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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dream weirdness

I dream about museums - tell me it's not just me?! The other night I dreamt I was in the Victoria and Albert Museum (which it wasn't, more like the Palace of Versailles - that's dreams for you). After beating a giant scorpian to death with a silver ladle I discovered my ideal man (his identity? no clue!) standing at the end of a gallery. Just as I was running towards him a gigantic oil tanker smashed into the side of the building, squishing visitors and display cases beneath it and then...

...I woke up. Weird.

According to the Dream Moods Dictionary dreams about museums can be interpreted thus:

To see a museum in your dream, indicates that your non-traditional path to success will make you unique and stand out from the rest. Alternatively, the museum may represent a history of yourself and your past. There are many things you can learn from your past and your family's past. Consider what you have gained from these experiences and apply them to your current circumstances.

To dream that you are in a museum, gives you the opportunity for you to review and reflect on the things you value in life.

Hmmmmm - interesting.

History Lab Plus

History Lab Plus is a new initiative of the History Lab, which provides training and support for early career academics. Working under the auspices of the Institute of Historical Research, we cater for those historians about to submit their PhD through to those currently employed as probationary lecturers. Our aim is to enable early career academics to make the transition from student to postdoctoral researcher smoothly and effectively.

What do we do? We offer training in:

• Getting into an academic career - how to build up your academic CV, how to make yourself attractive as a candidate for fellowships and lectureships, how to make a great impact at job interviews

• Enhancing skills - such as our advanced teaching skills series, covering issues such as developing specialist teaching based on your research

• Developing as an academic - how to develop confidence in securing research funding, working with non-academic audiences and gaining expertise in publishing

• Demystifying academia - what are all those acronyms you hear about, and what do they mean for you in your daily working life?

Keep an eye out for our first session of 2008/9 - Getting a Lectureship - which will be held on Monday 3 November between 2 and 4.30pm at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU.

We also aim to act as a voice for early career academics within the profession, making our needs known to and working with the learned societies, the research councils and other interested bodies. We are currently completing a survey of early career academics, Joining the Profession, which will be published in November 2008.

Membership of History Lab Plus is FREE and open to anyone who is about to complete their PhD through to those who have finished theirs no more than three years previously. To join, simply send an email to outlining your contact details, when you finished/expect to finish, your institutional affiliation(s) and your research interests.

We are also developing a range of resources on themes of importance to early career academics - check out our blog, for more information. If you would like to join our blogging team, email us at

We look forward to hearing from you.

Dr Kate Bradley, Chair of History Lab Plus
Lecturer in Social History,
School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
University of Kent


Yesterday our new PhD colleagues began their studies. Welcome to the department Serena, Jen, Gauntae, Chungju (all campus-based) and Kathleen, Julia and Ruth (distance-learning)! It's been a long time since the department welcomed so many new PhD students. It's an exciting time for all.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hunting for Bergerac; meanderings on a trip to Jersey

I recently had the opportunity to couple a fieldwork visit to Jersey with a short holiday.  This is a shortish ramble through some of my experiences there with the visitor attractions of Jersey Museum and Mont Orgueil Castle (besides a fruitless search for Bergerac memorabilia). Jersey is the principal of the Channel Islands, an oddity of the British Isles because they are so close to mainland France.  They have belonged to the Dukes of Normandy since the early 900s and made the choice to stay with the English throne when King John lost the rest of his French possessions in 1204.  This makes me think that King John obviously wasn't so bad as king as he is painted, however that is a different story altogether..

I stayed in St Helier, the capital of the island which has grown up around a magnificent bay as shown in the picture above.  A key feature of the bay is Elizabeth castle (see below), however because you can only approach the castle at low tide by foot (and then at high tide by ferry) I missed my opportunity to walk across the cause way.  But the castle looked very dramatic from the end of the harbour.

I did make it to two Jersey visitor attractions during my stay.  The first was Jersey Museum, just off Liberation Square in St Helier.  The museum was a 'jack of all trades' - it told the story of Jersey on the ground and first floors, contained an art gallery on the second floor, and the third / fourth floors were a reconstruction of a merchant's house from the nineteenth century. I found the museum a bit of a distracting jumble at first with cases telling the story of Lillie Langtry (mistress of King Edward VIII and someone who seemed to be famous for being famous) and a reconstruction of a treadmill from the prison.  However on the first floor it was more obviously themed with sections looking at Jersey's environment, its unusual government structure (a hangover from the days of rule from the Norman dukes, apparently the Queen is still entitled to two mallards in lieu of her feudal seigneurity), a quick romp through its turbulent history and an introduction to classic 'stereotypes' of the island such as the Jersey cow, Jersey tomatoes and Jersey potatoes.  The interpretation was obviously cutting edge for its day but was now looking slightly dated, particularly the models of people and a disturbed looking Jersey cow.  The reconstruction of the merchant's house was better, made to look as if the inhabitants had just 'left', however although there were games and dressing up activities for children there was not much for adults expect to gaze on the scenes before them.  I enjoyed looking round the art collection, which was specifically looking at how 'Romantics' conceived of the island.  Mostly in a very 'romantic' manner all wispy beaches and picturesque wrecks.  Victor Hugo got a mention, coming to live on the island from exile in France, and there were a couple of pretty paintings by Millais including his famous one of Lillie Langtry holding a lily (not a Jersey lily however but a Guernsey lily which spoils the association with her nickname).  All in all a pleasant enough experience which told me a bit more about the history of the island than the guidebook I bought from Waterstones.

