Monthly Archives: July 2013

Blog 3. Charlotte Bomam – Exploring the Archive and 19th Century Photographs:

The day was staged as a series of events that would together form a kind of narrative: the journey everyday objects undergo in order to become objet d’art (or at least, items homed in national archives).  We began by going ‘behind the scenes’ with 30 (year 10) students to investigate the various ways in which objects are physically handled as they are cleaned, preserved, dated, classified, boxed and so on. Rhian’s approach to touring the various workstations in the archival hinterland is very much about demystifying the pristine and orderly exterior of the archival space by explaining about the mundane realities of dust, bugs and mould that tend to accompany historical objects.

Ending up in the search room, students had the opportunity to explore a variety of historical sources and documents that tell social stories connected to their local geographical environment: 19th century police records (with photographs of inmates); detailed accounts from the city’s asylum; a Victorian school diary from the 1880s (some things, it seems, never change); an ordinance map of the now highly developed area of Cardiff where the college is located (then mostly farm land and open fields). The weird otherness of some of this material certainly featured in these conversations, but also, I think, a sense that this is somehow familiar, part of the story of ordinary life. As a way of bringing these strands together, the students used the Glamorgan online collections to have a go at researching their own ancestry.

The second part of the day focused specifically on the importance of photography as an autobiographical and familial narrative. Using images from the Thompson family collection, I wanted to stimulate thoughts (in smaller groups of 4-5) about how ideas relating to gender, social status and personality are encoded in a series of formal photographs from the mid-19th century. It was interesting to find that in feeding back ideas, the groups were generally very comfortable with reading photographs in terms of clothing, posture and so on. The responses opened up plenty of opportunities for drawing on their experiences of taking, selecting and collating digital images through social media. That is, the idea that we use photographs to construct an identity and a social context is as self-evident (and problematic) now as it was then.

The concluding part of this story of Victorian family photography sits less comfortably with our modern notions, however: The practice of memento mori photography. These photographs are really well suited to thinking about how attitudes to death have been transformed, but also changes to family patterns. So, with these questions/thoughts in mind we ended the day by watching sections from two fairly recent films that deal with this topic: Troell’s Everlasting Moments and Amenabar’s The Others.

 

The activities that took place during the course of the day were intended to tie in with the goals we had identified at the planning stage, such as to…

  • Stimulate engagement and a sense of ownership in relationship to the cultural history of local communities  
  • Make connections between past and present experiences
  • Reflect on aspects of social identity, including gender, education and class
  • Practice study and work related skills (research, communication, IT)
  • Encourage critical and independent thinking

It has to be said that there were a few surprises (for instance, the group that came along were not A-level students, as we had been told, but first year GCSE!). This meant adjusting the pace and focus somewhat as we went along, but I felt that the comments and notes often suggested thoughtful, critical and (for me) sometimes surprising responses.   

            As the school year is drawing to a close, Rhian and I will meet up to discuss the feedback and consider ways of tweaking the planning. Hopefully there will be opportunities to continue with other workshops in the autumn term. I think we both feel that there is room for development of this collaboration. It was a very hectic, intense experience and I would, perhaps, aim to do less discussion-based work in the future. I have an idea about a mini-research project around photography that students could do individually (or in small groups) that is occupying my mind at the moment…  

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Sarah Younan’s blog post

Things are starting to come together; I have scanned an eclectic range of museum objects from the ceramics collections at the National Museum of Wales (http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/), and shared the digital scans with a number of artists interested in participating in this project. Colaborating artists will use the 3d scans of historical artefacts to create new artworks. Andrew Renton, head of applied arts at the National Museum of Wales, has agreed to host a small exhibition of the submitted artworks in the ceramics galleries at the museum. I have never currated a show before and am quite excited about the possibilities. One thing is certain; in order for the digitally created artworks to enter into a dialogue with the original museum artefacts both will have to be displayed together. I would also like to go beyond simply displaying digital artworks on screen or as projection and am thinking of bringing tabletop 3D printers into the museum to allow digital artworks to manifest physically inside the museum.

Three participating artists have submitted initial sketches – none of these are finished pieces, but they already display a wide range of interpretations of the original artefacts.

In a little movie clip that M. Helmrich, an animator by trade, has put together the lid of a cup is transformed into a flying saucer, and sound has been added to bring the artefacts to life.

 

S. Haddad has sent a sketch, which references popular culture; a ceramic squirrel has been replaced with Scrat (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etKCHLgW_o0) , an animated character from 20th Century Fox’ Ice Age movies.

 

T. Pickup, from the digital arts collective Genetic Moo (http://www.geneticmoo.com/) on the other hand approaches the scans as digital data, rather than as three-dimensional models, and has written a programm which runs through the scans coordinate points and translates them into an abstract pattern.

 

These initial approaches can be read in the context of theories on the museum, on artefacts and the digital realm;

 

-Helmrich’s playfully associative connection of the ceramic tableware and flying saucers epitomizes the dream space – The dream space describes a field of subrational thought in which museum artefacts interact with viewers’ memories, imagination and emotions (Kavanagh, 2000). Within the museum it is an affective space and can provoke both emotional expression and creative free play in the minds of their visitors (Mills, 2011).

 

-Haddad’s piece connects the historic artefact with popular culture and illustrates how the mass media has become a source which feeds into our historical imagination (Wallace, 1995); visitors now enter the museum with well stocked mental film banks.

-Artefacts where historically made within a particular medium[1], the level of the interface did not exist (Manovich, 2010). When working with 3D models the artists usually interact with data on the level of the interface. Pickup’s choice to work with the code data itself raises questions about the nature of digital objects.

 

As this project progresses it will surely offer more exciting approaches towards working with the digital scans of museum artefacts. I am looking forward to seeing how meanings shift and the public, physical object becomes personal and expressive of the artist’s interpretations. In this way the National Museum of Wales will hopefully become a place that inspires philosophical reflection on the impact of media on our understanding of museums and heritage.


[1] The artefacts from the National Museum of Wales are all ceramic objects; their mode of production and materiality forms a great part of what these objects are. Not so with 3D scans of these artefacts; they are dematerialised and noted as data.

Kyra Pollitt reports on the first of her Research to Public events:

Action/Assemblage: Drawing Together

The weather forecast lied. The galleries of the Royal West of England Academy were pretty quiet on the Saturday afternoon of one of the few gloriously sunny bank holidays in living memory. This did not bode well for the first of the two Research to Public events I had been busily planning. Action/Assemblage: Drawing Together was scheduled as one of the activities running through the RWA’s Drawn exhibition. It was designed as an interactive visitor experience, and it wouldn’t work without visitors.

I was relying on a host of folks to help the event along. The most important members of the cast were Richard Carter and Paul Scott who had agreed to perform the poetic works they had created in the visual-gestural medium of British Sign Language. Then there were the interpreters, Pascale Moroney and Naomi Bearne, without whom the Signartists and visitors would not be able to communicate. Finally there were the members of the research-through-drawing collective HATCH who had volunteered to lead the graphic responses to Richard and Paul’s work, and Alice Hendy who was to record the event with her camera.

After arriving to arrange the Drawing Lab space far too early, and sweating through the superfluous empty minutes supported by my partner who had generously elected to lend a hand, the cast began to arrive. Fifteen minutes before the start of the event we were all assembled. All that was missing was a ‘public’. ‘Assemblage’, but not yet ‘Action’…

 But I needn’t have worried. Once the Signartists began to perform, their movements conjured visitors into the space as if by magic. 

The Drawing Lab quickly filled. What’s more, the visitors didn’t leave. Most stayed for the entire two hours of the event. As an inveterate wimp (see my first blog on this subject), the bravery of others never ceases to impress and I was bowled over by the readiness of casual visitors to engage with drawing practice. They drew, they wrote haikus, they asked questions, they made comments and appreciative noises, and observed long intense silences while Richard and Paul performed, and I scribed provocative quotes on the blackboards. And as the event drew to a close and artists and visitors mingled and chatted, the voluntary contributions box began to fill with drawings, comments and even a number of haikus!

