Hidden Histories: Display It Like You Stole It

Continuing our series of posts about hidden histories, Eleanor Root from Colchester and Ipswich Museums (and former MDO maternity cover!) shares her thoughts on our recent study day at the British Museum.

 

On Tuesday 23rd October, a group of us journeyed into London to take part in The Exhibitionist’s (AKA Alice Procter) Uncomfortable Art Tour of the British Museum.

Alice Procter, found of Uncomfortable Art Tours, believes that we’ve failed to come to terms with our colonial past and we need to resist triumphant nostalgia and challenge traditional narratives. We need to look through whitewashed labels to see a history of violence, imperialism and genocide committed by British people.

Alice gives tours around several national galleries, but the 90-minute tour at the British Museum focuses on unpicking their founding myths through exploring a series objects and their murky provenance.

We start off in a gallery that explores the beginnings of the British Museum, their collectors and early acquisitions. We discussed how objects collected through colonial expeditions (e.g. missionaries, government officials, explorers) often tell a story of violence even when it’s not expected. For example, Christian missionaries removed children from their families (an act of genocide). Even ‘good’ collectors, who collected through trade, used coercion as they were in a position of authority and power over local people. This manner of collecting is known as ‘salvage ethnography’, meaning the removal of objects from communities as you erase their culture.

The tour wound around displays of Pacific, North American and African cultures, stopping at particularly contentious objects. Alice emphasises the need for need a greater focus on the makers and users of the objects, not the collector, if we are going to begin to address stories of colonialism. In addition, if we ignore the brutal provenance of the object, we deny our history.

Our audiences want to trust us, and we should honour this trust with honesty.

The tour was challenging, emotional and thought-provoking. For me, the key messages were:

  1. We must be cautious when displaying objects from other cultures in case we go against their cultural protocols as this perpetuates the violence committed against the communities from which the objects were taken. For example, displaying an important object close to the floor, could be abusive of the object.
  2. We need to create space for a multiplicity of voices – we can’t speak for all the people our collections represent without resorting to (and perpetuating) stereotypes.
  3. It’s important to talk about individual stories, rather than generalising. This is humanising and especially important for objects that have difficult or violent stories. The objects can become memorials and allow people to have an emotional response.
  4. We need to consider our institutional architecture, for example many African collections are in basement galleries with dark colours and low lighting whereas many Ancient Greek displays are in bright, light galleries.

At the end of the tour, Alice hands out ‘Display It Like You Stole It’ badges and postcards for participants who might want to leave some feedback…

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Visit Alice’s website to find out more.

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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Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

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.

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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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

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.

Museum News – 23rd July 2018

I usually share links on social media so that non-subscribers can view my newsletters but there seems to be a fault with the new platform ECC are using which means the link doesn’t work. Therefore I am sharing the information on my blog.

If, since the GDPR changes, you are no longer receiving my newsletter but want to, or if you are a new subscriber, you can sign up here.

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  • Upcoming Essex Meetings

Collections Trust Event

The Collection Trust will be holding a free training day in Essex on Friday 12th October. We are looking for a venue to host and for everyone’s input on what subjects the training should cover. They are willing to talk about a range of documentation-related subjects including policies and procedures, the new SPECTRUM guidelines, backlogs and collection reviews. To have your say, vote online here

If you are able to offer a venue, please email amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk

 

  • SHARE Updates

Benchmarking – Deadline Friday 31st August 2018.

It’s that time of year again! The annual Benchmarking return collects data from museums around the region regarding visitor figures, income, staff and volunteer numbers etc. This data can be used by museums and SHARE for advocacy, funding applications, planning and all sorts of other things. You can see how your museum compares to others of a similar size or collection, compare data from different years or use it to illustrate the contribution your museum has had to the local economy and community.

The data that you provide should be for the period 1 April 2017 – 31 March 2018. The deadline for completing the survey is Friday 31 August 2018.

For more information about why you should take part in Benchmarking and how to get involved, click here

 

New Creative Communities Network

SHARE is launching a new Creative Communities Network. Building on the work of the previous Co-Production Network, this peer-support group is for any museums looking to engage more closely with their local communities. The first meeting will be this September in Ipswich. For more information, and to give your availability for the first meeting, click here

(Please do email me at amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk with your contact details to go on the mailing list as well as filling in the poll).

 

  • Funding and Opportunities

OFBYFOR ALL

Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History is running a fully-funded international museum development pilot called OFBYFOR ALL. The project is based on their phenomenal success in community coproduction, which has seen their annual budget increase from $700 000 in 2011 to $3 000 000 in 2018. It is led by their director Nina Simon, author of “The Participatory Museum”. For more information, click here 

 

Grants Of Up To £90,000 For History Makers In England

“The third and final round of the AIM Biffa Award History Makers Programme is now open for applications from AIM member museums in England. Check your eligibility and find out how to apply here.

Grants of up to £90,000 are available to support museums by creating new exhibitions featuring the lives and achievements of extraordinary, historical figures who have made a significant impact on the industrial, creative industries and arts, scientific, commercial or social history of the UK, helping to shape the world we live in today.

We want the funded exhibitions to be inspiring and exciting – especially for young people – and we are very keen to hear about exhibitions that would feature female history makers, notable people from the 20th century and people that have made a positive impact in the different and diverse communities of England”.

 

“AIM Conservation Grants: Next Round Closes 31st September

Does your museum need financial or practical support for a conservation project? AIM members can now apply for the next round of our conservation grants which close on the 31st September.

The round features three different funding schemes: Remedial Conservation Scheme, Collections Care Scheme and Collections Care Audits. Find out more and how to apply at: AIM Conservation Grants: Next Round Closes 31st September

 

Building Connections Fund

“Following the Prime Minister’s and Minister for Sport and Civil Society’s announcement to unlock £20m funding to tackle loneliness (as a part of Government’s ​wider endorsement of the Jo Cox Commission recommendations​), a new £11.5 million Building Connections Fund has been set up to support projects that are able to prevent or reduce loneliness.

 

The fund is a partnership between Government, Big Lottery Fund and the Co-op Foundation and aims to:

  • increase social connections, helping people form strong and meaningful relationships and creating a sense of community and belonging, and helping people feel more connected
  • support organisations to build on their existing work, eg by reaching more people, or working in a new area or with a different method or group of people
  • encourage organisations to join up with others locally
  • improve the evidence base and use learning to inform longer term policy and funding decisions”

More details, including how to apply, can be found here

 

WH Smith Community Grants

“The WHSmith Trust is now offering grants of up to £500 to voluntary organisations and schools from the proceeds of the compulsory carrier bag levies across the UK. Grants are awarded every six months to charities, schools and community groups of any size, provided they support the community in the UK.” For more information, click here. 

 

Heritage Lottery Fund, 1-on-1 Advice sessions, Wednesday 1th August, 11.00am – 3pm, Hadleigh Old Fire Station, High Street, Hadleigh, SS7 2PA

“Do you want funding? Do you have an idea for a heritage project? Then book a slot with Sally to find out how we can help!

Call Sally Page 07790375405 or email; sally.page@hlf.org.uk to book a 30 minute 1-on-1 slot to talk about your idea and find out more about our funding.”

 

“AIM Members: Sign Up Now To Receive Free Digital Membership Of The Social History Curators Group

Members of AIM can now take advantage of free digital membership of the Social History Curators Group (SHCG). This offer is available until 31st August and the free membership will run until 31st March 2019.

The Social History Curators Group was formed to improve the status and provision of social history in museums and the standards of collections, research, display and interpretation.

The group is a friendly community of history practitioners, people with an interest in social history and those that work directly with social history in museum collections. You don’t have to be a curator or an established professional to join – the group is open to anyone who works with social history.”

 

  • Resources

Heritage Watch

Has your organisation joined Heritage Watch, an Essex Police initiative to battle crime against museums and other heritage sites? Find out more here

 

Freelancers

SHARE has produced two new guides, one for museums wanting to work with freelancers and one for individuals wishing to go freelance. Both are available on the SHARE website

 

East of England Emerging Museum Professionals (EEEMP) Network

There is a new online network for people in the early stages of their museum career, living or working in the East of England. More information is available here

 

  • Vacancies

 Vacancies at Colchester and Ipswich Museums

CIMS are currently recruiting for two posts:

-Assistant Collections and Learning Curator (Natural Sciences), Colchester/Ipswich, £20,043 – 23,574, 37 hours per week, Closing date: Wednesday 1 August, 2018

Senior Collections and Learning Curator, Ipswich, £27,360 – £32,884, 37 hours per week, Closing date: Friday 17 August, 2018

You can find out more information here.

AIM Conference 2018: Changing Gear

Caroline Hamson, Heritage Collections Officer for The Scouts, shares her experiences of this year’s Association of Independent Museums Conference.

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Diversity was the focus of the first day, or as Shaz Hussain suggested, representation not diversity. Hannah Fox the Derby Silk Mill Project Director discussed how imperative it is to design exhibitions/museums/sites alongside your communities. You must have human centred design which focuses on think, do and feel. The top down approach is out of touch and more importantly, is not impactful.

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Victoria Rogers from Cardiff Story Museum gave us a run-down of the top 10 tips for building and diversifying audiences, with the mantras, ‘Ask, Listen, Act’, ‘Live your commitment’ and ‘Review, Learn, Amend, Grow’.

A tour of the new collections store at Gaydon was an eye opener, what a magnificent facility! It even includes a full view of the workshop where staff and volunteers maintain and repair the vehicles. A facility which means 100% of their collection (bar the archive) is on display. What a dream.

 

It’s also where I found my next car…..

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On day two we learnt about the free stuff and resources that are available to us as AIM members. The free resources through the, ‘Open Up: Museums for everyone’ project which will help museums of all sizes increase the diversity of their visitors to make real and lasting change in the museum sector. And a new three-year partnership with the Charity Finance Group means AIM members can sign up to receive advice, trouble shooting, resources, all for free!

A fascinating talk by Sue Davies told about the positive impact understanding your type of museum can have. Club, temple, forum or attraction? Understanding this can lead to better management by adapting your leadership style; leader, facilitator, guardian or business manager.

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What did I learn? To be the best we can be and serve our communities we must listen, really listen, don’t impose our ideas on people, be open to criticism, have a great sense of purpose and vision which is shared by everyone, and be willing to try and test ideas without fear of failure.

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: