The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Material Culture Review - Call for papers

In support of my own country's culture field:

Material Culture Review  (MCR) solicits articles for publication. MCR a
peer-reviewed journal published twice a year under the auspices of Cape
Breton University Press. MCR publishes original articles in English and
French that encompass a wide range of approaches to interpreting culture
through an analysis of people's relationships to their material world. The
journal also publishes research reports and notes, and critical reviews of
books, exhibitions, and historic sites (see page counts below).

MCR invites submission of new research from the field of material culture,
including cultural history, public history, art history, geography,
archaeology, anthropology, architecture and intangible cultural heritage.
The editors encourage submissions from graduate students and scholars at
any phase of their professional career, professionals and historians from
the art and museum world, and from independent scholars with an interest in
material culture.

We are currently seeking articles on any topic related to our mandate. Page
counts are as follows:
 * article (roughly speaking, 20--30 double-spaced pages, including
 * research report (10--20 pages, including endnotes)
 * exhibition reviews (10--15 pages, including endnotes)
 * research notes (5--10 pages)
 * book reviews (notes and comments less than 5 pages)

The next deadline for complete manuscripts is November 15, 2012.

Please visit our website for complete submission details:

We also invite potential guest editors to suggest special themes for future
issues of MCR.

Submit manuscripts or questions, or suggest future special topics to:

Monday, July 23, 2012

5 Great Museum Bars

I guess I've never really thought about it, but the idea of a great drink while looking at great historic pieces has a nice thought to it!

Check out this article for the 5 best museum bars in the world.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Greetings from Berlin VI

Museums, Galleries and Exhibition Spaces Strengthen Economic Power of the City

When I told somebody ten years ago that I come from Berlin, the person said usually: „Well, interesting.“ When I tell these days somebody that Berlin is my home town, my vis-à-vis usually exclaims: „Wow! This is fabulous! I want to visit it!“

People are visiting Berlin of course for many reasons, because of its history or because of its cool atmosphere. But among the visitors there are quite a lot who come to see exhibitions. A study, carried out by a bank (Investitionsbank Berlin), published this Monday, revealed that the number of exhibition visitors has increased by six millions from 2002 to 2010. This means a gain of 73 percent!

                  Exhausted exhibition visitors view the "Alte Museum" (Old Museum) from inside the Humboldt-Box.

The interesting point is that – how the study shows – this increase in visitors has produced a remarkable growth in sales: the museums and galleries in Berlin achieved in 2010 a turnover of 263.2 million euros, 25 percent more than in 2009.

I am normally not easily impressed by figures, but I really enjoyed reading that every exhibition visitor spends of course more than just the entrance fee as he or she drinks perhaps a coffee in a bar near the museum et cetera. So, for example, the visitors of the photography exhibitions of C/O Berlin produce an additional purchasing of 6.43 millions. This again could create 69 new employments in the neighbourhood and this would increase the annual gross domestic product by 10.45 million euros. 

Compared to the general economic power of Berlin (more than 90 billions), this may sound marginal but for a city which promotes itself with the slogan “Poor but Sexy”, this means a lot.

Has art gallery boom paid off?

Question being asked over on BBC News. Check it out!
It seems things have been relatively quiet lately in the museum world, at least in this part of it! Few conferences, books or interesting tidbits to report at the moment! I assume everyone is on summer holidays. I wish I were!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Those Magic Museum Moments

