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.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Jeff Hoffman - Christmas Lecture Series

Considering the number of us in the department that turned up for this, I thought it might be of interest to others!

Last night, former NASA Astronaut Jeff Hoffman graced Leicester with his presence. It is not the first time he has come to lecture here, but it is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to see him speak. Naturally, it was enough to drag me out in the cold, dark wind of last evening!

The lecture hall was so packed, they were forced to change to the Peter Williams Lecture Theatre at the last moment, and even so, there weren’t many seats going spare! It was nice to see many young people in the audience. One sat in front of me, an adorable young boy, with his father, and was extremely well behaved the entire time. It turned out his father is an astrophysicist here and was eager to thank Hoffman for the work he and his team did to fix and upgrade the Hubble Telescope in the 1993.

It’s likely many of you have never heard of Jeff Hoffman. I was fascinated growing up by the US Space Program and so I kept a keen ear tuned to missions and astronauts. When I was ten I met Roberta Bondar (Canada’s first female astronaut in space) and decided I wanted to be an astronaut! Of course, reality soon set in and I ended up a Humanities student for my life instead, but there is something about that childhood fascination with space. Hoffman gave a compelling lecture on it last night.

I love to listen to people who are passionate about their work. Last night covered a range of topics about space flight, from a very good introduction to the US program back to before the Moon Landing and through the current state of affairs where NASA is dependent largely on Russia. There were more than a few interesting points brought up. Not the least of which was, in the early days when Russia started offering rides up to space to other countries, the going price was about $20-30 million a seat. Now they charge the US $65 million each! Hoffman made a valid point, however, well within the current economic climate, that even buying 5-6 of those seats a year is still a great deal less than the average £2 billion NASA was spending on the Shuttle Program every year.

He spoke in depth on the Constellation Program that has been, in North America, a point of issue. I was so pleased to hear Hoffman lay out the details and explanations in a very easy to follow way. When it comes down to it, there is simply not enough money to fund the idea, and this has lead to NASA’s reshuffling in recent years, and the last shuttle launch this autumn.

Much of Hoffman’s talk was on the future of space flight and the many, many private companies that are reaching for the stars. It is a mark of humanity that so many people are obsessed with the Heavens, but fascinating already to see how much work is being accomplished. Of course, the obvious companies were named: Space X and Virgin Galactic (which had its own groundbreaking announcement last night: There were many smaller companies, however, that are achieving some truly amazing things. One has already engineered the ability to lift off and land the same craft. It’s like watching a science fiction movie, except it’s real! The ability to reach space has already been achieved, and now companies are pushing towards reaching stable orbit. For now, NASA is hopeful that these US firms will be able to supple the craft to the International Space Station. By giving up the Shuttle Program, of course, the US is now entirely dependent on Russia for transportation. They are hopeful the private sector can provide that soon, at least to ferry supplies. The US’s own plan for the future of the Station does not pass 2020, but this will still have given researchers a good 10 years up there.

Hoffman, now an MIT Professor, is clearly intrigued by the future that is coming. Already, private citizens have been up in space and if Virgin or any of the others manage to achieve their technology, many more people will follow. A seat on Virgin Galactic’s craft retails for only $200,000! I’ll put it on my bucket list.

The lecture ended on a beautiful note, a question about when we might reach Mars. Hoffman was realistic in his answer, though slightly whimsical when he stated that he had always believed it would be in his lifetime, thought he reality had changed. He was very clear in his belief, however, that one day, we would. We landed on the mood 42 years ago. We can reach Mars one day too.

Today I feel hopeful. Following yesterday’s announcement that CERN may just have had a glimpse into the Higgs Boson particle (and might find it definitively by year’s end), there is no doubt the future will be full of fascinating discoveries and a much greater understanding of both ourselves and the universe we live in.

Monday, December 12, 2011

We always joke about the lacuna of men in museum studies; at least in our department, the masculine half of the race forms but a tiny proportion of all our students. It's an amazing testament to the strides made by women over the last 150 years that we can laugh and boast of our predominance in any academic field. The history of the struggle of women for recognition in higher education in the English-speaking world is fairly well known, but I came across a very interesting account of a true pioneer and urge you to read it. Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia was the first woman ever to be awarded a PhD in 1678 from the University of Padua; she simultaneously became the first woman to ever be awarded any university degree. Not a bad way to start, was it?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Last Brown Bag Seminar of 2011.

Brown Bag Seminar 7th December 2011

‘Past, Present and Future of Medical Museums'

Dr. Samuel J.M.M. Alberti

"Though reared upon the base of outward things, structures like these, the excited spirit mainly builds . . . all Promethean thoughts of man, his dullness, madness, and their feats all jumbled up together, to compose A Parliament of Monsters."

--From Wordsworth's The Prelude

Using the Hunterian Museum (London) as primary exemplar, Dr. Samuel J.M.M. Alberti spoke on the subject of the past, present and future of medical museums collections. Previously holding a joint post between the University of Manchester Centre for Museology and the Manchester Museum, Dr. Alberti is currently the Director of Museums and Archives The Royal College of Surgeons of England. He is the author of numerous monographs and articles, most notably including The Afterlives of Animals: A Museum Menagerie, Morbid Curiosities: Medical Museums in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Nature and Culture: Objects, Disciplines and the Manchester Museum and the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons Guidebook. It is difficult to think of anyone better qualified to guide a shared exploration of the subject of the historic role of medical collections in practical, social and aesthetic application.

Dr. Alberti began the seminar with a review of the general history of medical collections in Britain, most specifically the Hunterian collections. He then used that review as a basis for the discussion of current practice at the Hunterian, London. He finished his discussion with an exciting ‘preview’ of some of the exhibitions currently planned for next year before gently fielding questions.

Prior to the Apothecary Act of 1815 the development of medical collections was driven by curiosity and prestige. Thereafter, it was required by law that those professing themselves medical practitioners must have taken qualification in anatomy, botany, chemistry, materia medica, and ‘physic’. It was the beginning of medical licensure and created the necessity of access to medical museum collections for instructional purposes.

