ICCHS Postgraduate Research Conference: 16 June 2015

ICCHS_RPG_conference_16Jun15_pic1_Fotor_CollageLast week postgraduate researchers had the opportunity to present papers on their work at the annual ICCHS PGR conference. This year’s conference was split into three sessions, with themes of ‘Heritage in Action’, ‘Representation & Interpretation’ and ‘Organisational Structures and Practices’.

The first session, ‘Heritage in Action’, saw Carolyn Gibbeson presenting a paper entitled ‘Haunted Hospitals? Examining the redevelopment of historic former asylums’. Carolyn’s talk was fascinating, exploring factors involved in the re-use of these sites through data from three case studies. Brian Moss then presented his paper, ‘Help or Hindrance? Engaging with outdoor cultural heritage through smartphone based mobile digital interpretations’. Brian’s research looks at the use of MDI’s (Mobile Digital Interpretations) in relation to cultural heritage sites. The final paper of this session was given by Niki Black, whose paper, ‘Festivals and Heritage: Contributions to a Sustainable Future?’ considered the heritage connections which enable temporal, spatial and social links to be established and strengthened, and how these contribute to the social sustainability of their host communities. All in all, a thought provoking session.

The second session of the day, entitled ‘Representation and Interpretation’, was started off with Alistair Robinson’s paper entitled ‘Museums of modern and contemporary art in an age of ‘globalization’ “. Alistair examined how museums with increasingly stretched resources are nevertheless able to pursue expansionary agendas and enlarge their geopolitical purview, eliciting some interesting questions at the end of the session. Muhammad Ilmam Tharazi then presented on the topic of iconography and figurative representation in Islam. He discussed how museums respond to challenges relating to the display and interpretation of Islamic objects containing images and figurative representations. Finally, Rebecca Farley presented a paper looking at public art in Newcastle-Gateshead, through the use of interpretive frames. Rebecca’s paper discussed her data analysis work and looked in detail at examples of public art in the region and the approaches taken to interpreting these objects.

The final session of the day, ‘Organisational Structures & Practices’ began with a paper by Gemma Cardona-Gomez who discussed archaeological education in Catalonia. Gemma’s paper provided an overview of how archaeological education is approached in Catalonia and how she is going about her doctoral research on this topic. Jennifer Locke then presented a paper entitled ‘Organisational change in art museums and evolving practices of interpretation’. Jennifer’s paper discussed the shift in institutional practices involved in exhibition development and how these changes have influenced the interpretation of art objects. Lastly, Bethany Rex asked the audience to put their ‘theoretical hats’ on and presented a paper on using actor-network theory to understand how co-production is negotiated in the context of the public museum. A lively Q & A session followed this last session, and it was clear that the audience was interested and engaged.

Following the three conference sessions, Kat Lloyd gave a presentation on researchers engaging with communities, and a discussion session with Kat, Rhiannon Mason and Areti Galani followed. Overall the day was engaging and informative and we look forward to next year’s conference.

Guest Post: Bethany Rex on the Co-Production of Public Services Conference

I’ve just returned from attending the International Institute of Administrative Science’s conference on the ‘Co-production of Public Services’ held at Radboud University in delightful Nijmegen, the Netherlands. The conference was a chance for members of IIAS’s study group on the ‘Co-production of Public Services’ to meet, share and discus their work and debate some of the thorny issues that arise when we talk about the increasing role that citizens are expected to play in the design, delivery and evaluation of public services. This study group is made up of scholars working in a variety of disciplines from public administration, to political science, and a handful of others whose work cuts across multiple fields.

The umbrella topic of my doctoral research is local authority museum management, an area which is rapidly transforming in response to the significant funding reductions to local government finances across the country. This transformation can take place at various levels from the creation of charitable bodies (aka museum trusts) designed to deliver a museum service in it’s entirely, to the transfer of individual museum sites from the local authority to another group considered to be local in one way or another (community organisations, voluntary groups, faith organisations). I’m focusing on the latter as I think it represents a shift in how we think about the delivery of museums as a public service. Now, there’s the issue of the label ‘co-production’ or ‘co-management’. The concept itself can be dated back to the work of Elinor Ostrom in the 1970s and other scholars working in the US at that time. However, since then it has taken on a life of its own – travelling across the globe and shape-shifting to fit national and local circumstances, different political administrations and opposing ideological stances. The papers presented at the conference confirmed this; with Victor Pestoff, a key author in the field, describing co-production existing at the crossroads between a number of different approaches to public service delivery.

Instead of concentrating on the formal structure of these new arrangements, or evaluating them in order to categorise their success or failure, I’ve been exploring the process by which these individual museum sites came to be managed by someone other than the council in the first place. It was this process-driven aspect of my work that I presented at this conference. Although the majority of presentations concentrated on fields such as health and social care and education; there were a number of speakers who drew attention to the importance of process in understanding how the co-management of services works in practice. For me, it was interesting that for scholars with backgrounds in public administration and other cognate fields, the rationale for focusing on process was in order to roadmap how to achieve better outcomes. A thirst for models of ‘good practice’ prevailed. I’m not adverse to gaining a more in-depth understanding of how process impacts upon outcome at my empirical case studies, but for me this focus on process is about exploring the theoretical issues that I’ve been pre-occupied with since I started my PhD: the identity of the museum profession in community governance arrangements, the ‘responsibilisation’ of citizens in policy and how this is interpreted in practice and the difficult question of locating accountability in these settings.

The presentations from the conference will be made available online in the near future.

Follow Bethany Rex on Twitter (please link to: http://www.twitter.com/bethanyrex)

The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in the Event of Armed Conflict – CALL TO ACTION

The UK National Committee of the Blue Shield (UKBS), the British wing of a global organisation frequently referred to as the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross, is leading a nationwide campaign to get the UK Government to finally ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two protocols of 1954 and 1999. Professor Peter Stone OBE, Chair of the UKBS, said:

The 1954 Hague Convention is the primary piece of International Humanitarian Law concerning the protection of heritage during armed conflict. While many in the UK have reacted with justifiable horror and indignation at the recent appalling destruction of ancient sites, libraries, archives, and museums in the Middle East and Africa, few seem to realise that the UK remains the only Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council, and arguably the most significant military power (and the only one with extensive military involvements abroad), not to have ratified the 1954 Hague Convention.

After the 2003 US/UK led invasion, the then Minister for Heritage, Andrew McIntosh, announced in 2004 the Government’s intention to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention as soon as Parliamentary business allowed. This claim has been repeated by every relevant Minister since. In November 2011, Jeremy Hunt, then Secretary of State at DCMS, made a joint UK Government and British Red Cross Society pledge “to make every effort to facilitate the UK’s ratification… and to promote understanding of the principles and rules of the Convention within the UK”. Ratification has cross-Party support and the support of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the Department for Overseas Development; and the Ministry of Defence. Professor Eleanor Robson, Chair of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, added:

ISIS’ current rampage across northern Iraq and Syria is drawing urgent international attention to the plight of cultural heritage in times of war. By ratifying the 1954 Hague Convention, the UK Government would send a clear signal of its commitment to protecting civilian communities and their histories if it should ever intervene in this conflict or others, and provide the armed forces a clear mandate to do so.

For its campaign to be successful, the UKBS needs everybody who values cultural heritage in all its forms to write to their local MP urging them to pursue this matter. This can be done either by email or post. For those who would like guidance or some information to help them write their letter, a template (which can be adapted as necessary) and a fact sheet on the UKBS and the 1954 Hague Convention can be downloaded here and here. If anyone does not know the name of their MP or how to contact them, that can found here.

If you are still unsure of the need for the UK to ratify the 1954 Hague Convection, the UKBS ask that you please watch this three-minute film Protecting cultural property during war.
The UKBS is an entirely voluntary run organisation comprising academics and heritage professionals from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds. You can stay up-to-date with its work and the progress of its campaign by following it on Twitter and Facebook. If you require any further information or have any outstanding queries, please do not hesitate to contact Philip Deans, Campaign Assistant for the UKBS, at philip.deans@ncl.ac.uk. Finally, to help the UKBS keep track of the campaign, it is also asked that when anyone does write to their MP, would they please let the UKBS know using the email address supplied above.

Next week’s seminar, 17 June: Open-air museums – a destination in vogue for public art in urban districts

open-air museums

Please join us for another in our series of research seminars:

Open-air museums: a designation in vogue for public art in urban districts

Speaker: J. Pedro Lorente, Department of Art History, University of Saragossa

Wednesday 17 June
1 – 2pm
Room 1.06, 18 Windsor Terrace
All welcome

Art collections permanently exhibited in public spaces are sometimes called ‘open air museums”. This notion has been constructed over time, building on historical precedents and in dialectic interaction with other related concepts like ‘sculpture gardens’. The result is not a clear-cut definition, but a changing perception, carrying diverse connotations according to different languages and cultural contexts. The modern paradigm was set by Middelheim Open Lucht Museum created in 1950 by the municipality of Antwerp in a suburban park, emulated in the French-speaking University of Liège, since the creation in 1977 of a Musée en Plein Air in the campus of Sart Tilman; some features were slighly different in another famous instance, the Musée de sculpture à plein air de la Ville de Paris, inaugurated in 1980 on a riverbank between Île Saint-Louis and the Gare d’Austerlitz. But the triumph of a post-modern return to the city centre was heralded by the founding in 1972-79 of the polemical Museo de Escultura al Aire Libre in Madrid. It’s influence has been enormous in Spain and other Latin countries, where many collections of public art gathered as part of urban regeneration processes have been proudly labeled as museums. Are they?

New Seminar on 3 June: Museums Security: New Perspectives

Please join us for another in our series of research seminars:

Title: Museums Security: New Perspectives

Speaker: Suzie Thomas, University of Helsinki, Finland

Wednesday 3 June
1 – 2pm
Room 1.06, 18 Windsor Terrace
All welcome

Museums are an integral part of the cultural life of societies, with  collections that may be of not only national but international  significance. As well as intangible value, many objects may also have  considerable financial value, and pose a temptation to thieves.  Despite this, it has been noted that many museums have what can only be described as inadequate security provisions. In recent years, high profile art thefts from museums have only highlighted this situation.  Furthermore, a range of other criminal activities, such as vandalism and other anti-social behaviours can also adversely affect museums and their surroundings, which in turn impacts sense of place and visitor experience. We also know that situational precipitators (for example
graffiti or vandalism that has been left unrepaired) can act as a cue that crime is accepted in an area – the small scale offences, in fact, can directly contribute to larger scale crimes, according for example to the Broken Windows Theory. In this paper I outline the interdisciplinary research with which researchers at the University of Helsinki and Loughborough University are currently involved, which aims to shed light on the specific security challenges faced by museums, covering our research methods and the emerging findings.

Dr Suzie Thomas is University Lecturer in Museology at the University
of Helsinki, Finland. She has previously worked at the University of
Glasgow and the Council for British Archaeology, and completed her PhD
in Heritage Studies at ICCHS in 2009.

Guest Post: Niki Black on the African Heritage Challenges Conference

Today’s post is by Niki Black, ICCHS PhD researcher. Niki’s research focuses on investigating the impact which small-scale, rural festivals may have upon the social sustainability of their host communities. More info about Niki’s research can be found here. More info about the conference can be found here.

The African Heritage Challenges Conference, Cambridge

Just back from attending the African Heritage Challenges Conference (15 – 17 May) held at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), Cambridge University. The focus of the conference was on sustainability and development in African heritage with particularly attention being drawn by speakers to the potential contradiction of pairing heritage and development. This linked to another recurring discussion point of the conference, the contestable nature of the definition of heritage. This was interesting in considering if there are differences between the perception of heritage in African countries and between these countries and the West (in other words, the authorised discourse).

In the discussion which followed it was considered that, although on the surface there may appear to be very different issues at stake, many of the underlying considerations regarding heritage are similar (ownership, power, belonging for eg). Although some disagreement occurred between delegates regarding forms of heritage discourse, the majority of speakers appeared to confer on the selection of heritage and its subsequent management as needing to be led by the custodians of the heritage. As to considerations of whether heritage could contribute to sustainability, as long as heritage is seen as a concept of something ‘living’and adaptable, then it can be a positive contributor to sustainable development.

New book by ICCHS staff- now available!

As part of the EC-funded MeLa project on European Museums in an Age of Migrations, ICCHS researchers have published a number of books. The most recent of these is just out. It is entitled Museums, Migration and Identity in Europe and it is at the intersection between museum studies and migration studies. With ever increasing attention to migration both in political and cultural spheres, the book is a landmark contribution to a critical field of study and practice.

The imperatives surrounding museum representations of place have shifted from the late eighteenth century to today. The political significance of place itself has changed and continues to change at all scales, from local, civic, regional to national and supranational. At the same time, changes in population flows, migration patterns and demographic movement now underscore both cultural and political practice, be it in the accommodation of ‘diversity’ in cultural and social policy, scholarly explorations of hybridity or in state immigration controls. 

The book investigates the historical and contemporary relationships between museums, places and identities. It brings together contributions from international scholars, academics, practitioners from museums and public institutions, policymakers, and representatives of associations and migrant communities to explore all these issues.

Here’s what key scholars in the field think of the book:

‘This volume is a timely and welcome contribution to the growing literature on the role of museums representing migration. With essays blending theory and practice, and a focus on place and belonging, it offers insights into the politics of representation and the conceptualisation of place and identity in European museums – and beyond. It is a valuable resource to anyone working on these issues.’
Laurence Gouriévidis, Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand, France

‘Migration has emerged as one of the most productive areas for museum studies in recent years. This is not only because of the increase in numbers of museums about migration but also because these have the potential to raise far-reaching questions about the role of museums in contemporary society. Through its wide range of case studies from Europe, this volume makes a significant contribution to highlighting the diversity of cases and of approaches taken, as well as to how we might analyse such museums.’
Sharon Macdonald, University of York, UK.

Details of the book are available at http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781472425188

ICCHS students and associates interested in buying the book with a 50% discount should contact Chris Whitehead for a discount code.