Museums Work

Museums Work Blog

Funding available for MA in Heritage Studies…

From the Oral History Noticeboard at

Funding is now available for studying the MA in Heritage Studies: place, memory and history, hosted by the Raphael Samuel History Centre in London – but be quick – applications must be in by 5pm, Monday 30th April 2012 and you need to apply for the MA first.

For more details about the MA, which has a distinctive focus on memory and oral history, see

And for details of the application process for 11 AHRC studentships that are available for this programme (amongst others) see

If you have any questions about the MA, please contact the programme leader, Toby Butler


Careers for our sons…

A quick snapshot from an entry for British Museum Assistantships in Careers for our Sons in 1928.* This notes that these are available in the library and antiquarian sections at Bloomsbury and the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as in the Science Department – but that there are ‘as a rule’ only one or two vacancies a year ‘between the several departments’. Candidates were selected by examination, and it was ‘an essential condition of selection that a candidate shall have a thorough knowledge of those subjects cognate to the work of the department in which he seeks an appointment’. They might also be required to take a test in English and General Knowledge. 

The age limit for applicants was 22 – 26 years of age, with a salary on first appointment of £250 a year, plus bonus, increasing to £440. An Assistant Keeper could earn £475 – 800 a year, and a Deputy Keeper or Keeper from £900 – 1000.   

* D. W. Hughes ed., Careers for our Sons (A. & C. Black, London, 6th edition, 1928)


Art and grog…

Suzanne Macleod, Senior Lecturer and Deputy Head of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, will be talking to the Leicester Branch of the Victorian Society next week on’ Art and Grog – the Making of a Gallery for Art in Liverpool, 1874-77′. The talk is based on her research for a book exploring ‘the role of architectural history in the prioitisation of specific stories of museum building and museum architects and the exclusion of other actors from the history of museum making’. Instead, it aims to link the physical development of museums and galleries ‘directly to the actions, agendas and contexts of the groups and individuals involved in their making’.

Foremost among them, in the case of the Walker Art Gallery, was Andrew Barclay Walker (1824 – 1893), a brewer and Conservative politician, who offered in 1873 to present a gallery to Liverpool to mark his term as mayor, donating £20,000 for the purpose. This provoked opposition from the local temperance movement, including a series of libellous cartoons showing him as profiting from what campaigners regarded as one of the great ‘social evils’ of the day – hence the title of the talk.

‘Art and Grog’ takes place at the Leicester Adult Education College, Wellington Street, Leicester, at 7.30pm on Tuesday 6 March 2012, finishing at around 9 pm. A donation of £2 is requested for visitors, who are very welcome. For further information, telephone 01455 291 694 or 0116 239 3744.


An update from Alex…

I caught up recently with Alex Woodall, who has featured in a couple of my earlier blogs about working in museums. Alex used to be Digital Access Development Officer at Renaissance East Midlands and is now studying for a PhD in the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. Here’s an update from her on how things are going.

What have you been doing so far?

Well, rather terrifyingly, I have been studying for nearly 5 months now. It’s gone so quickly in many ways, but in others, it seems a long time – but I still haven’t done nearly as much as I’d hoped. The three years that were stretching ahead of me in October rapidly seem to be passing – weeks easily turn to months. It seems a long time since I was going to work everyday, commuting to Leicester City Council to the Renaissance office, and it did take me a while to adjust to a different pace of life once I’d finished that in December. I felt guilty for ages about just sitting down to read books and journals: I’d been so used to rushing around all day, answering emails, trying to get through enormous ‘to do’ lists, ensuring all the digital projects were going ok, and travelling quite a bit around the region, in short ‘doing’ work!

Research was always a luxury, something I tried, often in vain, to make time for, but inevitably something else would crop up. I think I’ve just about got used to the fact that reading is what I am now more or less supposed to be doing all day (although I still seem to be very good at procrastinating!) and I have a nice office space at home in Sheffield from which I work and do my research, and I just come to Leicester once or twice a week for seminars and to visit the library, or go to training events etc.

