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.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Visitor Technology Preferences

Link via Museum-L: the results of a recent study by Reach Advisors of 40,000 visitors about visitor preferences for technology in museums.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Brand new EPIC competition!!

Dear Attic contributors and fans!

Following hot on the heels of our last fabulous poll MUSEUM HOT OR NOT we are launching a new poll in celebration of our 2011 conference CURIOUSER and CURIOUSER - this time to find the MOST ECCENTRIC MUSEUM OBJECT!

What we would like YOU to do is to send us your pictures of what you consider to be the most STRANGEST, UNBELIEVABLE or downright WIERD objects you have ever seen in a museum.

Please only send us pictures that you have taken yourselves for obvious copyright reasons (and do check with the museum first that you are able to take pictures otherwise we might get into trouble).

Once you have your picture go to the Curiouser and Curiouser fanpage on Facebook - - and upload your photo to the album that will be provided for this very purpose.

Please provide a description of why you think your object is so ECCENTRIC!

Alternatively email your pictures to with your explanation.

Once we have enough pictures we will start the POLL on the Attic blog to find out which object will be given the coveted title of MOST ECCENTRIC museum object!

It doesn't just have to be the object itself - maybe it has a strange story behind it?

To get you in the mood, here are some weird and wonderful objects from museums I have recently visited:

A helmet made out of a pufferfish!

A stuffed cat with a mangled tail meant to evoke the world of Robin Hood:

A book haunted by the ghost of a white women / monk who likes to open the book despite it being left closed over night:

A head in a basket depicting the artist's dislike of art critics:

Okay maybe these aren't WIERD enough for you so get sending your pictures in!

And remember to keep checking the Attic blog and facebook page for more details!

The Future of Green Architecture: A Floating Museum

Physalia is half-boat, half-building, and all green. This mammoth aluminum concept by Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut is meant to travel Europe’s rivers, making filthy water drinkable. At the same time, the ship generates more energy than it uses...

...But Physalia isn’t just designed to be a working ship. The vessel will also be a floating museum of sorts...FOR MORE, CLICKY THE LINKY

Museums that will scare you silly...

Apparently, these are the top ten scariest museums. Do you agree?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

At home with Byron - a Trip to Newstead Abbey

Through thy battlements, Newstead, the hollow winds whistle;
Thou the hall of my fathers, art gone to decay;
In thy once smiling garden, the hemlock and thistle
Have choked up the rose which late bloom'd in the way
On Leaving Newstead Abbey, Lord Byron

Newstead Abbey is best known as the home of the Romantic poet, famously described by Lady Caroline Lamb as 'mad, bad and dangerous to know', George Gordon, 6th Lord Byron, who was born in 1788 into gentile poverty and died of a fever in Greece fighting for its independence from the Ottoman Empire. However, he hardly lived there throughout his short life. It was in a bad state when he inherited it from his great Uncle the 'Wicked Lord' William, 5th Lord Byron, who had to sell off most of the furniture when he got into debt, and Byron too similarly got into financial difficulties, which necessitated him selling off the house in 1818 to his friend, Thomas Wildman. And despite the fondness he seemed to demonstrate in his poem, 'On Leaving Newstead' (1803) there is little evidence that Byron took great care of the house, using the Great Hall for pistol practice! Newstead Abbey has been owned by Nottingham City Council since 1931 when it presented to the city by the philanthropist Sir Julian Cahn.

It is possible to get to Newstead by public transport and I took the train from Nottingham station to Newstead village, about two miles from the House itself. You can walk or cycle along the old drive that leads to the House, it has been closed to cars except for residents so makes a very pleasant walk through countryside.

The two gateposts signalled that I was going the right way!

Walking along the drive, you emerge from the woods to see the House sitting down the hill within a slight dip in the landscape. To the left of the house is a large lake and fountain, making a very picturesque scene. The unusual frontage of the House, with the ruins of a monastery incorporated into it, stems from its origins as an Augustinian priory, founded by Henry II in 1163 in atonement for the murder of Thomas a Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury with whom he had a very stormy relationship ('Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?' he is supposed to have said, with fatal results).

The ruins give it a very dramatic, if melancholy, atmosphere. It would be good to visit on a dark stormy night, the moon shining through the ruins of the Abbey's large window.

The House itself has been restored as far as possible to how it looked when William Wildman purchased it in 1818. With a fortune from plantations owned by his family in Jamaica, Wildman set about restoring the house, which was probably left in a right state by the excessively debauched Lord Byron. It is a rambling place, the rooms decorated in a very heavy, Gothic style with dark wood panelling and painted ceilings to ape the 'baronial' style that was popular at the time. Of note are four fireplaces from the 16th century which are supposed to have come from another Byron residence in Nottinghamshire, Colwick Hall, replete with carved figures, and some bits of furniture which actually belonged to Lord Byron, including his bed and an amazing screen that Byron decorated himself with pictures of his favourite actors from the theatre and sportsmen that he admired.

In fact the house itself is more or less a shrine to Lord Byron, despite his short tenancy. There is an exhibition in the library which contains a collection of memorabilia of the poet, including a very handsome green velvet jacket that could have been worn by him and would not look out of place in Topshop today! As a celebration of the poet and his life it rather obviously sanitizes the worst aspects of his character and glosses over the numerous incidents which saw him leaving Britain, forever as it turned out, in 1816 for a life on the continent. Brought up in a world of sexual deviancy, that Lord Byron was 'beyond the pale' to his peers suggests just how bad he was! However, he also inspired extreme loyalty from his friends, and this exhibition prefers to dwell on his more heroic aspects like his support of social reform and spirited defence of the 'Luddites', men who sought to destroy the new technology they saw taking away their jobs, and his involvement in the fight for Greek independence. Unfortunately for Byron he was not to die gloriously in battle but of a fever and possibly botched medical treatment.

Alongside all the reminders of Byron - who you can almost imagine striding round the house in some suitably dark, melancholy poetic mood - there are a few remains left of the medieval monastery, including a doorway in the Great Hall, a garderobe (toilet) in the dining room and some pillars peeping through the wall in the cloisters (see picture below).

The cloister walk is one of the most pleasant spaces in the house. Originally built in the 15th century, there is a small garden at their centre around a water conduit carved with amusing animals, including a very jaunty looking rabbit.

The House is surrounded by extensive gardens, divided into formal and less formal sections. From the 19th century the house was frequented by visitors, the railway station in the village being provided by one of the later owners of the House.

Close to the House is a large tomb in honour of Byron's favourite dog, Boatswain who died in 1808. It is inscribed with the poet's epitaph and Byron apparently intended to be buried there himself, which suggests why the tomb itself is so grand. Byron is famous for having a large menagerie, which at one time is supposed to have included a bear.

More pictures of the gardens follow:

Before I returned back to Leicester, I stopped off in the small town of Hucknall to visit the church of St Mary Magdalene where Byron and his family are buried, also his daughter Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace who is famous for writing what is considered to be the first computer programme. Father and daughter barely met in life - Byron separated from his wife Annabella not long after Augusta was born - but are united in death. Unfortunately the church was not open, but there is a memorial to the poet in the gardens. Another notable memorial is one to Benjamin Caunt, a famous bare-knuckle boxer of the 19th century.

I am indebted to 'Newstead Abbey: Historic House and Gardens, A Tour of the House' produced by Nottingham City Council (and available from the House) for the information contained herein. Also a leaflet called 'Walk & Talk the Heritage of Hucknall' for information about the Church.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Portuguese Museological Resource

The Proceedings (Volume 1 and 2) of the I Museology Research Seminar for Portuguese and Spanish Speakers (I SEMINÁRIO DE INVESTIGAÇÃO EM MUSEOLOGIA DOS PAÍSES DE LÍNGUA PORTUGUESA E ESPANHOLA) has just been published and can be found on-line at or A third volume will be published later in the year.
The II Museology Research Seminar for Portuguese and Spanish Speakers (II SEMINÁRIO DE INVESTIGAÇÃO EM MUSEOLOGIA DOS PAÍSES DE LÍNGUA PORTUGUESA E ESPANHOLA) is being jointly organized by ICOFOM and University of Porto – Faculdade de Letras, Departamento de Ciências do Património and will take place in Buenos Aires (27 -30 de September 2010). Everyone is welcome!
Alice Semedo
Departamento de Ciências e Técnicas do Património
Faculdade de Letras
Universidade do Porto

Live Interpretation Blog plus Minds-on Engagement

Via Museum-L:
Live Interpretation Blog plus Minds-on Engagement

In preparation for a workshop this spring, I contacted this listserv and several others and asked for examples of successful interpretive strategies that incorporate hands-on or minds-on engagement for use in a space where people are not permitted to touch objects (i.e., an historic house). Museum professionals from across the country sent in their thoughts and examples.

