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.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Narrative Space Day Three - Post Five

'The Past Recaptured' Sally Stone

St Wilfred's Church in Preston is well integrated into its urban environment. Surrounded by buildings on three sides, it is located just off the main street. The links which this permits, to wealthy and affluent areas, is incredibly important in the character of the place. First constructed in 1793 as part of the development of the area, and remodeled 1880, recased in 1882, the building has been a hugely important part of the Catholic community in Preston, which although a large part of the population, was often not given a really prominent position, socially and architecturally.

Interestingly, amongst the beautiful decoration, are small terracotta swastikas. These have now unpleasant connotations, but before the rise of National Socialism this was a symbol of good luck and religious piety. It has become known as the Swastika Church, with all the pejorative implications this encourages. It means that the Church has gained meanings and associations which it was never intended to have. Our perception of the past, Sally Stone says, is hugely interpreted through the contemporary situation - we cannot disentangle the past from the present in which it is apprehended. This obviously calls into question the ability of the historian to relate the present in any degree of objectivity.

In remodeled buildings, her main interest, we see the values of the society which did the remodeling as much as we do of the original occupants. The study of history and architecture, and architectural history is no different. Architects study and use forms from ruins and older buildings - much really as every part of culture does. When we appropriate from ruins, as opposed to buildings which still stand, this appropriation is very different. But even still, buildings which we consider 'complete' have changed from their original state no matter how technically 'complete' they seem.

When sites are reappropriated for other uses, such as by Urban Splash, or by the company who restored my building, there is a certain amount of romanticism. We mythologise the spaces, especially if they are for living. There are parts of that history which we choose to forget. I have experienced this in my own flat. It is modern, clean inside. It retains the big windows, and the external walls of the building on three sides remain the same. But there are few traces within the living spaces of its previous life of a hosiary factory. It is only when you go into the forgotten spaces, such as the cellar in which my electricity meter is housed, where you begin to see real traces of the hard manual labor and tough qualities of this building. The layers of history are often hidden, and can often be accessed only in imagination. As Sally Stone says, we all select our own personal reading of the past, which may be interpreted in multiple ways.

I'm going to have to be technical support this afternoon guys, so I'll post when I can!!!

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