The Hunterian is an excellent example of the kinds of medical collections critical to the development of qualified medical practice in the nineteenth century. An initial discussion of ‘The Hunterian Museum’ is potentially confusing in that there are several. All of the ‘Hunterians’ are arguably the product of rivalry between the notorious Hunter brothers, William (the elder) and John (the younger) Hunter. Each of these men were avid collectors and each of them started more than one museum, using the family name. John Hunter placed his collections at two venues: London and Glasgow. There is also a ‘Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery’ at the University of Glasgow, a collection founded by William. Dr. Alberti’s ‘Hunterian’ collection was founded by John Hunter and is housed in London.

Although the Hunterian and its founder were the primary focus of discussion, during his introductory review Dr. Alberti also mentioned other historical ‘luminaries’ including: Frederick Knox (and his infamously unethical brother Robert), Richard Owen and Arthur Keith. He also briefly mentioned Gunther von Hagens’ plastination process and the popularity of the Body Worlds exhibitions. The Hunterian currently includes some of von Hagens’ work for teaching purposes. He concluded the review with an introduction of the ‘Post-medical’ museum (a museum that must meet the needs of both the general public and the medical profession).

A particularly compelling part of the seminar was the mention of Charles Byrne. The story of Charles Byrne ‘The Irish Giant’ presents one of the most powerful ethical studies available concerning use and abuse of authority in medical collections management. Alberti did not go into the story except to say that Byrne had not wished to be displayed postmortem and that Hunter had procured Byrne’s remains through methods unacceptable today. (John Hunter bribed those that had been paid by Byrne to see to it that his mortal remains were properly buried at sea, to instead deliver Byrne’s body to Hunter’s collection.)

Alberti’s historical review not only provided a helpful context for discussion but also a firm foundation for his thesis that the development of social consciousness in the use and display of medical collections was not simply a marked shift of the last twenty years but rather a contiguous, continuous, radical and habitually responsive, requisite function of curatorial praxis in medical collections.

Some of the titles for recent, current and future exhibitions and activities of the Hunterian in London include:

Abnormal: Towards a Scientific Model of Disability

Anatomy of an Athlete

Neurosurgery Training Resources

Stable Isotope Analysis of Leopard Seal Skulls (to learn about global climate change)

Endangered Specimens Endangered Skills

Digitized Diseases (3D laser scanning)

Primates of the Caribbean

More information on these projects is available from the Royal College of Surgeon’s website:

There is also some useful information in RCS Summer 2011 Newsletter

The question and answer portion of seminar circled the subject of the ethics of representation in medical collections. J. asked two questions (one toward the beginning of the session and a second toward the end). The first question asked at what point in time medical collections became accessible to the general public, the second whether or not the display of medical specimens depersonalizes and objectifies the subject of the display. Do medical museums behave responsibly and with sensitivity toward the subjects of their display? How do the general public perceptibly respond to these exhibits?

Many in attendance appeared surprised to learn that the Hunterian displays were not available to the general public (in the form they are today) until as recently as 2005. This is not to say that there has been no accessibility to medical collections developing previously, but legislation as well as social mores over the course of the past century have created an ebb and swell of popular accessibility. During the eighteenth century and the nineteenth century, accessibility was primarily based upon status and vocation. In 1813 the Hunterian collection was available for exclusive viewing by college fellows and members on Tuesdays and Thursdays only: access, then, was hugely restricted. 'Fellows' was a term used by the Hunterian in its literal sense; women were not allowed viewing privileges until 1882. In 1882 the displays were open to view by accompanied women on Fridays and Saturdays. (As an aside, would this accompanied admission have been considered a ‘hot ticket’ by nineteenth century standards?)

Professor Sandell observed that this kind of continuous change throws into sharp relief the ethical issues involved in the needs of a museum to attract a visiting public while maintaining, in the case of the Hunterian, a specific remit to promote and define surgical standards. The underlying question asks whether or not it is valid to assume that the ability of the general public to view medical collections has changed how these collections are displayed. Moreover, what kind of interest the surgeons of today are taking in their museum? What are the surgeons gathering, experientially speaking, from the historical displays? In spite of hectic schedules, the surgical community have taken an active interest in the historical displays and museum events. Dr. Alberti hopes to appeal even more to the surgical community in future events.

In a related, reflexive response he further observed that as a museum professional he found himself in much the same position as many of his predecessors. How should he, as curator of a well-appointed and actively pedagogic medical collection navigate the needs of the visiting public against the needs of the community of surgeons upon whom the continuance of the museum depends? There are and have always been diverse and passionate opinions on what the appropriate function and expression a medical museum should be.

These meditations were prescient to a three-pronged divergence in the discussion. Elee Kirk pursued inquiry into the dignity of display and the administration of exhibition, Janet Marstine asked after practice of co-production in representation and a third direction of interest delved into review of the developing discipline of ‘medical humanities’.

In response to Dr. Marstine, Dr. Alberti referred to a conversation that he’d recently had with colleague Dr. Bernadette Lynch (with whom he wrote Legacies of Predjudice: History, Race and Co-Production in the Museum a reflective discussion of a failed co-production). Essentially Dr. Lynch had admonished Alberti to not lose his subjectivity. From listening to his views in seminar it seems Lynch’s concerns for the potential corruption of Dr. Alberti’s museological values are unfounded. “We are all patients in a medicalised world” he says quietly, the emotionally affective and ideological dimensions of medical collections remaining uppermost in his discussion.

Given that many medical collections seem to be traditionally presented in a very objective, didactical and dehumanizing fashion, Alex Woodall asked if medical collections might benefit from a more aesthetic interpretation—from the point-of-view of responsive, working artists. Dr. Alberti responded affirmatively that while many visitors do view the collection to improve their medical knowledge, some visitors attend with express interest in its aesthetic potential. This information further explicated an earlier assessment that the way museums are discussed, the professional categorization of museums as ‘medical collections’ ‘history collections’ or ‘art collections’, can potentially stratify and limit the potential use and interpretation of museum collections.

The Crystal Gallery, Dr. Alberti argued, though a medical collection is also essentially a narrative cultural artefact. Because the collection is exemplar to social narrative, many of the same practices applied in other types of museum contexts to engage the public, may be justifiably applied in the exhibition of scientific collections. When used as a narrative cultural artefact, medical collections potentially connect the visiting public to a greater awareness of not only their most basic ‘being’ or physicality, but to the experience of a deep recognition of what it means to be human and what it means to be alive.

In summation, during this term’s series of Brown Bag Seminar sessions the PhD community have shared conversations with:

5 October 2011

Speaker: Reiji Takayasu, Vice President of the Japanese Museum Management Association, (JMMA), National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo

Topic: New Wine Should Be Put Into A New Wineskin: The Science Communication Policy and new Movements in Japan

9 November 2011

Speaker: Britta Z. Geschwind, PhD student of the School of Cultural History, Stockholm University

Topic: Museums as Spaces for Learning: Shops and Entrances

23 November 2011

Speaker: Kevin Harris and Martin Dudley from Local Level

Topic: 'I didn't know I could'-Young People Looked After

30 November 2011

Speaker: Kate Hill, Senior Lecturer in History, University of Lincoln

Topic: Bygones: Investigating the History of Social History Collecting

and finally Dr. Alberti on medical museums. As diverse as these subjects may initially seem they have certain interests in common. Almost all seem to working towards the use of technology and science collections for the affective development of the visitor. Almost all of them have as their primary remit the wellbeing of the visiting public.

The seminars from this term also all seem (to me) to conclude that there is a story being told—a story ‘telling itself’—every time a visitor enters a display space. Who or what is telling this story? How is the story being told? Who is listening? Is the narrative of our collection, or our given exhibit, our museum or our museum gift shop—is the narrative unfolding all around us the story that we as curators want the visitor to be experiencing? And if it isn’t the story we want to support, why? Who are we to tell the visitor what to think, feel or know? Perhaps these topics and questions will be further discussed in future seminar sessions next term. I am grateful to Ceri Jones and Stephanie Bowry for arranging for the PhD community at University of Leicester Museum Studies what proved to be an engaging and illuminating afternoon seminar with Dr. Alberti. This report gratefully acknowledges the supportive editorial review of Jennifer Walklate. Posted with many thanks and a wish for the happiest of holidays to everyone.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

CFP: The Transformative Museum, May 2012, Denmark

DREAM (Danish Research Centre on Education and Advanced Media Materials) is very pleased to release the Call for Papers for its international conference The transformative museum: participation between place and space, to be held 23-25 May 2012 in Roskilde, Denmark.

Keynote speakers will include Kevin Crowley (director of the Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments and an associate professor of education and psychology, University of Pittsburgh, US), James E. Katz (director of Center for Mobile Communication Studies,Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, USA), dr. Lynda Kelly (head of Web and Audience Research at the Australian Museum, Sydney, Australia), professor Gunnar Liestøl (Dept. of Media & Communication, University of Oslo), professor Angela McFarlane (director of Public Engagement and Learning, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK), and associate professor Ross Parry (Programme Director, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester).

Globalising trends in knowledge economies, digital participation and changing community needs catalyse transformations of museums, galleries and science centres. The conference will present a rich set of analyses of the current situation and raise important questions about the future for material and immaterial cultural and natural heritage. We invite research papers on the following topics:

* transforming modes of communication
* transforming visitor participation and learning
* transforming institutional organization
* transforming research methodologies

Submit your proposal now! The call for abstracts for research papers is now open. Check the submission guidelines on the conference website and submit before 6 January 2012.

Students and young scholars are invited to a one-day ph.d. course 22 May 2012. Here, you get a venue to meet with some of the main conference speakers, make a project presentation and participate in discussions on the conference topics. Check the submission guidelines on the conference website and submit before 6 January 2012.

Register soon and get attractive early-bird rates. Reduced fees apply for students. Online registration on the conference website

Check the conference site for updates.

CFP: Science and Education Thematic Journal Issue

Science & Education Thematic Journal Issue

History of Science in Museums
Submission Date: 31 March 2012

Science museums and science centres are primary avenues to communicate science to the public and are the major non-formal settings for science education. Yet, the potential role of the history (and philosophy) of science in this cultural context is not well explored. This special issue will publish current research in the area and illuminate a variety of issues on the uses of history of science in museum environments.

Three orientations have been identified that support a holistic approach to the role of history of science in museum environments:

[1] The history of science as an exhibited narrative in all its associated forms introducing science to the lay audience in museums and centres.

[2] The history of science as a methodological tool for science teaching; that is as a topic featuring in the content of museum educational programmes.

[3] The history of science exhibition as a visual exercise especially implemented to promote new forms of science communication and scholarship in humanities and social sciences; that is as a means of exploring art-science interrelationships.

Scholars contributing to the issue include:
 Prof. Fabio Bevilacqua (University of Pavia)
 Prof. Peter Heering (Universität Flensburg)
 Prof. Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond (Université de Nice)
 Prof. Michel Van Praët (Directeur du projet de rénovation du musée de l’Homme, Paris)
 Prof. Jorge Wagensberg (Science Director of "la Caixa" Foundation, Barcelona)

Researchers working on areas related to the interdisciplinary fields of science education, social studies in science, history and philosophy of science and museology are cordially invited to contribute to the thematic issue. Conceptual and theoretical manuscripts are particularly welcome as well as case studies from professional museum educators.

Submission Date: 31 March 2012

Manuscripts, with abstract, should be submitted for review direct to:
Notification of intention to submit and subject matter is appreciated as it assists coordination and planning of the issue.

Such notification, questions and inquiries should be directed to the guest editors:
Anastasia Filippoupoliti
Lecturer pedagogics and museum education
Democritus University of Thrace, Greece

Dimitris Koliopoulos
Associate professor science education and science museum education
University of Patras, Greece

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Free Museums

Apparently, it's the 10-year anniversary of free entry to national museums in the UK, and the numbers suggest it's been a resounding success in raising visitors numbers. But do numbers lie? This BBC article weighs the pros and cons.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Brown Bag review: Kate Hill, 30.11.11

Speaker: Kate Hill, Senior Lecturer in History, University of

Bygones: investigating the history of social history

This paper will investigate two moments in the early history of social history
collection and display: John Kirk's collection of tools, memorabilia and
shopfronts, which he viewed as local bygones, and over whose display he
exercised careful control at York Castle Museum in the 1930s; and Mrs Mary
Greg's collection, also referred to as 'bygones', which focused much more on
'feminine' areas such as textiles and toys. These were given to Manchester Art
Gallery, mainly in 1922. The official narrative of the development of social
history museums suggests a tendency to move away from an unscientific,
antiquarian approach, towards a more rigorous focus on the social historical
object's ability to provide systematic evidence about past life. This paper will
dispute the soundness of this trajectory, and even, in fact, its
desirability, and will suggest that the ability of social historical
objects, especially when understood as 'bygones', to invoke an intense sense
of imaginative contact with the past, has always been one of their
strengths, and should be embraced and enhanced wherever possible.

The central aim of Kate Hill's Brown Bag lecture today was to rehabilitate the collecting and display practices of Dr John Kirk (York Castle Museum) and Mrs Mary Greg (Manchester Art Gallery), often considered embarassing by contemporary critics. Both collections were formed initially in the late nineteenth century, and were incorporated into museums in the interwar period, marking them as interesting studies in the juncture between Victorian and Modernist styles of private collecting and public museum function.

Taking us through the history of the formation of both collections, Kate compared and contrasted the approaches of both Kirk and Greg with existing curatorial methods of organizing object knowledge, and concluded that for both collections, it was their affective properties which served as the primary criterion. Both were museum outsiders, but worked with museum professionals to display their collections, once donated.

In the case of Kirk's collections of obsolete items of everyday life (some very large, like shopfronts), the sense of their pastness was translated into presence, where visitors could have a sense of an atmospheric encounter with the past, contrasted with their present reality. The precise historical associations or technical functions of the objects were less important, and there was no evolutionary message of progress.

Likewise, Mary Greg believed that the past could be communicated through the material qualities of 'bygones', and collected predominantly female domestic objects for their 'heirloom' value, believing their emotive connotations to be sufficiently engaging. Greg, however, had a more overtly educational role in mind for her objects, and was particularly concerned with classses of objects that she felt were appropriate to engage working-class women and children in museums. In some ways, this makes her a pioneer in this respect, as she did not feel that the worn items of everyday were trivial, but instead were enchanting and engaging.

In terms of the curatorial preoccupations of today, the activites of both collectors are problematic; there is limited provenance for most items, as they are metonyms for a larger past, and not of an individual history. However, Kate made the point that this represents a different way of engaging with objects - on the basis of the intimacy that they can connote with the people and activities of the past - and ought to be valued as such.

The audio for Kate's session is posted on Blackboard for internal Leicester PhD students to review at their leisure. Thanks again, Kate for a really useful and thought-provoking presentation! We look forward to seeing you again in the new year for your Perspectives lecture.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Brown Bag Review 23/11/11 - 'I didn't know I could' -Young People Looked After

On Wednesday 23rd November, Kevin Harris and Martin Dudley from Local Level presented a Brown Bag session about their recent evaluation project for Renaissance East of England, entitled 'I didn't know I could': Museums and Young People Looked After.

Local Level is a community development consultancy that works on numerous projects, but this, they said, had been one of their favourites. The project had taken place across four different organisations in the East of England: Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service, The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and Luton Culture. Each museum service had developed creative projects for 'young people looked after' and Local Level were involved in evaluating the outcomes for the young people through a methodology which involved formal interview, observation, informal discussion, monitoring forms and email contributions from approximately 80 people.

So who are 'young people looked after'? (One thing I was unclear on, is why the term isn't 'looked after young people', but syntax aside...) A looked after young person is anyone who is legally in the care of the state by order of a court. They may be looked after by extended family, or by a foster carer, or in a residential home. Reasons for their being looked after are many and varied but include abuse and neglect (including those witness to abuse and neglect), disability, being a refugee or an asylum seeker... Statistics are alarming: compared with an average household giving rise to 6% of young people with 'conduct disorders', for looked after young people, that increases to 40%. These are young people who may have been dislocated and had to move house up to 40 times: for many, 'there is no good thing about moving'. Self-perception is often that the young person looked after is 'the odd one out' or sees him/herself as 'an object'. Many are fearful, and to use Dickens' line from Great Expectations, as Kevin and Martin did, 'few people know what secrecy there is in the young, under terror.' But while there may be many shared experiences, these young people are all incredibly different: in their experiences, personalities, educational achievements, age... Being categorised as a 'young person looked after' is complex. Thrown together simply by circumstance, these individuals thus embarked on a variety of museum projects.

So, what sort of activities took place in this programme? Young people were aged from 7 to 17, and the sessions ranged from one-off activities of 90 minutes' duration, to 5.5 hours, to regular weekly sessions. Projects ranged from young people developing geocaching in the Norfolk countryside, to photography, film-making and editing in Ipswich, to print-making in Cambridge, to 'Smash Racism' events in Luton and sketchbook development at Norwich Castle. There were different levels of adult intervention in the projects and some projects (but not all) had involved participants in their design and organisation. Some practical 'top tips' mentioned for developing such projects included: ensuring the young people had something to 'take home' at the end of a session, remembering that taxi costs eat into budgets, planning time for recruitment of young people, establishing ways of communicating with the group, developing risk assessments and thinking about health and safety. (I would also want to add ensuring that young people are involved throughout in order to make it even more participatory and 'owned' by the group - i.e. involvement in project design and evaluation). One outcome hoped for by Local Level was indeed that 'how to' guidelines could be published online so that other museums wanting to be involved do not have to reinvent the wheel (as is so often the case in this sector).

Key findings from the research were categorised under four headings:
1) Confidence, self-knowledge and identity
2) Social skills
3) Cultural capital
4) Learning
In all cases, the experiences for the young people of working with each museum commendably seems to have led to an increase and benefits seen in all these areas (the report explains these in further detail). So museums are clearly playing a part in enhancing the lives of this group of young people (albeit for a certain period). But as yet, Local Level believe that this project is quite unique: there are not many other strategic programmes whereby museums are engaging with young people looked after. The East of England could be seen as something of a pioneer in this regard.

We did try to think of other similar projects where museums had worked with looked after children, and came up with the National Gallery's work, the V&A Strategic Commissioning Programme Image & Identity which took place from 2003-8 and involved several partners: Manchester Art Gallery, Museums Sheffield, Brighton Museum and Gallery and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in addition to NCH (now Action for Children) - and work in Scandinavia and Australia - but it would be very interesting to hear of any other programmes that are currently taking place, with a view to developing a more joined up approach to shape policy development, and also to develop an online space to share best practice and so on.

One ambition from the researchers was that more 'scientific research' into this area could be prioritised in order to strengthen a business case. Although it could be argued that government bodies seem to favour quantitative research, with such projects involving a relatively low number of participants, we discussed qualitative evidence as being essential. Longitudinal research would also be a key aim in developing a business case. Local Level had worked out that the cost to the museum was £20 per hour per young person - but with more experience in running such projects, these costs would fall. Perhaps a distasteful notion, but what is the social return on this investment? And - how can we help with developing a clearer policy argument to justify this? There were several questions in the room.

Firstly, why a museum? What is significant about these projects taking place in a museum, that makes them distinct from any other youth engagement or young people looked after project? The answer given by Kevin and Martin interestingly centred on the notion of 'stability': the museum plays a stabilising role in culture. It is also a 'safe space'. But why is this? I would here argue that collections always need to be central to a project taking place in a museum - otherwise it might as well take place in a youth club, school or sports centre. Museums can't solve every social problem, but using the uniqueness (or universality) of their collections might be an interesting place to start.

Another question raised was around the sustainability of such projects. Local Level clearly had a strong agenda (which I am sure we all felt was worth exploring and formalising further): to ensure that this work is given a political push. But how can we ensure continuity of projects, especially given that in many of the projects discussed, there had been no senior strategic support? It is so often the case that the people who need to be at such seminars and conferences (e.g. the policy makers and senior managers) are the ones who aren't present. Perhaps developing partnerships (e.g. with libraries) might be one way to sustain activity and take on a shared approach, but as with many projects, success or failure often depends upon key personalities and individual involvement. Given the current financial climate, how can we push further for government support? One interesting suggestion here was around PEPs (personal education plans) which, for example may attract a DFE (or other education) funding source in addition to DCMS (and culture related) sources.

A key question is also around accessibility and how the young people became involved in the project in the first place: how was it advertised and who advertised it? Inclusion for some means exclusion for others. Who were the young people looked after who were not involved in the projects? And why were they not there? Are these young people the ones who might benefit the most? How can we find and target them? Should we do so?

And finally, would the young people involved now be inspired to visit museums on their own? And does it even matter whether they do or not (especially given that they have developed lots of other skills)? Can a museum visit be an end in itself? Can a museum visit not be an end in itself? While anecdotal evidence suggests that some of these young people looked after may visit again, and indeed have visited again and have a real passion for collections ('I love the museum: my uncle is a paleontologist'), how can we research this and do we need to?

Perhaps, in the end, what matters most, is simply that these young people looked after had fun.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Imagined Lives at the National Portrait Gallery

From the Telegraph, via museumsandstuff:

Julian Fellowes, Alexander McCall Smith, Tracy Chevalier, Joanna Trollope and Terry Pratchett are among the authors who have created imaginary biographies to accompany the works.

The gallery has a number of paintings which were purchased in the 19th and 20th centuries in the belief that they represented famous people, only for the identities of the sitters to be disproved or disputed.

A painting known as False Mary, painted in 1570 and once thought to be a portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, captured the imagination of McCall Smith. He has written a story identifying her as a body double for the Queen.

For further information from the National Portrait Gallery itself, click here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Writing Up: Coming Together

Here's the strange and unspoken thing about a PhD: you expect it to be this linear, drawn-out process, but it's not. It all happens at once. Sure, you spend all your time thinking about your project, and much of your time actually doing it, but it kind of coalesces all at once.

I went to a fantastic conference (symposium, really) last week which illustrated this perfectly. First off, I was invited: one of the organizers met me and thought I had enough interesting ideas in my head to be able to contribute something to a discussion of star academics in my field. All on its own, that was amazing, because I have spent my career hitherto bashfully attending conferences and trembling with the fear that whatever I had prepared to say was totally uninteresting to anyone else. But what was even more amazing was that I have evidently reached a sort of tipping point: whereas before, when I was in the thinking/planning/researching stages of this degree, I had only the most tenuous ideas to communicate, now I have hard facts. What is more, I have the confidence to be able to say, "well, my research conclusively demonstrates 'x'" whether in support of or in disagreement with commonly-accepted knowledge. And the other thing that happened was that instead of sitting in the room during the presentations and discussion thinking "everything I am interested in has been done before" or "I am so stupid compared to these geniuses" or "my work will never be relevant to this field", I was scribbling notes and engaging in really great debates with the others in the room because what they were saying suddenly mattered to my work, and what I was saying helped them with theirs. All of a sudden, I became their peer.

This is not to say that I have suddenly healed all my inner neuroses: no, I am still as riddled with anxiety as an old chair with woodworm or an old house with dry rot. But I have reached that clarifying moment where I am not overwhelmed with other academics' ideas, but instead can negotiate them with my own. I am just sad that this wonderful moment has happened at the same time as I enter the most stressful stretch toward completion. I cannot partake fully in discussions, because I have to sit down and write my darned thesis!

It's a mass of contradictions, this journey - you have to do things when you don't know how, and when you do know how, you can no longer do them. In writing up your research, you have to put ideas and outcomes into tidy separate boxes; epistemologically and ontologically dividing them for the sake of argument. But ironically, the PhD process itself isn't like that: it's a mass of little intellectual explosions that happen all at once, whether you are prepared for them or not. And hopefully, they all coalesce into a lovely fireworks display eventually.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

CFP for EVA - Electronic Visualisation and the Arts

For those interested in the Visual and Digital Arts, there's a CFP of relevance beyond the hypertext...

Deadline is 22nd January 2012. The website's text follows...

"EVA London 2012

Tuesday 10th July – Thursday 12th July 2012
Venue: British Computer Society, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7HA
The EVA London annual conference tracks and presents the development and application of electronic visualisation technologies, in art, music, dance, theatre, the sciences and other fields.
Artists, researchers, creative techies and academics This fantastic futuristic annual conference is for you! International participation is very welcome, as ever."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Brown Bag Seminar – November 9th 2011

Britta Z. Geschwind
PhD student of the School of Cultural History, Stockholm University
Review Kindly Written by Cintia Velazquez

Museums as Spaces for Learning: Shops and Entrances

On Wednesday the 9th of November, the Brown Bag Seminar Series welcomed Britta Geschwind, a PhD researcher of ethnology of Stockholm University in Sweden. This is the land of the museum pioneer Arthur Hazelius, who in the last part of the 19th century gave birth to important museological projects with ethnographic collections that later on became the Nordiska Museet and the Skansen (one of the first open-air museums).
But this time, Britta presented an inspiring session about another museum: the Museum of NationalAntiquities (MNA) of Stockholm, opened as a modern museum in 1864 with an archaeological collection of prehistoric Swedish artefacts as well as ecclesiastical art. In the early 1920s a new project for the museum developed with many political and social actors involved, especially in the design of the new building, which turned out to be a mixture of a functionalist and a monumental style. This fact reflected the intense political negotiations that grew up during its origin, and continues until the present day. The construction began in 1934, and was finished five years later, though the museum itself was not inaugurated until 1943. The museum was created according to a nationalist ideology in which the building was required to preserve the “cultural heritage” of the Swedish people.
Nowadays, the museum divides itself between different functions such as collecting and preserving but mainly, since 1990s and the educational turn of the New Museology, the learning processes of its audiences. Britta’s general analysis specifically focuses upon the educational role of the MNA between 1943 and the present time, but considering the peripheral places in which museum learning takes place. By peripheral we mean those other aspects that are normally excluded in our traditional conceptions of museum education. As we will now address, Geschwind’s proposal was mind-opening in terms of providing more ground to reflect upon the other places outside the exhibit space, such as the store and the entrance halls, for example, in which visitors’ learning can occur.
In Britta’s research the notion of place is fundamental because it functions as a complex network of meanings in which different actors and ideologies converge: the educational premises, the governmental policies, the pressing economical guidelines, the visitor’s expectations, the staff development programmes and the spatiality of the museum, among others.  To do so, she is undertaking her research using diverse methodologies such as Actor – NetworkTheory (ANT, initially developed by the French philosopher Bruno Latour) and walking ethnography, which allow her to interpret the physicality of the museum in terms of the social, political and economical implications.
By studying two particular places, the entrance hall and the shop, Geschwind is emphasizing the way cultural policy objectives, including the pressure on museums to increase their incomes, are negotiated in respect of the learning practices they should address. The different changes in the design and physical arrangement of the entrance hall are scars, remains of the diverse ideas that the museum has embodied about, for example, audiences, accessibility, wellbeing, utility or education. In this same way, the museum shop is an exemplary place to analyse the contemporary museum’s paradoxes because, citing Geschwind, “it lies at the heart of the museum experience”: on the one hand it is part of the economic pressure put on museums to guarantee their survival but on the other, it is part of the visitors’ museum general experience. Britta’s research has sharply identified this tension and analysed it in terms of a collision between marketing targets and educational objectives: for example, should the museum shop continue offering books and other products that do not sell as much as other products that are not related, or even worse, that contradict the educational message of the museum? 
I found this problem very evident in my last visit to the Imperial War Museum in London. When looking at its aims, it stated that they looked for “developing skills of historical inquiry and boosting visitors understanding of cause, consequence and historical significance”. However, this clashes completely when one enters the shop and sees that the merchandise being sold, especially for children, presents war as a play; children can buy their military uniforms and pretend to be soldiers. They can also buy helicopters, planes, tanks and many other war-related games. The question is, then, what idea of war are children getting from the shop-experience? Could it be that the ideas and learning that children get from the shop are stronger and more memorable than the ones supposedly encouraged by the exhibition?
Perhaps we, museum professionals, tend to neglect the importance of the store or common areas (for example the entrance, the restrooms, the gardens or the particular architecture or design of a part of the museum) in the meaning-making process of the visitors because we focus on the experience generated –only or mainly- by the exhibition space and the activities programming. But visitors are constantly active, interpreting and perceiving all the museum elements to built their own messages because, as Geschwind argues, learning takes place in the whole museum and in the periphery of museum education but this is not always visible.
To sum up, the museum is a network of meanings that embody in their physicality different ideologies, some times conflicting. In that same sense, museums can “teach” many things to visitors outside their exhibitions and even against their own educational aims. Museum research should try to nourish methodologies and theories that encourage analysing how less evident or not obvious aspects of the museum generate visitor responses, interpretations and learning. This can be also a ground to think about the concepts we have about learning: it is not only about knowledge; it is also about skills, behaviour, attitudes and values, as the GenericLearning Outcomes (GLO) proposal suggests. Hopefully, we will have in the coming years more inspiring studies, such as Britta’s, that shine more light on that wonderful organism called museum and its hidden mysteries. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

CFP: Material Culture Symposium for Emerging Scholars

Material Matters
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Center for Material Culture Studies at the University of Delaware
invites submissions for papers to be given at the Tenth Annual Material
Culture Symposium for Emerging Scholars.

Focus: Object-based research has the potential to expand and even reinvent
our understanding of culture and history. In honor of the tenth anniversary
of the MCSES, we seek a broad range of papers from emerging material
culture scholars. Whether exploring the latest theories, viewing existing
material through a new lens, or reinterpreting standing historical
conversations with an object-based focus, proposed papers should exemplify
the possibilities in material culture research. In exploring these material
matters, we hope to promote an interdisciplinary discussion on the state of
material culture studies today.

Disciplines represented at past symposia include American studies,
anthropology, archaeology, consumer studies, English, gender studies,
history, museum studies and the histories of art, architecture, design and
technology. We welcome proposals from graduate students, postdoctoral
scholars, and those just beginning their teaching or professional careers.

Format: The symposium will consist of nine presentations divided into three
panels. Each presentation is limited to twenty minutes, and each panel is
followed by comments from established scholars in the field. There will be
two morning sessions and one afternoon session, with breaks for discussion
following each session and during lunch. This year's keynote speaker is
Kariann Yokota, assistant professor of history and American studies at Yale
University. Participants will also have the opportunity to tour
Winterthur’s unparalleled collection of early American decorative arts and
to engage in a roundtable discussion on Friday, April 13. Travel grants of
up to $300 will be available for presenters.

Submissions: The proposal should be no more than 300 words and should
clearly indicate the focus of your object-based research, the critical
approach you take toward that research, and the significance of your
research beyond the academy. While the audience for the symposium consists
mainly of university and college faculty and graduate students, we
encourage broader participation. In evaluating proposals, we will give
preference to those papers that keep a more diverse audience in mind.

Send your proposal, with a current c.v. of no more than two pages, to

Deadline: Proposals must be received by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, November 16,
2011. Speakers will be notified of the vetting committee’s decision in
January 2012.

Confirmed speakers will be asked to provide symposium organizers with
digital images for use in publicity and are required to submit a final
draft of their papers by March 5, 2012.

2012 Emerging Scholars Co-Chairs
Nalleli Guillen, Alison Kreitzer & Anne Reilly
Department of History, American Civilization Program
University of Delaware

CFP: Objects of Affection: Towards a Materiology of Emotions (May 4-6, 2012, Princeton U)

> May 4-6, 2012
> In the first issue of the journal Veshch-Objet-Gegenstand, which appeared
> 90 years ago in Berlin, the avant-gardist El Lissitsky placed the object at
> the center of the artistic and social concerns of the day: “We have called
> our review Object because for us art means the creation of new ‘objects.’ …
> Every organized work—be it a house, a poem or a picture—is an object with a
> purpose; it is not meant to lead people away from life but to help them to
> organize it. ... Abandon declarations and refutations as soon as possible,
> make objects!”
> Ultimately, only three issues of Veshch-Objet-Gegenstand would be
> published, but the journal’s project to cultivate object as a primary tool
> of social organization clearly touched upon broader concerns of its time.
> At the end of the 1920s, Sergei Tret’iakov, a leading theorist of Russian
> production art, similarly insisted on abandoning the traditional
> fascination with individual trials and tribulations and to concentrate
> instead on the biography of the object that proceeds “through the system of
> people.” Only such a biography, Tret’iakov maintained, can teach us about
> “the social significance of an emotion by considering its effect on the
> object being made.”
> Taking the Russian avant-garde’s concern with the material life of
> emotions as our starting point, the conference organizers seek to assemble
> an international, interdisciplinary group of scholars working at the
> intersection between studies of affect and studies of material culture. In
> the last decade, these two crucial strands of social inquiry have shifted
> the focus of analytic attention away from the individual or collective
> subject towards emotional states and material substances. These interests
> in the affective and the tangible as such have helped to foreground
> processes, conditions, and phenomena that are relatively autonomous from
> the individuals or social groups that originally produced them. Thus
> interrogating traditional notions of subjective agency, various scholars
> have drawn our attention to “a conative nature” of things (Jane Bennet), to
> “affective intensities” (Brian Massumi), or to textural perception (Eve
> Kosofsky Sedgwick) – to name just a few of these interventions – in order
> to pose questions that fall outside of dominant frameworks for
> understanding the epistemology of power.
> Despite their growing importance, however, these diverse methods and
> concepts for mapping the emotive biographies of things have not yet been in
> a direct dialogue with one another. By focusing on the material dimensions
> of affect and, conversely, the emotional components of object formation,
> this conference aims to bridge this gap.
> We invite submissions from scholars in a range of disciplines including
> history, anthropology, sociology, religion, politics, law, psychology,
> history of medicine, science studies, art, film, media and literary
> criticism, who are interested in exploring types of affective responses,
> protocols of emotional attachment, and regimes of perception that are
> encoded into and sustained by material substances. We welcome theoretically
> rigorous proposals that draw attention to new configurations of object
> relations as well as submissions that examine historically and culturally
> specific forms of affective networks built around instances of inorganic
> life across the world.
> Please send your abstract (300 words) and a short CV to Serguei Oushakine,
> the Chair of the Program Committee ( by February
> 1, 2012.
> Those selected to give presentations at the conference will be contacted
> at the end of February 2012.
> Final papers will be due no later than April 15, and they will be posted
> on the conference's website.
> We may be able to offer a limited number of travel subsidies for graduate
> students and presenters outside the USA.
> Serguei Oushakine (Slavic Languages and Literatures; Anthropology,
> Princeton U)
> Anna Katsnelson (Slavic Languages & Literatures, Princeton U)
> David Leheny (East Asian Studies, Princeton U)
> Anson Rabinbach (Department of History, Princeton U)
> Gayle Salamon (Department of English, Princeton U)

CFP: Certain Museums of Uncertain Pasts


Workshop (110): Certain Museums of Uncertain Pasts
Hosted by the European Association of Social Anthropologists Conference 2012
Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

Deadline: 28 November 2011

Gabriela Nicolescu (Goldsmiths College, University of London)
Raluca Musat (UCL)
Alana Jelinek (Museum of Archeology & Anthropology, University of Cambridge)

Short Abstract
This workshop aims to open up the debate regarding the way museums and
their collections relate to the controversies and uncertainties of their
past and of that of the societies to which they belong. How can sheer
disquiet of the past ever be displayed?

