26 May 2011

Job at the Horniman Museum

Assistant Curator: Oceania Collections - 6 month contract
Salary Scale E: £25,203 per annum

The Horniman Museum & Gardens is a registered charity funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Its collections illustrate the world we live in – its visual cultures, music and the natural environment. The Horniman is currently working on an exciting new project funded by Renaissance in the Regions to facilitate greater access to its Oceania collections. The core of the collections was assembled by Alfred Haddon between 1903 and 1915 and numbers some 3,000 – 4,000 objects of high quality and importance.

Your responsibilities will be to research and document the Oceania material in the Anthropology and Musical Instrument collections, providing a review of the collections, identifying the significant objects and providing information about these objects which can be used in the Horniman’s Collections Online digital presence. You will have a degree in socio-cultural anthropology with a focus on Oceania and be able to demonstrate familiarity with Oceanic material culture, gained through study, research and / or firsthand experience as well as having experience of researching objects in a museum collection. The ability to work as part of a team and to write clear, consistent, detailed and accurate descriptions are essential requirements of the post.

To access further information and an application pack, please visit our website at

The closing date for completed applications is 20th June 2011. 
Interviews will take place on 13th July 2011.

The Trust is committed to equality of opportunity and welcomes applicants from all sections of the community.
Registered Charity in England and Wales No 802725.

10 May 2011

Review: MEG Conference 2011 “Objects and Words”

By Jenny Walklate
School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester

It is hard to believe that it has been a year since The Museum of Rural Life welcomed MEG to Reading, and that this time last year I was a first time conference presenter and new PhD student still trying to find my feet. Having found the whole experience initially terrifying, but ultimately immensely enjoyable and fulfilling, I was excited to have the opportunity to attend once more, but wondered what difference a year would have made, in the world of MEG as well as my own. Would this conference, held at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, prove that MEG could weather the storms and vicissitudes of contemporary life, and build upon the conferences that have come before? I certainly hoped so.

There was no need to worry. The organization of proceedings was second to none, for which we must thank Alison Petch, Jeremy Coote, and the various session chairs. The catering from Morton's was wonderful, if rather ironically mislabelled, and the staff at the Museum were highly accommodating. The Pitt Rivers, a microcosm of museal history which is itself filled with worlds, is highly individualistic and innovative in its outlook and approach to museological activity. Thus it provided the perfect setting for this group of diverse individuals to come together to discuss words, things and ideas, surrounded by the dreaming spires of a place already host to almost infinite possibilities. The first MEG conference of 1975 was held here, and organised largely by the much missed Peter Gathercole, whose death in the last year gives the location of the conference a singularly bittersweet appropriateness.

But MEG is an organization able to mourn the loss of a part of its history, whilst still retaining a faith in its future. Though it has seen other traumas, including the hacking of its website, and faces, along with other cultural institutions, future financial uncertainty, this conference proves that the organization has the capacity to weather such storms. It seems hopeful, then, that the conference saw the launch of the organization's new identity and web presence. Conference packs, banners, and publicity materials, designed by Z3, will allow MEG to retain a sense of professional selfhood which will see it in good stead for the future. Plus, it's pretty. The website, for which we must thank Chris Wingfield and Dan Burt will encourage the online community surrounding MEG to grow, and for new participants to develop their voices. I hope to see the Facebook statistics increase even more rapidly than they did in the two days we were there. At the time of writing, it has been 'liked' 80 times, and I think you'll agree that that's not bad.

Moving on from technological and artistic wizardry, it's time to focus on the academic business of the conference itself. Day one was filled with language, 'Old,' 'Collectors',' and 'Curators'' Words providing the three session groupings for a highly stimulating set of discussions. Sally Ayres showed how we should use multiple sources from which to glean our words, that these were often translations of the words of others, and that from these words we can gain information not only regarding objects but of those writing about them. In the presentation of stunningly beautiful South African rock paintings, Patricia Davidson highlighted the limitations of labelling, and interpretation, particularly with objects which are so enigmatic and ambiguous. This ambiguity was picked up in the mistaken identities and false inscriptions of the Australian Toas so enjoyably articulated by Philip Jones. Philip's paper formed a perfect segue into the second session 'Collector's Words,' for Katjia Muller also proved that errors, accidental and deliberate, have a significant impact upon how the collection items, and collectors themselves, are understood, and that we have to use multiple sources if we are to gain as full an image of a collection as possible. As Ann French's discussion of the collection of Greek embroidery by Dawkins and Wace indicated, the influences which build collections also build the words written around them, and the institutional treatment of historic words complicates this situation further. Furthermore, as Ana Rita Amaral's pot lids and Vibha Joshi's cloths showed, objects can act as 'words,' if this term is understood as meaning 'tools for communication.' At this point I began to wonder what this conference was about, for the very notion of what a word is was becoming obscure and problematic.

Katy Barrat's numismatic paper in 'Curator's Words' highlighted this difficulty once more, but also showed how personality and institutional change can be evidenced in the written record. This action of the institution, according to Chris Wingfield, is a tool of the carceral archipelago, creating a written cage of interpretation for imprisoned objects. Potentially, then, the day might have ended with a negative view of the power of words, but fortunately a brighter end came with Ken Teague, who showed us how the stories which words and objects create together, are magical. He regaled us with the puppeteer's story 'Alexander Has Horns,' highlighting the reiteration of objects, concepts, ideas and dreams across cultures and across time, so significantly apparent in the relation of stories. I, for one, know of a similar Welsh tale, 'King March Has Asses Ears.' Cross cultural translation, transition, and communication, then, were the perfect notes with which to end the first day, in a museum so filled with linkages and networks.

Wondering round the Pitt Rivers during the day is a magical enough experience, but during the reception on the first evening, the knowledge that outside dusk was giving way to night added another, ethereal quality to a space already home to shadows and ghosts. For those of us who didn't, sadly, attend the conference dinner at Quod, the reception provided the perfect time to reflect, to integrate, and to talk, and it sent me home in the perfect frame of mind to pontificate about my own paper.

The next day proved to be a packed one, for not only was the AGM filled with events – the launch of the website and new brand, and the retirement and election of the MEG chair, the JSTOR archive and SSN funding updates – but the presentations of the day were also intense and deep, incorporating 'Works in Progress and Short Reports,' and 'New Words.' In the 'Short Reports,' the 'Stories of the World' projects presented by Tabitha Cadbury and Helen Mears, echoed yesterday’s final paper, showing cross cultural linkages and communications, and encouraging the development of new thoughts and inscriptions surrounding objects and collections. The relationship of objects and words remained, though, a murky one, for Tsai Tsan-Huang noted that objects can be used to retell, and recreate histories and thus augment the written record. Tabitha also highlighted that words have not just a conceptual power, but in the case of spells and activation instructions, can be seen as objects of power in their own right. This notion of power was also picked up in Chiari De Cesari's presentation, in which the need to move beyond official narratives and investigate the words and objects of forgotten, less written, and less positive histories came to the fore. But these institutions of power can also be understood through the words which are written by them, as Caroline Cornish's paper on the Kew Totem Pole indicated. These words can also be used to develop new linkages, and new educational possibilities, such as in the Effective Collections Project in the Eastern Counties in which Len Pole is involved.

Finishing with 'New Words' seems appropriate, although my need to rush off created a certain level of anxiety around presenting a paper this late in the day, and regret that I was unable to stay and discuss it more. I certainly enjoyed the discussions which I did manage to become involved in. The session as a whole was most enjoyable and highly stimulating. Elizabeth Crooke illuminated the social and political contexts which surround objects and words in a highly moving paper regarding the display of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, questioning how museums do and should relate trauma, which and whose words they should use. The notion of who was speaking and how that speech is performed was once more highlighted by Alana Jelinek, in a paper which encouraged the use of art to correct mistaken assumptions about objects and to show the museum as the interpretable and polyvocal space it is. In this session again, then, the object-word relationship was complicated, with Alana’s use of objects, media, and the concepts and spaces between as words. Finishing off the papers, Francois Lauwaert used Chinese calligraphy and brush painting to remind us all that words themselves can be objects, and that their display, particularly when left untranslated, is also intensely problematic.

But these problems, I think, present opportunities as much as they do challenges. I believe that we should go forward with a positive attitude towards the difficulties and joys illustrated by this conference’s deconstruction of existing notions regarding the nature and relationships of words, objects and artefacts. Though I was not present for the final discussion, I have no doubt that it generated such a sense of positivity, of future possibility. These two days showed how complicated these things we call words are, and how vital they and their interpretation remains, even, if not especially, in a world predicated upon things. I would like to leave you with an open field of exploration, not a definitive ending. For words mutate, change their forms and accrue palimpsestual layers of meaning. This conference has invited all those who attended, and who may experience its fall out, to enjoy the potential of a diverse multiverse of words and things. These are my own words, and I do hope you have others to add.

UCL Summer Courses

This summer the Centre for Museums, Heritage and Material Culture Studies
will be running a series of *Short Courses in Museum and Heritage Skills*
covering the following areas:

* Ethnographic Object Analysis * May 2011
Utilising collections at UCL, and with access to the British Museum and
the Horniman Museum, this training course sets out to develop the skills
and understanding necessary to analyse ethnographic collections from
Africa, the Americas and Oceania.

* Mount-Making for Museum Objects * 7 & 8 June 2011
The course introduces the process of making mounts using a variety of
object types (ethnographic, art, scientific, zoological, geological, etc).
This includes making mounts for stabilisation of objects in storage or
during transport and exhibition.

* Reading Objects: Curating and Researching Museum Collections * 20 & 21
June 2011
This course brings the latest approaches and thinking in material culture
studies to collections research and curation. Working with specific
collections at UCL, we explore issues of object biography, context and
production techniques and introduce methodological tools for conducting
collections-based research.

* An Introduction to Oral History for Museums and Cultural Heritage * 28 &
29 July 2011
The two day course provides an introduction to the uses of oral history in
museums and cultural heritage projects, addressing issues of research
design, ethics, interpretation and analysis, storage and dissemination.

For more details, have a look at the attached poster or follow this link:


22-23 September 2011, 
Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam

This is the first of a series of workshops and associated publications being organised under the title of 'Critical Conversations in Culture and Development'.

The first Critical Conversation will be concerned with the roles that museums and cultural heritage more broadly can play in sustainable international development. We want to explore recent initiatives by museums and heritage organisations involved in projects in developing countries under the umbrella of development, conflict resolution, capacity building, civil society strengthening or cultural diplomacy. With the aim of sharing knowledge, experience, and expertise, and informing the development of better practice and policy, we would like to engage with the politics and problematics of these initiatives, understanding their failings as well as learning from their achievements. Mindful of old and new relationships of power between 'developed' and 'developing' countries, we are particularly interested in exploring how these projects can be done in equitable ways and the degree to which they can contribute to a reconfiguration of international and cross-cultural relationships.

We would like to invite scholars across a range of disciplines (e.g. Development Studies, Social Anthropology, Museum and Heritage Studies, International Relations, etc.), museum, heritage and development practitioners, members of donor organisations and policy-making bodies, and especially beneficiaries to join us in this Critical Conversation. It is intended that each Conversation will result in an academic publication within a new Culture and Development book series. Participants in each workshop will also be invited to contribute to the drafting of a policy briefing document, which will be circulated electronically through the Royal Tropical Institute Bulletin series and the UCL Centre for Museums, Heritage and Material Culture Studies.

If you are interested in joining us to critically discuss the relationship between Museums, Heritage and Sustainable Development, please submit a c.500 word outline of your proposed paper, including a title, together with brief CV to Paul Basu <paul.basu@ucl.ac.uk> and Wayne Modest <w.modest@kit.nl> by 16th May 2011. It is intended to circulate full papers prior to the workshop.

The workshop is being sponsored by the Reanimating Cultural Heritage project based at University College London and the Tropenmuseum, Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam. Expressions of interest for hosting or contributing to future workshops in the Critical Conversations in Culture and Development series are also welcome.