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.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Destination Branding and Marketing IV Conference

[This may be of interest to some, and well enough in advance to plan to attend.]

5 to 7 December 2012
Cardiff, United Kingdom

DBM IV will gather destination marketing experts from academia, industry and policy to discuss the relationships between tourism, economic development, events and heritage management, spatial design and public diplomacy.

The deadline for abstracts/proposals is 28 May 2012.

Web address:
Sponsored by: Welsh Centre for Tourism Research, Cardiff Metropolitan University

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Greetings from Berlin IV

The Museum Neukölln – Small but Nice


I want to present you another of my favorite museums in Berlin, the Museum Neukölln. “Neukölln” is a deprived urban area in the south of the city with a high unemployment. Over the last years a lot of small galleries and pubs have opened in the northern part of the borough and have attracted a new clientele. Two years ago the museum moved from the rather tough centre of Neukölln to a truly idyllic place: a former estate. While approaching the quite impressive building where the exhibition is situated, you can caress the back of a sheep or the beard of a goat. 

The space of the museum is, like before, quite limited. But this has never been a disadvantage for the curators, on the contrary, I nearly never saw such concentrated exhibitions elsewhere. With the new permanent exhibition, called “99x Neukölln”, the team ensured its reputation. 

99 objects are presented in the purest fashion possible: they are put in the showcases without a single text or label of any kind. Just things placed on white cubes. Well, you think, but there MUST be more information! And right you are. 

The visitors find detailed information on monitors which they can move around and along the showcases: in the moment they place the monitor in front of a certain object the adequate information appear. 
On the picture you can see a friend of mine reading the story of the two puppets in the showcase. An American soldier bought them in Neukölln after the war. He was in love with a German girl who was too young to get married. So he waited for her for years and finally their love story found a happy end. On the screen you first learn more about the couple, you see a photograph of their wedding and read one of their love letters. But then, diving deeper (and indeed the moveable monitors remind me on look-outs of submarines), you get more information about the end of World War II in the borough.
Every information pack follows this principle: starting with a personal story or a concrete example, giving then more general information, accompanied by lots of historical photographs, documents and audio records.

On the equal level you can find also comments and memories of visitors. Via a flyer presented at the entrance all visitors are invited to write down their stories and associations evoked by the 99 objects. If they want to learn more about the things, they are invited to visit the “History Attic” above the exhibition room, where they can find more material. It is not meant as a contact point only for history freaks but as a vital part of the museum for which working together with the population of the area is essential.

Do you want to know which one was my favorite object? It was the molar tooth of a mammoth. At first my friend and I did not know at all what this bizarre object was. Reading on the screen that this was part of a mammoth really flashed me, I think, because it laid there in such a modest way among the other objects mainly from the 19th and 20th century. As if it tried hard not to boast: “Look at me! I am circa 20,000 years old, you BABIES!”

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Museums of Home or ‘When you hold on to things a few decades too long'

‘and on the pavement lay
Carved stones of the Abbey-ruin in the park,
Huge Ammonites, and the first bones of Time:
Jumbled together; celts and caluments,
Claymore and snowshoe, toys in lava, fans
Of Sandel, amber, ancient rosaries.
Laborious orient ivory sphere in sphere,
The cursed Malayan crease, and battle clubs
From the isles of palm; and higher on the walls,
Betwixt the monstrous horns of elks and deer,
His own forefather’s arms and armour hung’
~Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Princess, 1860.

What makes a museum a museum? It’s an honest question. The definition of ‘museum’ has evolved over the centuries. Once the Egyptians and Greeks held the museum to be a storehouse of knowledge; limited to the study and purview of scholars and visiting dignitaries that they wanted to show it off to. Now, museums are places of learning for all; open (mostly), accessible (we hope), and educational (ideally). Museums exist in all sorts of buildings (including travelling vans), in all sorts of subjects (I once visited a museum on the mythical history of magic) and can, as far as I’m concerned, also be counted as a ring of 3000 year old stone on some Scottish moor. Museums are places of history.

The idea of a private collection is older than the concept of the ‘mouseion’. The Romans quite enjoyed collecting old much so that they copied what they couldn’t get originals of. The last 1000 years of history has seen private collections surge. They are the origin of the modern museum after all. But are they still acceptable? Are we still allowed, as private individuals, to keep a collection of historical artefacts that no one, beyond friends and family, will ever see?

Tricky question. The ideal answer is no. Anything of historical value should be in a public collection at an appropriate museum. But there’s the rub, because more often than not, the objects will be kept in storage and never see the light of day except – perhaps – if they are deemed important enough for scholarly study. Maybe, one year, for a few days, perhaps. Would it not be better if they were in a private home where, at least, a few dozen people could marvel and enjoy?

I have a feeling most of you are shaking your heads, but I might be pleasantly surprised. I don’t have an answer myself. I don’t have an answer because my family has been treading that treacherous ground for over sixty years. I could say one thing and be a hypocrite, or say another and be a horrible museologist. Those aren’t really good choices. So, in the age old way of avoiding the question, I’m going to tell you a lovely story...and then you can decide.

The whole thing is a bit hazy. Most stories of the past are. There are a few things I’m not quite certain about, but I’ll try to fill in the blanks anyways.

In the 1940s my great-grandfather was given a beautiful gift. It was a set of ceremonial clothing from the Blackfoot Indian Tribe that originated in Southern Alberta. The story of how he came to be given this is lost, though rumour remains. We do know that the gift was made by the native man’s wife, who had made the clothing for him. It was barely worn. The beadwork is a thing of beauty just of itself.

But that is not the start of the story. A decade earlier my great-grandparents had built a summer house in central Ontario, as one typically did in those days. My great-grandmother loved antiques, and had a house full of them. At the summer house, everything was new (though it’s all antique now). They lined the walls with photographs and paintings and shipped in wood furniture from Montreal. It was all a little kitschy though, as summer houses usually are. The colours were sort of horrible, the decor was sort of outdated and everyone loved it. What made them decide to hang a group of Indian textiles on the hallway wall is beyond me.

What made them decide to thumb tack them into place is beyond my comprehension. And there that have stayed, for over sixty years; through plus 40* humid temperatures, and -40* ice storms, in a completely unregulated, pest-infested, smokers’ house! The very idea makes me shudder. I’m sure you are doing the same.

From my earliest memories I remember staring at these garments. Perhaps they are the reason I am a museologist. What I do know is that, despite conversations over the years, no one in the family thought to seriously raise the point that such items would be better off in a museum until this time last year. Ironically, I was not the one to mention it. A cousin who lives in Alberta, not far from where the Blackfoot tribe originated, first raised the issue. Things moved shockingly swiftly after that. And so, last August, the family availed themselves of my expertise; the garments were carefully removed from the rusted nails upon which they hung; lovingly package in acid-free wrapping; and packed in a box for shipment to the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park. After conservation work is completed, they intend to be put on display.

So now the walls that have been filled for my whole life-time are bare, but the view no longer induces a panicked worry about the destruction of historical artefacts. And now, many, many more people can enjoy the objects than would ever have seen them in a summer house in central Ontario. However, a piece of my family history is now gone, and that is a sentimental issue that will take some time to settle. It seems, almost, like giving away a piece of our pasts...back to the people whose past it really is, of course. This raises many points, not least about private collections and native object repatriation. Certainly the last twelve months have been a personal learning experience for myself and my family in these areas. But ultimately, we know we made the right choice. I hope one day to visit the museum and see them in their proper place.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Museums at Night...In Leicester this year!

As some of you will no doubt know, I'm a fan of Museums at Night. And this year, I'm pleased to say that there are two events in Leicester. I'm even more pleased to announce that they will be held at some of the more unusual heritage venues the city has to offer - Jewry Wall and Newarke Houses. Strange places, these, I think, will offer the perfect environs for after-dark meanderings...

Jewry Wall
Newarke Houses


NEDCC Provides Conservation Treatment and Imaging for Rare Piece of American History. Recently, Executive Director Nina Zannieri of the Paul Revere House in Boston, MA was handed a fragile, deteriorated letter. As soon as she looked at the first line, she recognized it as a significant letter from Paul Revere to his wife Rachel, which was thought to be lost.

