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

Sunday, August 25, 2013

iSay: Visitor-Generated Content in Heritage Institutions

New Conference (and free) coming up in Leicester.

LocationSchool of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, UK
Dates11-12 September 2013

The focus of this iSay event is on the ethical, legal and epistemological frameworks that govern VGC, concerning itself with the practicalities of ‘generating’ visitor content. By exploring issues of IPR, ownership and maintenance of VGC as well as museum ethics pertinent to the integration, archiving and disposal of VGC, we are seeking to explore and address the tensions between museums’ aspiration to embrace VGC on one hand, and their anxieties over maintaining quality and trustworthiness.
Keynote speakers:
Naomi Korn (IP Consultant and Chair, Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance)
Mike Ellis (Thirty8 Digital)
Dr Janet Marstine (University of Leicester) 
Registration for the event is free. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

No Salad for Long Distance Runners

The PhD Journey and the Time Factor

Some weeks before I started my PhD journey I had met a woman at a friend’s birthday party. The atmosphere was great, the food delicious. She asked me what I was doing and I said – proudly – that I would begin taking a PhD soon. That I was looking forward very much to this adventure, my only fear (I said “horror” to be precise) was that it might take too many years. I knew some people who had needed six or even more years to finish! “And”, I asked her, taking a second helping of the spaghetti carbonara, “what are you doing?” “Well”, she replied, gripping her glass perhaps a little bit too tense, “I am doing my PhD. For eight years now.”

Cut. Three years later. Looking back, I could not blame her if she had hated me then. I was young and innocent and could not know what taking a PhD really means. Now I know and time has become if not an enemy so at least a threatening shadow on the wall. 

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane /
I take my PhD part time and according to a survey recently published I am perfectly in time. But for some weeks relatives have started to ask how long it will still take to complete. And talking the last time to my supervisor she commented wisely that I should allow the timetable to make the choices. I totally agree and I am aware of the reasons why it makes sense not to spend too long writing a thesis. There is, of course, always the danger to get lost in the jungle of ambitions, facts, perfectionism, fear and pure confusion. Besides, at one level I cannot wait until I can turn to other things because taking a PhD means making sacrifices which I would summarise under the heading “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” and I guess you who share the PhD experience can easily connect to this. 

But: I love to take my time thinking. Perhaps it is nearly impossible to explain to somebody who has not gone through this experience and who is not familiar with doing research what is so time-consuming in reading, writing and doing fieldwork. From the beginning on I had the feeling that somebody stood behind me with a stop watch in his hands, tapping his feet impatiently on the floor, when I tried to understand a challenging article or had to excerpt a text. This feeling became worse when I started working on the case studies. I have to analyse films which includes transcribing them first. Every time I pressed the stop key felt like a test of courage because I asked myself if this detail or that scene was really important enough to describe because it would rob me some more minutes from my precious time account. 

My experience has been so far that doing the PhD means living constantly in a tension between the pressure to HURRY and the wish to REFLECT. And even though, as explained, I accept the mundane reasons for progressing decisively, the most important milestones of my research arose from the hours I spent with just a pad and a pencil excogitating. Every single time felt like a victory over this bloody shadow on the wall.

In the early years of my career I came to sit during a lunch break at a conference at the same table as a man who I learned soon was the director of a museum in my neighbourhood. I am a slow eater and during our conversation I was in a cold sweat because I wanted to cut a fine figure and had to struggle with the unmanageable salad I had ordered foolishly. Observing my struggle he commented at some point: “My father always said: Who eats slowly, works slowly.” Even though he offered me – mysterious ways – a job, I learned my lesson and since then I eat at conferences and similar events only things which I can consume in dynamic sips, but in my heart I am still a person who likes to enjoy her salad lettuce leaf by lettuce leaf.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Greetings from Berlin XI

Answers denied

An uncomfortable exhibition in the Jewish Museum Berlin

 A Rabbi is asked why Jews always answer a question with another question. "Why not?", he replies. 
Reading this text written in large letters on a wall even before the real beginning of the exhibition “The Whole Truth …everything you always wantedto know about Jews” I should have been warned. In retrospect I can only wonder why I was so naïve to expect real answers to the questions I have about being Jewish. 
I totally agree
But when I entered the first exhibition room I was confident to find facts and stories which would explain to me some aspects of Jewry I always had puzzled about. I was especially curious to meet the Jewish person which I knew was “exhibited” to answer questions of the audience. Would I have the courage to talk to him or her? How would I feel communicating with a human being exposed in a showcase? 

When I entered the first room I nearly stumbled about questions which were projected on the floor, like: 

What makes someone Jewish?
Are all Jews religious?
How can you recognize a Jew?
Is it possible for a Jew to be the German Federal President?

I went to the first exhibition unit, dealing with the question why Jews are the chosen people and thought that I just did not get the answer because I am not well-informed about theological issues. I did not understand what the exhibited Thora scroll in combination with one quotation from the Bible and another from Martin Buber should teach me. 

The Thora scroll
When I found the meaning of the second exhibition unit, dealing with the question “Why does everyone love the Jews?”, even more confusing I was frustrated. 

Why oranges?
Standing in front of unit number four – “Is a German allowed to criticize Israel?” – I suddenly got it! The showcase depicted a muzzle for German shepherds. 

The muzzle
Then I realised that the objects and quotations were not selected to give answers but to show that there is no single “true” answer to such complicated and charged questions. I would lie claiming that I enjoyed this moment of realisation and I felt like being made to look silly, perhaps because I am German. So I continued my tour a little bit sulky. But after having understood the principle of the exhibition I began to enjoy the contradictions and provoking exhibits. 

Installation with a variety of hats

Interactive unit
Somehow it fit in with the experience that the Jewish person did not sit in the showcase designed for him or her. Do you guess why? Because it was Shabatt. 

"Are there still Jews in Germany?"