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, October 30, 2011

Writing Up: The Blank Page

Paul Valéry: The Blank Sheet

In truth, a blank sheet
Declares by the void
That there is nothing as beautiful
As that which does not exist.
On the magic mirror of its white space,
The soul sees before her the place of the miracles
That we would bring to life with signs and lines.
This presence of absence over-excites
And at the same time paralyses the definitive act of the pen.
There is in all beauty a forbiddance to touch,
From which emanates I don’t know what of sacred
That stops the movement and puts the man
On the point of acting in fear of himself.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

CFP: The Transformative Museum

International Conference 23-25 May 2012 Roskilde University


Globalising trends in knowledge economies, digital participation and changing community needs catalyse transformations of museums, galleries and science centres. The conference will present a rich set of analyses of the current situation and raise important questions about the future for material and immaterial cultural and natural heritage.


We invite research papers on the following topics:
  • transforming modes of communication
  • transforming visitor participation and learning
  • transforming institutional organization
  • transforming research methodologies

include Kevin Crowley (director of the Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments and an associate professor of education and psychology, University of Pittsburgh, US), James E. Katz (director of Center for Mobile Communication Studies,Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, USA), dr. Lynda Kelly (head of Web and Audience Research at the Australian Museum, Sydney, Australia), professor Gunnar Liestøl (Dept. of Media & Communication, University of Oslo), professor Angela McFarlane (director of Public Engagement and Learning, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK), and associate professor Ross Parry (Programme Director, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester).


The conference organisers invite the submission of abstracts for papers. Your 400 word abstract should highlight the original theoretical or empirical contribution and indicate which of the above themes you will address.

Please include a cover sheet with the paper title, the names of all authors, and contact information for the submitter. The title, abstract, and word count should appear on the following page.

Please upload your word document to this site (Presentations in the left menu).
After the conference, authors are invited to submit revised versions of their papers from which contributions will be selected for a peer-reviewed volume focusing on the main themes of the conference.


Register soon and get attractive early-bird rates. Reduced fees apply for students. Online registration opens mid-August 2011. Check the conference site for updates.


6 January 2012 deadline for submission of abstracts
6 January 2012 deadline for submission of abstracts for oral ph.d. presentation
6 February 2012 notification of presenters
1 March 2012 deadline for early-bird registration
21 March 2012 deadline for submission of final papers


Students and young scholars are invited to a one-day ph.d. course 22 May 2012. Here, you get a venue to meet with some of the main conference speakers, make a project presentation and participate in discussions on the conference topics.

If you want to make an oral presentation, please follow the above guideline for proposals.

Please note that course presentations cannot double as conference papers.



University of Southern Denmark
Roskilde University

Find out more here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Long ago, we had a series on this blog that profiled the collections of our contributors. We will probably return to that eventually, especially since we have a whole whack of new students that probably have secret (but meticulously organized) hoards in their houses. In the meantime, enjoy the collections of others vicariously with Obsessionistas, a blog that profiles people's collections whether run-of-the-mill (comic books, Barbies), endearing (orphaned china saucers), strangely specific (postcards by a particular artist), or bizarre (photographs of wheelie bins). The photos are particularly awesome.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Driven mad by your dissertation?

This week is Mental Health Awareness week at the university. In many ways, this is great timing - students have started their classes; some may already be feeling overwhelmed and homesick, while others might need a reminder that should a crisis situation arise, there are resources to help them maintain their mental, spiritual, and physical health and wellness while completing their degrees.

I thought it important to write about here because the PhD is particularly fraught with obstacles to being a well-balanced human being. Unless you are an experienced practioner of Zen Buddhism, it's hard to maintain your equilibrium with the pressure and isolation that can mark periods of the PhD process. I myself (and I will remain anonymous here because mental health is, unfortunately, still stigmatized in the workplace and academia) have found that it has exacerbated all my psychological weak spots - fear of failure, discomfort with isolation, feelings of intellectual and psychological loneliness, impostor syndrome - and has even created new ones! Add to that a lack of structure to the day or week, and poor eating, sleeping, and physical habits caused by stress, procrastination and laziness, and you might have a recipe for disaster!

There are 8 new full-time PhD students joining our already-swollen ranks this year, and of course there are new distance-learning PhDs as well. (DL has it's own psychological disadvantages.) And to them, I would say that while it's not pleasant, it is normal and nothing to be afraid of. We are all in this boat together, literally, and there is no reason to be afraid of seeking support. Some people feel that by confiding their insecurities or anxieties to their peers, they are showing weakness to the competition. But the thing is, we are intelligent, resourceful, and supportive people in our other lives - we need to be the same to each other as colleagues.

We will have a Tea in the Attic session this week about 'Surviving your PhD', and I am sure we will talk about some of the coping skills necessary there. There have been one or two posts about this in our Facebook group, too. But I would like to open up the discussion to our wider readership - you can stay anonymous in the comments, if you prefer. What has been/was your biggest psychological challenge in the PhD experience? How, if at all, did you cope with it?

By talking about these things, we remove some of the fear and isolation, and hopefully prevent consequences of mental breakdowns like having to suspend studies, drop out, or worse. Please, if you feel overwhelmed, reach out and talk to someone. You and your work are important; don't let 'The Crazy' (as I call my own fits of irrational anxiety) get in the way of fulfilling your full potential.

[Image: Vincent Van Gogh, 'Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity)', 1890, Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands]

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The First Brown Bag of the Year! New Starts, and New Strategies

Brown Bag 5th October 2011

New Wine Should Be Put Into A New Wineskin”
The Science Communication Policy and new Movements in Japan

Reiji Takayasu
Science Communication Expert, Foundation of Japanese Science Museums

It’s that time of year again, and I’m back in the world of the Attic, bearing New and Wonderful treats from the Box of Brown Bag Delights! I hope you look forward to this semester – we’ve lots of wonderful things in store for you, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading them as much as we shall enjoy listening to them.

It is an honour, then, to introduce our first brave speaker of the term. Reiji Takayasu, of the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, and Vice President of the Japanese Museum Management Association, (JMMA) was a delight. There are not many Brown Bag sessions where the speaker brings the audience gifts – we each received a toy from the Museum – but I fear that a precedent for such presents may now have been set! Mr. Takayasu seemed hugely pleased to be here – so it is nice to be able to say that we were incredibly pleased to have him, and given that our own Professor Knell considers his institution ‘one of the best natural history and science museums in the world,’ we are truly honoured.

Well, now I’ve stopped admiring my new stag beetle and his little stand, it’s time to get on with the serious academic part of this post.

At the heart of this Brown Bag lay a fascinating discussion of the processes, role and value of ‘Science Communication,’ and the ways in which museums such as Mr. Takayasu’s can contribute to its facilitation. The changing social and economic situation of Japan, in the current world climate, and because of the recent devastating tsunami, has lead to changes in the attitudes towards science communication, and the need for its development. The policy for science communication in Japan has its origins in the 1960s, and since that time it has developed and changed in a number of significant ways. In 1996, a ‘Basic Plan’ for a higher standard in science education was produced, and increasing financial support was given to the field from this point on. In 1999, the UNESCO Conference, ‘Science for the 21st Century: A New Commitment’ proved a turning point in the history of science communication in Japan. Four key themes raised in that conference, (Science for knowledge, knowledge for progress; Science for peace; Science for development; and Science in Society and Science for Society) proved seminal, and have lead to the adoption of policies geared towards literacy and communication, towards dialogic and public facing approaches. Events such as the Science Agora in Tokyo, which has been held since 2006, are superb examples of the ways in which the Japanese government and scientific industries are attempting to reach out to as broad a public as possible.

What, then, is the role of museums in fostering ‘Science and Museum Literacy’? It cannot be a small one – in Japan there are over 8000 museums, and whilst the majority of these are local authority History Museums, a significant number are either dedicated to science, or have scientific elements in their makeup – zoos, botanical gardens and aquariums, for instance, make up a great part of this segment. The role of the museum as facilitator of lifelong learning and education is increasingly understood across the world – the work of Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, who was invited to speak to the Japanese museum community in 2003, has been especially influential in the development of JMMA’s increasing focus upon their communication policies, particularly in regard to science.

Sadly, sciences are often seen as difficult, as exclusionary, and as subjects hard to communicate. The popularity of science, science courses and lessons, as well as museums, took something of a downturn in Japan. This is due in no little part to its teaching methods, which had, over time, become didactic and transmissive. It became important, then, that scientific institutions, and those involved in the development of public scientific literacy, looked to other disciplines for inspiration – and the increasingly popular world of arts education, which uses interactive and constructivist approaches to teaching and learning, proved to be hugely inspirational.

Combining, then, the dialogic and multilogic approaches of arts education with the educational possibilities of museums as espoused by Hooper-Greenhill, Hein, and others, it became possible for new models of communication to be developed. The Museum of Nature and Science has proved to be a fertile testing ground, and one of their main goals is to ‘Design effective exhibitions and to facilitate audience learning that contributes to the public science literacy.’ In fact, their mission itself states that their purpose is ‘to deepen the public appreciation of the earth, life, science and technology, and to encourage people to think about how humankind, the natural world, and science and technology should best relate to each other.’ For an institution to have such an aim is inherently indicative of the importance of communication, and concomitantly of the importance of a holistic approach to the phenomena of the world – natural and cultural.

To achieve this, the Museum has set itself a number of goals, and has implemented a variety of schemes in order to further its aims. Considering the communication activities within the institutions and display spaces, the importance of lifelong learning, and the evaluation and theorization of the system and the plan have been set up as the points towards which they must direct their attention. But how, practically speaking, is this rather wonderful philosophy to be made concrete? How is science communication to be improved in order to heighten public interest and awareness?

In partnership with an astonishing 67 universities across Japan, the museum has developed the Science Communicator Practical Training Programmes. Twice every year, individuals go through a series of classes and tasks, including fundraising and running an engaging ‘Science Café’ for the public, to gain a qualification as an accredited Science Communicator. By the end of this process, they should be able to communicate science and scientific concepts in a responsive, and socially and politically aware way. Thus it is that the NMNS has been able to make a huge leap forward in the development of science literacy – in the public and in its personnel - and has thus contributed to the future of science in Japan. It’s pretty safe to say, I think, that such a model has relevance the world over.

For people who find science intimidating, it’s critical to have someone to communicate it to you well and without being patronising. The same is true, really, for all forms of human existence which we, as museum builders, educators, artists, teachers, contribute to. One of the most important things I think we can all learn from a philosophy which seems prevalent in Japan is that of the holistic nature of worldly relations. No one part of human existence is independent from another – nature, culture, art, engineering, chemistry, biology, poetry and sculpture are all part of this wonderful thing we call the perceivable universe, and to segment them into independent and unrelated parts shows a painful shortsightedness. Understanding the complex, configurational, immersive and interpenetrative nature of phenomena lets us become literate, lets us play, and thus lets us communicate, in languages of being which are richer and more strange than we could have hoped to imagine.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

CFP: American Art: The Academy, Museums, and the Market

American Art: The Academy, Museums, and the Market
The Second Association of Historians of American Art Symposium
October 12-13, 2012
Boston, MA

We invite proposals on any aspect of American Art that relate to the
symposium's theme of the Academy, Museums, and the Market. Proposed papers
should be 20-minute, formal papers on any period of American art, in any
media, from 1600 to the present day.

We are also inviting proposals, from current graduate students at the
dissertation stage, for a Graduate Student Lightning Round Session at the
conference. Proposed papers for this session should be a 5-minute synopsis
of the larger research project.

In the subject line of your email, please distinguish whether you are
applying for inclusion in the general symposium (20-minute paper) or in the
Graduate Student Lightning Round Session (5-minute paper). Please only apply
to one type of session.

Please send your proposal and a short cv by December 1, 2011 to both David
Dearinger and Melissa Renn, AHAA Symposium co-chairs at and

Monday, October 03, 2011

Hidden Places

I was recently at a conference where we talked about Places, People and Stories. We talked about various things, heritage erasure, ruins, deserted places and the tales they tell amongst them. I may write up a proper report later, but in the meantime, I've just heard about this.

Imagine discovering that. Astonishing. A place of dreamings.