The responses were practical and thoughtful, and I organized them into the broad categories below:

Minds-on engagement
Hands-on activities
Personal connections
Overall approaches

I combined the above information, along with research findings from a wide variety of sources, for several workshops and talks I later presented about live interpretation topics: making connections with visitors, engaging audiences in spaces where they can’t touch objects, and using museum theatre.

I realized I wanted to find a way to share the research and information about live interpretation that I was gathering. That desire led to starting a blog, Live Interpretation, at My first posting, with your responses, includes “Minds-on Engagement.” In subsequent posts, I’ll review “Hands-on Activities,” “Personal Connections” and “Overall Approaches.” I’ll also include links to resources, comments by leaders in the field and anything else I can think of that helps us understand and become effective at one of the most powerful visitor experiences – live interpretation.

Please feel free to check out the blog and read the first post on “Minds-on Interpretation.”

Dale Jones
Making History Connections
affiliated with QM2 at

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Vandals deface Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire

I find it shocking when people take it upon themselves to deface art and heritage, and then refuse to announce their action. If you are vandalizing something, at least do it for a reason, please. Preferably, however, just don't do it at all.

Friday, June 18, 2010

New guidance published by English Heritage to protect local areas

An English Heritage guidance document ‘Understanding Place: Historic Area Assessments – Principles and Practice was published this month which provides a method of understanding the heritage of an area. All places have a story and identity. Historic cities, towns and villages have a distinctive character, shaped by years of history to the present day.

Undertaking Historic Area Assessments (HAA) is a way of identifying the features that contribute to the historic character of an area, as well as issues that may threaten to change that character such as new developments or redundant and derelict buildings.

New guidance published by English Heritage to protect local areas

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Switzerland Tree Museum!!!

How many of you want to go?

Every little helps

Whatever happens in the Government spending review and forthcoming council cuts, you just know that museums and heritage sites in the UK are gonna get it in the neck. So I have a proposal. Let's all vow to do our bit.

I promise (and I hope you will too) to have a cup of tea, put a few pennies in the donation box, or buy a little something in the shop EVERY time I visit a museum.

I'm not talking big bucks here - just a few pounds, or whatever you can afford. Do you usually buy cards and gifts on the high street? Patronise your local museum shop instead. Meet for coffee, not in Starbucks, but in your local historical caff.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Minister Calls for Creationism in Museums

This is one of those problematic stories which makes you question what narrative the museum is responsible for...nay, entitled to tell. Whilst no creationist myself, I do wonder about the justification for its absence in museums. For if we are to tell all stories, surely we should tell this one too?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Digital Media and its Applications in Cultural Heritage

Digital Media and its Applications in Cultural Heritage
16 to 17 March 2011
Amman, Jordan

Contact name: Sami Kamal

Conference aims to explore the opportunities & challenges of using digital media in the research, preservation, management & representation of cultural heritage.

Organized by: CSAAR

Third International Conference on the Inclusive Museum

Third International Conference on the Inclusive
29 June-2 July 2010
Yildiz Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey

The Museum conference invites museum and culture
professionals, and interested scholars, to explore
the current and future role of the museum in this
era of tremendous global change.

This year's conference features the following
Plenary Speakers:
* Mohammad Zia Afshar, Deputy Minister for
Culture, Afghanistan
* Nurhan Atasoy, Istanbul University, Istanbul, Turkey
* Okkas Daglioglu, Director Genearl of Cultural
Heritage and Museums, Turkey
* Zahava D. Doering, Smithsonian Institute,
Washington D.C, USA
* Omarakhan Massoudi, Director of the National
Museum of Afghanistan, Kabul, Afghanistan
* Arev Samuelyan, Deputy Minister of Culture,
Republic of Armenia
* Alissandra Cummins, President of ICOM, Barbados
* Margaret Anderson, Director of History South
Australia, Adelaide, Australia
* Amareswar Galla, University of Queensland,
Brisbane, Australia
For more information about these speakers, please

In addition to plenary presentations, the Museum
Conference includes Parallel Presentations by
practitioners, teachers and researchers. We invite
you to respond to the conference Call-for-Papers.
To Submit a Proposal, please see:

For the conference Themes, please see:

For Registration Options and Fees, or to register
for the conference, see:

Web address:
Organized by: Common Ground Publishing

Issue no. 14 of e-conservation magazine is now online

INDEX - Issue 14, May 2010
ISSN: 1646-9283

By Rui Bordalo


Building Bridges in the Third Place
By Daniel Cull


Multidisciplinary Conservation – A Holistic View for Historic Interiors
ICOM-CC Interim Meeting
Review by Ana Bidarra

VI Symposium of Art and Science
Conservation and Restoration of Decorative Arts
Review by Rui Bordalo

Upcoming Events: June - July 2010

Wikipedia Saves Public Art
An interview with Richard McCoy and Jennifer Geigel Mikulay, conducted by
Daniel Cull


Conservation-Restoration Interventions in Extreme Cases
Improving the Structural Resistance of Wood Damaged by Biological Attack
By Cornelia and Dinu Savescu

The Challenges of Digital Art Preservation
By Lino García and Pilar Montero Vilar


The Conservation-Restoration of the “Charola” Paintings of the Convent of
Christ in Tomar
By Frederico Henriques, Ana Bailão and Miguel Garcia

The Conservation and Preservation of a Photographic Print
The “Panoramic View of Constantinople”
By Élia Roldão and Luís Pavão


Conservation. Principles, Dilemmas and Uncomfortable Truths
Review by Christabel Blackman


The Smithsonian and Synchrotron Soleil Join to Analyze Antiquities, Cultural Heritage Materials

The Smithsonian and Synchrotron Soleil Join to Analyze Antiquities, Cultural Heritage Materials
June 11, 2010
The Smithsonian Institution and Synchrotron Soleil of France announced a new partnership between the organizations to use the power of the third-generation synchrotron to study and preserve priceless collections at the Smithsonian. This is the first partnership between the Institut Photonique d’Analyse Non-destructive Européen des Matériaux Anciens platform at Soleil and the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute.
A synchrotron is a particle accelerator that produces brilliant beams of light (10,000 times brighter than sunlight) that can be used for scientific analysis. Soleil is an acronym for “source optimisée de lumière d’énergie intermédiaire du lure.” The Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute is a scientific research unit of the Smithsonian that conducts research on collections and their preservation.
The announcement was made during the signing of a memorandum of understanding June 10 by the French Minister for Higher Education and Research Valérie Pécresse and the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Science Eva J. Pell. The signing took place at the Ministry of Higher Education and Research in Paris.
The joint programs will include exchange of staff and fellows, collaborative research using the synchrotron platforms, development of advanced methods, and joint seminars, workshops and meetings. The first project, with research scheduled to begin in June, will examine the fading of Prussian blue, the first modern pigment accidentally discovered at the beginning of the 18th century. A favorite of 19th-century painters, artisans and manufacturers because it was both stable and cheap, the dye was ubiquitous in the period’s wallpapers, textiles, stamps, cosmetics and early photographs. It is the blue in architectural blueprints. However, the pigment is subject to fading under special conditions because of its unique electronic and magnetic properties. Study at the synchrotron will examine the fading of Prussian blue at the nano scale.
“We welcome Soleil into this great partnership, and we look forward to working with their highly qualified staff as we intensively study the material characteristics of cultural heritage,” said Robert J. Koestler, director of the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute whose staff will be conducting experiments at Soleil this summer.
“The convergence of disciplines is a key challenge and this common action of a large-scale facility and a most prominent cultural and research institution is a concrete and very positive outcome” said Michel van der Rest, CEO of Synchrotron Soleil.
For more information about Synchrotron Soleil visit
Media Only
Paula T. DePriest
(301) 238-1206
John Gibbons
(202) 633-5187

Fourth International Conference Responsible Tourism in Destinations Living Landscapes of Oman

Fourth International Conference Responsible
Tourism in Destinations Living Landscapes of Oman
10 to 12 October 2010
Muscat, Oman

This Conference is being held in Oman to explore
the application of the principles of Responsible
Tourism, There are new issues on the agenda,
tourism in a finite world, Human
Resources,tangible and intangible heritage and
Responsible Tour

The deadline for abstracts/proposals is 15
August 2010.

Web address:
Sponsored by: Ministry of Tourism

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Research Week Presentations Posts - Over and...

...almost out. But I've one final message.

I've really had fun. Honestly. I've had agony too, but I think this will be one of those weeks that was so different and strange that I will romanticise it in my mind for many years to come.

Thank you to all the attendees and contributors, and thank you to Viv for organising the week, and the academics for all the support and help both this week and throughout the year. We couldn't do what we do without them.

I'm sure that there will be a post about our Oxford Trip to follow, but for now that's me,

Over and Out

Day Three - Conflict Between Principles, Theory and Practice in Museum Project Management

It was very nice to see Vicky presenting at Research Week, as I worked with her a lot last summer. This presentation was, in part, based upon some of the work that I was able to help her with at the Ashmolean, and it was great to get a different, more academic, perspective on it.

Vicky's research will look at the impact of projects on museums and their internal communities. Project management, as some of you may know, is an arduous and demanding task, and the way in which a significant project such as the Ashmolean redevelopment is managed is critical in the way the organisation responds to the changes it creates. Vicky will look at the techniques of project management, museum project processes such as evaluation, considering throughout the variety and difference of museums and their projects.

Her research will consider the existing museum staff and structures, how they are involved in project management and whether the culture of the museum changes throughout and after the implementation. From my limited experience, this is a really hard area of project management to cope with - for many people are averse to change, in some ways quite understandably so. Change is frightening, and people need to see that it can also be good. You also need to manage the relationships between existing staff, new staff, and staff brought in purely for set tasks and periods of time during the project, and you have to consider at each point how much each of them are invested in the work and the museum. Vicky must, she notes, also consider the role of funding, for those who are funding the project, be they the public, the government, or private individuals also have a stake in what happens.

In any project, a museum and its community changes - it cannot help but do so. Museums are incredibly diverse places, and they need their own versions of project management to consider their individuality (and their individuals!). These are not corporate projects, but projects with emotional and cultural importance and meaning. Knossos, the Ashmolean, and the Bahrain National Museum, which she will use as case studies, are hugely significant sites in their various locales and beyond, and the application of project management strategies to their development and change must be carefully considered.

Thank you, Vicky, for a great presentation! I'm hopeful for the future of museum projects if there are more like you out there!

Day Three - Vikings: The Barbaric Heroes

From our own resident Viking, Gudrun, came a very entertaining and informative saga upon the representation of Vikings in popular consciousness over history. I think most of the audience were sold on this presentation from the start, when this video was played. Go on, click the link. You know you want to...

Anyway, back to the serious stuff. We imagine the Vikings as warriors and raiders, strong, tall, in some cases handsome men with long beards, boats, horned helmets and dragons. We are sometimes afraid of them, and the violence which they represent, at least in this country. Certainly the activities of the Viking Age, which Gudrun presents to us, shows them as wide raging and adventurous - for they even settled parts of America for a time. They were not just warriors, however, but settlers, traders and farmers, for 'going viking' was a seasonal activity, in which youths were able to prove themselves as men. The image of the Vikings has been glorified and demonised for political and nationalistic reasons, barbarised and naturised by the romantics and today many of the stereotypical representations to which the Vikings have been subject remain strong in popular culture.

In academia, however, the field is becoming more open. The purpose of Gudrun's research is to understand how representations of Vikings are presented in museums. Though she is currently in the process of finalising her case studies, she has already investigated the British Museum and Jorvik (as well as some sneaky peaking in the Ashmolean) and has found a number of interesting things. She has, for one, discovered that many of the texts which are used to label Viking objects are very emotive, using words such as looting and violence. One of the questions she wants to answer is whether visitors are attracted by this, and whether their pre-existing perceptions of Vikings as 'other' and frightening are reinforced by such texts. In Jorvik, however, the Vikings are shown as 'part of us', rather than just raiders from the outside - this makes me wonder how much representation, at least in the British Isles, is to do with geographical location, for in York, the heart of the Danelaw, it may be that some ancestral pride persists, whilst the south, subject as it was to raids from the outside may unsurprisingly take a dimmer view of Viking activity.

I hope Gudrun will be able to answer some of these questions. But then, as long as she doesn't pillage my flat, I don't really mind...

Day Three - Is Nature Stuffed? How Museums Can Use Natural History to Inspire a Love of Nature and a Conservation Ethic

I was looking forward to hearing Elee speak, having worked alongside her for much of the year, but working in completely opposing fields. You probably know I'm not much of a kids person in terms of what I study, so Elee's presentation brought the field to light for me in a really entertaining way!

Natural history, she notes, is in something of a strange position in museums. On the one hand, people really like it, and almost half of the collections in the UK contain some form of natural history exhibit (one sixth of these, by the way, are in the Natural History Museum in London). And yet certain parts of it, such as taxidermy, can really polarise people in terms of their responses. Alberti recently pointed out that, as yet, there is little, if any research into the way people respond to natural history collections and the reasons why they do so. But such research could really help museums, who are, at times (in my opinion) overly apologetic for displays of taxidermy and bones. This probably isn't helped, Elee notes, by certain scholars such as Harroway, who have seen taxidermy specimens as fallacious recreations. But in what sense, really, are they fallacious? If she means that they are different from the thing in life, the thing in original use, then surely all museum peices are so - would Harroway be rid of museums?

Museums need to know what to do with these collections. For Elee, this is an ethical issue, for we need to use the museum positively to instill in ourselves and future generations a love of nature and a desire to preserve it. We are, according the Edward Wilson, naturally inclined to react strongly to aspects of nature due to our growth within and from it. This is known as biophillia, and our engagement with nature has huge impact upon our health, wellbeing and social awareness. A way to get people to love nature is through early exposure, but Kellert has shown that children are often afraid of direct contact with nature. Elee feels Kellert's argumets lack fluidity, and do not create enough room for the analysis of the reactions of very small children, the group upon whom she is focussing, so she augments his model of learning about nature with Falk and Deirking's model of development which is more whollistic and progressive. What Kellert's arguments do show, however, is the important role that museums and taxidermy can have in the development of biophillia in children.

But it is not children who are the only learners, for as Elee notes, in some situations, the child's wonder at a natural specimin (dead and stuffed or otherwise) can create, in an adult, a joyous response which may well have been absent, if not reversed, without the translation power of a child's awe.

Thank you Elee! I especially enjoyed the sheep scapula. Bones bones bones...

Day Three - Adult Learning In Portuguese Museums: A Case Study

Portuguese museums have classically directed all the efforts of the education teams and programmes towards children. This is now changing, but as yet there is little research into the relationship between museums and their adult audiences. In a wonderfully interesting, and sometimes deeply moving presentation, Margarida shows us how post-Revolutionary Portugal has used the theories of New Museology to reposition its institutions as community centred sites.

Margarida wants to answer a number of questions in her research. Why are museums beginning to target adults? What are the results of this? To do this, she will use a number of case studies, one of which she presented to us.

The Museu do Trabatho Michel Giacometti in Setubal was founded after the 1974 revolution as a collection of material testimonies, stories and songs of the local people. It only opened as a museum in 1995, however, so is really rather new in the grand scheme of things. The three permanent exhibits provide the nucleus of the museum, and work to support the identities of local communities. The activities of the museum fit with can Mensche's ideas regarding the New Museology - community involvement, focus on social life and labour. The selection of the old fish cannery site as its location also fits into this frame, based upon its re-use of locally iconic and important space.

In 2003 the museum began a progamme of intercultural 'encounters' to build realtionships between the museum and its various communities. These were afternoon events, which revolved around community selected topics, curated and managed by experts, which then finished with a celebration. Tales of the Elf, currently running, asked community members to choose as story from Hans Anderson to produce a museological object that could be placed in the space. Many groups have been invited to contribute, including the elderly, the mentally disabled and prisoners. Their responses have, at times, beeing incredibly deep and emotional, and I found myself choked when Margarida read out a poem by one of the prisoners which he had written to go alongside the artwork.

Both process and production, as well as communication, I feel, create opportunities for learning and meaning making. Not only for the visitor either - for the museum has a chance to develop its links, skills, relationships and knowlegde.

Thank you Margarida. I hope your work goes from strength to strength.

Day Three - Cultural Issues and ICT for Cultural Heritage: Designs and Visitors' Interpretations

I've very much been looking forward to hearing more about Pat's project. I was not disappointed. Another of our visiting scholars, like Bianca, Pat researches between design, communication science and museum studies (our department is getting more interdisciplinary by the day!) studying the issue of intercultural communication. How, she asks, can designers take account of the needs of intercultural communication and how do visitors interpret the artefact between them, and the information the designer wishes to convey?

Her case study is particularly interesting in and of itself. Place-Hampi is an immersive environment in which visitors can experience for themselves the archaeological site of Hampi in India. This environment has travelled around the world, and Pat spent some time in Australia conducting ethnographic research into visitor reactions to being able to experience this place without being there. At various stages throughout the exhibition in Melbourne she listened to visitors' stories, observed their movements within the space and collected documents from the museum itself.

She has generated and incredibly complex six stage communication model which expresses the processes of communication between the developer of the artefact (that is, in this case, Place Hampi, though it could be another multimedia or expressly created device) and the viewer, and a methodology for analysing visitor experience in an immersive environment on multicultural sites. The changes which an object goes through during the processes of the model is particularly interesting, for it alters from an idea, to a peice of labv equiptment, to being a museum artefact. Changes in space can create huge changes in meaning.

Richard wondered where cultural diversity came in this mass of information. The project, Pat says, already shows diversity, for Australian designers worked to develop a project about an Indian site, which would then travel around the world. But she also wants to investigate how people define themselves in relation to the technology and the content it presents.

There's certainly a lot of information to digest here. Well done Pat, I'm not sure I could keep all those ideas in the air in one project. I look forward to hearing more about it!!!

Day Two - How Do - and How Should - We Think About the Past? Exploring Historical Consciousness'

There is no time like the present to talk about such issues, given the recent government announcements. Ceri's timely presentation explores how we might learn about the past, and questions which past that should be. Niall Fergusson complains that we have only an episodic, rather than a grand narrative in regard to history in this country. But the question is, if this is the case, who determines what that 'grand narrative' is?

Thus arises the term 'historical consciousness'. This concept expresses the methods by which individuals and collectives come to understandings of the past, particularly important in museums and the heritage sector as well as schools. John Tosh's work, Why History Matters, shows how we need to be critical in thinking about history, and stop conflating it with the present as many museums do. Presentations of material culture, Tosh argues, fail to convey the gulf between then and now - particularly problematic in costumed interpretation and re-enaction. Whist Tosh thinks that we should relate ourselves to the past on both familiar and strange terms, the emphasis, for him, should remain on the strangeness of the present to the past.

There are four typologies of Historical Consiousness which Ceri presents. The traditional, the exemplary, the crtical and the genetic, each of which get progressively more subtle and complex. That is not to say, however, that the more nuanced versions can only be used by professionals - Rusen, in fact, argues that all, even school age children, can use the genetic approach to historical thought, which makes new interpretations of the past through critical reasoning, questioning and understanding the relative relationships of cultures. It is the education system itself which needs to realise and acknowlegde that there is no simplicity to history, and that even the youngest child brings with them particular expectations, tacit assumputions based upon their experience which leads them to reinterpret events in ever new ways.

These levels of historical consciousness are really interesting - and I think will be critical in Ceri's work upon the use of costumed interpretation in representing the Middle Ages, and in answering her question 'Why is the Historian's engagement with the past so different from that of the Museum?'

I, for one, don't know the answer.

Day Two - Digital Ethics: The Display of Sacred Devotional Objects in the Online Museum

An interesting topic for discussion this, for it brings up many questions about the meaning and nature of objects. In her presentation Alex shows us how her research, currently in its final stages, stands at this present time. She hopes, through it, to advocate an ethical approach to digital items which dehomogenises the way in which they are usually displayed by online museums. It is a really considered approach to her work, thoughtful and provocative, for it discusses the value of objects and how they change from sacred space, to museum setting, to rendered image, to online display, and the ethical implications of each of these statuses.

For this case, she presents a study of the issues surrounding the online display of a particular Buddha image. She has conducted much research with the Buddhist communities, and found that there were very differing viewpoints upon the nature of the online image of Buddha. Some groups are prepared to worship the online image, viewing it as a simulacra of the Buddha, in much the same way as the physical manifestation of the object is. (Indeed, Alex notes, Baudrillard's discussion was seminal for her work.) Other groups, conversely, considered the worship of the online object a problem. Images displayed online, some worry, may not be accorded the same respect as those in a physical space. The replicative and networked nature of the web can 'objectify' the image, making it seem ordinary and leaving it open to crassness which damages its purity.

What does this mean, though, for the online display of sacred objects by museums? It is a question which they have to address. How do they code and describe the objects in their care? They must remember that practitioners of the faiths which their obejcts represent will never see them purely in artistic terms, and they need to be able, somehow, to acknowledge this.

Indeed, should such images be displayed at all? It is an interesting and provocative question to ask, and one to which I do not know the answer. Indeed, Alex herself admits to having to think hard about whether to include images in her final submission - she does not include many in her presentation. It's a conundrum with which I wish her luck! Thank you for a wonderful, thought provoking presentation Alex.

Day Two - Pharonic Material Culture, National Identity, and the Marketing of A Political Image'

The Blogger Returns!

Right, chaps, sorry about that rather extended break in proceedings. Let's get back onto it now.

Ash, one of our distance learners, presents a really interesting discussion upon the way in which modern Egyptians use and value Pharonic material culture, including both ancient artefacts and sites and modern reconstructions. Presenting us with a rapid slideshow of images of Ancient Egypt, he asks us to consider how they make us feel and what we might do with them. The rapidity with which he does this is intended to mimic the saturation that a modern Egyptian experiences in regard to this material.

The word 'Pharonic' has a number of connotations. It was a culture that was ancient even whilst it still existed, and retains a pivotal position in the minds of living human beings. As the proverb goes, 'Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids.' These people transcended time and death through their material culture, and thus it is no wonder that it has such an extensive impact upon our lives.

Ash will be looking more specifically at the impact of these artefacts upon three groups in modern Egypt, the peasents, the Coptic Christians and those termed 'the Power Elite' - that is, those in political control. Finding out the differences - and perhaps similarities - between these groups use of the material is the objective for Ash's multisited ethnographic approach. Particularly with a set of material such as this, the research will, I think, throw up some very interesting results, and could well be extended into historical studies of the use of Egyptian cultural items througout the ages, and perhaps cross culturally into their use in the world outside Egypt today.

He also makes an interesting point that throughout much of these artefacts, women, the disabled and other groups more marginalised during other periods of history, are treated with respect and equality. Fascinating how so many current 'social justice issues' are very much a product of the rather recent past.

Thanks Ash - looking forward to more!

Another landmark in the Staffordshire Hoard campaign

The campaign to permanently display the Staffordshire Hoard in the Midlands has passed another major milestone.

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent have now transferred £3.3 million to the British Museum for the joint acquisition of the world famous collection of Anglo-Saxon gold.

