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.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections: The Crisis of Cultural Authority

Since the late 1970s human remains in museum collections have been subject to claims and controversies, such as demands for repatriation by indigenous groups who suffered under colonization. These requests have been strongly contested by scientists who research the material and consider it unique evidence.

This book charts the influences at play on the contestation over human remains and examines the construction of this problem from a cultural perspective. It shows that claims on dead bodies are not confined to once colonized groups. A group of British Pagans, Honouring the Ancient Dead, formed to make claims on skeletons from the British Isles. And ancient human remains, bog bodies and Egyptian mummies, which have not been requested by any group, have become the focus of campaigns initiated by members of the profession, at times removed from display in the name of respect.

By drawing on empirical research including extensive interviews with the claims-making groups, ethnographic work, document, media, and policy analysis, Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections demonstrates that strong internal influences do in fact exist. The only book to examine the construction of contestation over human remains from a sociological perspective, it advances an emerging area of academic research, setting the terms of debate, synthesizing disparate ideas, and making sense of a broader cultural focus on dead bodies in the contemporary period.


You can get this HERE

Spring Courses in Cultural Resource Management

Opportunities to balance work and study for museum and heritage professionals …

Cultural Resource Management at the University of Victoria offers engaging and accessible online courses that strengthen you capacity to be effective in the workplace. Courses can be taken on a non-credit basis or for credit toward a Diploma in Cultural Resource Management.



Please register by December 13, 2010 to ensure your materials arrive on time. To find out more and to register, please visit our website: http://www.uvcs.uvic.ca/cultural/courses/upcoming/



Spring 2011 at a Glance
Spring term courses run from January 10 to April 17, 2011

Museum Principles and Practices II: Instructor: Deborah Tuyttens
Learn about the diverse ways in which museums present exhibitions, programming and outreach activities to fulfill their mandates.

Managing Cultural Organizations: Instructor: Carrie Brooks-Joiner
Develop critical management skills to support all aspects of your practice in museums or cultural heritage organizations.

Curatorship: Instructor: Beth Carter
Examine contemporary curatorial concepts and practices in collections planning, research, analysis, documentation and exhibition development.

Building Community Relationships: Instructor: Elizabeth Kidd
Build your knowledge and skills to facilitate meaningful community cultural and social development activities.

Determining Significance: Instructor: Alastair Kerr
Explore a values-based framework for conservation decision-making that supports heritage conservation planning and management.



The Cultural Management Program also offers intensive 6-day on-campus courses for museum & heritage professionals. Learn more on our website about our courses, and our diploma program. http://www.uvcs.uvic.ca/cultural/

2011 DigCCurr Public Symposium

The 2011 DigCCurr Public Symposium - Curate Me: Stewardship of Personal
Digital Archives is now open for registration.

Date: January 7, 2011
Time: 8:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Location: Pleasants Family Assembly Room, Wilson Library, UNC-CH
Price: $45, includes coffee breaks and boxed lunch
Register:
http://cfx.research.unc.edu/res_classreg/browse_single.cfm?New=1&event=513A1
2E904EF9455E079DCE306859A3DDC0EE38E


About the Symposium
* Explore strategies for:
* Integrating personal digital information into a curation workflow
* Guiding individuals to manage their own collections of digital content
* Engaging audiences with collections of personal digital information
* Meet other professionals working with digital collections and personal
information
* Participate in collaborative group discussions with attendees and panel
speakers

This one-day event will include panel discussions with experts and
interactive group sessions.

Panelists include:
* Cal Lee and Helen Tibbo, professors at the School of Information and
Library Science UNC-Chapel Hill
* Cathy Marshall, Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research's Silicon Valley
Lab
* Nancy McGovern, the Digital Preservation Officer for the Inter-University
Consortium for Political and Social Research
* Naomi Nelson, Director of the Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special
Collections Library at Duke University
* Jeff Ubios, The Bassetti Foundation


For more information and to register for this event, visit
http://ils.unc.edu/digccurr/symposium2011.html
.


Partially supported by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, grant
# RE-05-08-0060-08.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Museobunny and his PhD colleagues are pleased as punch to announce that the website for Curiouser and Curiouser is now live and available for browsing!

http://www2.le.ac.uk/projects/curiouser

At the moment we are still working on some aspects of the site, such as the draft programme, so don't forget to keep checking for news and additions to the site.

We have also started a new blog for the symposium which will keep you up to date with everything taking place in Wonderland:

http://museobunny.blogspot.com/

We hope to see you there in March 2011!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Of Cabinets and Calendars

Hope everybody had a good weekend.

Part of mine was spent looking at new exhibitions in old cabinets in the Small Collections Room at Nottingham Contemporary as recommended to me by J at the start of term- thank you J!

Occupying the sort of space one might ascribe to a large wardrobe, this box room is appropriately situated in a study area and contains four cabinets from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries containing exhibitions by three contemporary artists.


I wasn't much taken with the lumpen artefacts of Des Hughes, but adored the eighteenth and nineteenth-century micromosaics (once a means of creating stable copies of a painting, but later fashioned into jewellery and trinkets for foreign tourists) as exhibited by Fabrizio Manacorda, which work wonderfully well within their current setting. Enticing the cabinet to give up its secrets with its wobbly, stuck or squeaky drawers and missing handles was all part of the fun, and magnifying glasses were provided so you can really appreciate the craftsmanship of the objects when they emerge into the light.

Trevor Paglen's covert military patches in the final cabinet were another interesting treatment of the cabinet's association with signs, symbols and esoteric knowledge, and his interpretations illuminate some mildly disturbing yet wryly humourous insignia.

Sadly, there was little information on the cabinets themselves, which perhaps would have given a greater insight into the nature of the artists' interaction with them.

I did enjoy opening up the middle section of the second largest cabinet, however- on a superficial note, and because I just bought an advent calendar, it put me in mind of opening the final window as you always know it's going to be something good! Inside was a miniature architectural space- a black-and-white tiled, mirrored enclosure, flanked by black pillars and reflecting both the physical space of the box room and endless spaces leading off into infinity. It was just marvellous, and my first experience of re-opening a cabinet of the old school.







Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Porous City

Imagine that the city you live in is riddled with tunnels and incursions, almost as much air below you as solid rock. Since being a child, I have been fascinated by caverns and grottos, these hidden spaces which are at once terrifying and yet, on some primal level, deeply evocative. Nottingham is such a city, a city built on caves, a fantastical underground world below the modern streets.

Go, look, and watch the videos. Geoff Manaugh does a great job of poeticizing about them here. The official Nottingham Caves blog is here.

In praise of libraries

Here's a thoughtful and passionate piece about the symbolic value of libraries in the BBC's Point of View column. Gudrun and I saw a couple of gorgeous early libraries a couple of weeks ago in Dublin (Trinity College, and Marsh's Library); both of us were deeply moved, as there is a very visceral beauty in seeing and smelling the sum of human knowledge so enshrined. You just don't get that with a Kindle. In Leicester, the beautiful Central Library building on Belvoir Street (originally built as a Baptist Church in 1845) is closing over Christmas, both jobs and books are disappearing as a result, and with them, opportunities for self-improvement and sheer pleasure. I'm afraid that the social project that saw the increase in public access to literacy and printed resources is disappearing for good. Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating for the return of some mythical disappeared Golden Age, but it is clear that the so-called Big Society cannot succeed in a culture where a strong philanthropic tradition based on religious and moral beliefs no longer prevails among the economic elite. When neither the liberal nor conservative rich are interested nor have the resources (thanks to the institution of income tax) to support public resources such as charity schools, lending libraries, social housing, and medical/social care, on the scale that is necessary for innovation but also sustainability, then the government has to step up and do so instead. That is its job and responsibility. Cutting these services isn't an option; I really believe that. There is no personal or economic freedom to be gained from letting these things go.

Moving On from the V&A

One of my favourite places in the whole world, the V&A, is going to get some new leadership soon. It has been announced that Sir Mark Jones, the museum's director over the past decade, is leaving to take up a post as Master of St Cross College at Oxford in September 2011. New leadership always means new priorities: what do you love about the V&A, and what do you wish they could change or improve?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lottery Winners

Scraping in just before the funding crackdown, the newest winners of Heritage Lottery funding are indeed lucky. The Dicken's Museum will receive money for restoration and expansion. The other winners are as follows:
House Mill, the largest remaining tidal mill in the world, in Bromley-by-Bow, east London, has been given preliminary approval for a £2.65m grant, including an immediate £248,000 to develop restoration plans.

Castle Drogo, in Exeter, Devon, the last castle built in England, was given a first-round pass of £2.5m, while the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland was given initial support for a £1.8m grant, including £165,000 in development funding.

Dunfermline, the Scottish capital between the 11th and 15th centuries, was given initial support for a £2.8m grant, of which £24,000 was given immediately. A heritage and cultural centre is being planned in the town.

Curiouser and Curiouser - hard at work shortlisting!

Museobunny is definitely looking forward to putting his paws up with a nice cup of carrot tea this Sunday. He and his helper bunnies have been hard at work reading through abstract submissions for Curiouser and Curiouser all this week. Apart from the UK and US, they have read proposals from as far away as Mexico, Serbia, South Korea, Estonia, Norway, Turkey, the Netherlands, Ireland, New Zealand, Argentina, Australia, Croatia, the Philippines, Italy, Iran, and even Indonesia! Museobunny has had to refresh his geography knowledge, though he shouldn't be surprised that all these countries value their heritage so much! There was 59 proposals, more than double of what the helper bunnies can fit into the conference programme, and Museobunny's whiskers drooped sadly every time it looked like an abstract would have to be declined, because they were all so interesting! Frankly, Museobunny is emotionally and intellectually drained; he has delegated the responsibility of sending out acceptances and rejections to his helper bunnies. He is sure they will do a good job of putting up the museum website, sending out speaker information, and registration details in the next couple of weeks, while he has a nice refreshing hop around a nearby museomeadow.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Restoration, Italian-Style

No, it's not a re-release of some Sophia Loren farce from the 60s featuring a political dicator and dubious conservation practices. It is the latter but in real life, and it's not at all farcical. You see, everyone's favourite septuagenerian lustful leader, Sylvio Belusconi, has ordered the restoration of ancient Roman statues in his house; it's the sort of clean-up job they preferred in the 18th century, and that the Italians used to excel in, especially when they were duping rich English lords looking to buy antiquities during their Grand Tour. He's ordered the addition of a hand and an *ahem* 'member' for Venus and Mars. Now apart from its amusing appropriateness for the PM's persona, it is a deeply problematic act. The statues seem to have been deaccessioned from a museum and now enhance Berlusconi's cultural capital at home, but experts are outraged because reconstructing antiquities is no longer considered a 'done thing' in conservation, and moreover, Berlusconi ordered cuts of over 40% for the arts budget in Italy, something that means that the country's already crumbling antiquities have no chance of even the most minor preservation work. Oh dear, oh dear...

The Physical and the Virtual Museum Remain Divided

Brown Bag 17th November 2010

“Museums, Communities and the Internet: Digital Reciprocation”

Carl Hogsden


When Ross Parry first met Carl Hogsden 6 years ago, Mr. Hogsden was already thinking about stretching the potential of web-based technology for museums and how this might re-shape object interpretation, audience engagement and collections knowledge. Today, Mr. Hogsden divides his time between curatorial responsibilities in his capacity as a Research Associate at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge (MAA), and technological development within the museums sector.

He is currently technical lead and project manager for Artefacts of Encounter, a three year project investigating how digital technology can be used to develop networks between museums, objects and their source communities, and how this approach might also generate new knowledge about collections.

More specifically, Artefacts of Encounter focuses upon objects collected during European and American voyages to Polynesia between 1765 and 1840, and seeks to (virtually) reunite dispersed artefacts with their surviving documentation and archival material, such as images and texts. It also draws historical connections between these early encounters while exploring their meaning and legacy for Maori communities today. Finally, it provides a means of making new associations between seemingly disparate objects, via algorithms and researcher and fieldwork data from a number of participating institutions worldwide, such as the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

Mr. Hogsden makes the point that many museums have paid lip-service to government demands for greater accessibility and inclusivity in the virtual as well as the physical museum, and have, for example, posted great reams of information about their collections online, but have neglected to involve the voice of the community in the process. For this reason, he argues, there exists a divide between the digital museum and its physical counterpart, citing as another example the anthropology galleries at MAA, which, he feels, are still very much dominated by the voice of curatorial authority.