 The success of the event was all the more rewarding because the whole was designed as a performance of the activity of my doctoral research. I’m looking at image in sign language poetry, and asking whether analysing this ‘Signart’ through art epistemologies can offer a greater understanding of the form than purely linguistic or literary analysis permits. So Richard and Paul were performing the subject of the research, the visitors were performing the research practice by drawing, thinking, writing and commenting, whilst I was performing academia by relating all of these to existing knowledge.

It seemed to work. I can only hope my thesis will be as well received. And perhaps the brightest planning idea – which came from Gemma Brace, the curator at the RWA – was to run the event twice. This offers the opportunity for ‘rewrites’ and ‘corrections’. The first event put a lot of pressure on the Signartists to perform continuously, whilst the position of the blackboards meant the content of my work could easily have been overlooked by visitors. In short, the three activities of the model were performed but could perhaps have interacted with each other more fully. At the next event, in a few weeks’ time, I’ll punctuate the Signartist’s performances by reading the statements I am writing and so help the visitors’ ‘research’ activities to be informed By the ‘academic’ content. I hope the turn out and the responses will be as satisfying.

 I enjoyed the experience enormously!I can’t tell you how fascinating I found the event. 

I’m an artist. I’ve lived in Bristol for six years and this is the first event that has attracted me to the RWA.

 It was really moving, and incredibly inspiring and thought provoking!

Fascinating.Where is the line drawn?

I have never seen sign poetry before, and I didn’t even know it existed

Brilliantly expressive and strong. Mesmerising!

Wow! Really interesting challenge. 

Haiku: with eye, hand, lip a concentration of  movement understanding will come soon Yes

Ed Owens – Blog 1: Trying to Bridge the Academic and Popular History Divide

Ed Owens – Blog 1: Trying to Bridge the Academic and Popular History Divide

Since beginning my PhD in Modern British History in 2011, it has become increasingly clear that if I am to enhance my eventual employment opportunities then my current project must engage a broad audience that extends beyond the academy. The keyword here is impact. Often banded about by policy-makers, higher education institutions and funding bodies without what appears to be any clear idea of its precise meaning, the ever-elusive ‘impact’ plays a crucial part in the government’s strategic investment in the Arts and Humanities http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/kei/impacts/Pages/meanbyimpact.aspx. Generally speaking, ‘impact’ requires that academic research is made relevant, tangible even, so that it might have a meaningful influence on life outside of the academy. In this way, generating ‘impact’ can range from increasing knowledge of a particular subject through public exhibitions to effecting government policy in health, housing or education. These are just a couple of examples, the broad umbrella term ‘impact’ encompassing such an extensive range of activities that at times it can appear overly vague and remote.

Cue The Afterlife of Heritage Research Project – ‘Research to Public’ strand, which has presented researchers like me with a unique opportunity to explore the ways in which we can generate ‘impact’ with our work. Run by a team well-acquainted with the growing importance of public engagement, the scheme has allowed me to join with an external cultural partner to organise an event that will broaden public awareness and understanding on a number of key themes related to my research. The Afterlife Team ran two intensive and highly structured day-workshops that helped us formulate ideas both for possible events and potential collaborations. In the first workshop we were made to think in greater detail about how we can make our work more accessible and relevant in terms of public engagement. In part, this was about user-friendliness and the need to eschew academic jargon when communicating with groups of people less familiar with some of the complex terms involved in our research. It was also about trying to capture the essence of our research in a way that will ensure it appeals to those less familiar with the topic.