Clicky the linky for more...
Another landmark in the Staffordshire Hoard campaign

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Day Two - Intermission Two!

I do appologise, but I'm going to have to cease again! You may not get anything til Sunday, because we are going to Oxford tomorrow. But I'll get onto it as soon as I can!

Thank you, though, to everyone who has participated and made this experience so great. We really appreciate the new life which this brings into the department. Thank you everyone, so, so much.

Research Week - The Biography of Votive Objects

Bianca, one of our visiting students, presents a really interesting view upon the construction of object identity in the Marian Sanctuary in Brasil. Since the figure of Mary was placed there, many votive offerings came in, and it is now the biggest Marian sanctuary in the world.

In 1980 the new national sanctuary was finished. This complex is incredible, extending into commerce and public facitlities far beyond anything I ever thought imagine. Every day, this sanctuary receives over 100 thousand objects of really diverse natures. For anything can be a votive offering. So what makes something a votive object?

What really makes something 'votive' is, it seems, the intention of the giver. They give this item to the sanctuary to ask for help, or to give thanks, and it this intention which makes an object votive. These objects are often anonymous, but some are iconic or personalised.

What is interesting, though, is what happens to the objects after they have been dedicated. Some are kept, but many things go to the 'Bazaar', re-entering the commercial world - I think this idea was surprising and shocking to some people. Sometimes things are disposed of in other ways, destroyed or donated. Many people don't know this. It's interesting to debate upon the ethics of this.

We're always really pleased to get people from other institutions and perspectives. We're lucky to have you guys, distance learners and visiting scholars. If there's anything we can do to support you, do let us know.

But anyway, thank you Bianca - you've opened my eyes. I'll never think of a votive offering in the same way again. Oh, and can I come to Brasil please?

Research Week - Visual Exploration of Abstract Art

It is difficult, Jen notes, to analyse the vast quantity of information which bears down upon us every day. Jen's research focusses on vision in order to mitigate this somewhat, but she recognises that all the other senses are incredibly influential in perception too.

She sets out to answer the question about what our task is when looking at art? It is difficult to investigate the impact of art, particularly representational art, because it comes with so many external conceptions and issues around it. But abstract art, on the other hand, conforms to these constraints less often, so Jen chooses to use it as the main subject for her research.

She's using a very complicated and clever machine called and eye tracker. It's a great thing, I'd really like to play with it! She's used them both in the Lab and in New Walk Museum, and the results are really interesting. She has found that there are distinct differences in the way that people of different backgrounds perceive art, particularly in terms of it's monetary value, based upon whether they feel experienced in that area.

But the main thrust of her research overall is based upon the impact of art upon wellbeing. To measure this - to the extent to which you can - she has conducted semi-structured interviews, mental wellbeing and anxiety scale tests to show the effect which they have. One of the interesting point which she noted in the resposes is that people tended to make things representative - if they could be reminded of something by a peice of abstract art, they tended to like it more. But if you dislike something, it does not, as Richard and Jen note, mean that your mental wellbeing is adversely affected. Rather, there is much you can learn from.

Its a great project, and a great toy to play with! I'm looking forward to seeing more. Well done, Jen, and thank you!

Research Week - National Museums in Culturally Diverse Societies: A Place to Promote Diversity

I have to say, at the outset, that Chulani's research is based upon what is possibly the most complex inventory and documentation project I have ever seen. It's incredibly detailed. Well done Chulani!!!

In any case, to get onto the subject of the talk, the cultural representation in the National Museum Colombo in Sri Lanka, in terms of the percentage of objects from the hugely diverse cultures which are presented there. Nations, as she recognises, are not homogeneous, and this means that National Museums should begin to act as points of intersection. Museums, she argues, have a responsibility - but to what extent is the National Museum Colombo representative of the population make up of Sri Lanka?

To answer this question, Chulani has explored the permanent displays, and formulate a practical framework for culturally diverse representation. Initially, after her overview of the state and nature of Sri Lanka, its people, environments and language, she goes on to examine the museum itself, identifiying their objects according to cultural affiliation, and expresses through this the cultural representativeness of the museum. But it is not so simple, for it is not just the number of objects which the museum displays, but the 'quality' or 'significance' of those objects. So Chulani has, in immense detail, formulated a project which can tell us a significant amount, both about how museums represent, and how they accord value. Its an important issue.

Good luck, Chulani - you deserve it!

Research Week - Day Two - Second Half

'What are the social roles of museums in contributing to cross cultural awareness and mutual understanding in an increasingly multiethnic and multicultural Ireland?'

I'm sensing a theme here, one of community representation and communciation. Coming directly after Serena's talk, Alan's presentation is particularly timely. But one of the things which he does acknowledge is that overarching social and political situations have a distinct impact upon the nature of research and the results, something he has particularly seen change over his three years as a distance learner. His approach has evolved over time, as he himself notes, but the case studies which he took on, the National Museum of Ireland, the Chester Beatty Library and the Waterford Treasures Museum have also shown that distinctive themes remain.

He was pleased to find out that 44% of his interviewees came from ethnic minority groups and that most of these were first generation arrivals. This is really great, becase it allows a deep analysis of the subtly different ways in which white Irish and ethnic minority communities used and negotiated the museums. Whilst for the former, his research seems to suggest, the engagement with the museum space was very much about the locating of Ireland in the wider world, for the latter it was a more about an internalisation of themselves within that Irish culture. One of the things which really interested me, actually, was this use of the museum space by the white Irish community as a space of alternative sprituality, in a world which has seen increasing secularisation.

Throughout his research, a theme has arisen regarding the deconstruction of Irishness and what that means. Difference and change is of course critically important, but it is this difference in a shared identity which is at the heart of Alan's research.

Something which Alan's research has thrown up is that community members don't go to museums on the basis that they are represented explictly within them. Rather, what they found excluding was the 'highbrow academia' which some museums represent. Can museums really be more proactive in the representation of community pluralism, and move from neutrality to promotion of pluralism.

In Ireland, it seems, the curatorial field is very closed to collaboration. Many visitors, in fact, thought their displays contained problems and errors. Perhaps this idea of collaboration needs to be addressed far more actively. It's an issue which I would like to see developed. Good luck Alan!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Research Week - Day Two - Intermission

Sorry guys, I need to take a break. I promise promise that I'll upload all the other posts tomorrow, but right now I need to revise for the APG! Eep. Wish me luck. I'll be back with you (I hope! If I pass!) after 3pm tomorrow.

But thank you to everyone who has presented today - I really enjoyed myself today, it's been great!

Research Week - Representing Hybrid Cultures at the Tropenmuseum

After asking her to slow down, I finally managed to scrawl some notes about our dear Serena's presentation, which it has to be said was fascinating. Recently returned from another case study, she presents some thoughts on her first - the Tropenmuseum in the Netherlands.

Ethnographic museums always represent different cultures. It is part of what they are. But now they face a new challenge, which is the representation not of the 'Other', but of the multicultural societies in which is neither 'There, Then and Other', but 'Here, Now and Us'. Serena asks how we can challenge the narratives of seperation within ethnographic museums in a world where 'culture' is, perhaps, becoming seen as an increasingly fluid concept? We need to engage with hybridization and develop alternative collecting and exhibition strategies to articulate the blurred boundaries between individuals and groups. To examine how this might be possible, she has been investigating various case studies, one of which is the Tropenmuseum.

This is located in Amsterdam, and though it was the first colonial museum in Europe, is very adaptive and reactive to political change. Its' last refurbishment, which ended in 2008, has meant that the permanent galleries have all, bar two, retained a geographic approach to their displays. However, within these galleries, themes and links are drawn out. There are two galleries, however, which do not conform to this, and it is upon one of these, 'Travelling Tales' which Serena concentrates the remainder of her analysis. Responding to the UNESCO convention on Intangible Heritage, it tried too to offer something for EVERYONE - from 0-100 years old - using mulitple semiotic resources, objects, videos and documents. There is no set route through the display - you make your own choices. The idea of the gallery is that stories aren't static - and of course, and Serena points out, neither is culture. Through its design, the gallery aims to show cultural diversity and fluidity - this isn't about 'The Migrant' experience, but about everyone.

The layout of the exhibition was based around drops of water, dripping and sending out ripples. The centres of the drops were the universal themes, and the ripples housed the formations of these themes into the stories and narratives of various groups over time. Unbounded NL, the last section of the gallery, changes the focus to stories in multicultural Amsterdam now.

Serena points out that this is a very successful exhibition in terms of how it displays cultural fluidity, and show that museums have much potential in contributing to this discourse. I have to say, it sounds like a display that I REALLY want to go to...Thanks Serena!

Research Week - Popular Music Remains: Artifact, Experience and the Museum as Interface

Kathleen, with whom I had the pleasure of talking yesterday, opens her presentation with a hat. And not just any hat. She asks us whether any of us recognise it. I, to my shame, do not. Turns out its only Jimi Hendrix's famous Westerner. Opps.

Anyway, the question remains regarding the framing of artefacts in popular music museums, and it is this with which Kathleen goes on to deal. How do you deal with such artefacts, and how do you integrate the OBJECT ITSELF with the connotations and biography that it carries around with it?

One of the interesting things she points out is the proliferation of facsimilie hats that abound. The sets of social operations which define the authentic and the facsimilie are tightly related. Kevin Moore's Museums and Popular Culture is a pivotal text and inspired Kathleen's object based approach. Though this text is somewhat old now, preceeding the rise of social media, it does provide some interesting approaches, notably Pearce's model of the value of material culture. She also uses James Clifford's model as espoused in The Predicament of Culture, and the integration of these is part of what she wants to do.

But she also wants to integrate this into the contemporary world, and part of this world is social media. Our 'networked society' means that you can do a lot of research OUTSIDE the museum - and that there is now a dialogue between museum pratitioners and those outside which helps to define authenticity. Instead perhaps of asking how we can get the audience interested in - well, a hat, for instance - perhaps we, as museum practitioners, need to recognise that with some objects they already are. This hat, and other iconic images bring with them various discourses of popular culture.

The question then is this - is the museum able to cope with displaying popular culture, particularly popular music which is an art form of ephemerality, and one which has recently become very much more like water, fluid, in the last few years. Is the popular music museum still a museum? If so, is it a new type? Kathleen cites case studies which she is using to develop a typology of the popular music museum - something which will be great to see develop in the future.

Research Week - Subverting the (Hetero)normative Museum

Maria-Anna opened the presentations this morning - and did so with great aplomb, I must say. Representations of gender and sexuality are particularly relevant at this point in time, as Richard's presentation yesterday noted. Maria-Anna's research focuses around the relationship between museums and heteronormative social constructs. It is particularly interesting to me that she opens her presentation with two example displays which have incorporated the representation of LGBT experiences in two rather conservative countries - 'Eros' at the Museum of Cycladic Art, a display which incorporated LGBT representation, and Ars Homo Erotica, at the National Museum in Warsaw.

She then drew us into the theoretical background to her research - which is incredibly detailed, based upon Queer Theory, and the social construction of 'heteronormativitiy', 'gender' and 'sexuality'. The latter two, it should be pointed out, are seperate and fluid constucts, though there seems to be a tendancy towards binary divisions, such as male and female, heterosexual and homosexual. These binaries, queer theory suggests, depend upon each other for their meaning, and in this way heterosexuality 'others' homosexuality in order to legitimate itself.

Why should we bother with LGBT issues? There are a number of arguments which Maria-Anna makes upon this point. The 'post museum' concept emphasises that museums are for the people, have a role and responsibility in social inclusion, promotes ethical leadership and the demonstration of accountability. It is clear, following on from this, that representation matters. The transmission of ideas through art is always politicised and contaminated, and there are always certain prevailing perspectives in cultural representations. Representing minority groups, therefore, can be highly influential in terms of their inclusion, and the knowledge of the group in wider society.

As a third reason for her research, Maria-Anna cites the growing interest in LGBT related exhibitions over the last four years, including "Queer is Here" at the Museum of London in 2006, and Shout, which Richard spoke about yesterday. She will use four such exhibitions for her research, "Gay Icons" from the National Portrait Gallery in 2009, "Hello Sailor" at National Museums Liverpool, "Family Album", a multisite exhibition, and "Hitched: Wedding, Clothes and Customs" at Sudley House. These latter two are particularly interesting, for they use heteronormative concepts, such as the family album and marriage, yet incorporate LGBT narratives.

She will use these to explore the reasons for the boom, to consider the role of museums in perpetuating or challenging heteronormativity, how they represent non-heteronormative living, and to establish a queer/feminist theoretical framework for exhibition making.

Wow. Thats a lot a lot. Looking forward to next year to find out more!

Research Week - Day Two

Well, it's all go here - just thought I'd update you, but I've got only 20 minutes, and so I'll post all the others up later tonight! Sorry - live blogging may have been the way to go after all!

Monday, June 07, 2010


Potentially fantastic resource for budding writers.

Academic Book Publishing Advice for First Timers...


Research Week - Well, Day One!

Well, folks, that's all you're getting from your friend in cyberspace tonight. I'm going to dinner at a lovely restaurant in a few minutes (bet you wish you were coming, huh?) to chat with people about social things, as well as their projects. You can get very isolated doing research, as many of you know, and so to come out of yourself, even if only for a week, is something which the gregarious part of me is very grateful for. So I'm going to take advantage of this before my brain decides to return to its dark cave. Tomorrow will be good, I'm sure. I'm looking forward to it.

Thank you everyone, once more!

Research Week - Navigating the Cultural Ecosystem of Art Fairs.

Jennifer Jankauskas is herself a curator of contemporary art, with her research focussing around the impact of the global economy and society upon the collecting ability of snall and mid-sized contemporary art museums.

She has taken a particularly interesting approach to investigating this, partaking in participant observation at Art Fairs. These provide a way into seeing that the art market revolves not purely around advertising and sales, but also the social capital which people can bring to, and develop at, these events.

As a practitioner herself, she had to be very self-reflective in this approach. Siting herself somewhere between participant-as-observer and observer-as-participant, she has to remember to take a step outside her normal activities, and assess them from a critical standpoint - never an easy thing to do.

Studying three major art fairs in the US, Art Basel Miami Beach, The Armoury Show New York, and Art Chicago/Next Art Fair she points out the importance of place and space in the interactions which occur within these events and the relationships which are built. Most are housed in convention centres, though they are often decorated to look like galleries. But you can't escape the buildings and their architectural set up. These are not just showcases however, for dialogues and panel discussions also occur.

There are, too, many actors within this environment, not just dealers, but artists, curators, consultants, established and new collectors, site managers, the public, the media and art students. The reasons why these actors attend are as manifold as they, incorporating knowledge, prestige, and purchasing - for all of this helps to facilitate the central impetus of sales generation. Art continues to sell, even in this uncertain economic climate. Collectors come with the purpose of buying. But museums are often priced out, and collectors often ignore smaller institutions for the prestige of giving to a large, well known establishment, or creating their own museum.

Something I found fascinating about this project is how it gets under the skin of the art world, and shows, from an insider's perspective, what lies behind the surface appearence of glamour and power. There is a lot of investigating to be done here, and a lot of potential for really deep thought. Looking forward to hearing more!

Research Week - Cultural Developments on the Quayside and the Rebranding of NewcastleGateshead

Here, Geuntae gives us a really interesting insight into the first of his case studies - NewcastleGateshead. Geuntae's research focusess around the role of museums in the rebranding of communities - and the role they have, as he shows, is far from simple.