Mr. Hogsden also questions the wisdom of the global scale of many virtual museum projects, and argues that smaller-scale, targeted and collaborative outreach projects that can be replicated are of more use to both museums and communities than large scale projects which generate user content which is rarely of any use to the physical museum. An early experiment which involved Mr. Hogsden designing and building a website for MAA’s exhibition on the 1934 Wordie Arctic expedition failed to engage with Inuit communities by inviting visitor feedback and comments on the collection solely through an online comments form with no collaboration or prior contact with the community. Also, the vast majority of comments left by non-Inuit visitors did not add to collections knowledge in any way, and therefore had no impact upon the day-to-day work of the physical museum. Thus, although this exercise had made a particular collection more accessible to some, it was not truly participatory, instead serving to distance the community it had wanted to engage.

Mr. Hogsden’s team of researchers are currently working in partnership with the Maori community Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti in collaboration with their arts management team, the Toi Hauiti. This community were largely based in Tolaga Bay, New Zealand, around the time of Captain Cook’s first voyage (1768-71), but are now dispersed across a wide geographic area. The team hope to use digital technology as both a tool and a catalyst for building sustainable and reciprocal relationships with the community on an equal footing, rather than falling back on traditional models which hold that the museum retains the control and ownership of information which it then disseminates as it sees fit.

For instance, the Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti wish to set up a web archive for the use of their community, and particularly for the benefit of younger members whose awareness of their Maori heritage is not as great. Access to this system is to be strictly in accordance with the Maori tradition of proving one’s Whakapapa, or lineage. Ultimately, Mr. Hogsden hopes that his approach will lead to better curatorial practice, by demonstrating through digital reciprocation that source communities must be given autonomy in determining what information they wish to share, or not, with the museum and its partners. Only by sharing control and ownership at a local level, he argues, do we truly create a working partnership of equals.

There have also been some exciting developments in other areas. Recently, MAA developed their collections management system into an open-source web platform, inviting direct contributions by opening up a number of object fields such as names, descriptions and contexts to researchers and other institutions. The museum also releases data on a regular basis. As part of the Reciprocal Research Network, a co-developed web research site by four first-nations communities from British Columbia, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia and thirteen partner institutions, partners can be notified when MAA changes an object record, but as their databases can also talk to the museum’s database, they are free to access and retrieve data whenever they choose, and interpret it in new ways.

All of these observations led to a very interesting discussion about the possibilities and limitations of digital technology for museums. While Mr. Hogsden acceded that initial contact with source communities was by necessity physical, and at least partially dependent on pre-existing connections as well as anthropological expertise, digital technology made continued contact a viable possibility through long-distance working with communities and colleagues all over the world and the instantaneous and dynamic exchange of data, as well as enabling the dispersed Tolaga Bay community to reconnect with each other over common ground.

In discussing the implications of Mr. Hogsden’s work for the museum sector as a whole, Sandra Dudley recognized that while it is not the case that all curators would perceive digital reciprocation as a loss of control, it does pose some very difficult questions surrounding the authorship of what is said about culturally-sensitive objects.

Mr. Hogsden explained that the museum’s core data remains unchanged; extra information from non-museum sources is added as an overlay, and can be removed. Personally, I would argue that this still presents problems for the seamless integration of poly-vocality into the fabric of museums and in bridging the divide between the physical and virtual space of the museum. Issues of access protocol and content ownership also present challenges.

Certainly, digital technology has proven itself a valuable and powerful tool in engaging and collaboratively working with source communities, but only when used in tandem with face-to-face contact, fieldwork and the physical handling of objects as well. For example, in reconnecting the Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti with the artefacts of historic encounters, the team noted how important it was for them to be able to touch the objects, and what an emotional experience it was for them. Finally, as Ross Parry observed, digital space is not by definition neutral space, but if the community themselves were to own and run that space then this is a potentially empowering tool which could also be sustainable beyond the life of the project.

This was an interesting talk which raises some important questions about the ways in which museums build relationships and ‘conversations’ with all communities, not just those with a special interest in a particular collection, and whether it is possible for museums to be truly democratic institutions if the sharing of knowledge, curatorial authority and the ownership of material culture remains an impossible dream for some of them.

