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, June 29, 2012

Thomas Bernhard's "Old Masters" drawn by Nicolas Mahler

A Graphic Novel for Museum Freaks

Reger, a philosopher of music, spends every second day in the Museum of Fine Arts in Vienna. There he sits, like a statue himself, in the Bordone hall and stares for hours at a Tintoretto. You would assume that he loves art and especially this painter, but far from it! He hates every single artwork. To read his scornful remarks about art in general makes this graphic novel a reading pleasure because it is refreshing how he breaks the taboo of not being allowed to criticise the „Old Masters“. But behind Reger’s condemnation his love for art shines through and after he has savaged not only the fine arts but also literature he finally reveals the true reason for spending so many hours on this certain bench in front of the Tintoretto...

© Suhrkamp Verlag Berlin 2011

This bench and all the other typical items of a museum – frames, cordons, stairs and floor mosaics – are taken seriously in the drawings of Nicolas Mahler as if they were actors in a play. He uses them elaborately to demonstrate the insights and art criticism of the protagonist. And it really makes fun to look at his pictures of the famous paintings especially because he concentrates on the most important features. Therefore his Tintoretto looks indeed quite poor and his Madonna – which is critised by Reger for being fragmentary – looks, well, fragmentary.

(There is nothing you could admire, Reger said yesterday. Nothing/at/all.)
© Suhrkamp Verlag Berlin 2011

Bernhard’s novel which was the basis for the graphic novel is also available in English, published by Penguin. But watch out! If you like it and want to visit on your next trip to Vienna the famous bench in the Bordone hall – this hall never existed.

Thomas Bernhard, Alte Meister, Komödie, gezeichnet von Mahler, Suhrkamp Verlag Berlin, 2011

Monday, June 25, 2012


Tuesday 10th July - Thursday 12th July 2012

Venue: British Computer Society, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7HA

REGISTRATION: Last day to register for this year's conference is Friday 6th July 2012
For registration details, keynote speakers and the latest conference programme visit:


EVA London 2012 will debate the issues, discuss the trends and demonstrate the digital possibilities in culture, heritage and the arts. If you are interested in new technologies in the cultural sector - if you are an artist, policy maker, manager, researcher, practitioner, or educator - then this conference is for you.

Three days of presentations, workshops, demos and exhibition on a spectrum of themes from electronic arts to experiencing history.
This year's conference includes sessions on:
* Museums in a new world
* Seeing data
* The place and the digital
* Digital art and research
* Sound and life
* Building the virtual
* Visualisation, maps and structures
* Digital art and networked culture
* Art and performance
* Imaging
* Digital imaging
** Plus five full sessions featuring live demonstrations **

Friday, June 22, 2012

Cultural Studies Association of Australasia annual conference 2012

Hosted by the Department of Gender & Cultural Studies, University of Sydney
Dec 4th-6th (pre-fix pre-conference Dec 3rd)
‘Materialities: Economies, Empiricism, & Things’
*Organising committee: Fiona Allon, Prudence Black, Catherine Driscoll,
Elspeth Probyn, Kane Race & Guy Redden.

Second Call for Papers

Cultural studies has a long history of investigating material practices –
indeed it was a founding tenet of British cultural studies – but recently a
new turn or return to materialism seems to be emerging in the field.  What
this materiality now means is still open, but we suggest that it flags a
renewed interest in questions of how to study cultural objects,
institutions and practices (methods), what constitutes matter and
materiality (empiricism), and how things (humans and non-humans) are being
reworked at a time of global economic, environmental and cultural flux.

Our keynotes have all directed critical attention to these questions – to
the more-than-human, to new philosophies of matter, to the gendered
material and economic circuits of media, and to ‘the heavy materiality of
language’. We have invited them to help us in reinvigorating what cultural
studies can do today.

Keynote speakers: Jennifer Biddle (UNSW), Ross Chambers (Michigan), Brenda
Croft (UniSA), Katherine Gibson (UWS), Ros Gill (University of London), Gay
Hawkins (UQ), Lesley Head (Wollongong), Bev Skeggs (Goldsmiths, London).
Other plenary speakers will include: Ien Ang (UWS), Tony Bennett (UWS),
Stuart Cunningham (QUT), John Frow (Melbourne), John Hartley (Curtin),
Meaghan Morris (Sydney), Stephen Muecke (UNSW), Tom O’Regan (UQ), and
Graeme Turner (UQ).