The beautifully written article of our contributor Stephanie inspired me to share one of my experiences of “historical empathy”, the phenomenon she describes so well.
Some years ago I visited the museum in the native town of Theodor Fontane, the author who had characterised brilliantly the society in Berlin and its surroundings during the 19th century. I had quite a special relationship to this writer: he was something like an icon in my father’s family which hailed from a small village nearby. As I associated him always with the old generation in my family, I considered him antiquated and fusty. This prejudice could not been changed even by reading, as a teenager, his novel „Effie Briest“, which I loved.
               Fontane's birthplace with a memorial plaque and a picture of the author in the shop window
But then, studying literature, the turning point arrived. For a paper I had to know all his novels and to my surprise I enjoyed the reading very much, especially because Fontane describes his characters with such a deep understanding for human behaviour of all kind. There was another, more personal reason, why I began to feel connected to him and his writings.
As a child, growing up in the Western part of Berlin, even though I visited the GDR regularly, the area where Fontane and my family hailed from, had remained an abstract phantom in my imagination. But then the wall came down and Brandenburg became real. Moreover going to university in Bavaria, I discovered my Prussian identity and Berlin and its surroundings became important for me. Since then Theodor Fontane is one of my favourite “heimat authors”.     
Hence, I was excited when I was for the first time in Neuruppin and was eager to visit the small museum. Only some few personal properties of Fontane were shown there, among them a clock which I knew from my readings had been dear to him. By accident I came to stand in front of the clock just at noon and was taken aback when it began to stroke. Here it was – the Magic Museum Moment.
Unexpectedly, I suddenly felt such a strong connection to this author who, I realised, had heard once the same sound. How Stephanie writes, historical empathy is neither quantifiable nor measurable and nothing you can debate. My guess is that this special Magic Museum Moment could happen because I had not reflected before how the reception of sounds can be influenced by other factors and such altered through time. So, my analytical mind could not spoil the magic of this moment which I tried after my visit to catch in a poem:   

Fontane’s clock
It striked
at noon
and carried
his ear
to mine
as if
we were one
for seconds.

Developing Creativity in Students While Scaling Educational Policy

Would every one of our wonderful readers give a warm welcome to a new guest blogger Roslyn Tam. The following blog post regards a new form of education theory that puts creativity at the forefront of learning importance. This is an important concept that I have been dealing with for my own thesis research, as I believe museums are, by their nature, a place that inspires creativity rather than formal school learning and can be institutions that are integrally supportive of this new form of learning in education.

Creativity is one of those human traits which is easy to spot and hard to define. Even more, it can be extremely challenging to encourage and teach in the modern, drill, kill and test school system. But, while many educational policy makers continue to support the idea of teaching to the test, a great deal of research is coming forward which demonstrates that creativity may be the most valuable trait of the educated mind. Many [who are] creating new standards for education are brainstorming ways to enhance education that fosters creativity. Teachers and researchers are beginning to focus on bringing creativity back into the classroom and scaling it upward into the education system as a whole.

“Creativity in the Classroom”, an article in Education News, suggests that most of our education system focuses on problem solving. This presupposes that the problem is known and can be fixed with a known solution. They use a broken car as an example, where the student is given the task to find the solution and fix the known problem. While this is a useful tool, it is not truly creative.

In addition, it takes a creative thinker to even envision the idea of a car in the first place, and bring it into production and fruition. A truly creative thinker may not simply fix the car, they may replace it with a better alternative. In other words, creativity is where the solutions to long-term problems lie, not in simply applying rote-learned accepted patches to known problems.

Some teaching systems already in place seem to do a good job of fostering creativity, such as the Montessori system, which “emphasizes self-directed learning, adaptiveness and discovery. It also boasts an impressive array of information-economy innovators among its alumni: Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google, were trained in the Montessori method, as were Jeff Bezos, the founder of, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, and Will Wright, who invented the best-selling video game of all time, The Sims.”

Another method which has gained attention in recent years is the Visual Training System (VTS) developed in the 1980s. With this learning method, students visualize the subject matter. It has been shown to not only foster creativity, but also to increase reading and math scores from 6% to 20%. When Harvard Medical School introduced it to their students, they became 38% more proficient at diagnosing unknown medical conditions.

Clearly creativity is more than a box of crayons and an art class. It is an entire way of thinking about problem solving and learning in general. Those teachers who can be seen to foster creativity in the classroom often encourage self-directed learning and discovery. When assigning research assignments, they may offer students a variety of ways of presenting their new-found information, from writing a report to producing a play or even a piece of artwork. The critical factors for creativity are self-guidance, choice and decision making in the project.

While administrators, teachers, parents and students can recognize the dynamism and energy in a creative classroom, they often throw up their hands at the idea that these techniques can be implemented systemwide. When it comes to scaling up across the education system at large, it is often suggested that some teachers just have that special creative flare and others don’t.

But the success of systems like Montessori and VTS show that creativity can be scaled upward. Methods that foster creativity can be taught to ordinary teachers and implemented far and wide. What is necessary is that the education system recognize and encourage the value of creativity in classrooms. Then they can do the hard research to find those methods that support creative thinking, and make them available to teachers nationwide.

In keeping with theme of education on this blog is a post by Roslyn Tam discussing how schools can foster creativity and enhance the learning experience. Tam is currently a writer for Educational Leadership site (found through Google) a site that provides comprehensive information on educational leadership and careers in this arena.

Roslyn Tam, Guest Blogger -

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies presents: TRASH

A one day postgraduate conference at the University of Sussex

*Friday 14th September 2012*

Trash operates as a physical and symbolic manifestation of consumer society
and its associated debris; it celebrates the filthy, excessive and
grotesque; and it expresses how power communicates and classifies abject
bodies. It not only describes the devaluation of trash culture, but it also
refers to the material practices and processes through which we deal with
‘waste’ in all its forms.

In this one day postgraduate conference we propose to rummage through the
trash heap of history, art, media, culture, politics, and society in order
to uncover new scholarly approaches and methods that continue to
appropriate and recycle theories of trash*.

We welcome papers from postgraduate researchers considering the decayed,
disposed of, degraded and decried from a range of academic disciplines.
To coincide with * TRASH* at the University of Sussex the conference
organisers will also be curating an evening of art, film and music at The
Basement in central Brighton on Thursday 13th September. The evening will
be the welcome event for the conference and it will also provide the
opportunity to engage with and network around the theme of trash outside of
the academy.

We are seeking proposals for a range of contribution formats to be
considered for either the conference or the evening event:

· The following format will be considered for the one day conference at the
University of Sussex on Friday 14th September:

Ø 20 minute paper presentations.
· The following practise formats will be considered for the evening event
at The Basement in central Brighton on Thursday 13th September:
Ø Short film, video art and animation.
Ø Art, art installation, performance and photography.
Please send a Word document to * by Monday 16th July
2012 containing the following information:*
· Your name, institution and contact information.
· The format in which you wish to present your work (see above).
· 3-5 key words that indicate the main focus of your work.
· A 400 word abstract detailing the content of your work.
· A 100 word biography.

We also have two bursaries of £50 available to postgraduate students who
will be travelling from outside Brighton and contributing to the
conference. If you wish to apply for a bursary please attach a separate
Word document containing a 200 word statement. Please explain how and why
attending this conference will benefit your research and include an
estimate of your costs.

Conference registration will open in July, please check the blog for
details. The conference fees are £10 or £5 (students).

Email: **
Blog: **
Twitter: *@SCCS_*

Call for Papers, Icon Conference 2013: Positive Futures in an Uncertain World in partnership with the University of Glasgow

ICON Ethnography Group is hosting a half day session at the ICON Conference 2013, Glasgow, focusing on the shared materials between Ethnography and Natural History collections.  From plant to animal materials, Ethnographic and Natural History conservators frequently treat objects containing these shared materials.  How is the approach to treating these objects different or similar?  Can Ethnographic and Natural History conservators share techniques, and do they? We would like to use the similarity of materials as a starting point in order to explore approaches to the ethics, treatments and research relating to both Ethnographic and Natural History collections.  Moreover, can we increase our skills by actively collaborating over projects and research? Topics may include, but are not limited to - how pesticide-treated objects are managed within collections; pest damaged fur and feather objects and the options for reattachment; fading of organic pigments or mitigating damage from previous conservation treatments…

Deadlines for papers
Please send abstracts - max 300 words - by 10th September 2012 to
Paper presentations are expected to last for approximately 20 minutes.