For some years, both Gateshead and Newcastle were trying to redefine themselves as cities of culture rather than just industry. The Newcastle Theatre Royal was foundede in 1988, the Gateshead National Garden Festival in 1990. Around 10 years ago, there was the birth of a new community brand - NewcastleGateshead. The NewcastleGateshead Initiative was part of the bid to be Capital of Culture in 2008. It manifested itself in works such as the Gateshead Millenium Bridge and the BALTIC Contemporary Art Gallery. Though this accolade went, in the end, to Liverpool, the people in the North East realised how much they would loose if the initiative didn't continue in some form or another. The Sage Gateshead opened in 2004 and hosted the World Music Expo in 2005. There has been a huge amount of action in the area, and it had huge effect upon how the North East as a whole is perceived. People, both locals and people from outside, began to consider Gateshead and Newcastle as cultural towns, and the North East has seen a rise in tourism and the associated businesses. But Geuntae is somewhat sceptical of these figures. They acutally aren't that far away from the national averages, and it is interesting to ask how closely they are linked to the desire of the area to promote and advertise itself. How much are the results and their publication to do with cultural marketing?

The power of the brand is immense, but it is hugely worthwhile to investigate, as Geuntae is, that which lies behind the facade. More digging, Geuntae - we're waiting for your information!

Research Week - Human Rights, the Museum, and Lunch

Whislt we were having lunch, kindly provided by the department, Richard Sandell kindly gave a presentation related to his current research - the intersection of the discourses on human rights and museum representations.

Human rights, and the associated discussions surrounding social justice, are of great importance in global discourse. The recent past has also seen a significant rise in the number of museums which are explicitly dedicated to human rights. But it is not upon these museums which Richard is concentrating, but upon the impact which issues surrounding the concepts have upon the daily practices of museums.

Focussing upon the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow allows us to get a glimpse into the practical manifestation of the abstract concepts of human rights and social justice in a very particular setting. GOMA, as it is known, has for many years run biannual projects on a social justice theme, under the tag line of 'Contemporary Arts and Human Rights'. They have dealt with a number of issues, including asylum seekers, domestic violence and sectarianism, but it is perhaps the most recent which created the most controversy.

"Shout," which ran last year, showcased LGBTI art and culture, and discussed issues surounding the perception and treatment of individuals who identify as LGBTI. RCMG, the research centre at Leicester, were lucky enough to be able to investigate this project, and what happened surrounding it.

As is the case with each of the projects which GOMA runs, "Shout" involved professional artists of the highest quality as well as community groups, indivuduals, public discussion and workshops. Though it was a widely recognised public programme which involved deep collaboration with an advisory group, there was a vehement negative response to it, especially in the media, and particularly with regard to certain of the artworks which were shown. This reaction, however, is something by which the museum can measure its success, not its failure, for provoking reactions and pushing boundaries are precisely what projects like "Shout" are supposed to do. At this point it is interesting to note what happens which the rights of different groups clash, and what the role of museums is when this occurs. Can the museum have a role as abitrator between different groups?

It is interesting to consider, too, whether this kind of project would have occured anywhere else. I'm not sure that Leicester or Birmingham would mount such an undertaking, and I wonder why Glasgow is a context in which these issues can (and, more to the point, are, being discussed and debated.

Transgender representations were particularly pertinant throughout Richard's discussion. The rights of the transgender community are very often perceived as being at least twenty years behind that of the LGB communities. There is only one publicly funded transgender rights post is Europe - significantly located in Edinburgh. "Rendering Gender", which was one of the rolling displays that made up "Shout" was exhibited by artists who shared a desire to communicate their experience as transgender individuals. Some, it has to be said, were more politically demonstrative than others. Whislt some wanted to 'bring binary identities into the public eye', others wanted to help and inform other people like themselves, who may have little access to information and support.

These tasks are worthwhile, but they are not easy. The role of museums as agents in the discourses of social justice and human rights are contested and deeply political. How they can site themselves whilst retaining their position is something which is open to debate. But that some museums, such as the pioneering GOMA, are tackling issues which many would shy away from, is certainly something to be proud of.

Research Week - Universities and Univeristy Museums: Institutional Thought and Territory

Brenda Caro Cocotle

Universities and Univeristy Museums are both complex institutions, and they both of them produce, curate and interpret knowledge. But the ways in which they do so, and the ways in which they integrate with each other have, Brenda argues, not been theorised in a great level of detail. The relationship between Universities and their Museums have often just been seen as an administrative one. Often, the museum is regarded as having little conflict with the Univeristy, and are frequently seen as a simple extention of the teaching which occurs in university classrooms.

Both institutions shape territories of knowledge. And it is the concept of territory which forms much of Brenda's research. She draws upon the critical thought of sociologists and philosophers to interrogate 'territory', and how this concept enacts itself in the discourses and relationships of univerities and their museums, who are performative agents in specific social spaces, and they, and these spaces, and named, marked, and ritualized.

Brenda has so many questions to ask in regard to this concept of territory, and the way in which museums and universities to which they are attached negotiate their various territorial boundaries and collisions. She'll be comparing two case studies, one a new university museum of contemporary art, another an older, anthropological museum.

This historic comparison is really interesting for me. My undergraduate studies were based at the University of St Andrews, which recently redisplayed its collection in a way which is much more public facing, and created a lot of controversy. Compared to that, there is the Bell Pettigrew museum, founded for the purposes of teaching the scholarly community. These examples really raise a number of issues. Who is the university museum for? Is it for the public? For the scholars? Why are they founded? For prestige or for study? What is their wider social role? And what is the relationship, fundamentally, between the curator, and the academic?

Really huge issues, that many people wouldn't even consider. Thank you Brenda, for bringing a previously hidden area to light.

Research Week - The Reconstruction of Museums in the Late 19th Century in England: Formation of A Museum Community

Masanori's interests focus around the development processes of museums, especially focussing upon the role of professional associations such as the Museums Association, and how these associations are brought into being. It's great to see him compare the UK and Japan, which are both island nations, with all the attendant peculiarities which this brings. Interestingly, museum associations began to develop in both countaries around the same time - the period bookended by 1880 and 1930.

The main body of Masanori's presentation focusses around the background to the development of the Museums Association in Britain. In the 19th century, museums multiplied, often at the instigation of local societies or private individuals. There was no real central organisation, and, as Jevons wrote, the 'evil effects of the multiplicity of objects' was seen to prevail.

In 1893, Flower, the third president of the MA espoused the idea of the 'New Museum', based upon the advancement of scientific study and the education of the general public. There is a link here to the rational management strategies which were gaining credence in the 19th century. Museums played a crucial role in the educational milleiux of the Victorian Era. There was an upsurge of municipally run museums, a growing interest in visitors, and an increasing professionalisation of the curatorial role.

The desire for centralised co-operation was made obvious as early as 1877 in the journal Nature. A preliminary meeting was held at York in 1888, and the MA was officially formed the following year. Henry Higgins (what a great name, no singing now...) was the first president - he was a museums practitioner from Liverpool.

The MA had a number of problems from the start, not the least of which was a definate bias towards the natural sciences. By 1928, it was recognised that the association was not fulfilling the role that it should. The Mier's report of that year showed that membership was low, and that the actions of the Association were doing little, if anything, to improve the lot of curators and members. In 1929 he was elected president - and this saw in a new period of reform.

Masanori's coming research will focus upon the historical development of the Association of Japanese Museums, and its precurser the Museum Work Promotion Association, which was formed in 1928. There are a strong number of similarities between the Museums sectors in Japan and the UK. Both, as mentioned above, are island nations with an imperialist history, and both have similar economic and political systems. But they do differ. The growth of museums in the UK was very much based around the actions of individuals and 'unofficial' groups, whereas in Japan, the growth was impelled far more by government interests.

I'm looking forward to seeing where Masanori's research takes him. It should be really interesting, from a historical perspective, to compare the two societies, and to see what we can learn about the resultant nature of the museum sector today. Well done Masanori!

Research Week - Old is New: the marketing scheme in the National Palace Museum, Taipei

Chungju Lin (Ahluah) gets the morning off to a great start by presenting a case study based around her research into the integration of museums into everyday life and culture - a really interesting topic, if I might interject, and one which Ahluah shows to be really powerful.

The 'Old is New' project ran at the National Palace Museum in Taipei with the aim of showing the public how relevant the museum was to their daily lives. The National Palace Museum has an interesting history, deeply tied into the political and military situation which manifested in Asia in the early part of the twentieth century. The collection it houses is actually a National Collection of China, and came to Taiwan for its own safety in 1948. Though there are 650, 000 items in the collection, nothing was broken or lost in the transition. At that time, the storage was thought to be temporary, so it was not until the 1960s that the museum was built. It would become a symbol of the revival of Chinese culture in Taiwan after the Japanese occupation.

It is now recognised that the collection shall most likely never return to China, though this had been suggested in the past. The 'Old is New' scheme was intended to connect this cultural institution to the daily life of the Taiwanese population, and provide some promotion of Taiwanese identity. It used the media to integrate the collection into modern life, through pop videos and advertising - there's a great clip which Ahluah shows which uses the iconography of this jadite 'Cabbage with Insects' to advertise...well, cabbage. It's a very clever double ploy - the Jadite peice is very famous in Taiwan, but bok choi cabbage is something that is a common item of daily life.

Integrating these collections into Taiwanese society requires a focus upon something other than their inherent 'Chineseness'. They did this through focussing upon the artistry of the peices - there's a fantastic animation which shows peices from the collection as live characters exploring the space.

'Old is New' has, as a project, now ended. There is a new government, and a new relationship between Taiwan the the PROC. There is more dialogue, and more tourism between the two countries. But one thing that Ahluah, and I, hope will never change, is the creative thought and passion which lies behind integrating the collection into everyday society. It's a rarity, in this world. Thanks, Ahluah, for showing it to us and opening our eyes. And well done for going first!!!

Research Week Day One - Introduction

Well, for all of you waiting for a live blog, there's been a mutiny. I'm a little tired (first Research Week presentation and APG and all) and I don't think my brain has the capacity to cope with doing all the posts live, either. What I will do, though, is put up some summaries and opinions. I hope that people will respond to these, and I hope that you'll find them helpful.

SO! Research Week is off to a flying start, really. It's great to see so many people here, meet new students and finally put the faces to the names I see flying around the email lists. I'm also really encouraged by the diversity of the students, both in terms of their individual selves and in terms of their research projects. Research Week looks great! Socially and intellectually, its a great opportunity to project your research out there, get feedback on it, and to meet new people. Many thanks to Viv for organising it, and to the academics for being willing to attend. We in the Attic really, really appreciate it.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

More Worthy Buildings

Following on from this post

and from our "Eccentric Leicester" Tour (nicely curated by Amy) today, we'd like to propose some more buildings for you. Top Hat Terrace, property of Leicester's first private detective, Francis 'Tanky' Smith. This house is on the west side of London Rd between the train station and Victoria Park. Whether revealing his disguises ended his undercover career I don't know. Smith's son also developed Francis St in Stoneygate.

and the Hosier's House - Grade 2 listed, though you'd never know to look. Amy, can you add the info from your tour?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Tate Britain Symposium: Interpretation, Theory & the Encounter

Interpretation, Theory & the Encounter
Friday 9 July 2010, 10.00–18.00
As interpretation becomes an increasingly conflicted site of meaning and representation within curatorial and museological practice this conference brings together key international speakers to consider the theoretical and philosophical issues which frame textual interpretation. Speakers include Tony Bennett, Donald Preziosi, Griselda Pollock, and James Elkins.

Tate Britain Clore Auditorium
£40 (£25 concessions), booking recommended
For tickets book online
or call 020 7887 8888.

10.00 Welcome - Victoria Walsh

10.10 Introduction - Sylvia Lahav

10.20 Paper 1: Donald Preziosi

11.30 Break

12.00 Paper 2: Griselda Pollock

13.10 Lunch

14.00 Paper 3: James Elkins

15.10 Paper 4: Tony Bennett

16.20 Tea

16.45 Panel Discussion: Preziosi, Bennett, Pollock, Elkins

Chair: Adrian Rifkin

18.00 End

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Curiouser and Curiouser Conference 2011 - Facebook Page

Dear Attic readers.

Finally YOU can be a fan of the upcoming 'Curiouser and Curiouser' Conference - planned for March 2011. Add our facebook fanpage here to follow up on the latest news on the conference and join our discussions on the strange and unusual within the world of museums.

CFP: Radical History Review

Calling the Law into Question: Confronting the Illegal and Illicit in Public
Issue Number 113

The Radical History Review is planning a special issue that explores how
historians, activists, curators, historic site and museum administrators, as
well as other creators and managers of historical content, address public
audiences around issues of the illicit or the illegal. With the goal of
"calling the law into question," the editors seek research-based and
reflective pieces that examine how engagement with histories of the illicit
or the illegal can challenge normative representations of how laws and moral
customs have been constructed, upheld, and discursively supported. We seek
contributions that examine why publicly engaged work should confront
histories of the illegal and illicit, which many people would rather avoid,
ignore, or forget. We are also interested in how publicly engaged work can
explore the social and cultural contexts that define and police what is
illegal or illicit, in a manner that provokes different publics to rethink
how these categories are created.

We are especially interested in submissions that address museum exhibits,
documentary films, websites, art, or writings intended for audiences outside
of academia. This special issue offers opportunities both to take stock of
the issues public historians, activists, and public scholars face in terms
of audience, funding, and institutional support, when they choose to engage
with histories of the illicit/illegal, and also to evaluate successful and
unsuccessful examples of work - in terms of influence, financial and
institutional support, and critical and popular reception - that have been
created to this end.

Examples of possible topics include:

. Representation of criminality and vice in neighborhood and local public
history projects as well as in crime and vice tourism
. Environmental justice tours that expose EPA violations (e.g. directed at
. Local/regional/national museums that focus on the history of law
. Museological displays that address war crimes (e.g. the War Remnants
Museum in Ho Chi Minh City) or conscientious objectors/"draft dodgers"
. Challenges posed by public history tours of former prisons and places of
. Public commemorations that intersect with histories of unlawful actions
. The challenges of engaging public audiences around "illegal" migration and
the maintenance of territorial sovereignty
. Public protest or public art questioning the moral and/or cultural
validity of religious laws and conventions
. Conflicts over the inclusion of materials depicting violence or sexual
content in public projects aimed at children and youth
. Museums and public history sites that contextualize international law and
the maintenance of human rights
. Examinations of how the history of oceanic piracy has been portrayed in
public arenas
. Web-based challenges to copyright and intellectual property laws, and
public defenses of such practices
. Exhibits and other public displays aimed at supporting or discounting
reproductive rights
. Public exhibits that address the use of banned substances (contemporary
and historical)
. Explorations into how liberation narratives (such as gay liberation) offer
progressive histories of overcoming the stigma of being illicit or illegal,
at the expense of examining historical complexities
. Analyses of when and how do formerly illegal acts become (publicly
sanctioned) icons of national culture? (Capoeira in Brazil is one example)
. Documentaries (television/film/radio) focusing on insider trading,
corporate excess, and illegal market manipulations
. Examinations of the challenges of securing funding and institutional
support for public projects that engage histories of the illicit/illegal

Because the Radical History Review publishes material in a variety of forms,
the editors will consider abstracts for scholarly research articles as well
as proposals for relevant photo essays, artwork, reviews
(exhibit/film/web/book), interviews, discussions between scholars and/or
activists, teaching reflections, and annotated course syllabi. Furthermore,
the editors encourage submissions that "call the law into question" in the
full range of geographic locations and eras.

Preliminary inquiries may be sent to the editors: Amy Tyson at and Andy Urban at

By September 1, 2010, please submit a 1-2 page abstract summarizing the
article or other contribution you wish to submit to with "Issue 113 abstract
submission" in the subject line. By October 15, 2010 contributors will be
notified whether they should submit their piece in full. The due date for
solicited, complete articles for blind peer review is March 1, 2011.
Articles that are selected for publication after the peer review process
will appear in volume 113 of Radical History Review, which is scheduled for
Spring 2012. Note: for artwork to be considered, please send low-resolution
digital files (totaling less than 2 MB in size) to (also with "Issue 113
abstract submission" in the subject line). If chosen for publication it will
be required that you send high-resolution image files--JPG or TIF files at a
minimum of 300 dpi--along with permissions to reprint all images.

Abstract Deadline: September 1, 2010