At the second workshop we met a number of cultural partners located by the Afterlife Team who were looking to meet researchers with whom they might collaborate. This proved very encouraging both in terms of the cultural partners’ approachability and their real enthusiasm for the kinds of ideas that we hoped to convert into public-orientated events. In the activities organised as part of this workshop we also learnt about the kind of influences cultural partners could exercise to benefit our collaborations, such as advertising for the event, and the building of other networking opportunities. At this point, we researchers had been shortlisted for the ‘Research to Public’ strand, though we were yet to submit our final proposals for the all-important funding that would allow us to run our projects. In respect of this, the second workshop instructed us how to prepare our proposals with special emphasis on imagination and innovation, and we also discussed the need to establish strong communications with our cultural partners so that we would fully benefit from the kind of assistance they could offer us. 

By this point, I had in fact already located a cultural partner in the Institute of Historical Research http://www.history.ac.uk/. The contacts I made at the IHR via email were very enthusiastic about collaborating with a postgraduate historian and were particularly open-minded in terms of the idea for the event that I proposed to run with their help. One of the major focuses of my PhD is the way new kinds of visual media changed how ordinary people experienced and understood the role of monarchy in the middle decades of twentieth-century Britain. The very contemporary nature of this study and the enduring public interest in the royal family means that discussion about my PhD usually leads to more informal gossiping on Prince William and Kate Middleton, royal babies, the likely succession of Prince Charles and the future of monarchy. In this way, monarchy’s unceasing presence in society has meant that my PhD topic often lends itself to stimulating the thoughts of people outside of academia, because almost everybody has an opinion on the royal family, be it positive or negative.

Accordingly, I’ve planned a one-day event that I feel will appeal to a broader public’s sensibilities. Focusing on royal weddings from the interwar years in Britain and their representation in the new visual media of the newsreels of this period, I have set out to demonstrate how a popular image of monarchy was very carefully constructed to draw special attention to the romance, the babies and the gossip, which have remained so integral to the royals’ image through to the present today. My aims are threefold: to introduce the monarchy as a topic worthy of serious scholarship, stressing that the popular image of the royal family requires investigation if we are to fully appreciate the enduring social and cultural power of the Crown as a focal point of British national identity and community. Secondly, I’m particularly interested in advancing how we think about visual images in history and the way they have been used by the national media to present narratives to audiences. My area of expertise is newsreel and, accompanied by a number of other researchers working in this field, I want to use this one-day event to publicise the importance of the newsreel as a historical source and the new kinds of methodologies with which they are being approached. Finally, I intend to use this workshop to highlight how the process of digitisation is providing researchers with increased access to sources like newsreels, and how this affects the way historians ‘do’ history.

The format for this one-day workshop hosted by the IHR at Senate House in London is varied, involving several speakers on the aforementioned subjects as well as a number of interactive group-based activities and discussions. Aimed at researchers working both in and outside of history, and notably, professionals working in the media industry (interested either in the royal family or who have utilised newsreels in their work), this event will bring together a diverse group of people to learn more about the monarchy’s long-lasting and vital relationship with visual media, and how newly available visual sources are changing how we think about history, and how it is subsequently produced.

 

 

 

Charlotte Boman – Early Stages: Thinking about Photography & Education

I. Early Stages: Thinking about Photography and Education

My Afterlife of Heritage Project, ‘Photographing the Family. Workshops for Schools & Colleges’, is closely connected to my PhD research topic, which involves looking at photographic representations of family life in the mid-Victorian period. One of the most challenging and interesting aspects of being part of this public engagement project, I think, has been to explore the boundaries and defining features that distinguish one from the other.

The initial aim behind setting up these school workshop activities was to provide a space for exploring photographic images. More specifically, to ‘read’ ordinary family photographs and to explore associations between how families presented themselves in the Victorian period and how we represent our private, domestic life today. In planning the activities I also wanted to create opportunities for thinking about broader questions, including how photography contributed to the publication of privacy from the start. The Victorians were, after all, at least as troubled by these issues as we are today.

From my point of view, the choice of Glamorgan Archives as a potential cultural partner followed naturally from my research into Victorian photographic collections in Wales. Coincidentally, I met one of the archivists at a ‘Careers in cultural heritage’ event at Cardiff University in November and the collaboration developed in stages after that. Although the archive frequently engages with schools, they were keen to expand their collaboration with secondary schools and, in particular, to engage with the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification. As a result, the initial planning focused to a large degree on researching the WBQ, communicating with the Welsh education board (WJEC) and mapping out connections between my research, the Glamorgan collection and the curriculum. During Jan/early Feb., I had a number of meetings with Rhian Phillips, who is responsible for public engagement at Glamorgan archives, but also Ross Thomas from WJEC. The Afterlife workshop proved very useful at this point, not least because it had alerted me to the fact that each partner brings distinct skills and knowledge, but also a slightly different set of priorities.

At the same time, I was developing resources for the workshop, gradually incorporating material that surfaced in the collections, whilst accommodating the key principles of the WBQ. I think it has been a huge advantage to work with a small institution simply because it makes communication and face-to-face meetings much more straightforward. I was really pleased, for instance, that Rhian and I could attend the second workshop together.

The support from WJEC has been extremely valuable. One of the difficulties associated with working with schools/colleges is that you are trying to ‘sell’ extra-curricular activities that often involve cost, effort and somewhat vague benefits (having previously taught in a sixth form college I am familiar with the scenario!). However, the WBQ is not only much more open to learning outside the classroom, but the board actively promotes learning opportunities provided by outside agencies via its online library and communication. Nevertheless, trips take money out of the school budgets so being able to offer support for teacher cover is crucial, especially for schools in deprived areas.

The first workshop is booked for late May, so we shall see…

Charlotte Boman – Early Stages: Thinking about Photography & Education

I. Early Stages: Thinking about Photography and Education

My Afterlife of Heritage Project, ‘Photographing the Family. Workshops for Schools & Colleges’, is closely connected to my PhD research topic, which involves looking at photographic representations of family life in the mid-Victorian period. One of the most challenging and interesting aspects of being part of this public engagement project, I think, has been to explore the boundaries and defining features that distinguish one from the other.

The initial aim behind setting up these school workshop activities was to provide a space for exploring photographic images. More specifically, to ‘read’ ordinary family photographs and to explore associations between how families presented themselves in the Victorian period and how we represent our private, domestic life today. In planning the activities I also wanted to create opportunities for thinking about broader questions, including how photography contributed to the publication of privacy from the start. The Victorians were, after all, at least as troubled by these issues as we are today.

From my point of view, the choice of Glamorgan Archives as a potential cultural partner followed naturally from my research into Victorian photographic collections in Wales. Coincidentally, I met one of the archivists at a ‘Careers in cultural heritage’ event at Cardiff University in November and the collaboration developed in stages after that. Although the archive frequently engages with schools, they were keen to expand their collaboration with secondary schools and, in particular, to engage with the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification. As a result, the initial planning focused to a large degree on researching the WBQ, communicating with the Welsh education board (WJEC) and mapping out connections between my research, the Glamorgan collection and the curriculum. During Jan/early Feb., I had a number of meetings with Rhian Phillips, who is responsible for public engagement at Glamorgan archives, but also Ross Thomas from WJEC. The Afterlife workshop proved very useful at this point, not least because it had alerted me to the fact that each partner brings distinct skills and knowledge, but also a slightly different set of priorities.

At the same time, I was developing resources for the workshop, gradually incorporating material that surfaced in the collections, whilst accommodating the key principles of the WBQ. I think it has been a huge advantage to work with a small institution simply because it makes communication and face-to-face meetings much more straightforward. I was really pleased, for instance, that Rhian and I could attend the second workshop together.

The support from WJEC has been extremely valuable. One of the difficulties associated with working with schools/colleges is that you are trying to ‘sell’ extra-curricular activities that often involve cost, effort and somewhat vague benefits (having previously taught in a sixth form college I am familiar with the scenario!). However, the WBQ is not only much more open to learning outside the classroom, but the board actively promotes learning opportunities provided by outside agencies via its online library and communication. Nevertheless, trips take money out of the school budgets so being able to offer support for teacher cover is crucial, especially for schools in deprived areas.

The first workshop is booked for late May, so we shall see…