Please include the names, addresses and email addresses of all authors and indicate the author for correspondence.

Papers will be selected by 10th October 2012.
Bookings open 1st September 2012.

Deadline for submission of papers to special conference issue of the Journal is 28th February 2013.

Conference papers will not be published but authors are invited to submit their papers for consideration for publication in the Spring 2014 issue of the Journal of the Institute of Conservation. Further information will be available on our website.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

2013 New York State’s Museums in Conversation: What Does it Mean to be Diverse?

April 14-16, 2013 – Doubletree Syracuse, New York
Sponsored by Museumwise: The Museum Association of New York

Museums in Conversation, the largest gathering of museum professionals in New York State is looking for your participation!

This is the conference where YOU do the talking! Your ideas and proposals form the basis of the conference program.

2013 Conference Theme: What Does it Mean to be Diverse?

Museums and heritage organizations all across the state are working every day with incredibly diverse populations:  Alzheimer’s patients, new immigrants, youth at risk (and their parents), and pre-schoolers and teens to name but a few.  Our institutions cultivate new generations of volunteers, board members and staff to bring fresh perspectives that revitalize our work.  Diversifying audiences, programs, collections, and community relationships begins with an organizational commitment that must be a shared responsibility.  How will you participate and help your peers through this important conversation?  Museums in Conversation encourages you to hold your ideas in the palm of your hand to allow them to be picked up and used by others!

Looking for ideas for a conversation?  How about:
        • Innovative Interpretation and Programming for Diverse Audiences
        • Using Common Core Standards to Reach New Classrooms
        • Attracting and Keeping Diverse Boards and Volunteer Staff
        • Getting Smaller Smarter (Part II) to Encourage Fresh Perspectives
        • Diversifying Collecting Missions and Permanent Collections
        • Making the Multi-generational Workplace Work for Everyone
        • Exhibits that Exceed the Needs of Audiences
        • Making Place and Space for Many Voices
        • Diversifying the Spreadsheet (fundraising/earned income ventures)
        • Marketing for Multiple Audiences

Workshops are opportunities to present practical, hands-on information and ideas.  They may be theme-based or not.  Here are some ideas for workshops:
        • Collection Management and Storage Solutions for Small Museums
        • Career Planning
        • Incorporating New Technology/Social Media
        • Developing Educational or Public Programming Using Non-Traditional Partnerships
        • Mission Review/Strategic Planning for Impact
        • Grant writing
        • Developing a Marketing Strategy and Plan

Full Proposal Deadline September 14: If you have a fully formed program proposal, you may fill out the proposal form and return it to Museumwise: The Museum Association of New York by September 14, 2012


Topic Proposal Deadline July 20: If you have an idea for a discussion topic but need assistance developing your presentation plan or finding additional contributors, fill out the topic-only proposal form and return it to Museumwise: The Museum Association of New York by July 20, 2012.

Selected topics received by that date will be distributed to Museumwise: The Museum Association of New York members. Others interested in participating in a particular topic presentation will contact the Lead Facilitator who submitted the session, and that person will select additional facilitators and complete a full proposal form by September 14, 2012.

NOTE: if you submit a discussion topic for the early deadline, you are responsible for facilitating that discussion and completing the full proposal form

We welcome proposals from a wide range of institutions and practitioners, within and outside the museum community, to encourage lively discussions that offer new perspectives on our work and create new connections to each other.

Visit our conference website ( for more details about submitting a proposal and to download the submission forms!

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Close Encounters of the Sixth-Century Kind: Some Musings on the Attraction of the Past through Imagination and Historical Empathy

What attracts us to the past?

