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.

black smartphone and headphones on a desk

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.

What is a “Hidden History”?

person with body painting

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.

SHARE Fundraising Cohort 2018-19

money pink coins pig

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

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.

SHARE Creative Communities Network

CIMS 100 United

Does your museum want to work more closely with local communities? Do you want to bring in new visitors, improve your reach and build relationships? Diversifying audiences and giving ownership to local communities are both priorities for HLF and Arts Council and this network is a way to bounce around ideas with colleagues, learn from each other and hear about funding and other opportunities. We will meet quarterly through the year and help shape the SHARE programme around community participation.

Our first meeting will be in September at Ipswich Museum. We will be focusing on the new OFBYFOR ALL self-assessment tool and we would ask that attendees’ museums have completed the assessment ahead of the meeting, preferably as a team rather than an individual on their own and ideally including some of your community partners in the process.

In addition to join the network mailing list, please email amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk. Additionally, please can you let us have your availability for September by completing this poll   

– Amy Cotterill (Essex MDO) and Eleanor Root (Colchester and Ipswich Museums)

Benchmarking Survey – Have You Completed It Yet?

chart close up data desk

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

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

Training Needs Survey 2018

Object Handling, Packing and Marking

The SHARE Training Needs Survey 2018 is now open.

Every year, SHARE asks museums to help shape their annual training and development programmes. This is your chance to tell SHARE what skills you feel your museum needs to develop and which areas you want support in.

They need as many organisations as possible to complete it, as it helps them know not only what subjects to run, but where in the East of England to put them.

You can complete the survey either on behalf of a museum or as an individual (or both), but they would like as many organisational level responses as possible.

SHARE training is open to staff, volunteers and trustees of museums.

The survey has only 12 very quick and easy questions and takes not more than 10 minutes. It closes on 25th May and can be accessed online here.

If you cannot take part online, please contact me to arrange to receive a Word version.

SHARE Volunteer Awards 2017: Don’t Forget to Nominate!

Volunteers at Rayleigh Mill

Volunteers at Rayleigh Windmill, who won the Museums + Heritage Volunteer Award in 2014

**STOP PRESS**

The deadline for nominations has been extended until 1st May

 

Forget the Oscars, the BAFTAs and the BRIT Awards, the glitziest night of the year is the annual SHARE Volunteer Awards. These awards are museums’ opportunity to say “thank you” to the people who give their time, energy and passion to collections and visitors out of love for what they do. There is also a category for Volunteer Managers, who could either be volunteers themselves or paid members of staff supporting volunteers within their museum.

 

Essex museums have previously done quite well at these awards. Last year, Dick Waylen at the Museum of Power was Highly Commended in the Bringing Innovation category, Jacquie McGregor Hall at Chelmsford Museum was Highly Commended in the Learning Volunteer category and the team at Maldon Museum received the Judges Special Award.

 

You can nominate teams as well as individuals and there are eight categories:

 

  • Working Together
  • Outstanding Young Volunteer
  • Volunteer Management
  • Unsung Heroes
  • Learning Volunteer
  • Front of House Volunteer
  • Trustee Board Award
  • Collections Champion

 

Given how many passionate and dedicated volunteers we have in the county, it would be great to see a lot of nominations from Essex, especially from museums which are entire volunteer-run as these have been under-represented in the past. Who in your museum always goes the “extra-mile”? Has the work of an individual or group made a significant impact on what happens at your museum? Have your trustees worked hard to provide the wider team through a recent rough patch? This is your chance to show your appreciation.

Information about the awards, the different categories and how to make nominations can be found on the SHARE Museums East website.

The nomination form does ask for images, but please don’t let a lack of photos stop you from putting in an application.

 

The deadline for nominations is Monday 1st May (extended from 21st April). The ceremony itself will be on Thursday 8th June at the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket.