Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

What is a ‘museum’?

In Museums on September 27, 2011 at 11:15 am

What comes to mind when you think of the word ‘museum’? What even are museums?

Chances are you think of particular museum – a specific example of one. Or maybe you just think of display cases. Or of visitors looking at objects. Or do you think of people, talking and sharing stories?

I wonder if we’re ever going to figure out how to define what a museum is. The museum community has been trying to define it for years.

According to Wikipedia a museum is ‘an institution that houses and cares for a collection of artifacts and other objects of scientific, artistic, or historical importance and makes them available for public viewing through exhibits  that may be permanent or temporary.’

The International Council of Museum updates its definition of a museum every so often, the most recent being at the 21st General Conference in Vienna, Austria, in 2007. They say a museum is ‘a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.’

That’s only two definitions and there are many, many more out there.

I’ve been pondering a supposition that in fact each person will end up defining what the word ‘museum’ means to them in terms of three things 1) how they perceive museums;  2) what they’re into in general and 3) how they use museums.

Someone who perceives museums as old-fashioned and boring place, isn’t interested in heritage and never visits one is probably going to end up giving a rather negative definition of a museum. While someone who sees museums as places of learning and dialogue, is into cultural history and goes to museums a lot is likely to give a largely positive and enthusiastic definition. These two standpoints are, of course, polar opposites and there are a huge range of positions in between.

I’d be interested in exploring the different responses to those three questions and then trying to find a common ground on what a museum actually is. It’d be a hugely social definition of what a museum is, but it’d be interesting to find out.

Hmmm, there’s another PhD project for ever-growing list ….


Get hands on with archive film

In new content on September 7, 2011 at 2:11 pm

I’ve had some content published on the BBC History website.

I was asked to write some online resources for the BBC Learning team who work on the Hands on History project, rolling out family-friendly projects relating to BBC historical programmes.

One of the programmes cuurently airing is Melvyn Bragg’s Reel History of Britain. In addition to curating a little exhibition about British social history and archive film (cuurently on tour around the UK) I also wrote some resources for families.

There are four resources now available to download (in English and Welsh!) from the Hands on History site or from the Reel History of Britain site. Or just click on the links below:

a guide to ‘archive film’

instructions on how to create a family film show

notes on how to record people’s memories

instructions on how to make your own vintage cinema screen


Reel History of Britain

In Museums, new content on September 6, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Melvyn Bragg has a new TV series called Reel History of Britain. It’s a social history documentary, charting the course of the twentieth century through archive film, plus interviews and recollections of key events that have taken place in the last one-hundred years, since the advent of moving film. In each episode Melvyn goes to a different place in the UK and shows people film in a 1950s Ministry of Technology mobile cinema, then gauges their reactions and captures them on film.  It’s airing now on weekdays at 18.30 on BBC TWO. You can watch previous episodes on the BBC iPlayer.

I was asked by the lovely people at BBC Learning to curate a little exhibition that will go on tour while the programme is airing and it’s about to launch this weekend. It’s a part of Hands On History, a programme of live events and online resources linked to television shows that are airing. I’ve previously worked with them on the Turn Back Time show last year and they’ve also run campaigns related to the Normans, Victorians and the Second World War.

The current live events include a chance to sit in a 1950s mobile cinema, an interactive area and a timeline of British social history, curated by me, with some tv screens showing archive film.

The Reel History Live Experience takes place in …

Glasgow – Fri 9 and Sat 10 September
Grimsby – Fri 16 and Sat 17 September
Peterborough – Fri 23 and Sat 24 September
Leicester – Fri 30 September and Sat 1 October

Do let me know if you go along!