So, what have I done so far? My first task (self-identified) was to read around the topic of sensory experience in museums, a theme I thoroughly enjoyed researching (history, anthropology and museum studies texts mainly), and I wrote an extended essay on the topic for Dr Sandra Dudley, my supervisor (who is an anthropologist who has formerly worked at the wonderful Pitt Rivers Museum). I am currently reading lightly heavier tomes around phenomenology (Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty at the moment) with a view to seeing if/how they apply to sensory and material culture studies in museums, and again will be producing an essay imminently.

Following that, I imagine I’ll be looking into methodologies and case studies (which will definitely incorporate the Mary Greg project at Manchester Art Gallery, but I am also uncovering further places to visit on a weekly basis!) I find it strange that initially, I’d assumed that I had three years to ‘write my thing’ but actually, in the day-to-day scheme of things, it is so much easier to divide it into smaller, manageable chunks – not to even think of the bigger picture just yet. I do still need to go on that time management course though!

In addition to literature reviews, I’ve thrown myself into student life. I have taught several sessions for the MA Museum Studies students, mainly around Learning in Museums, but I also led a feedback session following a trip to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and helped run an object-based ‘Thinktank’ workshop. I have also been marking MA essays (a very interesting process – with some mind-blowingly good essays, others not so). I now find myself organising ‘The Museum Studio’, a fortnightly reading group seminar where a designated person selects a text for us all (PhD students) to review and critique during the two-hour session. I’ll be chairing sessions in the forthcoming Museum Utopias international conference too in March (something I’m a bit nervous about but looking forward to the challenge).

I have also had my first poster accepted for the Festival of Postgraduate Research at the university in May, so I am looking forward to the opportunity to attend the training and development course for the 50 of us who have been selected. Another poster proposal has been submitted for a conference in Nuremberg in July – a bit of a gamble, but fingers crossed… I was lucky to attend the engage conference in November, held at Turner Contemporary in Margate where I met some brilliant people and saw another Object Dialogue Box. And as well as all that, I’ve been enjoying some museum and gallery visiting time too – in particular seeing the Grayson Perry exhibition at the British Museum, Hockney at the Royal Academy, Vermeer at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Kettle’s Yard (where I started my museum career), Temple Newsam near Leeds, and Museums Sheffield. It’s a wonder I’ve had any time to read or write anything!

What are you enjoying most about studying for a PhD?

I suppose for me, the highlight, and the reason why it was so important for me to be in the Museum Studies department in Leicester, is the PhD community, and the other academics and opportunities at the School. When I started in October, there were also 7 others who started, the biggest PhD intake ever – and that’s just the campus-based people. I am the only British person to have started in October, so I am really relishing the range of perspectives and the chance to be part of a really intensive but warm and diverse community.

I am still in awe and disbelief that this is now ‘my job’ and I have a different pace of life – yes, it’s hectic and busy and can be really stressful, but it is up to me to set the goals, to manage my days and to do whatever I need to while still looking for those other opportunities to stay involved with ‘real’ professional practice. I’ve done a couple of freelance things – including at the amazing Spalding Gentlemen’s Society – and am still open to interpretation consultancy work, as well as being the GEM Yorkshire convenor, and sitting on a CPD+ group for the Museums Association, but on the whole, the PhD has taken over, and I am loving it.

