18 November 2018

Job opportunity: Medicine Galleries Research Fellowship – Culturally Sensitive Objects

Do you have experience of working with culturally sensitive objects, ethnographic collections or museum policies? Do you have experience of delivering significant research projects?

The Science Museum Group has an astonishingly diverse and internationally significant collection of 7.3 million items from science, technology, engineering, medicine, transport and media. The Group also cares for Sir Henry Wellcome's Museum Collection, which contains thousands of objects related to health and medicine on long term loan from the Wellcome Trust. This material covers a broad range of cultures and includes a small number of objects which may be considered sacred, secret or otherwise culturally sensitive.

The Science Museum Group and Wellcome Collection are examining how we store, interpret, document and display these objects. Thanks to funding from the Wellcome Trust - provided to encourage greater academic engagement with the medical collections during the Science Museum's medicine galleries redevelopment project - we are delighted to offer a year-long fellowship to identify and review best practice concerning the care of culturally sensitive objects and collections originating from indigenous cultures, including items from Australasia and North America. 

In this role you will identify objects which may be defined as sacred, secret or otherwise culturally sensitive and identify, review and report on relevant policy statements (both nationally and internationally) regarding the care, storage, documentation and display of such objects, as well as best practice regarding access. You will also be tasked with planning, delivering and documenting workshops at key project milestones to discuss issues relevant to the research project with internal and external stakeholders. 

More details can be found on The Science Museum website.

The deadline is 02/12/2018.

12 November 2018

Supporting the National Museum, Rio de Janeiro


You will all have heard of the fire that gutted the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro.  Following discussions amongst interested parties as to what could be done to help, the RAI convened a roundtable meeting to discuss possible support.

Attendees came from universities, national and university museums, RBG Kew, British Council, National Archives, AHRC and Canning House.  MEG was invited as a representative of the museum sector.

Professor João Pacheco de Oliveira of the National Museum, Rio de Janeiro, addressed the meeting, with simultaneous translation for the non-Portuguese-speaking delegates.  He spoke very movingly of the huge loss that people feel – not just the staff and academics who worked, collected and carried out their research there, but also many ordinary people for whom the 200 year old museum represents the national identity of Brazil.

Staff have not yet been allowed into the building to assess the damage, so actual losses are unknown.  Some material may have survived underneath the collapsing building, or it may be that everything was destroyed.  The building itself is unsafe, and police have closed the remains as a possible crime scene.

The fire has meant a huge cultural loss: the anthropology collections, being in large part organic materials, are assumed lost, especially the material from indigenous Brazilian communities.

The archives are also assumed lost: there was no support for digitisation, so digital copies only exist where researchers had made their own for their own work – therefore it is random selections and perhaps not good quality. 

The fire is creating opportunities.  Indigenous communities have already offered to make new objects for the museum – they see the museum as important for their cultures and histories.  Much of the lost collections had no or little data, so this is an opportunity to collect data as well as objects, working in close and respectful collaboration with indigenous communities.  But, some of the lost material represented a meeting of cultures, indigenous and colonial, 200 years ago, and that cannot be replaced. Indigenous communities are not fossilised, they are changing over time, so the material culture changes.  The professor gave the example of feather cloaks: the 16th century cloaks in the collection were made with red feathers.  That red bird is now extinct, and 21st century cloaks are made with raven feathers.

It was agreed that the lead should come from the Museum: they are not in a position yet to accept help or new accessions.  Once they can access the building, the need will be for forensic archaeologists to excavate the ruins and salvage what can be saved.  Staff will then know better what has been lost, and can start to plan the rebuilding of the museum.

It may be that part of that rebuilding is digital: research from academics who used the collection in the past, photos from visitors of the displays, images of objects in other museums, oral histories from staff, researchers and visitors.  Then there may be a point where the museum asks for loans or transfers from other collections, but that point is a long way off yet.

I suggested that MEG could help with organising digital images from non-national and non-university museums, using data from the various surveys and our professional network to find material in the UK.  MEG members had responded to the request for ideas with suggestions for oral histories and testimonies, crowdsourcing of digital images used to curate online galleries, restore collective memory and create education resources.