Our thanks go to Carl Hogsden for taking the time to speak to us today, and we hope to hear more about the development of the Artefacts of Encounter project in due course.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lost Villages

I'm fascinated by the idea of lost places, lost villages - and this has been piqued by finding this post on the Brum Conservation Blog - and then following that this site. Does anyone know of any lost Leicestershire Villages? I'm thinking Museobunny likes this too...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Leicestershire Revealed


More local museology for you all; Leicestershire County Council, following the BBC's good example, has started a project called Leicestershire Revealed. You can vote on your favourite out of 100 objects that tell a story about Leicestershire's heritage online here, comment and win a free passport to county museums for 2011. The deadline is November 30th.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pin a Piece of History

Pin a Piece of History

I just found this via the good old Birmingham Conservation Trust. Sadly, I've seen nothing near the city centre here in Leiecester - let get to work!

The Attic: Witching Hour

The Attic: Witching Hour

http://www.bmag.org.uk/news?id=129

Witching Hour

Hello everyone,

I hope you're all enjoying a pleasant Remembrance Sunday afternoon.

I was just thinking about the weird and wonderful in museums and heritage in connection with our forthcoming PhD symposium, Curiouser and Curiouser, and wondered if anybody managed to catch the 4 day Witching Hour exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery's Waterhall Gallery. Billed as a multi-media exhibition about the 'disconcerting, strange and uncanny that exists in our built environment, our social fabric and in our own minds', it features 20 artists from Birmingham and the West Midlands, and closes today.

If you saw it, I'd be so interested to hear your thoughts!

Friday, November 12, 2010

DCMS Masterplan Unveiled

Well, we saw it coming - the axe has fallen. Here in the UK, the Department of Media, Culture and Sport, which oversees museum funding, has unveiled its budgetary priorities for the coming years. Former Leicester student and fellow Tumblr-er Museums and Stuff has excellent commentary.
Also on Tumblr, ClassisistMike (whose videos we have featured before) points our attention to AAM's Speak Up For Museums campaign. Activism for cultural heritage in the USA: we can get behind that.

Curiouser and Curiouser - last call for proposals!

Museobunny would like to remind his gentle readers that Monday is the deadline for proposals for his upcoming Curiouser&Curiouser conference. His minions inform him that some excellent proposals have been received so far, but he wishes to hear more about eccentric collections, kooky collectors, wacky museums, and unusual heritage attractions from all over the world. He points you again to the CFP and admonishes you to send in your ideas for presentations, traditional and otherwise!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Save the Museum of Oxford

I've just come back from a trip to Oxford, and I'm a little bit heartsick. The reason for this follows...

The shiny, high profile stories of the Ashmolean's reopening, and the newly developed Pitt Rivers Museum, mask the sad truth that the Museum of Oxford is under threat. This is, in my experience, the only museum in Oxford that really tells the story of the city in any great detail. It looks a little shabby, sure. It could do with a lick of paint. But it has the potential to be a great heart for the community. Indeed, it has a beating heart of its own - the volunteer docents are hugely passionate and dedicated.

Its an LEA museum, so unlike the others it does not have a university to underwrite its financial problems. Yes, there are money problems, yes, the museum is not as tidy or as publicized, or as visited as some of its neighbours. But please, don't loose your museum Oxford Council, your museum with the Death Mask of Cromwell, your museum with passion, with a heart - the museum that isn't about the university, but about your city.

I'd like people to write to the Council to support the museum, if they would. I'd be truly sad if this went, and the collection was broken up or sold off.

So go on, just for Oxford the city - a place often masked by the academy with which it shares space.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Greetings from Berlin 1

I am a new PhD student and I enjoy to explore the universe of the School of Museum Studies. As a distance learner the virtual world is extremely important for me so I want to contribute my share and send you from time to time "Greetings from Berlin".
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
One of my favourite museums in Berlin is “A museum of things” (Museum der Dinge) in Kreuzberg because of its sophisticated exhibitions which are always presented highly aesthetically. That should not be a surprise: the museum is at the same time the archive of the “Deutscher Werkbund”, an organization founded in 1907 to promote the quality and aesthetic demanding design of industrial products. A huge part of the permanent exhibition is thusly dedicated to explore through dense arrangements of everyday objects the concept of the “Werkbund”. The other part is used to show objects combined under certain headings like “body shapes”. In this way aspects like material, function or form are highlighted. Both parts are presented as an “Open Storage” and indeed the exhibition possesses the intimacy and magic of a hidden place which you are invited to explore on your own. The exhibits communicate strongly with each other: even though every object has of course its fixed place, they seem to jump from one cupboard to the other. The black-and-yellow vase is displayed together with other black-and-yellow things but seems to crave for standing among other “kitschy” vases and why shouldn’t it be presented in the cupboard labeled “body shapes”? In challenging the ideas of the institution “museum” – especially with its temporary exhibitions –“A museum of things” is rather unique in the Berlin museum landscape. But there is definitely no other museum in the German capital which trains the view of the visitors so well for what I would call the “thinginess” of things.

http://www.museumderdinge.de/

Friday, November 05, 2010

NaMu book!

Attic alumna Amy is a coeditor on the just-published-today National Museums book, and was kind enough to share the 20% off discount with us. Click and save!

From Diverse Locales to Diversity Within

Brown Bag 3rd November 2010

“Celebrating Diversity in Museums”
Dr. Atul K. Shah

As part of his Epic Masala Tour of Great Britain, Dr Shah of Diverse Ethics was kind enough to come and talk to us about his work, and his campaign. Diverse Ethics encourages and supports diversity of all kinds in workplaces of all kinds. But Dr. Shah has a particular interest in the cultural sector.

Though historically his work has not been based specifically around museums, he has gradually become involved with various cultural organizations such as the V&A and the MLA as a consultant and Board Member. As such, he examines, and tries to combat, the reasons behind the disparity between the diverse, global collections of the UK’s museums and the demographics of their staff. By redressing this balance, he believes that interpretations of objects and museums can be augmented and enhanced. This enrichment, and how it might be achieved, is at the core of Dr. Shah’s presentation.

Humans are subjective creatures, with emotional, imaginative and religious lives, which workplaces frequently subdue. For the workplace is a place of institutionalised, subconscious prejudice – not just for people from ethnic minorities, but for everyone. Most workers suffer some kind of ‘identity stress,’ because when at work they are not able to express their full character, and must place a mask upon themselves in a number of ways. Removing this mask seems to be Dr. Shah’s aim. Personally, I suspect that there are reasons for the mask, and that the unfettered release of the people behind might not make for the most productive workplace. I do, however, agree that there should be places in which that diversity is expressed, and certainly the creative sector is one of those most open to such expression. But how best to go about this? How can cultures and interpretations be appropriately encouraged to manifest themselves, and how can we learn from this expression to enrich the lives that we lead day to day?

Recent MLA reports, such as New Directions in Social Policy: Cultural Diversity for museums, libraries and archives suggest that there are many ways in which this might be done. Encouraging a more diverse workforce is certainly one strategy, but the route to doing so is not simple, for there are many reasons which lie behind a lack of diversity in museum staffing. This might be a lack of desire or interest, or perhaps cultural value sets in which the museum, a historically Western institution, plays little established role. However, Dr. Shah suggests another reason, one which it is perhaps more possible to change. Communities often feel separated and distanced from the objects which museums present, partly down to the standard mode of presentation and interpretation which museums employ. As products of the Enlightenment, he argues that they have tended to approach the interpretation of objects and concepts from a very objective stance, which misses out much of the other truths which those objects can and do express. Perhaps by encouraging more collaborative approaches, and community engagement programmes, we might fill such gaps.

Seeking to encourage collaboration between cultural institutions and living cultures, Dr. Shah has brought to the sector his embodied experience as a person of faith. As a Jain, he has spent his life using, loving, and physically engaging with beautiful objects which might, in the museum, be aestheticized and thus removed from life. He wants to return this physical connection to the museum and its artefacts, but he also wants to bring back those less tangible aspects of faith and emotion. In attempts to achieve this, he regularly runs guided walks of places of faith, such as the Jain Temple in London, to which he has taken members of the MLA board, and indeed Viv said that even as a non-Jain, visiting the Temple in Leicester with Dr. Shah has deeply enriched her experience of a space which she already loved for its artistry.

There are, of course, things which cannot always be controlled, nor should they be. Engagements with objects in cultural institutions, though always mediated are, in my opinion, also always subjective and interpretive. Whilst the museum can encourage a particular ‘way of seeing,’ there are aspects of the lives and minds which are looking and feeling which it cannot control. Nor should it attempt to – in Dr. Shah’s opinion, it is worse to steal an interpretation of an object than it is to steal the object itself, for then you are invading not only the physical, but also the personal, private mental world, and that is a true moral crime. Whilst I value deeply what Dr. Shah says, and consider it vital that we engage with the cultural and faith based aspects of works in museums, I do not think that the aesthetic or scientific interpretation of an object should be given any less credence for precisely this reason. For any display, any objectification, any use, is a mediation, a particular subjective angle on an idea or product, and this should in no way be forgotten. Faiths, as Dr. Shah suggests, are truths of a kind, and so, in my view, are the existing interpretations which we have. Interpretations should recognise the value of each other, and not become blinkered by their own worth.

For many things can potentially benefit from a more open approach to interpretation. Dr. Shah holds the opinion that this approach can help to alleviate some of the most serious social problems of our time – mental illness, moral crises and parenting difficulties to name but a few. By approaching objects and interpretations with what he refers to as a ‘borderless mind,’ we can borrow and share so much from each other which might help our world.

It is so refreshing to hear someone talk about the power of cultural institutions in such positive terms, and it is nice to know and to see that there are activities which encourage this kind of engagement and diversity. The V&A, for instance, have been running programmes with Jain communities for a long time now, and there are more and more such programmes springing up across the country, with various degrees of success. The impetus should, however, come from both sides, and we need to encourage both museums and communities to operate with borderless minds, to learn about the knowledge and joy with which each might furnish the other. Fear of engagement with difference is partly, I think, down to a fear of losing yourself and your identity, but Dr. Shah thinks that there is no need to be so afraid. We have, as individuals, communities, cultures and groups of all kinds, so much to gain from each other, and the truly borderless mind opens itself up to this whilst retaining its own character. Idealistically desirable this certainly is, but practically, it’s a difficult balance to draw. The possibilities and potential, however, are too rich to ignore.

Thank you Dr. Shah, and enjoy the rest of your time in Leicester. On that front, it’s Diwali Day today – the biggest celebration of this kind in Europe. Enjoy, if you’re in the vicinity. And don’t forget Bonfire Night either!

Discussion or comment, anyone?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Design chosen for Dundee V&A!

Personally I think it was possibly the best out of those shortlisted! Well done Kengo Kuma!!
(and yay for Scotland getting a shiney new museum)

Monday, November 01, 2010

Craft in the Attic Xmas sale

It's less than 2 months till Xmas, so this is your official Save-the-Date notice for Craft in the Attic (The Attic's artisanal contingent)'s annual Christmas sale. We will be selling our wares on November 28th, here:

Come by and buy! We will have upcycled jewelry, knitwear, home decor, and more!

AAM bookstore sale

Now through Nov. 8, get 15 percent off any title, any purchase at the AAM Press Bookstore (up to $500).

That's 15 percent off on...
Accessibility Human Resources
Accreditation Interpretation/Education
Audience Legal Issues/Ethics
Professional Development Mission/Institional Planning
Collections Stewardship Facilities and Risk Management
Development Financial Stability
And more!
Check out the latest online AAM Press Bookstore catalogue. New this year: A student bookshelf and the international section. We’ve also added suggested on-demand webinars to complement your bookstore purchases.

Staffordshire Hoard Lecture at UoL

Staffordshire Hoard

Dr Kevin Leahy, past student in the School of Museum Studies - National Finds Adviser for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and an expert in early medieval metalwork and Saxon craftsmanship, has been cataloguing the hoard, and in this lecture he talks about what the hoard is, what can be said about it at the moment, and what further work needs to be done.

Fielding Johnson Building, South Wing, New Lecture Theatre, University of Leicester
Thursday 18th November 2010 Time: 7.00pm

THIS IS A TICKETED EVENT
Please contact Pauline Carroll in the School of Archaeology & Ancient History, University of Leicester to make a booking. Email: pvl1@leicester.ac.uk or Telephone: 0116 252 2720

Museum of Broken Relationships

It's a bleak November afternoon, and I've been feeling down for some time; I needed some schadenfreude to make me perk up. And what could be better than the darkness of the Slavic soul? Indeed, the Croatian Museum of Broken Relationships opened its doors a month ago, and has been an overwhelming success. You can view a selected slideshow here. Puts a new spin on the usual trope of a museum being a place for romantic encounters, doesn't it?

Do you have any souvenirs of past loves? I confess to having kept some love letters (OK, email printouts, we live in the modern age) from past boyfriends, and I still have some of the gifts they gave me; but I don't have anything terribly heart-tuggingly poignant, mainly because I'm not that sort of girl.