* Join Alex and her fellow students at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester on 27 – 28 March 2012 for Museum Utopias, an interdisciplinary postgraduate symposium investigating the imaginary, ideal and possible museum. See

Difficulties incidental to museum demonstrations…

Sir William Turner, MA President 1901

Some reflections from the report of the Museums Association Annual Conference in 1901 give an interesting insight into how  ‘demonstrations’ about museum objects were – or should be in the view of the speaker – conducted, and about attitudes to museum education in general. These were offered by F.W. Rudler, FGS, Curator of the Museum of Practical Geology, on the basis that ‘few who have acted as demonstrators, if they have given serious attention to the wants of their audience, can have felt that their performance has been altogether satisfactory’:

‘In order that  demonstration be successful, it is essential that everyone present should hear what the demonstrator says, and see the objects which he is describing. The speaker should face his party, be in a slightly elevated position, and, while he is referring to a given specimen, all the audience should be able to see the specimen at the same time, so as to follow the words of the demonstrator. But how rarely can these conditions be fulfilled!

‘In the first place it is necessary to secure a large area in which the party can assemble in the immediate neighbourhood…. This is by no means always easy… most museums become, in the course of time, so crowded that the cases are necessarily placed too close together, and the area thus becomes so broken up that only comparatively narrow passages are free. The visitors are, therefore, more or less scattered, and only a favoured few can see and hear…

‘In most Museums, a large proportion of the specimens will be exhibited in upright Wall-cases, and when the demonstrator turns to these objects his back is presented to the audience. This is obviously a disadvantage to his hearers; but let that pass.  He points to a certain shelf, and the few spectators immediately at his side see what he is referring to, and appreciate his description; but the others forming the large outside group, see nothing until the demonstrator and the little circle around him pass to the next case. By the time, however, that the outsiders can obtain a glimpse of the specimens in the first case, the demonstrator has begun to talk about the second… No wonder, then, that they get bewildered, lose interest in the demonstration, and leave without carrying away any educational benefit…

‘Probably the demonstrator himself in many cases hardly realises the difficulty under which he labours. He, if no one else, has seen all that he is talking about, from beginning to end of his discourse. Of his failure to reach the out-skirts of his party, he remains practically ignorant… At the same time, the outside members, sensible of their obligations to the Curator for his trouble, are too polite to murmur dissatisfaction…

Mr Rudler had ‘been induced to bring the subject forward in order to ask the members of this Association if they think the difficulties which have forced themselves upon my attention are real; and, if so, how they are in the habit of dealing with them…’. His own preferred method was to limit the numbers in any group to twelve, and deliver a lecture on selected specimens in a classroom or lecture room. However:

 ’it seems to me far preferable not to disturb the Collections. My suggestion is that the typical objects upon which the demonstration is founded should be photographed from specimens in the Museum, and that lantern slides of these specimens, and not the objects themselves, should be exhibited on the screen during the demonstration. The camera and the lantern ought, in these days, to be adjuncts to every Museum’.  

In the discussion that followed his paper, others ‘admitted that the difficulty dealt with… was a real one’, but opinions as to how to deal with it varied. One delegate ’was disposed to extend Mr. Rudler’s limit of a dozen to 40 or 50′, while another ‘spoke of the great usefulness of the lantern… and said that it had been for some time the practice to use lantern-slides with lime-light, even in the daytime, in Cambridge lecture rooms’. Mr Carr, Curator of the Castle Museum and Art Gallery in Nottingham, ‘gave an amusing account of his experience of Museum demonstrations’ there: he had ‘not yet used the lantern, and was very grateful for the suggestion. He would also advise the use of a short syllabus, to be distributed among those attending the demonstration’.

In the view of another, ‘teaching was best accomplished by lectures etc. outside the Museum, supplemented by walk through the galleries. Demonstrations, in the ordinary sense of the term, seemed scarcely necessary’. But was this part of the job of the Curator at all? Most delegates agreed felt that it was, but one, while admitting ‘the use of occasional demonstrations…’, felt obliged to point out ‘the danger of the Curator degenerating into a guide if demonstrations became frequent’…

It’s notable that the educational function of museums at this time was seen as applying almost exclusively to adults rather than children. In the course of my research, however, I turned up an account of the introduction of classes for children at Salisbury Museum during the First World War, prompted by educational development as a ‘burning topic of the day’ and the opportunities this seemed to offer museums in a post-war world. A topic for another day…


Starting out in museums…

When I was at Mansfield Museum I asked Jodie Henshaw, the Museum Development Officer, how she got into museum work. Like many people, she started as a volunteer:

‘I did history at university, so I’ve always had an interest in it. When I left university I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do for a living, then through a friend I was told about volunteering, and actually ended up coming here [to Mansfield Museum]. I really enjoyed it and did that for probably a year and a half.

‘Then I went to do a post-graduate course in Heritage Management at Nottingham Trent University. Whilst I was doing that I worked at Newstead Abbey [as a gallery assistant] and at Pizza Hut. I worked two jobs to pay for that, so it was quite a busy two years… and then, just before I finished, the course, a job front-of-house came up here, working as one of the gallery assistants, so I applied for that and got that position… Then the assistant here left about five years ago, and I applied for that position, was lucky enough to get it, and that’s been it really. I absolutely love working here. I’m a Mansfield girl, so it’s great to work in you home town museum. I’ve met some wonderful people and done some amazing things, and I never get bored. I’m hoping to stay here for a good few years yet’.


Planning a new museum in Newark…

Last month I spent some time with Bryony Robins, the Development Manager for the Old Magnus Buildings at Newark & Sherwood District Council, to get some idea of what is involved in transforming these former school buildings on Appleton Gate in Newark into a new museum for the town which will also incorporate a National Civil War museum.

The Tudor Hall

The original Grade II* listed Tudor Hall housed the Magnus School which was established as a free grammar school in 1529 through a bequest from Thomas Magnus, a local man who served as a clerk to Henry VIII and was employed by him in a variety of administrative and diplomatic roles. It was extended in the 1630s, probably to provide accommodation for the Master. A Headmaster’s House was built on the Appleton Gate frontage in the earlier 19th century, along with a large Schoolroom at the north-east corner of the Tudor Hall, which was completed around 1829.

By the end of the 19th century, however, the school buildings were said to be in poor condition and cramped. New additions at this time included a first floor art room, a chemistry laboratory at the east end of the playground, and a single storey red brick gymnasium built in 1896 – but in 1910 the school moved into new buildings constructed at the junction of Coronation Road and Milner Street. In the following year the old buildings were sold to Newark Borough Council for use as a museum which opened in 1912. The Tudor Hall was restored soon afterwards to what was believed to be its original appearance. The museum shared the building with Council offices, most recently the Area Offices of Nottinghamshire County Council, until 2004 when it was closed and the building vacated. 

The Schoolroom, January 2012

Not least because of the complexity of the site, creating a new museum in the Old Magnus Buildings is a lengthy process involving a great deal of research, planning, consultation with both the public and specialist organisations, and applications for funding. Bryony has been in post just over a year now, and Newark & Sherwood District Council has recently agreed to submit a bid for £3 million to the HLF towards the anticipated total cost of the project of  £5 million. It will be some time yet before the plans become reality – but in the meantime, if you’re in Newark and would like to find out more about its pivotal role in the English Civil War, you can download a trail at

Many thanks to Bryony for taking the time to show me the buildings and talk about the project.


Museum of digitised and digital artefacts…

Interesting comment on the Museums in the Digital Age discussion board about the preservation of digital artefacts: ‘So far museums are very busy digitising artefacts like books, paintings and sculptures to name a few. But which museum is collecting digital videos, games and 3D material?’. Do you know of any?


Nottingham Industrial Museum…

Wollaton Hall Stable Block

On the subject of volunteers again, when the Nottingham Industrial Museum reopens on 17 March 2012 it will be run entirely by volunteers, with continuing support from Nottingham City Council which operated the Museum until its closure in 2009. Around 90 volunteers are currently involved with the project, including the Nottingham Arkwright Society which runs the steaming events at the Museum on the last Sunday of each month; and funding from the Adult and Community Learning Fund, the the Skills Funding Agency and Arts Council England has allowed training to be provided in the skills required to run the museum and manage the collections. These include lace-making machinery, restored Raleigh bicycles, Brough motorbikes and a 17th Century Baskerville coach, along with vintage radios, gramophones and telegraph systems, and the Basford Beam Engine used to pump Nottingham’s water supply over 100 years ago.

The Museum is located in the stable block at Wollaton Hall, and will be well worth a visit once it reopens. In the meantime, I came across an article written in 1971 by Eric Laws, a former Director of Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, giving an account of the decision of the Art Galleries and Museums Committee in 1964 to establish the Museum (‘Castle retrospective’, Platform, No 1, October 1971, p8-11).  Industrial museums were to some extent a reflection of Britain’s declining manufacturing base at this time, but it was a decision that Mr Laws personally viewed:

‘with complete detachment (feeling only that if they wanted to spend a lot of money they could spend it to better purpose on the Castle)… [But] a curator was appointed, given a shorthand typist and half an office at the Castle, and required to create the new museum… It was never suggested that the museum should be built; various empty buildings in different parts of the city were considered and rejected. Eventually the large 18th-century stable block belonging to Wollaton Hall was decided on’.

The premises were adapted and decorated, and heating and lighting installed; but although a ‘ very considerable number of donations had been received and some purchases made’, the City Council’s budget at that time would not cover the cost of museum attendants. In July 1970  the Industrial Museum was opened to the public for two weeks as part of Nottingham’s first Festival; and in July 1971 it opened on a more permanent basis on three days a week, staffed by a technician, two attendants and a secretary.   

So that’s how it started… If you’d like more information about the Museum, including volunteering opportunities, see; and you can also see video footage of the Basford Beam Engine in action on the Nottingham Arkwright Society website at


Consuming the country house: from acquisition to presentation…

Calke Abbey, Derbyshire

News of a conference ‘Consuming the country house: from acquisition to presentation’ at the University of Northampton, 18-19 April 2012:

‘The country house can be seen as a palimpsest: generations of owners adding their own material objects and layers of meaning. This presents challenges to both historians and curators – how to understand the relationship between new and old goods; how to assess the meaning of goods in different contexts, and how to present a coherent narrative of the house and its contents to the visitor today. Linked to this is the need to see the country house as dynamic: a lived and living space which was consciously transformed according to fashion or personal taste, but which was also changed by accident, decay and dispersal. Moreover, the country house was a nexus of flows as goods were brought in from the estate, the surrounding area and more distant centres – most notably London.

‘How do these links shape our understanding and interpretation of the country house? In paying more attention to the processes of consumption, attention is focused on social and economic aspects of the country house – a broadening of perspective which can offer a more rounded view of the elite. The country house is often seen as a symbol of wealth and power, but the economics of running such properties (in the present as well as the past) and the experience of everyday life (of owners as well as servants) deserve more attention.

‘This conference addresses such questions, drawing on comparisons across European countries to throw new light on our understanding of consumption and the country house. More broadly, it seeks to bridge the persistent divide between historians’ interpretations of elite consumption and the material culture of the country house, and attempts by owners, managers and curators to interpret and present the country house to visitors’.

Speakers will include Yme Kuiper (University of Groningen) on ‘Stately homes and aristocratization in the Dutch Republic: beyond Johan Huizinga’s narrative of Dutch civilization in the seventeenth century’; Annie Gray (Historic Food and Dining) on ’Broccoli, bunnies and beef: the raw and the cooked in the Victorian country house’; Patricia Ferguson (Independent Researcher) ‘Consuming ceramics: foreign luxury porcelain and the English country house, 1700-50′; Anna McEvoy (Stowe House) on ’The visitor experience of Stowe over three hundred years’; and Margaret Ponsonby (University of Wolverhampton) on ‘Faded and threadbare: the attractions of preserved interiors in English country houses open to the public’.

Further details including abstracts are available at: