Hidden Histories: Oral History Interviews

Continuing our series on Hidden Histories in museums, oral history interviews are a great way to fill gaps in your collection and to bring stories to life for audiences, both in your museum and at home.

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As previously discussed, histories of certain groups and communities are often “hidden” because we don’t have the objects in our collection to represent them or because curators lack the specialist knowledge to interpret them.

By conducting interviews with members of these communities, you not only broaden your collection to include new stories and be more representative, you can ask questions which help you to better understand the physical objects already in your collection.

There are lots of ways museums can use oral history recordings. You can include them in exhibitions, either through a fixed unit or a portable player. Essex Record Office’s recent “You Are Hear” project saw special benches being placed around the county played recordings to the people listening to them.

You use clips of recordings on your website. Websites like Soundcloud, you can share clips from your your recordings and embed them into your website or blog, enabling you to share them around the world.

However, it isn’t as simple as simply sitting down with a your interviewee and asking questions. You need to make sure you have their permission to record the interview, to keep it and to share it.  You need to know that the equipment you have is up to the job. You should have a plan about what you want to ask, know how to ask open questions and what to do if the subject becomes upset during the course of the interview.

If you haven’t previously had oral history training, or would like a refresher, I have organised a training day with Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, Sound Archivist at Essex Record Office on 27th November. Click here for more information.

Don’t forget that SHARE’s Hidden History grant scheme is now open for applications. The deadline is 28th January, 2019. There is also a Hidden Histories Study Day at the British Museum on 23rd October 2018.

Hidden Histories: We Are Colchester

Today’s blog post continues out theme of Hidden Histories and is written by Ben Paites from Colchester and Ipswich Museums.

We are Colchester 5Colchester Museums have recently been looking to engage with a wider range of audiences through a series of projects held predominantly at Hollytrees Museum. “We Are Colchester”, an exhibition running from July 2018 to January 2019, has been the launchpad for this work.

The concept of the exhibition began in 2017 when it had been suggested that we have an LGBTQ+ exhibition in Hollytrees Museum, as this is an audience that is currently underrepresented within our collections. I held a focus group in April 2017, where I invited representatives from a wide range of organisations to come and give their thoughts on this idea. It was unanimously agreed that an LGBTQ+ exhibition might not be suitable for Colchester, as there would be the potential for alienating the very audience we were trying to attract. The fear of visitors to such an exhibition having to “out” themselves was quite problematic for some attendees. However, the concept of identity more broadly was a much more favourable topic.

“We Are Colchester” therefore looks at an individual’s identity as expressed through a single object. We have items loaned to us by members of the public, as well as objects from the museums’ collections. The exhibition explores a wide range of characteristics, such as gender, race, religion and profession. Encouraging visitors to add their own stories to the exhibition, there is an engagement wall where visitors are able to add a label expressing their own identity.

Following on from this project, we are hoping to turn our attention to the permanent displays in Hollytrees by inviting individuals from various communities within Colchester to explore our galleries and see whether they feel they are reflected in the museum. We will then work with them to see if we are able to reinterpret objects, rewrite labels or even actively collect new items to be part of the museums’ collections.   As it is Black History Month, we are currently recruiting individuals with an interest in Black and African History to get in touch and to be part of this project. We will be doing the same in February 2019 for LGBT history month, with the hope of engaging more audiences in future.

Museums News – 3rd October 2018

Dear All,

There are still spaces on the free “Donation to Disposal” seminar being run by Collections Trust on 12th October at Rayleigh Weir Fire Station. The day will be a thorough look at the new SPECTRUM 5 guidelines and will be really useful to anyone working with collections or responsible for Accreditation. More information is available here.

On 23rd October, I have organised a free “Hidden Histories” study day at the British Museum. The day will include an “Uncomfortable Art Tour” with Alice Proctor, looking at the colonial past of the British Museum’s collections. In the afternoon, we will have free entry to the museum’s “I Object” exhibition, which looks at the history of dissent. For more information, click here.

There is also an oral history training day on 27th November at Essex Record Office in Chelmsford.

To book on any of these, email me at amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk with your museum name and a contact telephone number.

Best wishes,

Amy

What is a “Hidden History”?

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SHARE Museums East have just launched a new grant scheme to support museums to interpret and share “hidden histories”, but what does it mean and why should you care?

Hidden histories are stories which are typically not told by museums. This could be because past curators haven’t collected relevant objects, or they have but museums lack the knowledge (or interest)to properly interpret them.

Often hidden histories are those belonging to minorities, such as people with disabilities, religious groups and BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) communities.

As homosexuality was illegal until the 1960s and continued to be deemed socially unacceptable for some time afterwards, LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual) stories are often under-represented.

However, “hidden” does not necessarily mean minority. Women are fifty percent of the population, but their stories are often not well recorded or shared. In many museums, women are only represented in the domestic galleries, or in relation to their husbands/fathers/sons. Collections are also often focussed on the wealthy or middle classes. Employers of the working class are well represented but the stories of the individuals are often sketchy or overlooked entirely.

Of course, I speak in generalities and there are many excellent examples of the above in museums but they are the exemption, not the rule.

 

How has this happened and why is this a problem? How would it benefit your museum to do more work highlighting these stories?

Many collections have come together through the work of a few private collectors and/or curators. They therefore reflect their particular interests, prejudices and opportunities. More recently, we have tended to rely on objects being offered to us rather than actively seeking to fill gaps. There is also frequently an awkwardness in tackling experiences outside of our own.

However, the world is changing. People no longer visit museums because it is considered “a good thing to do”. By tackling more diverse stories, museums are relevant to more people. They can increase not only their audiences, but their volunteers, donors and supporters, making them more resilient.

 

This is the first in a series of blogs around hidden histories, but I would like to draw your attention to a study day I have organised at the British Museum on 23rd October. This day will look at two different examples of hidden history interpretation.

SHARE Fundraising Cohort 2018-19

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As you may be aware, between 2014 and 2018 museums in the East of England had access to specialist fundraising training through SHARED Enterprise, an HLF funded project.  The programme included cohort-based training, which participating museums found highly effective because it combined group workshops with specialist one-to-one support and peer networking.

 

Now that the SHARED Enterprise programme has finished, we are planning to offer similar cohort-based fundraising training as part of the 2018-19 SHARE training calendar.  A small number of museums will attend group workshops and receive expert one-to-one support from an experienced fundraiser.  They will learn about fundraising strategies, including a variety of fundraising methods, and they will be supported to apply their learning in the real context of their own museums.

 

Workshop content will be tailored to suit the needs of the participating museums.  The following topics are likely to be covered:

 

  • Fundraising strategy
  • Case for support
  • Trusts and foundations
  • Corporate support
  • Individual giving

 

The fundraising cohort is for museums of all sizes that are serious about developing their fundraising skills, but applicants must commit to attending all group workshops and one-to-one sessions.  Ideally, the same two people should attend every session, as this makes the learning more effective and means you are more likely to be able to put the learning into practice and achieve fundraising success. Preference will be given to museums which have not had the opportunity to join any of the SHARED Enterprise cohorts.

 

The dates and locations of sessions will be arranged once the participating museums have been selected.  As far as possible, we will arrange workshops to be held in locations that are geographically sensible for participants, including asking participating museums to host a workshop if they have suitable facilities to do so.  Workshop dates are yet to be arranged and will be published as soon as possible.  One-to-one sessions will be take place at the participants’ own venues, by prior arrangement.

 

There is a small fee payable for taking part in the fundraising cohort.  This is £200 for an accredited museum in the East of England, or £400 for a non-accredited museum and museums outside the East of England region.  In return for this, you will receive training and one-to-one support worth approximately £1,600.  Information about how to pay will be sent to you if you are offered a place in the cohort, and payment is needed to secure your place.  If you would like to apply but have difficulty paying the fee, please contact us to discuss assistance.

 

How to apply:

Initially, please complete the expression of interest form below and email it to sharemuseumseast@norfolk.gov.uk no later than 5pm on Monday 10 September 2018.

 

If you have any questions, please contact Miranda on 01603 493659 or email miranda.ellis@norfolk.gov.uk.

Collections Trust Training Day – October 2018

20150420_141111.jpgThe Collections Trust will be delivering a free training day in Essex on Friday 12th October and I need your help.

 

Firstly, is anyone able to provide a venue for the day? If so, please contact me.

 

Secondly, what would you like the training to cover? The event is open to all museums, not just Accredited ones and the Collections Trust team are eager that you find the day as useful as possible. Please select as many of the options below that would be of use to your museum:

 

Benchmarking Survey – Have You Completed It Yet?

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Now in its 16th year, SHARE’s annual benchmarking survey is aimed at museums in the region who are Accredited or currently Working Towards Accreditation (or with ambitions to be so).

The information SHARE receives from your surveys helps them, me as the county lead for museums and you to demonstrate the social and economic impact and importance of museums and heritage sites both locally and regionally to funders and stakeholders, helping to sustain investment in our sector.

Your survey returns are hugely important, not only to support us in our advocacy but so SHARE can get a clear picture of your annual activities and support you better as your regional museum development provider.

 

From the 2016/17 survey we know that:

  • there were more than 3,606,169 million visits to museums in the East of England region
  • visits to museums contributed over £60 million to the regional economy
  • there were more than 229,341 participants in learning activities provided by museums
  • and 6,608 museum volunteers who contributed an incredible 812,366 hours to museums
  • meaning that volunteer time was worth £5.8 million to museums
  • museums also employed 915 paid staff

In tough economic times for museums every little helps, and your stats can help enormously!

The survey is short and will be easy to complete by a volunteer or member of staff with a good overview of their museum’s work. The questions cover visitor numbers and engagement; museum finances; volunteers and staff; educational work as well as challenges and opportunities for the future. The data that you provide should be for the period 1st April 2017 – 31st March 2018.

 

If you are a multi-site, or a museum that hosts another Accredited collection within your museum, please contact museum.development@bristol.gov.uk for a bespoke survey form.

 

You can complete the survey online here. If you are unable to complete it all in one go then you can save and return to your answers at any time. Alternatively you can also complete  this paper version and return it via email or post to me as your MDO.  The deadline for completing the survey is Friday 31st August 2018.

 

A partial return is better than no return! If you can’t answer all of the questions because you haven’t been collecting the data, please do what you can.

 

If you have any questions about completing the survey then you can get in touch with museum.development@bristol.gov.uk