As there is more news we will pass it on.

Sue Gies (MEG Chair)

4 November 2018

Folklore and the Nation

The annual conference of The Folklore Society
Friday 29–Sunday 31 March 2019
University of Derby
United Kingdom

Call for papers—first deadline Sunday 9 December, 2018
The nation surges with newfound rhetorical power. The last 25 years have seen parliamentary devolution, the Scottish independence referendum and the proposed withdrawal from the European Union, all within the UK alone. Yet this is a global drive, manifesting also in diaspora (St Patrick’s Day is now a global celebration) and the everyday, local acts that constitute our reality. In England, for example, it is no longer remarkable to see the St George’s Cross flying outside suburban houses. We are living through a popular move towards national ideologies.

This conference asks how, why and when folklore has been deployed in the context of national ideologies and ideas of nationhood. For some, the lore of the nation has been an instrument to build consensus; for others, a means of excluding. Signs of cultural identity have served to both unite and divide separate polities, whilst diasporas live within two nations at once, the state of residence and the (sometimes imagined) homeland. The conference accommodates the use of folklore in exclusionary and disciplinary deployments of nationalism, whilst remaining open to flexible definitions of nationalism, in the form of solidarity, ethnicity, diaspora and nations within nations.

Of course, folklore has always been connected with the discourse and development of the nation, as demonstrated by collections such as Timothy Baycroft and David Hopkin’s (2012) Folklore and nationalism in Europe during the long nineteenth century. Whilst the folk were considered cultural survivals, of low status in the ranks of civilization, folklore was symbolically important to many national struggles. Ambiguous feelings about tradition—whether it was the authentic voice of the people or a quaint echo of the primitive—drove the historical development of nationalism just as it contributed to the development of the academic discipline of Folklore. Custom, legend and tradition played their part in progressive, Romantic nationalism, as much as they did in promoting the nationalism of totalitarian states. What, then, is traditional about the place of folklore in nationalism, and nationalism in folklore?

This conference welcomes perspectives from Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Ethnology, Ethnomusicology, History, Literary Studies, Sociology and other disciplines. We welcome contemporary and historical understandings of the many connections between folklore and the nation. Contributions might look at the local and the national, links and similarities between nations and the role of gender and sexualities. We are, of course, interested in traditional forms such storytelling, folk song, dance and costume, amongst others. We hope to explore, but are not limited to:
  • Literary and artistic uses of folklore in relation to national ideologies.
  • Relations between ethnicity, nationalism and folklore.
  • Folk heroes.
  • The use of folklore against the nation.
  • The heritage industry and its relationship to nationalism and folklore.
  • The mobilisation and reception of folkloric motifs, items and folkloristics itself, by extremists, both historical and contemporary.
  • Disciplinary questions of resistance. How can, or should we, as folklorists, respond to its uses in such contexts?
  • Vernacular ideologies of myth and narrative in national popular culture.
  • The relationship between nationalism, folklore and media, including the role of the internet and social media.
  • The relationship between folklore, Gramscian ‘common sense’ and hierarchies of knowledge in relation to nationalism.
  • Folklore and Brexit.
  • Folklore, asylum and immigration.
  • The relationship of folkloristics to nationalism and the nation. 
The conference is kindly hosted by the University of Derby at its One Friar Square campus in the centre of the city. There will be a tour of Derby and opportunity to visit the Peak District.

On the Friday evening, at 11pm, the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union. Whether or not this happens, we invite traditional and creative practitioners to contribute responses to the themes of the conference. In the evening, we will hear them in a public house as last orders approaches. 

The first deadline for papers is Sunday 9 December, 2018. Proposals of 100–150 words, for presentations of 20 minutes, should be emailed to: thefolkloresociety@gmail.com and copied to enquiries@folklore-society.com. Please include a brief biographical note, including contact details.

Both members and non-members of The Folklore Society are warmly encouraged to offer papers at this conference.