We encourage proposed panels and individual papers that engage with the
wide spectrum of issues flagged by our title, including submissions that
focus on:
· the crossing of science studies and cultural studies;
· questions of method;
· the relation between culture and economy;
· cultural histories of objects and forms;
· new ideas about empiricism;
· placing sexuality, gender and race within the more-than-human;
· the materiality of texts and genres;
· the future and the past of material cultural studies;
· environmental humanities and changing ecologies;
· cultural studies within the anthropocene;
· cultural relations with/in primary and natural resources;
· the new materiality of globalism
Papers and panels not focusing on the theme are also welcome.

Please send submissions to by August 24th and include
your name and affiliation. Abstracts for papers should be 250-300 words.
Panel submissions must include three individual abstracts, a panel title
and 100-150 word rationale for the panel as a whole.

We will advise all proposers of accepted papers within 4 weeks of this
deadline. Please note that accepted presenters will need to register before
their paper will be scheduled in the program.

Early bird registration for the conference up to 1 October 2012 will
shortly be opening. Please register here

There will also be a separate event, “Pre-Fix”, geared to the needs of
postgraduates and early career researchers, on December 3rd. Details of
this and the main conference are on the website.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An Overview of Research Week

When I started here last October, Research Week was an almost mythical thing. The 2nd and 3rd year students talked about it like it was the best week ever. At first, I only equated Research Week with the APG upgrade and therefore stress. Now, I know better.

It was still very stressful, but it was also an amazing opportunity that (it seems) few other departments get. The chance to spend a week talking with other PhDs who can understand your topic, finding out about their topics, listening to presentations and workshops and all around working together to make a better PhD community is a really great thing.

There was a great deal of planning that went into RW this year. I have sincere appreciation for the people involved. From what I understand, it worked much better than last year, so we are continuing to improve as a department. Always a good thing. There was a good combination of first year presentations, workshops on such topics as 'Writing for publication', 'NVIVO 7' and 'Methodology Issues'. There were also guest speakers with truly interesting presentations and the chance to talk to them at more length than our typical lunch seminars throughout the rest of the year give us. We had former PhD students come to tal kabout what they are up to and a few great presentations by senior students to update everyone on where their projects are at. It was a good combination, especially since the week ended in a trip to Liverpool to see the museums there!

I feel that everyone who attended got something out of the week, and for the first years, I think we got quite a bit more than that. No only did it give us the opportunity to present in a safe and comforting environment, but we could have a little fun with it too. And we have a huge support network in place while we took our APGs, which went quite well! It is always a good thing to have people around to celebrate with after such an important event.

I think the best thing that came out of the week, however, was the chance to discuss issues within the department and the PhD community and plan for how to make things EVEN BETTER for next year. We are already well on our way, with our new student reps (yep, one of them is me, your Attic Moderator!), and a great deal of help from all students. Hopefully, when October rolls around and our new first years arrive, things within the department, how the community runs, and the next nine months of their first year, will be as amazing as we can make it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Something you don't hear everyday...

'T-Rex seized by U.S. Homeland Security'

'One of the more unusual arrest warrants in U.S. history was issued this week when a federal judge authorized the Department of Homeland Security to seize a dinosaur from an art-storage company in New York City. There's no need for handcuffs, though. It's been dead for 70 million years.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel, of the Southern District of New York, signed the warrant after finding there was "probable cause to believe" that the nearly complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton is subject to forfeiture under U.S. laws.

The U.S. filed a lawsuit against the skeletal property a day earlier, seeking to seize it for an eventual return to Mongolia.

It is typical in government seizure cases for the object to be seized to be named as a defendant. But it's not so common for an object to have an alias, in this instance "One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton" is also known as "LOT 49315 listed on Page 92 of The Heritage Auctions May 20, 2012 Natural History Auction Catalog."'

Source: CBC News

News: First Natural History Museum is unveiled in Singapore


'In two years' time, Singapore will see its first natural history museum showing off centuries-old exhibits and three dinosaurs from the Jurassic period.

When ready, the new S$46 million Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum will be home to some 800,000 Southeast Asian specimens and nearly complete fossils of three giant dinosaurs. The Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR) at NUS will be shifting its valuable collection of flora and fauna to the new building which will be linked to the adjacent University Cultural Centre and NUS Museum.'

Visit the link above for more information and design sketches.

Last Minute Contribution Call

"I am looking for one more contributor for a special issue of the Journal of
Museum Studies -- which I am guest-editing -- due out July 2013. One of the
contributors has had to drop out at a late date. The issue is focused on
museum education and social concerns with an emphasis on authentic and
creative partnerships between/among museum educators and community
orgs/ngos etc. Authors at this point are from both the US and Canada.
Contributors are welcome from any country.

The topic for which I am seeking an essay is for the essay is "Effective
from a Distance?"

"This topic examines the possibilities and challenges for museums hoping to
educate visitors about social issues/concerns that are most pressing in
another city, country, region etc. How do these programs develop? What is
the role of/need for experts and residents from that ‘other place’ in
developing educational plans? What are the limitations and possibilities
for this approach?"

These "essays" are intended to be more akin to "think pieces". Drafts will
be due to me by September 1. If interested please send a CV and abstract.

Questions welcome by email.
Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello,"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

10 great places for museum mysteries (according to US Today)

'If you consider museums dusty collections of artifacts, think again. Even the smallest collections hold tantalizing secrets and intrigue, says Don Wildman , host of the Travel Channel show Mysteries at the Museum. "People see museums as boring places, but that's not the case," he says. He shares some favorite behind-the-scenes stories with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.'

Story can be found: here.

Congratulations Dr. Petrov!

Our newest (literally, it just happened today) Doctor in the department is our dear former Attic moderator herself, now Dr. Petrov! Congratulations from all of us! Now I feel I have even bigger shoes to fill, but hopefully in a couple of years, this newest Attic moderator will also be Dr!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Genocide memorials

An interesting article from the BBC News Magazine about genocide memorials, and why people visit them. As a minority whose ancestors suffered persecution, I personally feel an obligation to bear witness (thought I don't think I could bring myself to visit Auschwitz, Treblinka, or other concentration camps). But equally, I wonder how much sites of mass murder relate in the public consciousness to other forms of dark tourism, such as visiting cemeteries, catacombs, and battle sites. Any thoughts?

Seven Lessons from Jenny

After a summer spent in Oxford, I returned to Leicester to begin my PhD in the autumn of 2009. I came with bold intentions; here, I quote from my original application.

Through 'Timespaces' I intend to explore philosophical, historical, anthropological and sociological aspects of time and how they relate to museums as institutions, the stories they tell and the collections they hold. With a grounding in 'time theory', and after defining what I mean by 'timespace' I hope to explore several topicsTime in Museums, Time and Museum Collections, and Time, Museums and Wider Society.

Three years later, and my subjectintellectually and literallyhas somewhat run away with me. After brief forays into philosophical and anthropological approaches to temporality in the period leading up to my application, the months after, and the first semester of my thesis proper, much of this original intent began to ebb away. My description of my work now looks much more like this;

My PhD research considers the production of temporalities in the museum, thus far somewhat undertheorised. The research uses literary theory and analysis as a tool for understanding and speaking about these productions on a richly diverse theoretical level. The full temporal complexity of museums as such productions needs to be examined in more depth, and it is to be hoped that such research will enable the richness of both disciplines to be augmented, and the practice of both museum and exhibition display and design, and literary construction to be developed.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again; rarely is it the case that the final thesis looks much, if anything, the same as the original idea. I'm sure many of you have realised, or are beginning to realise, this fact already. What is probably more of interest to you is the process by which one became the other; prepare yourselves for a ride.

Pre-APG Flounderings: Lesson 1: It's OK (to flounder) and Lesson 2: Choosing an Approach.

I suspect that most of you sitting here, waiting to take your APGs, have spent time up until now trying to work out what it is that you actually want to do. That's OK! Actually, it's what I did. Once I knew that I was coming back to study for my thesis, I began to read as much as I possibly could upon the subject of time. I floundered – a lot – through various philosophical concepts; A-Theory, B-Theory, the Eternal Return, Élan vital, teleologies and the like; and scientific concepts – relativity theory, entropy, Minkowskian space-time diagrams. Sometime during the November of my first year, I emerged from Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason in something of a panic. I had realised that I had no idea what I was doing, where I was, and the horrible thought came to me that this whole thing had been a massive mistake; someone, somewhere, had made a serious error of judgement in letting me do this. I contacted Simon, my supervisor, and he told me precisely what I'm going to tell you now; the first lesson.

It's OK.
You will flounder.
You'll read a lot of things which you don't end up using.
Remember, at this stage, it isn't about the final end product.
It's about the process of discovery.
Enjoy the process.

I hope that it's clear that this process of discovery is not strictly periodised. You'll continue with such processes long into your thesis. I'm coming to the end, now, and I'm still doing it. The simple fact is that you have to learn to control it the further in you get, but, ultimately, it never goes away. Continue to enjoy it, when you get the chance to.

So, I floundered, and eventually I came up with my concept, my toolkit and language for investigating my rather large topic. For me, that concept was literary theory and strategy. I decided on this for probably two main reasons. Being an art which is, in Lessing's terms, 'temporal'that is, it unfolds over time in the process of reading, and in terms of the information being related inside it,  literature has a great body of work discussing its use and production of temporality. Hence it has a language, and various conceptsmetre, plot, perspective, style, and many morewhich can be usefully applied to its study in a museum context. The other, slightly less intellectually based reason is that I like reading. Literature is something I love, it's what I know and what I'm comfortable with, and perhaps my second lesson, then, is this.

The choice of a theoretical grounding or base concept for your thesis is, in part, down to your personal joy in that theory or frame.
If you don't love it, don't use it.
The choice may feel arbitrary.
But it isn't. Things are reasoned.
The point is to be honest about those reasons.

APG Lesson 3: Being Challenged is Good.

One of the reasonsperhaps the main reasonthat we're gathering this week is the APG and review process that many of you will be going through. You'll all now have written that report, handed it in, and be wondering what will happen tomorrow. I found that writing the report allowed me to clarify some ideas, to think about what I wanted to say, and it forced me not only to justify my choice of literature in a much more academic sense, but it also forced me to think about the way in which I might go about implementing those ideas as an actual approach to research. The review panel itself was similarly useful. I am sure that many of you are worried about this. I know that I was. My review panel were Ross, Viv, and Dave, and each of them had a number of interesting things to say and offer. Ross and Viv, being the characters that they are, were quite sympathetic to my ideas, offering points of clarification and asking me to explain certain terms. Dave, on the other hand, was a much more challenging proposition; and challenge me he did. He questioned me hard about my choice of literature, and how I could justify that against the manifold of other basis upon which I could situate my research. I thinkI hope at leastthat I defended myself well. At least, I defended myself well enough to pass, and perhaps herein lies the third lesson.

To be challenged at this stage is good.
You must be forced to think and to justify yourself.
If you are not, your thesis may become woolly and loose.
You may be immersed in a wide, exploratory process, but the rigour of that exploration remains crucial.
Post-APG Flounderings: The Fourth and Fifth Lessons: Floundering Happens. It's OK.

The APG is a massive thing; I understand only too well how it can take over your mind. But it's also important, today, to think beyond that. What happens when the whole scariness of Research Week is over?

Perhaps some of you will have a clear idea of where you want to go, what you want to do. This is great; go with it, and see where it takes you. I, however, found things still to be problematic. Whilst I found the APG a useful and enlightening process, which only strengthened my confidence in my theoretical frame, if you can call it that, I found that I had some significant problems with the implementation strategy which I'd designed for the APG. I had some basic concepts taken from literaturenarratological, linguistic, and prosodic approaches to the study of temporal functions in literature. I should make it clear that I did not intend to use pieces of literature with time as their content, unless those pieces were also manipulating time in a formal sense; for what I was, and still remain interested in, was the structural creation of temporality. The question remained, however, as to how I was going to put these concepts to use in the study of the museum. I knew that I would have to use case studies, just to provide me with some 'texts', as it were, and I had, in my APG, suggested the idea of a 'phenomenological walk', which has come under increasing scrutiny as a anthropological research methodology, and as a subject of investigation in its own right. I had intended, moreover, that these walks be relatively unstructured, that random observations merely 'bearing the concepts in mind' could be recorded via field notes, perhaps audio recordings, and photographs. I had also considered the use of film.

I tested out these ideas in New Walk Museum during the summer following my APG. These flaneuric digressions certainly produced copious quantities of words, but I found them to be of little value. I couldn't get anything really concrete from them. And I still had yet to decide on the final case studies which I would select. Again, I began to get worried, and by the September of 2010 I was beginning to get sorely concerned. I thought that the APG would set me on a sure and certain course, and was puzzled as to why it hadn't. I began to get angry with the time I was wasting messing around with this, and began to think that my whole concept had, from the start, been flawed. Perhaps I should have taken something more scientific than literature, perhaps I should have been more structured and less subjective. Perhaps, I thought, I was just being lazy.

But I then realised what had happened. I'd had a toolkit, I'd had an idea; and I'd left it behind. Why, I don't know, and can't explain even now. Without wishing to analyse my own psychological processes in any great detail, or to put post-facto interpretations on my behaviour, it is perhaps the case that I'd become scared of the rigour, had become to distracted by the surfaces of other new and shiny ideas. This is certainly a danger which you'll face throughout your thesis. For some time this plethora of thought and reading will be find, but there will eventually come a point where you just have to decide, just have to choose an angle and a focus, to buy the ticket and take the ride. In any case, I realised that I had to return to literature, to investigate once again why I had looked at it in the first place, what were the structures by which literary temporalities were investigated and how I could more rigorously apply them to my investigations here. So I spent some time beating down my interpretive, emotive self, and got down to building a set of questions with which to investigate my institutions. They're partial, and to some extent hugely reductive, the questions asked don't always apply in every situation, and I have found that, at times, those questions encouraged me to look for and see things that weren't actually there; learning to recognise this was important too. I had to realise that these questions were a way of structuring and guiding my investigationmy readingof the museum space, guidelines which made my reading of the environment deeper, more subtle, and much much more critical. By the time I got around to implementing my approach, which I'll discuss in a moment, the ideas expounded in my APG report had undergone a massive shift, an increase in subtlety, and an increase in rigour.

So, the fourth lesson.

Your APG will not teach you everything.
That is not what it is designed to do.
It is designed to push you onto the next phase, and to make sure that you can get there.

And the fifth.

If you flounder after your APG, that's ok.
It's frustrating.
You feel as though you should be getting somewhere faster than you are.
Don't let it take you over. Focus. Remember that you may still be testing ideas.
If the ideas don't work, think of other ideas.
In many ways it's still about the process.
But in the end, you have to make a choice.

Fieldwork: The Sixth Lesson: Beckett's Razor.

It wasn't until the February of 2011 that I had developed this toolkit far enough to begin to analyse my museums. I had a series of questions with which I would, as Simon phrased it, conduct an interview with the gallery space, and had decided to use photographs and images as aide memoirs and illustrations of various points. I had chosen three institutions, and had agonised over this choice. Again, the selection was based upon a variety of reasons both personal and intellectual; I certainly loved all the museums I was intending to visit, and to pretend that this did not play a part in their selection would be remiss of me. However, I chose the Ashmolean, the Pitt Rivers and the Oxford University Natural History Museum for practical reasons toothey were close to each other, and easily accessible from Leicester. Yet they are also interesting academically, all having undergone redevelopment in recent years, all being iconic institutions for one reason or another, and all being of different styles and disciplines which would allow for some interesting comparative work. I contacted them, requested to essentially sit in the galleries, writing and photographing for a week at each, to which they responded positively.

This was a manic period. The investigation of each case study was intensive and tiring, and I suspect that I made a mistake in beginning with the Ashmolean. Such a vast museum rather outfaced me, and, in a panic, I neglected my toolkit for at least the first day, simply perambulating around the galleries in a haze of confusion and puzzlement. This is a mistake I should like not to have made, but it is one which happens. There is no accounting, sometimes, for your response when faced with a challenge, and this is lesson six.

Critical investigation, of whatever form, is hard.
There are likely to be times when you panic.
Sometimes, the only thing you can do is to accept the consequences, and move on.
The enactment of a methodology is often thus;
Try. Fail. Try again, harder. Fail, but fail better.

By the time I came to my final investigations in the OUNHM, I was failing much, much better. Beckett would have been proud.

Well Now What? Staring at Data and Wondering What to Do.

Faced with a pile of data, it may be the case that you don't know what to do. Trying to figure out how to analyse and understand all the stuff you've gathered is a serious challenge. For some of you, there are software tools such as Nvivo (buggy and annoying as they may be) which you can use to make sense of some of your data. My approach forced a different form of investigation, a long and arduous one of reading notes and writing them up into three folders of approximately 114 thousand words each.

That took me until the September of last year, by which point I was shattered. I took a break for my birthday, went to Sweden for a conference, and then came back to it, much better for the break. I then began the stage in which I am nowwriting up.

The Final Part: Making the contents of your brain accessible to others.

It took some time to formulate a chapter structure for the thesis as a whole, and to some extent the structure is still fluid on a micro level. But it falls out roughly, like this,

            Chapter One: Literary Temporalities
            Chapter Two: Temporal Topologies
            Chapter Three: Temporal Gestures
            Chapter Four: Temporal Ontologies
            Chapter Five: Conclusion

Please, if you feel so inclined, ask me about these chapters. I won't subject you to their detailed content unnecessarily, however.

It's been a hard process, this last stage, to try to communicate the contents of my brain, and of those massive folders to other people. It's been perhaps the most intellectually challenging part of the whole project, as I've been faced with a problem I've never encountered before; a lack of voice.

I've always been garrulous, always able to communicate my ideas clearly and in an entertaining way. But at least in the first chapter, my ability to communicate suddenly dropped off in quite dramatic fashion. Constantly going back to Simon and being asked for re-writes was soul destroying. Having to pick apart ideas you loved and phrases you thought expressed them, and discovering that you didn't understand the ideas and hadn't communicated them well is heartbreaking. It may well be that it was, in part, an issue of confidence. Still, even then, I was unsure that my ideas held weight, that I understood what was going on, and I was covering it up with sentences such as,

            Looking down into Human Image, this Critical Reader sees other trace their multiple paths, watches unknowable futures generate from multiplicitous presents. Against the Pyramid of abstract reason, the organization of space and experience imposed from the outside, the thread their own Labyrinth or, rather, their own route through the rhizome. And they, like the characters in At Swim-Two-Birds, may well be looking at us.

If you understand what I meant by this, please do tell meI'd be glad to know.

However, the process of re-writing, painful as it is, has allowed me to come to the point I am at now, where I am becoming increasingly confident in handling the ideas and how I want to express them. Again, consistent and hard challenges have been vital to this development, and you should be making them of yourself all the time. It is when you loose that detached critical brain that the problems arise. This is not to say you should consistently beat yourself upfar from it. The process is not one of self-loathing, but of self- assessment. It's about trying, failing, trying harder and failing better. And better, and better.

How it will all finish, when it will all finish, and what I'll do afterwards, I still don't know. The final lesson I can leave you with here is that, at this stage and throughout the project, the point is to challenge the book as it challenges you. If it gives you unfamiliar words, look them up. Question the book, the text, question why you're reading it, and why you're reading it in this way. Remember that it's a long, hard slog boring and isolating at times, but also wonderfully immersive, challenging, and hopefully endlessly fascinating. The point is that, when you turn over the last page, you want to be satisfied with the reading; you want to be satisfied with what you've done.

'Scholarship has not been cheerful always and everywhere, although it ought to be.'
Herman Hesse, The Glass Bead Game