More Information Here

Monday, April 16, 2012

Symposium - Representations: Struggles for Reality

This sounds like a great symposium for everyone!

1st International Symposium
Representations – Struggles for Reality

Part of the Research Program on: Aesthetic Lives, Artistic Selves International Network for Alternative Academia (Extends a general invitation to participate)

Friday 2nd to Sunday 4th of November, 2012
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Call for Papers
This trans-disciplinary project explores the creation, consumption and dissemination of representations. It aims to map out the relationship between representations, conceptions of the real and cultural constructions of reality. Examining representations as developing at the intersections of epistemological, political and ethical modes of enquiry, this symposium offers the opportunity to reflect on the practice and the theory of the constitution, legitimation and social implications of image, art and the new media. We invite colleagues from all disciplines and professions interested in sharing these explorations in a collective, deliberative and dialogical environment to send presentation proposals that address these general questions or the following themes:
1. Real and Imaginary – A Political History
= To Represent or To Reproduce?
- How is it that representations reflect, reproduce and create our sense of reality?
- How are representations and our concepts of reality interlaced and intertwined?
- What role do abstractions, conversions and distortions play in the construction of representations and our bonds to 'weighty' conceptions of reality?
= Power and Legitimacy
- What is at stake in the battles over representation? What is the relationship between power, reality and representation?
- What are the processes through which representations are legitimized and canonized?
- How is a sense of belonging and identity established in and through media, art and/or artistic creation? How are the threads of power and the needs for legitimacy played out in this context?
- How are self-representations to be assessed? How are misrepresentations to be responded to?
- Who gets to name what is real? What standard of evaluation should be employed?
= You Say You Want A Revolution?: Rebellious Representations
- How are images and ideas transformed into action?
- What is the role of representation in political activism, religious proselytism, and contestation movements?
- How do representations fuel transformation and change? How do representations thwart such
- How are representations contested? What are the spaces for such deliberations?
2. The Authentic, The Original, The Real
= On Authenticity
- In a world of reproduction, what is the meaning and the value of judgments of authenticity?
- What factors and institutions fuel the quest for the perfect representation in art and science?
- How are new technologies reconfiguring our understandings of authority and expertise?
- Are distortions of reality necessarily destructive? What are the potential productive forces of distortion?
- What does the return to the representative in contemporary representations reveal about present day conceptions of reality?
= On Originality
- What is the relationship between The Original and the original?
- How are new understandings of originality reconfiguring our ideas of genius?
- In an era defined by pastiche and bricolage, how is originality to be assessed?
- Given the prevalence of prequels and sequels, remakes and remixes, are we bearing witness to the end of creativity and/or the end of originality?
- How are forgeries and fakes to be defined, identified and valued?
- What is the role of the signature in new forms of representation?
= On Reality
- How are images transformed into icons?
- In what ways do icons reflect reality? In what ways do they deconstruct reality?
- How are multiple realities to be represented?
- How can emergent realities be captured?
- In what manner should competing representations be assessed? What standards of evaluation should be employed?
- What do pastiche, bricolage and hybridity reveal about our notions of reality?
3. Being, Becoming and Performing the Aesthetic
= The Politics of Art and the Art of Politics
- What are the conditions for the possibility of an aestheticization of politics? How are those
conditions met in contemporary cultures?
- What is the role of modern day patrons in the artworld?
- How will the history of the politicization of art be written?
- What does the history and the practice of curating reveal about the intersection of art
and politics?
- What does the structure, organization and operation of art schools reveal about the politics in and of art?
- What factors shape and inform the development of a political economy of representations?
- How are representations interpreted as political gestures?
= Technology as Practice
- How are new technologies for the creation, consumption and dissemination of representations leading us to reconceptualize The Artworld?
- How is art being commodified in and through new media? How are new technologies shaping and
being shaped by the commodification of art?
- How do new technologies redefine our understanding of imagination?
- How is the relationship between technology and practice being re-established in a post-internet era?
= Creativity and Critique
- How might art be conceived of as a form of critique?
- Can creativity be charted? What new models of creativity might be offered to capture how
reality is transformed by representation and representations are transformed by reality?
- How might creativity be conceived of as critique?
- How are digital and virtual representations leading us to define creativity?
- What new horizons, new metaphors, new means for re-signifying life and experience in the virtual and non-virtual worlds are being envisioned?
If you are interested in participating in this Annual Symposium, submit a 400 to 500 word abstract by Friday 8th of June, 2012.  Please use the following template for your submission:
First: Author(s);
Second: Affiliation, if any;
Third: Email Address;
Fourth: Title of Abstract and Proposal;
Fifth: The 400 to 500 Word Abstract.

To facilitate the processing of abstracts, we ask that you use Word, WordPerfect or RTF formats only and that you use plain text, resisting the temptation of using special formatting, such as bold, italics or underline.

Please send emails with your proposals to the Annual Symposium Coordination address (rsr- with the following subject line: Representations – Struggles for
Reality Abstract Proposal. For every abstract proposal sent, we acknowledge receipt. If you do not receve a reply from us within one week you should assume we did not receive it. Please resend from your account and from an alternative one, to make sure your proposal does get to us.
All presentation and paper proposals that address these questions and issues will be fully considered and evaluated. Accepted abstracts will require a full draft paper by Friday 31st of August, 2012. Papers presented at the symposium are eligible for publication as part of a digital or paperback book.

We invite colleagues and people interested in participating to disseminate this call for papers. Thank you for sharing and cross-listing where and whenever appropriate.

Cultural Heritage in the East - new Twitter feed

Dear Colleagues: 

With all the wars and human tragedy in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the debt crisis in Greece, the fate of museums, collections, libraries, archaeological sites, and historic monuments is usually not reported in the Western press. 

I invite you to follow us on Twitter for up-to-date information on cultural heritage in the Middle East, N. Africa, and the Mediterranean region:!/SFSUMuseum

The University Museum at San Francisco State University is locating and distributing important news on museums, collections, historic structures, and archaeological sites "from Casablanca to Kabul" and everywhere in between.  We report museum and cultural news from Mali, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, islands in the Mediterranean, Italy, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and the Arabian Peninsula.

Our museum collections, school programs, and exhibits focus on Ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, and N. Africa.

I hope you will find this service useful!  Cordially,

Dr. Linda Ellis
Senior Curator, University Museum
Professor, Museum Studies Program
San Francisco State University

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Knowing Our Past, Shaping Our Future: What’s Next for Visitor Studies?

As the VSA conference celebrates its 25th anniversary, weinvite you to join us in reflecting on our past, celebrating our achievements,and envisioning how our current work can transform the future of culturalinstitutions and their communities. Visitor Studies has grown from a passionategroup of research-practitioners to a burgeoning field that includes culturalleaders, designers, funders, and policy-makers. In this milestone year, VSAwill discuss how visitor studies can help shape and support the role of museumswithin our increasingly diverse and complex societies.

The 2012 conference will offer a dynamic environment to engage with thosewho created VSA’s past and contribute to charting VSA’s future. Keynotespeakers include Dan Spock from the Minnesota Historical Society and AlisonKadlec from Public Agenda. Evening events will take us to a variety of North Carolina’s best cultural institutions.

Register now and learn more!

Early bird registration closes on May 18, so don’t delay!

Museological Review Issue 16: Curiouser and Curiouser now available

One year later, the special conference issue of Museological Review (16: Curiouser and Curiouser) is now available for download. The contents are as follows:
Letter from the Editors
Guðrún D. Whitehead Looking through the Looking Glass
Željka Miklošević and Darko Babić Institution for Mass Psychotherapy
Lazarus Gent Can Museums Heal? Can Museums Hoard?
Toner M. Stevenson Observing the Less Visible: Alice takes on Astronomy
Guðrún D. Whitehead (photographs) Green’s Mill, Nottingham
Bridget Millmore Funny Money:Eighteenth Century Humorous ‘Evasions’ An imaginative way of circumventing the counterfeiting laws
Nhora Lucía Serrano Grande Exhibitions’ Traveling Museum: A Modern Cabinet of Curiosity
Rebecca Reynolds The Promise of Other Rooms
Mariana Lamas and Eduardo Giménez-Cassina Super Ghost Me: Stories from the ‘Other Side’ of the Museum
Elee Kirk, Julia Petrov and Dan O’Donnell-SmithApocalypse Then