Long Abstract
Museums always seem to provide their visitors with definite and confident
narratives about the past, thus making strong claims towards ordering the
present and the future. However, the past life of objects, collections and
of museums themselves is full of uncertainties, contradictions and unrest.
Although much debated by scholars, these issues rarely make their way into
exhibitions and displays.

On the other hand, war, revolution or social unrest impact directly on the
life of museums. Their buildings are destroyed, looted or occupied
temporarily, their collections affected. Such events usually provide
opportunities for new representations of the past. Examples range from
classical ethnographic exhibitions to the memorial museums of
anti-communism in Eastern Europe, or the newly opened impressive spectacle
buildings of museums in the field of art.

This panel invites papers that engage with the way such institutions
reflect or come to terms with the traumatic events and contested moments
in their past and that of the societies they claim to represent. How do
they effectively deal with the inherent uncertainty and continuous social
unrest? Can uncertainty be socially accepted and exhibited? Papers are
welcome across the whole range of museums from anthropological or
historical institutions to military or scientific ones. We also encourage
discussions on other forms of visual representations (e.g. performances,
photography exhibitions, installations, and events). Presenters could also
focus on the life of particular objects or collections that leave or enter
museums in times of historical rupture or engage with the social practices
affecting their collections.

How to apply
Proposals should consist of a paper title, a (very) short abstract of <300
characters, and an abstract of 250 words. Proposals can only be submitted

Submit your proposals directly on:
or from the workshop page, by following the Propose a paper link

To propose a paper, you do not need to be a member of EASA. However, if
your paper is accepted, you will need to become a member. Please do not
apply for membership until your paper has been accepted. You can apply
afterwards, via the

Last Call for Abstracts for Museum Utopias!

The deadline for submitting your abstract for our highly-anticipated interdisciplinary postgraduate Symposium Museum Utopias expires at midnight GMT tonight!

Please send your abstract to the email address provided by the CFP here.

Museum Utopias will be hosted by the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, on 27 -28 March 2012.

We welcome submissions from postgraduate students, researchers and professionals, and are open to creative as well as traditional presentational formats. We've received some fascinating abstracts so far, and look forward to reading yours!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Brown Bag Audio Up!

You'll be pleased to know that the Podcast for Britta's wonderful Brown Bag, 'The Museum Entrance and Shop as Spaces of Learning' is now available on Blackboard. Just go to the tab, 'Research Seminars', and then to the folder called 'Brown Bag Seminars 2011-2012'. You'll find all the audio recordings there, in the future!

Reminder: CFP Deadline this Monday 14 November

Don't forget the deadline for submitting your abstract for Museum Utopias, the 2012 Symposium organized by the PhD community at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, is this Monday 14 November.

Check out our website for further details and the CFP, which can also be found here.

We've received some fascinating proposals so far, and look forward to reading yours!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Museum Utopias CFP Reminder

There's only one week left to send in your abstract for our March conference, Museum Utopias. Find the CFP here, and follow us on the blog, Twitter, or Facebook!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

CFP: Certain Museums of Uncertain Pasts


Workshop (110): Certain Museums of Uncertain Pasts

Hosted by the European Association of Social Anthropologists Conference 2012

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

Deadline: 28 November 2011


Gabriela Nicolescu (Goldsmiths College, University of London)
Raluca Musat (UCL)

Alana Jelinek (Museum of Archeology & Anthropology, University of Cambridge)

Short Abstract

This workshop aims to open up the debate regarding the way museums and their collections relate to the controversies and uncertainties of their past and of that of the societies to which they belong. How can sheer disquiet of the past ever be displayed?

Long Abstract

Museums always seem to provide their visitors with definite and confident narratives about the past, thus making strong claims towards ordering the present and the future. However, the past life of objects, collections and of museums themselves is full of uncertainties, contradictions and unrest. Although much debated by scholars, these issues rarely make their way into exhibitions and displays.

On the other hand, war, revolution or social unrest impact directly on the life of museums. Their buildings are destroyed, looted or occupied temporarily, their collections affected. Such events usually provide opportunities for new representations of the past. Examples range from classical ethnographic exhibitions to the memorial museums of anti-communism in Eastern Europe, or the newly opened impressive spectacle buildings of museums in the field of art.

This panel invites papers that engage with the way such institutions reflect or come to terms with the traumatic events and contested moments in their past and that of the societies they claim to represent. How do they effectively deal with the inherent uncertainty and continuous social unrest? Can uncertainty be socially accepted and exhibited? Papers are welcome across the whole range of museums from anthropological or historical institutions to military or scientific ones. We also encourage discussions on other forms of visual representations (e.g. performances, photography exhibitions, installations, and events). Presenters could also focus on the life of particular objects or collections that leave or enter museums in times of historical rupture or engage with the social practices affecting their collections.

How to apply

Proposals should consist of a paper title, a (very) short abstract of <300 characters, and an abstract of 250 words. Proposals can only be submitted ONLINE.

Submit your proposals directly on:

or from the workshop page, by following the Propose a paper link


To propose a paper, you do not need to be a member of EASA. However, if your paper is accepted, you will need to become a member. Please do not apply for membership until your paper has been accepted. You can apply afterwards