9 January 2013

Brief for a Consultant Ethnographer (Nineteenth Century Chinese texts)

Royal Albert Memorial Museum Collections Review 2012-2013

Specialist collections assessment:

Nineteenth Century Chinese texts in RAMM’s Ethnographic collection

Indicative fee: £1500 including expenses
Closing date for Expressions of Interest: Friday 11 January 2013, 12 noon

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) in Exeter seeks a consultant ethnographer, specialising in the material culture of China, to translate and assess the significance and interpretation potential of 17 Chinese texts, dating to the 19th century,  in the museum’s ethnographic collection.

Background: RAMM collections review
Between 2011 and 2013 RAMM is carrying out an extensive review of its collection of over one million objects. The review sets out to assess and grade the collections for historical, cultural or scientific significance and potential for research, audience diversification, learning and income generation.

RAMM’s collections review has two elements:

  1. Preliminary Collections Assessment: primarily carried out internally by non-specialist museum professionals
  2. Expert review of selected material: carried out with input from specialist curators at RAMM, external experts and peers.

This brief is for a piece of work as part of the second element - specialist / expert review.

Why Chinese texts?
A preliminary collections assessment has identified RAMM’s East Asian ethnographic material as being a priority for specialist research and review. Within this large sub-collection there is a small group of 17 Chinese texts which are poorly understood and under-used. RAMM is keen to open up the potential of these texts for much better access and interpretation.

With the collections review underway, RAMM needs to understand the relative significance and usage potential of different items in this group as fully as possible, in order to prioritise resources appropriately and maximise public benefit.

What kind of material is involved?
The Chinese texts date from the 19th century and include 15 books and two scrolls.

The material, together with associated documentation, will be made accessible by arrangement in RAMM’s new Collections Study Centre and off-site collections store.

Outcome of consultancy
As a result of this expert review by a consultant, RAMM needs to:

  1. have translations of a series of key extracts from the text, selected in collaboration with the consultant ethnographer, with a view to opening up a range of access, interpretation and display possibilities for the material.
  2. be sure that the texts are accurately described in the collections information, including information relating to the donor, function, and indigenous community wherever possible.
  3. identify highlights among the material and understand why they are highlights.
  4. have an expert commentary on, and ranking of, the material according to the following criteria:
    1. Provenance and history (eg. connection to a person, place, indigenous group, event, activity, belief, custom, theme, etc)
    2. Representativeness and best examples of type (local, regional, international)
    3. Importance to the study or development of ethnography and our understanding of indigenous communities.
  5. have a categorisation of the items in terms of:
    1. Material which offers a high potential for research or other use
    2. Material which is unlikely to yield much useful information or have other use.

Preferred methodology
The consultant will be expected to:

  1. Review the relevant items in the store or Collections Study Centre, together with associated archival documentation
  2. Check, confirm, amend and expand upon existing collections documentation as appropriate
  3. Translate and, with the Curator of Ethnography, select key extracts from the texts for interpretation and public access, advising on their cultural and historical meaning and significance
  4. Provide a detailed expert commentary on each object assessed, covering provenance, representativeness and importance to the study or development of ethnography and our understanding of indigenous communities, using a supplied template The template is likely to take the form of a set of records exported from RAMM’s FileMaker Pro collections database to a spreadsheet or table, which can then be worked upon / added to by the consultant.
  5. Assess and grade the relative research or usage potential of the objects, giving reasons for each assessment, using the supplied template
  6. Recommend a prioritisation or ranking of the material according to the above criteria. This will be cross-reference-able to RAMM’s collections database in FileMaker Pro and provided in a format which facilitates straightforward transfer of consultancy findings to the database. (The consultant will not be expected to undertake any data transfer himself / herself)
  7. Suggest a sampling strategy for retention or disposal, in relation to the material assessed. For example, this could be a suggestion to retain 100% of the material or to transfer or dispose of 100%, or of particular items adjudged to be of lesser importance / relevance to RAMM. Again this will be in a format which facilitates easy transfer of information to RAMM’s collections database.

The consultant will be required to:

  1. Populate a supplied template with his/her findings/assessment in respect of each object
  2. Produce a series of translations of key extracts, with commentary as appropriate
  3. Produce a report setting out his/her findings, gradings and recommendations, as outlined in the preferred methodology/approach (above).

Other requirements
The consultant will be expected to:

  1. Work to recognised professional and ethical standards for this field of work
  2. Work within the overall framework of RAMM’s Collections Review.

The work should be completed by the end of March 2013.

The indicative fee for this piece of work is £1500, including expenses.

Fee payment
The fee for this work is payable as follows:

  • 50% on return of signed contract or letter of agreement
  • 50% on acceptance of completed report.

Consultant specification
The successful consultant must have:

  • A higher degree in a relevant area of museum ethnography, anthropology or other relevant subject
  • Specialism in the material culture of East Asia and China in particular
  • Substantial experience of reading and translating from written Chinese to English
  • At least five years’ experience of post-graduate ethnographic or anthropological research and practice.

The successful consultant will ideally have (though not essential):

  • Knowledge and experience of collections review methodologies
  • Practical experience of carrying out collections reviews and / or assessing collections’ significance.

The successful consultant may also have:

  • Understanding of the requirements of Museum Accreditation 2011 and Arts Council’s new priorities for museums
  • An understanding of the latest developments and issues in collections management, including the Museums Association’s Effective Collections and models for assessing significance, would be advantageous, though is not essential.

Submission information
Consultants interested in tendering for this contract should send a CV and Expression of Interest to the address at the end of this document.

The Expression of Interest should provide brief details of how the consultant meets the specification above, including:

  • Details of published material, including URLs where appropriate
  • Details of similar work undertaken
  • How the consultant would propose to carry out this contract, including any refinement of the preferred approach/methodology outlined in this brief
  • The number of days the consultant would be able to dedicate to this work, within the fixed fee available
  • Details of two referees or clients for whom the consultant has delivered similar work (including contact details)

The consultant will be responsible for his or her own tax and National Insurance, and may be required to provide evidence of self-employed status.

The consultant should hold the relevant insurances, including public liability and professional indemnity as appropriate.

Expressions of interest should be sent to:
Claire Gulliver, Collections Review Co-ordinator and Tony Eccles, Curator of Ethnography, Royal Albert Memorial Museum
RAMM Offices, Bradninch Place, Gandy Street, Exeter, EX4 3LS
Email: claire.gulliver@exeter.gov.uk; tony.eccles@exeter.gov.uk

Closing date for Expression of Interest
Friday 11 January 2013, 12 noon

Any questions about this consultancy contract should be emailed to Claire Gulliver at the above address. Please note that Claire works at RAMM on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Questions about the Chinese texts should be emailed to Tony Eccles, Curator of Ethnography, at the above address.

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