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Writing Up: Getting finished

Oh, the inexpressible glee of freedom. I submitted two weeks ago, and immediately came down with the Cold of Doom, which I am still struggling to shake off. But do you think I care? Not a jot! Because for what is the first time in years, I can be sick to my heart's content, stare at the TV mindlessly while sniffling, and not feel guilty that I should be at the computer, typing.

Not that it was an easy road to get here. MuseumWriter posted about beginnings last week, so it's fitting that I talk about endings now. It was a struggle, but for me the most important thing was having deadlines (lots of them) and not allowing myself the option of missing them. I literally had week-by-week calendar print-outs noting what I had to do for my thesis and when; I included procrastination and real-life in there, of course, but even that dwindled to a minimum at the very end. I am not proud to say that cooking and cleaning took a definite back seat to proof-reading in the final throes; I often wished for the bad old days when I would have been a man with a wife to cook, clean, arrange social activities, and type up my thesis for me! As it was, I was my own wife, and I totally failed the wife test.

But the challenges were worth it; setting clear expectations of myself meant that I was able to celebrate accomplishments. I literally bounced around the house and squealed with joy when I completed proofing the body of my thesis (unfortunately I had to quickly calm down as I had to move on to proofing my bibliography and images).

I also learned a lot about myself in the revision and proofing stages. For example, when I first re-read my first drafts, I despaired and wondered how my supervisor was still speaking to a shitty writer like me! But then I reframed my disgust, and realised that it meant that I had improved if I could recognize my own failings! I also learned that maybe a bibliographic software would have made it easier to do fiddly formatting, but that my strength is not in managing software packages so maybe building in hours of struggling with Word was sensible for me after all.

And I must say that I didn't expect the mixed emotions I had when it was over. When I printed out my thesis, I felt some measure of what a new mother probably feels: joyful, proud, overwhelmed (350 pages is a hefty whack when you see it all in front of you, and not virtual on a laptop screen!). And when I submitted the thesis to the graduate office (having taken a photo of the moment) and walked away, I felt a bit like mothers must feel when they leave their child at nursery for the first time: terrified, but proud. And I felt a bit of a sense of loss - these days, when my housemates ask me what my plans are, I don't quite know! Of course, laundry and cooking and napping are still on the to-do list, and I have new academic tasks like applying or jobs and preparing publications, but there isn't that nagging thought at the back of my head all the time, telling me to "work on your thesis"!

Preparing for my viva, when I begin in earnest in a month's time, will bring it's own challenges, I am sure. But for now, I am savouring the freedom. And I'd like to thank my colleagues for their support and to wish them the very same joy when they also finish!

Friday, April 06, 2012

ICOM ICFA Annual Conference 2012, Moscow (Russia)

ICOM International Committee for Museum and Collections of Fine Arts, ICFA
September 30 - October 5, 2012

Organized by ICOM Russia
Hosted by the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and the State Tretyakov Gallery

This international conference will focus on the theme “Museums of Fine Arts: Arial of Existence, Spheres of Influence”. We expect proposals for presentations, which analyse current issues in the field of museum complexes: principles of functioning, management and development.
Museum complex includes a number of premises with permanent displays, exhibition  spaces, storages, research and restoration studios, libraries and archives, education  centers, administrative offices. An important part is museum infrastructure with cafes, museum shops, recreation zones and so on. How effectively and on what grounds and principles to plan the museum complexes structure, functioning dislocation, type of management, and concepts of development?

Museums and museum enterprises.

Activity of museum complexes and marketing of museum services.

Visual identification: architecture, design.

Museums and society.

Museum and city.

Submissions can be:

Research papers presentations are invited to break new ground, present new insight, and a research contribution. 20 minutes
Theme papers report practical results and contribute to one of the points mentioned above. 15 minutes

Project papers present new projects or perspective plans of museum complexes, quarters and areas development. 20 minutes
Videos or alternative media to be shown during the sessions or breaks. No longer than 8 minutes and have a brief text summary

Speakers should attempt to present a critical reflection on their research, observations, study cases.

Proposal deadline May 1, 2012
The official language of the conference – English with simultaneous translation into Russian during the working sessions.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Things They Don't Tell You

There is a very long list.
When you apply for a PhD programme at a university, you focus on the practicalities of it.  The references letters you need to get; the previous transcripts you need to track down; the proposal that has to be crafted and perfected and, rather more importantly, the research question that you really need to think of.  And it really needs to sound good.
After this, when you are accepted into your university of choice (one hopes), you are so thrilled that the practicalities of what is about to happen end up forgotten for a good few months.  And then you become so busy with moving to a new place, administration, familiarisation and meeting people that, once more, you forget why you are there in the first place. 
For the first week or so after you begin your PhD programme, things chug along like any other degree.  It is only after a week or two goes by that you realise that you aren’t actually attending classes.  This is the biggest difference from any previous degree.  Another week or two after that, and the introductory weeks of meetings and seminars and mad scrambling to figure things out wears off and you have a sudden epiphany: you are going to be here for the next three years with your nose in a book, your fingers on the keyboard and, if you are very lucky, occasional breaks for fieldwork in a city that is not this one.  Somewhere about November , the reality of the situation sinks in.  It is at this point that all the things that you were told in the first few weeks become completely meaningless.
The first thing that they tell you during orientation is that doing a PhD is a 9-5 job.  This is truth.  What they don’t add to that statement is that, outside of those hours, there are departmental obligations, teaching, admin work, independent projects, research that is not your own, volunteer jobs, actual jobs, and an endless list of things that, although not mandatory, you really are supposed to show up for.  Quickly, your 9-5 Monday to Friday week becomes your 8-8 Monday-Saturday week.  Other weeks, there are no Sundays either.  Sometimes there will be so much work that you will go weeks without taking more than a few hours off one afternoon to run into the centre for a few things of importance.  You will exhaust yourself.  You will never take a holiday unless you specifically plan one.  Christmas is meaningless unless you go somewhere else where you are completely unable to do work.  When the undergraduates and graduate students get reading week and Easter holidays, you will quietly glare at them behind their backs and go back to reading the stack of books on your desk. 
But that’s alright, because you will quickly find that any attempts to actually take a holiday that does not go to the extreme of going away and leaving your computer behind, will not amount to anything.  You will not be able to turn your brain off.  Half-way through your Christmas holidays you will wake up at 2am one day with a brilliant idea of yet another aspect of your thesis that you need to research.  And all you will want to do is research it right that moment.  We do not do a PhD thesis because we are bored.  We do it because we are passionate about the topic, we believe in its importance to the industry or even the world, and we enjoy it.  You live, you breathe and you sleep your research questions.
It’s not a 9-5 job, but I quickly realised, around about my third supervision meeting in as many weeks, in the third week of October with a 5000 word paper due already that that was completely okay.  I’d be bored otherwise.  9-5 leaves a lot of free hours to twiddle your thumbs.  No doubt many of you would argue that that leaves a great many hours for a social life, but that is what undergrad is for.  Your social life quickly steps aside in the face of a burning research question that may change your chosen field of study.  Occasionally you will miss it, and that will lead to dinner or a quick coffee with someone who is also so busy with their own research that finding a moment that you are both free will take weeks to organise.  And neither of you will actually mind this fact.  You will live with people for the sake of your sanity, because otherwise you will go days without seeing another human being.  You will go to the office, not because it is conducive to work, but because every once in a while you really do need to remind yourself that there are dozens of other people in your department in the same boat as you.  Most days, that is all the comfort you need.
There will be days where you absolutely love what you do and what you are researching.  You will remember why you wanted to spend three years doing this in the first place.  There are other days where you will question everything; your sanity and your thesis question included.  And there will be a great many middle days.  That is the rollercoaster that is life.  And it is a thrilling ride.