The second visit was made to Mont Orgueil castle in the east of the island.  Originally I conceived of walking along the coast to the castle, then back along the B-roads to take in La Houge Bie on the way back, a prehistoric burial site that is (as literature boasts) older than the pyramids.  Unfortunately two things scuppered my plan: firstly the VERY hot weather for late September and walking without a hat was not a good idea; secondly the roads were very narrow and with few pavements I gave up trying to walk along them after a mile or so and got the bus back to St Helier.  However I did make the first half of my journey, the 5-6 mile walk along the coast line to Gorey town where the castle is situated.  It was a lovely walk along incredibly deserted beaches... considering it was a Saturday and boiling hot I expected them to be thronged with people.  But I saw hardly anybody as the following images attest.

The second image shows the approach to the castle from across the beach - how the castle dominates the local area!  The castle was started by King John after the loss of his French possessions as the Channel Islands suddenly became the frontier of the (then) Anglo-Norman 'Empire', then extended in the sixteenth century to respond to the demands of warfare when guns and cannons replaced arrows and crossbows.  It is an impressive castle, hugging the rock upon which it stands, and with a steep climb from the harbour to the entrance (as shown below).  

It has been restored relatively recently so apart from the lack of interior furnishing, it is possible to get a feel for what it was like as a working castle. It is a labyrinthine place with staircases everywhere and several times I became disorientated when trying to work out if I had been into a particular room or not!  The image below shows the massive 16th century addition to the keep (main living area of the castle) which was built to withstand the impact of cannon.

The castle interpretation was very detailed, mainly told through the usual large boards seen at heritage sites, with helpful diagrams which indicated exactly what you were looking at.  It was possible to get round without a guidebook or map (and the getting lost aspect was actually quite fun as it was akin to exploring).  Additional interpretation was in the form of sculptures and other forms of artwork, an unusual and interesting method of conveying a key theme or aspect of the history.  The first image below shows the sculpture showing the complicated links between the English and French medieval monarchies by illustration as a family tree, instead of flowers or fruits the heads of the monarchs and key family members.

Another impressive sculpture was near the entrance to the castle, showing the various wounds that could be caused by medieval warfare... the interpretation explained that it was trying to combat the suggestion that medieval warfare was romantic, fairytale or chivalrous!

A third installation, which unfortunately was beyond my camera's capability to photograph, was also the most effective.  Hidden in a dark chamber next to the Bell Tower was a shadow sculpture entitled the 'Dance of Death.'  It is based on a favourite medieval tale which survives in a wall painting in one of the churches on the island; three kings go out to ride in the forest in all their finery and they meet three tattered skeletons which remind them of their mortality and the futility of earthly riches.  The sculpture shows a large skeleton, bow poised to strike, surrounded by smaller skeletons which rotate slowly to the sound of melancholy music.  The shadows it created upon the walls of the chamber were very eerie and I left feeling somewhat subdued after my encounter.

The views from the castle roof were amazing and my photo hardly does it justice - it looks down upon the harbour in Gorey and you can just see the castle gardens peeking out from behind the keep.  Personally I would enjoy visiting a castle even if a ruin with no interpretation but Mont Orgueil had the added bonus of interesting and thoughtful interpretation.  There were a few collections of objects found in the castle, including an impressive wall case stuffed full of clay pipes!

So that was my brief trip to Jersey.  And what does Bergerac have to do with all this you might ask?  (For the uninitiated Bergerac was an iconic detective programme set in Jersey and aired in the 1980s with John Nettles playing the titular hero of the show).  Before I went my friend Anna set me the challenge of finding some Bergerac related souvenir during my visit.  This proved very difficult, however I did manage to visit a site on the way back from the castle which featured heavily in Bergerac as "Bureau des Etrangers"... unfortunately this made me feel a bit of a voyeur as this building is now more infamous as Haut de la Garenne which is at the centre of child abuse allegations from when it was a children's home. The building itself was down a very quiet road and gave no hint at the potential horrors hidden beneath its calm facade, as the castle too gave little hint as to its conflict-soaked past when bathed in sunlight.

Body Worlds: Review

I went to see Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds 1 at our local Science Centre today. I'm interested in medical history, the history of science, and representations of the body, so I thought it was something I should check out. Given our discussions about popular exhibitions below, I thought I'd share my impressions.

The exhibit entry was timed for every 15 minutes, and certainly seemed to be full to capacity; it was, however, midday on a Saturday close to the final days of the show, so it may not be reflective of the visitor numbers over the entire run of the exhibition. The show was spread out over the entire top floor of the Centre, and there was an IMAX movie option, as well as optional audio guides, neither of which I was willing to pay extra for. (The show itself was over $25 for student admission, and I overheard one mother explaining to her son why they couldn't buy anything at the gift shop: she had already spent over $70 just getting them through the doors! One certainly had to be someone who really valued the educational potential of the show, with money to spare, to take one's kids through.) The public was varied: from parents with infants, school-aged children, high-school students, university students, middle-aged people, and even seniors. There was good variety of people, slightly skewed toward the 15-25 age range, mostly white and middle-class. 

The actual exhibit had preserved cross-sections and preserved individual organs or systems in plexiglass cases with detailed explanations of each, backlit columns with overall thematic information on the systems of the body, large illustrated panels discussing the culture of death over time, and featuring quotations and illustrations from famous artists and thinkers, as well as the famous plastinated bodies, each dissected to show various aspects of the body, and posed in various ways. A video about half-way through explained the plastination process, and scattered throughout were stations where docents did illustrations and talks about different systems of the body.

The show started out scientifically enough. We were greeted by a discussion of the human skeletal structure, which included cross-sections of the human ear (containing the smallest bone in the body), hands, feet, skulls, and examples of surgical intervention for broken bones. Then there were examples of the neural system, with slices of the brain, and a discussion of the muscle systems in the body, like the arm.

After that fairly innocuous start, however, the show got progressively weirder. The plastinated bodies were then posed to illustrate conceptual ideas, like the famous "Chess Player," and "Basketball Player." The label text from the former contained the sentence: "The pose emphasizes the special character of this plastinate, its anatomical identity." In the second half, we were treated to a man on a horse, with parts of both animals flying out behind them. The final plastinate was entitled "Phoenix with Birds," a Damien-Hirst-style title, if ever I saw one, which was a dissected woman on her knees, releasing two ducks (consisting of their vascular structures alone) into the air. The label text, as I have alluded, was also strange. One plastinate (below) read: "His unusually strongly developed muscles pre-destined the Ring Gymnast for this pose." Oh, really? Doubtless, he was indeed born to be Dr von Hagen's plastic marionette puppet. NOT!

Indeed, the tone of the text in the show, where it wasn't strictly clinical, was overtly moralizing: "Not too long ago, our dealings with death were much more natural and free than they are today," read one panel. And the general sense was that the historical background on the cultural construction of attitudes toward death was not an intellectual project, but instead, a means by which to relate Body Worlds to the Renaissance works of people like Leonardo da Vinci and Vesalius. While the rhetoric of the show began by being scientific, it was clear that von Hagens sees himself more as a skilled artist-philosopher. I want to quote the concluding text of the show to illustrate what I mean:
The presentation of the pure physical reminds visitors to Body Worlds of the intangible and unfathomable. The plastinated post-mortal body illuminates the soul by its very absence. Plastination transforms the body, an object of individual mourning, into an object of reverence, learning, enlightenment, and appreciation. I hope for Body Worlds to be a place of enlightenment and contemplation, even of philosophical and religious self-recognition and open to interpretation regardless of the background and philosophy of life of the viewer. - Gunther von Hagens.
So what did I think? How did I interpret it? I found most of the specimens interesting - it was fascinating to see certain body parts in ways and relationships that I had not seen before. It was fascinating how simultaneously adaptive and complex but small and fragile human beings really are. But I found it contradictory and sometimes disturbing. There was a strong emphasis on quitting smoking, for example, with a booth where you could pledge to quit after seeing the tarred lungs of smokers and metastasized cancers riddling organs in almost every case. On one hand, this is praiseworthy - on the other, it's too much. 

I was frankly offended by the "development of the body" section, which showed the development of the fetus. I am rather on the liberal side of the spectrum when it comes to women's health, but it was disturbing to see fetuses in jars for every week of development, canned like pickled vegetables, when they could have been someone's baby. There was also a plastinated pregnant woman, posed in what I felt to be an inappropriate manner; I felt sad that this woman died before having the chance to give birth, and now she and her baby were stuck in this strange limbo, being ogled by people all over the world. It probably says a lot about me that I feel pregnancy is too intimate to be exhibited, but I am often confronted by my strange Puritanical ideas in practice. 
Another too-intimate thing that I found disturbing was that there wasn't always an evident reason for the ways in which bodies were dissected (male genitalia was often kept in place, nipples were kept, eyebrows and eyelashes in some cases), and that hair (which is so very personal and such a marker of individual identity) could often be seen. In the Ring Gymnast, above, he has a strange mohawk hairdo; the plastination of the female in the show kept her pubic area, hair and all, intact. 

Finally, I felt that the props added to the specimens (the rings for the gymnast, the balls for the football players and the basketball player, the hat for the winged man - "a white hat adds to the ecceptric posture and further narrows the gap between life and death" - and the gilding applied to "The Inner Face") were too much like treating the bodies of real people (anonymized as they were) like puppets. We can argue about whether this is disrespectful, but it is certainly jarring to be told that something is clinical and professional when you can see before you clear evidence of the individual lives these people led, written on their bodies (3D man had a tattoo!), or given to them after death by someone else.

As one of the quotes in the show said, "Our skin is the travelling bag of our existence." (Robert Musli, Austrian, 1880-1942) It's one thing to show travelling bags; quite another to show skin.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Conference Alert: 2020 vision – the changing UK doctorate

2020 vision – the changing UK doctorate - The Higher Education Academy with the Quality Assurance Agency, UK Council for Graduate Education, Vitae (formerly UK GRAD Programme), and the British Library

DATE: 24 Nov 2008
START TIME: 09:15 am
LOCATION/VENUE: The British Library 96 Euston Road LONDON, England, NW1 2DB

“The time is right and the sector is ready for a national debate in the UK on the nature of the doctorate, given the multiple drivers for change, multiple agendas at work, and the multiple stakeholders with an interest in both the debate and the outcome” – Chris Park.

This conference will address the following themes:

the global standing, positioning and reputation of the UK doctorate;
the ways in which the doctorate makes an impact, economically, socially and culturally;
the ways in which the UK doctorate, and the doctoral student experience, are evolving in response to changing expectations, opportunities, challenges and requirements.

See website for more details.

Department of Museum Studies Brown Bag Seminar Series: Wed, 1st October 2008

Just a reminder that the first Brown Bag seminar is on Wednesday 1st October at 1pm in Lecture Room 1, Dept of Museum Studies, 105 Princess Road East.

Bernadette Lynch, who until recently was Deputy Director of The Manchester Museum will be speaking about some of the highly innovative work she has been doing with communities. A session not to be missed!

Please do come- Jocelyn Dodd and
Dr. Richard Sandell, Head of Department

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New marketing blog

'Please touch,' T.T. Tsui Gallery, V&A. Photo taken by me!

Dimitry has written to The Attic to let us know about the new museum marketing blog he's just started. His post 'Smoking not allowed!!!' about prohibitions in museums particularly caught my eye (not least because he appears to share my thoughts on in-gallery photography!). If the general public associates museums with banned behaviour, what hope have we got?!

His post reminds me of an observation I once did in the Tsui Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Several pieces are set up in the gallery as handling objects. Despite large signs saying 'please touch,' many were reluctant to do so, perhaps allowing themselves a hastily withdrawn 'poke.' Most people are remarkably attuned to norms of behaviour and feel unable to transgress them, even when invited to do so!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Conference Alert: The Museum as an Agent of Social Change

From H-Museum:

The Museum as an Agent of Social Change
Science Museum London
Wednesday 12 November 2008

This conference explores the idea that museums have the potential to empower individuals and communities and therefore contribute towards combating the multiple forms of disadvantage experienced by individuals and communities at risk of social exclusion. The challenges presented by this social change agenda are significant and the implications fundamental to the museums sector. This conference believes that museums have to radically rethink their purpose and renegotiate their relationship to - and role within - society.

Q&A Session - Audience Involvement and Participation

There will be ample opportunity to question each of the contributors and audience involvement and participation is welcomed. The conference also provides the perfect opportunity to network and discuss ideas with speakers and fellow delegates throughout the day.

Limited Space - Over 50 Delegates Already Confirmed

Delegate places are limited. Please act now to guarantee your place. Conference Passes are £247.

Conference Contributors include:
Keynote: David Fleming - Director, National Museums Liverpool

Jennifer Scott
Director of Research, Historic Weeksville, Brooklyn, USA

Ronna Tulgan-Ostheimer
Coordinator of Community Education & Outreach, Clark Art Institute,
Massachusetts, USA

Elissa Blount-Moorhead
Exhibitions Director, Historic Weeksville, Brooklyn, USA

Julie Finch
Deputy Head, Museum of Bristol

Peter Armstrong
Development Director, Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds

Tim Desmond
Chief Executive, NCCL Galleries of Justice, Nottingham

May Redfern
Museum Consultant

Greg Chamberlain
499 Silbury Boulevard
Milton Keynes
Great Britain

International Field School in Museums & Sustainable Heritage Development

From H-Museum:

International Field School in Museums & Sustainable Heritage Development
Vietnam, 6 - 21 December 2008

The International Field School in Museums and Sustainable HeritageDevelopment offered by the Museum Studies Program at UQ aims to providefirst-hand experience to graduate students and Professional DevelopmentProgram participants in locating culture in sustainable development in arapidly globalising world. Museums and heritage places kinds are consideredin the context of sustainable economic, environmental and socialdevelopment, with a focus on documented case studies andreal-life examples in Vietnam. Participants will consider how museums, cultural institutions,and heritage tourism can play a role in the revitalization of local cultureand economy, and how international conventions for heritage protection,governance structures, and local area planning intersect within holistic heritage management frameworks. The course provides a critical introductionto cultural mapping, gender and youth issues in community engagement,poverty alleviation and Millennium Development Goals. It also examines thechallenges posed by the conflicts between conservation and development,particularly in World Heritage Areas.

This Field School provides practical field experience not only to graduatestudents and researchers in museum, heritage and environmental studies,practicing museum and heritage professionals, but will also be of interestto those involved in archaeology, anthropology, planning, postcolonialstudies, sustainable development and cultural heritage law. It is alsooffered as an Advanced Study Option for researchers. Past participantsinclude Doctoral candidates and Post Doctoral Fellows from majoruniversities in the USA, Canada, Australia, UK, China, Korea, Vietnam and Europe

The International Field School is offered in partnership with the local,provincial and national cultural institutions and their respective Vietnamese authorities.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Podcasting Museums

Need something with which to occupy your commuting time? How about "iTunes U"?

At least once a month, I travel 300+ kilometers between my hometown and the city where I work, to visit over a weekend. If I decide not to drive, this means I have a long coach ride of over 3 hours during which I need to entertain myself. I've recently been playing around with iTunes U, a section on the iTunes store that allows you to download free lectures from universities and cultural institutions like museums. The quality is variable, mostly because the podcasts often supplement a full course, the content of which is obviously not available to the general public. (It's quite difficult to enjoy a lecture on Heidegger, for example, if you don't have the textbook or course pack with which to follow along the professor's discussion. This is apart from the fact that it may well be objectively difficult to enjoy a lecture on Heidegger, period!)

The most successful lectures, I find, are those which stem from guest lectures by renowned scholars speaking on a topic of their choice. While they are sufficiently general to be accessible without the need for a textbook, they are also intellectually stimulating. A museum-related example is a lecture given by Jeffrey Smith, an educational psychologist now working at the University of Otago in New Zealand. For those of you without access to iTunes, here is another link to the podcast: Museum Pieces: How Cultural Institutions Educate and Civilise Society There is also a video version here. Take a listen and let me know what you think. I found some of the concepts interesting, while others seemed painfully obvious or basic - what about you?

Saturday, September 20, 2008


I went to Tate Modern today. I wanted to take a photo of the Soviet propaganda posters room. The attendant wouldn't let me. 'There are postcards of the posters in the shop,' she says (in fact, there weren't). 'But I want a photo of the gallery space, not the individual posters,' I protested. She looked at me blankly. ARGHHHHHHH! Can someone give me one good reason for the prohibition on photos please?


'Annoyed' of Leicester

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Children in Museums

Hello, Attic readers! Amy has kindly let me have a go at writing some opinion pieces in this space, so I thought I'd start right away. I'm hoping to trigger a little bit of discussion about topics of museum curation, visitation, and exhibition. Today's topic: children in museums.
On Monday evening, I was invited to a dinner of women affiliated with the University where I work, and the people at my table started discussing the big museum in town. The latest exhibit is on dragons, and the woman beside me was saying how much her children had enjoyed it, and how much she wished that museums would offer more material that was suitable for pre-school or school-age children. She told me about a "Bob the Builder" exhibit that had been on a while back (I was shocked to my snobby core that such a thing even existed), and how much her children had enjoyed playing with blocks that represented water, etc. "Why can't they have more of that?" she asked.
Before I could reply (though my mind was whirring with righteous indignation that the historical artifacts in storage were being neglected in favour of a stop-motion animated character's syndicated series), the lady across from me jumped in with a complaint of her own: the museum had recently raised admission prices, alienating young families. She remembered (she was close to retirement age) that when her kids were young, she would take them to the museum, which was then free, to see their favourite object, and one other. What a wonderful idea! 

I remember (this is the part where I stroke my long grey beard and nod sagely...) that whenever we used to travel as a family, museums were always on the list of where to go, no matter how old I was. And I was fascinated by them! In fact, although I enjoyed exhibits that were aimed at children, particularly in science museums, I loved things that were strange and wonderful. I nurtured a love for all things Ancient Egyptian, for example, for about 5 years, and learned an amazing (or appalling, depending on your point of view) amount about the culture. Isn't that what museums can bring to kids? Expanding their minds not just in ways that are familiar and safe, like using their favourite cartoon characters as guides to processes like recycling, but also in ways that open their minds to the fact that different cultures in the world, throughout different time periods had different norms of behaviour and different values. 

When I worked as a security guard (my worst job ever) in a museum, I loved it when school groups would come in, and one girl or boy would choose me as their special friend and point out objects that excited them. I could never predict what their reaction would be. Museums are a place for learning that is totally different than classroom learning - they teach about ways of behaviour in crowded places; reverence for age and difference; art, culture, and society. I think they do all these things well, without the need for cartoon characters to make them palatable.

But what do you think?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Apologies for the use of CAPS. I wanted to make sure that I grabbed everyone's attention!

The Attic is looking for contributions from Leicester PhDs and guest bloggers equally. So, if you're a student of museology, former student or museum professional, wherever you happen to be in the world, and have something to say, we'd be delighted to hear from you. Some ideas ('though not an exhaustive list):
  • exhibition reviews
  • book reviews
  • opinion pieces
  • humour

We're particularly interested in making the Attic multimedia: Perhaps there is an innovative way you could present your contribution:

  • poetry
  • music
  • visual art

- for example.

Regular contributions, or one-off posts are welcome.

Email us to express an interest. Thanks :)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Material Worlds Update

The draft programme for Material Worlds - a conference in honour of Professor Susan Pearce - is available from here. Apparently there are still a few slots for presenters available. Contact the conference convener, Sandra Dudley, for more details.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

An announcement!

Photo by Troy B Thompson

Many congratulations to Katy - honorary member of the PhD community - who will be marrying Michael this afternoon at the Guildhall. xxx

Friday, September 12, 2008

Conference Alert: The Contentious Museum

Registrations are open for the sixth biennial University Museums in Scotland conference, ‘The Contentious Museum’ and can be made online at
Places will be confirmed on a first come first serve basis so we encourage you to register now.

The cost is £50 per day which includes lunch and refreshments. The conference dinner and ceilidh charge is £40. Accommodation is not included in the conference fee. Please note that registrations made after Friday 31st October will incur a late registration fee of £20.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

NaMu: Day 3

Continued from Day 2, Part 2.

Day 3 started early, too early for some, suffering from the previous night's activities. Eventually everyone rolled in and the final session of the workshop, The Dragon's Den' began. After a quick explanation of the concept behind the BBC programme on which it was based, we split up into groups to come up with some, frequently humorous, plans for future museological research. Peter Aronsson, Paul Marty and Lee Iverson, ably took on 'American Idol' panel personas, much to everyone's obvious amusement, and presided over the judging of each group's ideas, accompanied by an interrogation by the audience. Although not altogether successful, the process was fun and the resultant presentations were punctuated with howls of laughter. It's been so long since NaMu, I can't for the life of me remember which team won, and with what research proposal, but the session - and the workshop - certainly ended on a high note.

Many thanks to Simon Knell and Alan Kirwan for organising the workshop, ably assisted by Jim Roberts, Barbara Lloyd and Ross Parry. I shan't be going to the next, and final NaMu workshop in Norway this November (clashes with crucial writing-up phase), but I can definitely recommend the experience - and the people!

N.B. A Facebook group has been set up for NaMu delegates. Check out the pics. ;)

CFP: Fashion & Fabric: Theory, Materiality & Practice

Fashion & Fabric: Theory, Materiality & Practice
Graduate Student International Conference
15 -16 May 2009

Call for Papers
Material Culture Institute, University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

2009 is the International Year of the Natural Fibre. Inspired by this event, this conference will explore the history, culture and conservation practices arising from the world’s natural fibre textiles. The conference will be interdisciplinary in structure and address both contemporary and historical topics. Proposals are invited from graduate students across the disciplines researching issues related to the conference theme. All perspectives are welcome. Full panels as well as individual proposals will be considered. Applicants may be either Masters or PhD candidates.

Potential topics may include but are not limited to:
• Textiles & Consumerism
• Dress & Community
• To Repair & Recover: Conservation Practice and/or Process
• Practice of Production
• Trade, Textiles & Culture
• Fibre & Fashion
• Design History/Practice

Proposals: Abstracts of proposed papers (150-200 words) should be received by 15 December 2008. To aid us in the blind review process, please submit your abstract in the following electronic format: MS WORD document or RTF, composed of 3 pages. The first page should have your name, your university affiliation, program of study, your telephone number and your email address. The second page should have only your presentation title and abstract text, for blind review. On the third page we ask that you provide a 1 page short CV.

Please send proposals via email to Jennifer Beamer at
Please use: MCI Graduate Student International Conference Submission as your subject heading. Presenters will be contacted and a preliminary program will be announced no later than 30 January 2009.

Selection Process: Submissions will be reviewed by an Editorial Committee composed of current graduate students and faculty associated with the Material Culture Institute. All proposals will be adjudicated in a blind panel process, and are therefore considered refereed.

A limited number of bursaries will be available to assist with travel for presenters. Information will also be forthcoming about accommodation etc when the preliminary program is announced. Thank you for forwarding this call for papers to other interested graduate students.

For more information about this Conference and the Material Culture Institute please

Bletchley Park Update

The hi-tech companies IBM and PGP have made a joint donation of £50,000 to Bletchley Park's fundraising campaign.

Read more here.

For the background to this story, read this!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Museum Studies Book Catalogue 2008-2009

The University of Leicester bookshop has just published the latest edition of their catalogue of Museum Studies books. It is, they claim, 'the most comprehensive booklist on the subject issued anywhere in the world.' Details about how to get your free copy - and how to order from their extensive stock of museum studies books - are available here.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

CFP: MW2009

MW2009 CALL FOR PARTICIPATION: Deadline September 30, 2008.

Museums and the Web 2009
the international conference for culture and heritage on-line
April 15-18, 2009
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Museums and the Web addresses the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line. Taking an international perspective, the MW program reviews and analyzes the issues and impacts of networked cultural, natural and scientific heritage.

Proposals are invited from professionals and researchers in all areas actively exploring the creation, on-line presentation and use of cultural, scientific and heritage content, and its re-use and evaluation.

The bibliography of past MW papers (all on-line since 1997) can be searched at

On-line proposal submission is required. Use the form at

Please co-ordinate your proposals with your collaborators. Multiple proposals about the same project will not be accepted.

Proposals are peer-reviewed individually by an International Program Committee; full sessions are rarely accepted. Proposals for sessions should be submitted as individual papers with a covering note. The committee may choose to accept some papers and not others.

Proposals due September 30, 2008
- for papers, workshops, mini-workshops + professional forums (written paper required by Jan. 31, 2009)

Proposals due December 31, 2008
- for demonstrations (written paper optional)

The Museums and the Web program is built from the ground up, from your proposals. Add your ideas to the on-line discussion at

Review the MW2009 Call for Participation on-line at

Contact the MW2009 Conference Co-Chairs
David Bearman + Jennifer Trant, Archives & Museum Informatics

Publication: International Journal of Heritage Studies, (14) 5

International Journal of Heritage Studies: Volume 14 Issue 5
now available online at informaworld ( ).

This new issue contains the following articles:

Contributors, Page 387

Climate Change: How Should the World Heritage Convention Respond?, Pages 388 - 404
Author: Greg Terrill

Selling Conflict Heritage through Tourism in Peacetime Northern Ireland: Transforming Conflict or Exacerbating Difference?, Pages 405 - 421
Author: Sara McDowell

Tourism and Tragedy: The Memorial at Belzec, Poland, Pages 422 - 448
Author: Barbara Buntman

Malta: Reclaiming the Naval Heritage?, Pages 449 - 466
Author: John E. Tunbridge

Heritage in Movement: Rethinking Cultural Borrowings in the Mediterranean, Pages 467 - 480
Author: Saphinaz-Amal Naguib

Reviews, Pages 481 - 485
Authors: John Carman; Fiona McLean

Teaching Opportunities @ The OU

The Open University are now seeking applications for associate lecturer vacancies for courses presented between December 2008 and July 2009. If you would like further information and details on how to apply please visit this website.

CFP: Faces and Facades

From H-ArtHist:

Call for Papers

Renaissance Society of America 2009
Los Angeles March 19-21
Faces and Façades: the structure of display in Renaissance Italy

Bounded by the same etymological origin, the human “face” and the palace “façades” are compared by many early modern sources. As the face, the façade conveys symbolic, political and social values, revealing more than any other aspect about its patron. Both had to respect similar laws of decorum and dissimulatio in displaying the social role of a patron to the public gaze. The aim of the panel is to investigate the structures of display through the dialectic relationships between faces and façades in Renaissance art and theory.

While this call for papers is open to any suggestions that engage with this topic, we are particularly interested in receiving proposals that deal with the history of Renaissance Palace façades (were they adorned with paintings, sgraffiti, sculptures, or were they ephemeral) and their reception. We would consider theoretical as well as concrete approaches to the theme, dealing not only with the social, political and artistic impact of 14th-17th centuries-façades but also with the urban legislation about façades as means of the process of city shaping.

Abstracts of no more than 200 words, for 20 minutes presentations, can be submitted in Italian, English and French to conference organizers:
Dr. Valeria Cafà ( ) and
Dr. Maddalena Spagnolo ( ), before September 9.

Monday, September 01, 2008

A (very late) Research Week Review: Day Two morning session

It seems a bit backwards to post this review but because Amy has beat me to writing the reviews of the research week papers in the afternoon by a superb margin, you are now getting the presentations from the morning. But hey, we're PhD students and we can put up with such confusion right? You might also want to scroll down a lot of messages to look at the glorious pictures that Amy took in case you want to match names with faces.

What follows is a brief review of each of the papers; following each of these there was a lengthy interrogation process from the assembled academics and students and it was a credit to each student that they kept their cool despite the questions coming thick and fast. I always like research week because for most of the year it is a complete mystery as to what people are up to, sometimes you might catch a glimpse or a snatched conversation, so its great to be able to come together and share our experiences.

Pippa (Sherriff) set the standard for the day by introducing us to two of the hardest words in the English language: phenomenography and the author Csikszentmihalyi. Her paper looked at how she was about to start her fieldwork at Lady Lever Art gallery, investigating the relationship between people and objects and how that relationship may be mediated through drawing. It will involve her asking such questions as how do people represent objects when they draw them and what is the nature of a meaningful experience? Phenomenography will be helpful in this respect because it focuses on the experiences of others in understanding the phenomenon, so through studying the individual meanings that people make, the commonalities, variations and 'uniqueness' can be ascertained so to give the collective meaning. It sounded very ambitious and I very much look forward to hearing more about Pippa encourages adults (with all their barriers and insecurities) to have a go at drawing.

Next up was Amy (Barnes) forsaking her usual focus on the Cultural Revolution of China to a critique the exhibition 'Che Guevara - Revolutionary and Icon' which was on display at the V&A in 2006. And how would the museum display a famous revolutionary and anti-Western icon? By focusing on the design aspects rather than getting entangled in the messy political elements, much to the chagrin of the curator! Amy very effectively showed how any political meanings that might be invested in Che were neutralized and contained by the design and interpretation of the exhibition, down to the gift shop packed full of Che t-shirts, dolls and other Commie kitsch designed to appeal to irony-loving Western audiences. It was interesting to hear about the political wrangles that go on behind the shiny facades of exhibitions, most of which remain fairly shadowy to the audiences which visit, and to have it reinforced how mainstream culture seeks to appropriate potentially dangerous figures like Che in order to make them 'familiar' and 'safe'; to subvert their meaning into something more palatable for Western audiences looking for someone cool to latch on to. An image used by the Church of England which morphed Jesus into the iconic image of Che Guevara however was enough in my mind to make poor Che deeply un-cool for eternity...

The remaining three presentations are very hazy in my mind since it has been quite a while since Research Week so apologies for not covering them in as much depth. Sally (Hughes)'s presentation looked at the relationship between exhibition catalogues and the exhibition that spawned them, the focus of her research being how museum books are produced and received (or consumed) by museum audiences. Museum publications can be seen as part of the whole experience of the visit; within that, the text itself can be seen as a 'para-text' (an idea advanced by Gérard Genette in the 1980s) so not only taking into account its content but also the effect of the wider context of the publication and how elements such as the jacket, typography and layout may effect the mediation between the exhibition and the audience/reader. There are limitations with this approach however so the theory of 'site' was also advanced, taking the approach that museums can and do use books as 'sites' to communicate to their audiences. This was illustrated with an example from an exhibition by the Wellcome Collection 'Sleeping and Dreaming.' It was interesting to see the developments in Sally's thinking and to think about the limitations of the different theories and how these could be 'overcome' using a combination rather than relying on one theory to provide the 'answer' to the research puzzle.

Alan (Kirwan) presented an overview of his research proposal which looks at 'Irish Museums in the construction of a diverse and inclusive society.' Alan had only recently started his research so his presentation covered some of the areas in which he was interested. The context for his research focuses on museums in Ireland (Eire) which are failing to engage with the social inclusion agenda despite a rapidly diversifying population. The motivation behind his research is the idea that museums can, and should, play a role in the creation of a 'diverse and inclusive society' despite claims to the contrary. I look forward to finding out about how Alan will tackle this ambitious and complex topic!

The final presentation of the morning was given by Heather (Hollins) and focused on organisational change using the case study of the Holocaust Museum where Heather works. I found that the management theory was very new to me and so I find it difficult to remember much of it, however there was a very visual and compelling slide which equated the attempt at organisational change to be like 'herding cats.' This simple image has stayed with me and perhaps explains better than any words how Heather found the process of organisational change to be! It was made very relevant to her larger research project and it was heartening to see that PhD research can have a lasting impact on the context in which we work and study.

For those who study with us at Leicester, most of the presentations are available to download from Blackboard (some got mangled by the digital recorder for which I am very sorry) and associated material such as presentation slides. Thank you to everyone who gave a paper at Research Week, I really enjoyed listening to everyone's progress and look forward to next year!