century. Issues of cultural representation, gender representation, and
others, signal what Pierre Nora once referred to as 'the internal
decolonization of societies'. They can have a great impact in museum
practice and discourse, and are key elements in the discussions about
ethical conduct and decision-making in exhibitions.

In addressing this subject, one also finds the dilemmas of representation to
be intimately related to the actual discussions about the social role of
museums, to their responsibility towards different stakeholders, to issues
of accountability, authority and even authenticity.

This presentation explores this combination of societal context and museum's
social role as fundamental aspects for setting and conditioning principles
on which ethical decisions are taken. By means of two case studies from
museum exhibitions in the Netherlands, it will be possible to discuss issues
such as: are there limits for freedom of expression in art exhibitions? Is
it possible to balance the respect for the various stakeholders' beliefs and
expectations in an exhibition? How will museums cope with the different
principles of a multicultural, inclusive society and their political

Paula dos Santos teaches theoretical museology, sociomuseology and ethics at
the Reinwardt Academy of Cultural Heritage, Amsterdam. She is also project
co-ordinator for the Culturalia Foundation and advisor for heritage and
network-related projects in Portuguese speaking countries. She is a member
of the board of the Movement for a New Museology (MINOM).

11.45 Illicit antiquities, capitalism and sponsorship: ethical

Market demand for archaeological objects generates widespread looting and
destruction of archaeological sites around the world. This presentation of
the ethical considerations of this phenomena focuses on two case studies
where museums actively contributed to this destruction by legitimising the
trade in unprovenanced - that is, presumably looted - archaeological

The first case concerns the antiquities fair Grand Antiques held biannually
at Nordiska Museet, Stockholm. At this fair unprovenanced Chinese
archaeological objects are sold. The presentation will counter the museum's
reasons for allowing this fair in the museum. It appears that their
justification lies within a nationalistic agenda according to which the
museum needs only to be concerned about the protection of "Swedish" national
heritage. Seemingly the museum denies any responsibility for how its
activities may affect the heritage of "foreign" countries. Is this ethically

The second case which will be explored concerns a museum exhibition held at
the Palace Museum in Beijing in 2005. The exhibition, which was sponsored by
Volvo, displayed objects from the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in
Stockholm, the Röhsska Museum, Göteborg, the Göteborg City Museum, the
Göteborg Maritime Museum and a Gothenburg antiquities dealer,. The case is
of interest not only because of how these museums became involved in helping
a dealer in antiquities to promote his business, but also because it
provides a clear-cut example of the dangers of private sponsorship and of
how history can be manipulated. Through the exhibition Volvo sought to
create a particular vision of Chinese-Swedish relations in history in order
to promote the sale of its trucks on the Chinese market. This is a worst
case scenario, one where history is written - and museums manipulated - in
the board rooms of private companies to serve their commercial interests.

Both examples raise a number of questions regarding politics, power
relations, professional responsibility and museum ethics.

Staffan Lundén is a PhD. student at the Department of Archaeology and
History at Gothenburg University. He conducts research on the illicit trade
in antiquities and its relationship to museum ethics. He also teaches on the
Masters programme in International Museum Studies at Museion, Gothenburg

12.30 LUNCH (available at Tabla, Museum of World Culture, or at local

13.30 Environmental ethics and museums
Peter Davis, Museion, Gothenburg University

Sweden was in the vanguard of thinking about environmental issues, taking a
lead in organizing the first UN conference on the environment in Stockholm
in 1972. Since then the country has continued to promote sustainable
environmental solutions, and in 1999 the Swedish Parliament adopted 16
environmental quality objectives, and the 'Swedish Environmental Code' that
demands impact assessments for new development; these consider impacts not
only on humans, animals, soils, water and air, but also the cultural
environment. The goal is a sustainable society in which future generations
will be able to meet their needs at least as fully as present generations.

Despite these measures the latest review of progress (2008) made towards
achieving the environmental goals by 2020 - the target date - makes gloomy
reading. Nature's capacity for recovery, the ambitious nature of the
targets, globalization impacts on Swedish society and lack of implementation
of policies are all cited as reasons for the lack of progress. It appears
that although the environmental ethic is strong in Sweden, achieving goals
is difficult.

So how might Swedish museums assist in delivering, or react to, the 16 goals
- indeed, can they play any role at all? How might environmental ethics
impact on museum activities and could museums do more to operate in a
sustainable fashion? How have museums worldwide reacted to the demands of
the environmental ethic and are there models of good practice that we can
learn from? Can we promote environmentally sensitive actions in our
exhibitions and how might our organization respond ethically and practically
to environmental needs?

Peter Davis is Professor of Museology at the International Centre for
Cultural and Heritage Studies at Newcastle University, UK, and Guest
Professor at Museion, Göteborg University. He has worked as an ecologist and
as a biological curator, and has a particular interest in the ways museums
have responded to the demands of the environmental movement. He is the
author of Museums and the Natural Environment (1996) and Ecomuseums: a sense
of place (1999).

14.00 Working Group discussions - ethical issues in Swedish museums -
dealing with the challenges (*see additional sheet to find your group*).

15.00 Tea/Coffee

15.30 Feedback from the working groups and discussion of the key issues

16.00 Meeting closes.

Conference Alert: Material Matters

From H-ArtHist:

Symposium of the working group, Modern Materials in Collections: Scotland, in association with VARIE and ECA.

Material Matters: Materiality in Contemporary Art
20 November 2008, Edinburgh College of Art

How do you make, preserve and interpret contemporary art made with non-traditional materials? What are the challenges and how are they overcome by artists, conservators and curators? What are the implications and opportunities for art education in Scotland? These are the issues that will be discussed at a symposium organised by the Modern Materials in Collections: Scotland (MMiC:S) working group in collaboration with VARIE (Visual Arts Research Institute Edinburgh) Icon Scotland Group and ECA. The symposium will take place at Edinburgh College of Art on 20 November 2008.

Modern Materials in Collections: Scotland

Founded in 2006, MMiC:S promotes the collecting of modern materials and helps to build confidence, skills and best practice for the acquisition, display and preservation of contemporary objects and art. Following the success of last year's symposium on plastics in collections, this year's annual event will bring together those who make art and those who look after it to discuss materiality in contemporary art.

The morning will be given over to papers, with topics including the semantics of materials, the neglect of materiality in traditional art history, conservation challenges posed by non-traditional materials and the artistic production process. In the afternoon a number of break-out sessions will give an opportunity to explore some of these issues in more detail. Speakers confirmed for the symposium are: Daniel Herrmann and Jacqueline Ridge of National Galleries Scotland, Dr Petra Lange-Berndt of University College of London, Dr Erma Hermens and Rebecca Erdal of Glasgow University, Will MacLean MBE RSA and Glen Onwin RSA. The event will be recorded and we intend to make the presentations available to a wider audience.


Registration is available at £20 or £10 for students. To find out about the programme, view abstracts of presentations and to register, visit

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A very short introduction to...

Just wanted to share my little grad student triumph today. The bookstore of the Uni where I work was having a 25% off sale on the Oxford University Press "Very Short Introduction" series. They are $10 normally, but if you are buying 10 of them as I was, you appreciate a discount! I am now the proud owner of a very colourful range: (Social and Cultural) Anthropology; Art History; Art Theory; Barthes; Design; Foucault; Habermas; Heidegger; Ideology; and Sociology. That pretty much sums up my research interests, too. If only they also had Debord, Bourdieu, Memory, and Dress History, I'd be all set!
Anyway, you might want to check if a similar promotion is on in your area - it's a great deal!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Dark Tourism: reflections on the Wall

Earlier this month, Anna W and I took a very brief trip to Berlin, to stay with Anna Ch and her family. While we had a great time, for me a sense of unease hung over the trip. Inevitably, many of the sites we visited pertained to the recent history of Berlin, the wall, the war and the Holocaust.

On the way to the epicentre of preunification Berlin, Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, Anna W and I mused upon the ethics of what we were doing. As students of museum studies we are aware, perhaps more than most, of the phenomenon of 'dark tourism,' a term coined by Foley and Lennon (2000) to describe the process - to give a very simple explanation - of visiting places associated with with death and destruction (it's more complex that that - predicated by the post-modern condition, global communications, commodification etc., but that's the general gist of it). Yet, we had to admit that we were still inexorably drawn to these places.

I guess I have a fairly legitimate excuse (if one is necessary). I am a member of the last generation to reach my teenage years under the spectre of the Cold War and have a clear memory of the lead-up to, and collapse of the Berlin Wall. I watched the events unfold live on television, and I can say with total certainty that those events (along with the Tian'anmen Square 'incident') led me to my current research. My academic interest thus absolves me of the dubious moniker 'dark tourist,' doesn't it?

A particularly troubling aspect for both Anna W and I was the question of whether it was ethical, even amoral, to take photographs of the remains of the Berlin Wall. We decided that we would (and did, as the photographs above testify). But we would not, as many tourists do, pose in front of it. This seemed like a good solution. We could satisfy our curiosity within the bounds of academic detachment and objectivity.

I cannot deny that I adore communist kitsch. I am fully aware of how this contradicts with what I've written above. I was keen to, as I put it to Anna Ch, 'get me some ostalgie.' Yet, when I did get there, the commodification of Berlin's troubled past repelled; it was largely exploitative and inappropriate. As a case in point I wish I had taken a photograph of the 'I love Checkpoint Charlie' merchandise in the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie which, incidentally, was in dire need of an interpretive revamp, in limbo between its pre and post-reunification existence (I may write more on this later), although its two shops were contemporary and consumer-aware. I was left unsure and unsettled, questioning my own academic and personal motivations.

Ultimately, after all this soul-searching, I gave in. I did take a photograph of the 'Two Annas' at the East Side Gallery. But I captured them mid-conversation, standing alongside the wall, not posing and smiling for the camera. We were there, but we were self-aware.