4 October 2013

MEG event review: Researching donors of museum ethnography




Friday 27 September, Thinktank, Birmingham

Representatives from Birmingham Museums Trust, Reading Museum, the Museum of English Rural Life (Reading) and Brighton Museum & Art Gallery came together for a training event organised by the Museum Ethnographers Group (MEG). The event reflected MEG’s new emphasis on events which offer continual professional development opportunities to those working with ethnographic museum collections.
Our trainer was Dr Katherine Prior, a historian and historical consultant with particular expertise in using imperial archives. The emphasis of the day was on gaining skills and knowledge to support the research of donor histories and object biographies. Katherine started with a case study of a small group of Brighton Museum artefacts which, through web-based research, she was able to link to a critical moment in the establishment of an Anglican mission in Abeokuta, Nigeria, as well as – in the process - unsettling the established historical narrative of how a key Brighton Museum object was acquired.
Participants were introduced to a wide range of commonly available web resources as well as to simple techniques of improving Google search results. In the afternoon session we were able to put these to the test through researching donor names from our own institutions. All were impressed by the results and inspired to test out our new skills and knowledge back at our institutions:
‘My job will involve a lot of researching object biographies … it would have taken me a long time to find these techniques out by myself’
‘I’m better equipped [to undertake research] than I was this morning’
‘I work in a museum, and a library at the weekends, and a lot of the tricks we were shown today I had no idea about’
‘I’ve come away with lots of ideas for doing things back at work’
The case study presented at the event, as well as a list of useful web-based resources, will be made available through the MEG website. MEG is grateful to Thinktank and Birmingham Museums Trust for hosting the event.

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