When people ask what first inspired me to pursue a museum career, I often stumble upon this basic question. As PhD students, we are frequently told to demonstrate a clear ‘career trajectory’ on our CVs, as if our younger selves were inexorably drawn in one direction only; as if, historiographically speaking, it was inevitable that we would become this, or that. For some, of course, this may be true; for others, including myself, the reality is far messier. Yes, it would have been nice to have known from the age of 9 that I wanted to be a museum curator, and then I could have planned accordingly, but the truth is for the longest time I didn’t know precisely what I wanted to do. And, when I did know, I became ensnared in the dreaded ‘no experience, no job’ conundrum which continues to plague the young, aspiring museum professional. Yet, ironically, in exploring different career options, we build up precisely the multi-layered skills profile we are so often exhorted to cultivate in the current volatile financial and economic climate.

At 16, then, when I came to choose my A Levels, I was horribly conflicted. Sciences or humanities? I knew whatever choice I made would close down a whole host of other options. What if I got it wrong? My potential career options were all over the place. I was initially attracted to care-giving professions, and medicine excited me, but I knew I’d never make it as a doctor. My greatest strengths lay in writing, and the creative arts. So, in my head, I lurched from pharmacist to funeral director, journalist to intelligence officer. In the end, I fell back on the one thing that had been there all along, but which I had never once considered as providing the raw material for a career choice. My interest in history.

This started early. One of my earliest memories is of my mother reading me Beowulf as a bedtime story. I devoured books on Norse mythology, the Bible, the middle ages, fairy tales, sorcerers, dragons, other worlds both wonderful and strange. One of my favourite stories was Sleeping Beauty. I was fascinated by the idea that an entire world and all the people in it could be preserved intact for a century, and then re-awakened to life, even if the Prince in my edition was crass enough to point out that his bride’s wedding gown was now seriously out of fashion. I fantasized endlessly about discovering such a world for myself, a world unseen, and untouched by the present for many years. A timeless world that would not grow old as I would. A fantasy to escape to whenever reality was dull, or threatening.  At play in my imaginary world, I was again conflicted as to my role. Princess or knight? Sorceress, or necromancer? Would I ride a wyvern into battle, or a winged horse?

Detail from a 1920 edition of Sleeping Beauty, illustrated by Arthur Rackham

As a child, I didn’t visit many museums. My only clear memories consist of visiting places in the open air, such as Welsh castles in the drizzling rain, or staring out from the car window in mild awe at Stonehenge we drove past it on the way to Devon and Cornwall for our yearly holiday.

Once, I was taken to visit Flambards, a theme park in Helston, Cornwall. I must have been about 5 or 6 years old. My parents mentioned they were taking me to visit a Victorian street, and I remember looking forward to this enormously. When I got there, I was rather disappointed. It was supposed to be a reconstructed cobbled street, lit by a gas lamp and populated by rows of shops on either side, but it felt disjointed, dark, and empty. The model of a horse standing at a jaunty angle by the lamp post was just a model of a horse. In short, it had no life in it. I had a tendency to take things quite literally as a child, and to invest what I read or heard with my own imagination, which was often richer than what I perceived with my senses. I felt cheated. This wasn’t ‘the past’, or the gateway to some Narnian world I could inhabit.

But then I found the Chemist’s Shop. For some reason, it caught my attention, and held it. My mother leaned down and whispered to me, ‘This one is real’. I peered through the grainy windows, nose to the glass, at the rows and rows of coloured bottles, silent sentries, covered in dust and what were probably false cobwebs, but this time, the ersatz things didn’t matter. Something else was happening. A sudden and startling revelation that these were the material remnants of a world which had existed long before I was born. It was real, after all, and I was close enough to reach out my hand and touch it. Was this brought about by the knowledge that this had, indeed, been a chemist’s shop found boarded up and intact after nearly a hundred years, moved and put back together again? I can’t say. But from that moment, as far as I can tell, I was hooked, unwittingly, on museums.

Last Tuesday, I embarked upon a research trip to Uppsala, Sweden, to see one of the best-preserved kunstchränke, or art cupboards, to survive from the seventeenth century. This miniature cabinet of curiosity is not only a work of art in its own right, it also contains a huge number and variety of objects, from a tiny apothecary’s chest to a harpsichord which can be programmed to play 5 pieces of music mechanically. I had encountered the thing so often in photographs and digital interactives, it was like greeting an old friend.

At the end of the day, having caused my camera to malfunction from the number of pictures I was kindly permitted to take by the Museum Gustavianum, I took a bus to a place which has held a special place in my imagination since I first read about it in 2002, while researching my undergraduate dissertation on Norse hero myths. Gamla Uppsala, or ‘Old’ Uppsala, was the site on which the city was first founded, as well as the first cathedral. Before that, it had been used as a pagan burial site, and, most intriguingly, was rumoured by medieval chroniclers such as Adam of Bremen to be a site sacred to the Aesir, the Norse pantheon led by Odin All-Father, god of wisdom and of war, and to have contained a great temple and a sacrificial grove in which humans and animals were offered up to the gods. In later times, this place was to be the last bastion of the old religion in Europe, a true götterdämmerung.

Whether or not this ancient place was really sacred to the likes of Odin, Thor and Frey is contested by historians who point out that Adam and his fellow chroniclers were relying heavily upon hearsay when it came to the description of the temple and the grove, but as I approached this quiet spot, the long path winding between the sixth-century barrows, and only the wind faintly stirring the long grasses, I felt almost an electric charge. The sky was dark, and threatening rain, the onsite Museum was closed, and there were few people about. Was it merely my foreknowledge of the site, my excitement and anticipation at finally standing in the very spot I had read so avidly about ten years ago, or just my overactive imagination again? I wonder. Certainly it was no special gift or talent of mine – I am not religious, and have the psychic sensitivity of a rock – the place was special to a particular community, long ago, I had felt it, and that was that. 

 Sixth-century barrows at Old Uppsala

 'New' Uppsala seen from the Old

But what was it that I had felt, exactly? There is a thing I like to call historical empathy, although most historians would not use the term quite in this sense: a thing which only lasts a few moments, but serves, for a fraction of a second, to break down the barriers separating our world from the worlds which existed before it, or on its cusp. It is born of the collision of one world with another. Many writers and artists have described a similar feeling, from Henry Fuseli to H. G. Wells. Whatever it is, it opens up an immense emotional gulf within the onlooker, who suddenly feels simultaneous elation at their unexpected moment of closeness to a vanished world, and a cavernous sense of loss at its destruction. Suddenly, the past has become personal. This was our world, once, and never, never, can we get it back again. The prompts do not have to be grandiose, and could be the most everyday things in the world, but they are almost always material. How else could the sight of an unbroken row of Victorian chimney pots on a widow’s walk reduce me almost to tears on one occasion? 

Henry Fuseli, The Artist Moved by the Grandeur of Ancient Ruins, 1778-9

Could it be a form of extreme nostalgia, or the uncanny, and their variants? It can be emotional, but this emotion, for me, does not rise from the knowledge of traumatic events inspiring human pity, although this does frequently occur, but rather more a sense of the pathos of the past itself. Yet these moments are rare, and precious, and may not manifest themselves for many years at a time.

Irrational and romantic they may be, but I wonder not only what they are, but how widespread they are, and how they affect not just how we look at the past, but how we work with it in our museums. They are certainly not quantifiable, or measurable – one could never cite them as an output – and yet it is moments such as these that drive us on, spur entire careers perhaps, just to feel the nearness of the past in the present once more. The past is not a dead concern; rather, it is teeming with life for those that have encountered it. The development of a language with which to describe it, however, I leave to those more eloquent than I.

‘You may think me superstitious, if you will, and foolish; but indeed, I am more than half convinced that he had, in truth, an abnormal gift, and a sense, something – I know not what – that in the guise of wall and door offered him an outlet, a secret and peculiar passage of escape into another and altogether more beautiful world’.

H. G. Wells, The Door in the Wall, 1911