From Washington

Today’s blog post is by ICCHS’s Rhiannon Mason, who has just returned from a trip to Washington, DC.


Last week I was in Washington DC for a few days to attend an interdisciplinary workshop at the Smithsonian Institution. It was organized by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and the International Storytelling Center, Jonesborough, Tennessee, which is now headed up by an ICCHS graduate, Kiran Singh Sirah (see

The workshop brought together cultural heritage professionals, storytellers, folklorists, artists, educators and not-for-profit organisations with peace-building professionals. The aim of the project is to develop our understanding of how culture can be used to foster intercultural dialogue, understanding and cross-cultural empathy between communities in conflict. The workshop was extremely thought-provoking and stimulating. It was a great opportunity to meet people from other fields which I wouldn’t normally encounter. It also helped me to think through some ideas I have been discussing recently with some colleagues in ICCHS around questions of dialogue and the potential for empathy in museum work. The workshop is the first step in a longer-term project so hopefully it is just the beginning of many future collaborations.

While in Washington I also made the most of the opportunity to visit as many museums and heritage sites as possible. I didn’t manage everything but I did make it to:

On the Mall
• Lincoln Memorial
• WWII memorial
• Vietnam Veterans Memorial
• Vietnam Women’s Veterans Memorial
• Washington Memorial
• Korean War Memorial

• Smithsonian Castle
• National Museum of Natural History
• National Museum of American History
• U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
• National Museum of the American Indian
• National Gallery of Art
• Hirshhorn Gallery
• Freer Gallery

Seeing the building site of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) – just next to the Washington Memorial – was really exciting. I’ve been reading about this online for ages and even shown President Obama’s ground-breaking speech about it in my lecture on museums and identity. I hope to be able to come back to see it when it opens in two years’ time. It promises to be a really significant museum – although it will raise the question of what then will be covered in the National Museum of American History (NMAH). How will the various subject-specific institutions like NMAAHC and the Museum of the American Indian relate to NMAH with its more general remit?

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was both as powerful and subtle as the many writings about it suggest. In fact, the whole memorial complex on the mall was extremely interesting. I was struck by the way that many of the memorial cross-reference each other; for example, the WWII memorial makes reference to both Lincoln and Washington and their ideals as a way of explaining why it was important for the US to participate in WWII. The overall effect of the Mall is to create a strong statement about the founding principles of the nation and what – from the point of view of the presidents, memorial makers and museum founders – it means to be American.

Seeing Judy Garland’s ruby slippers in the National Museum of American History was an unexpected treat given the film, the Wizard of Oz, was a childhood favourite of mine!

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MeLa* Critical Archive pre-launch, Venice

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ICCHS researchers Chris Whitehead, Susannah Eckersley, Kat Lloyd and Rhiannon Mason have spent much of the last four years working on the MeLa* project, a large EC-funded international research programme on Museums in an Age of Migrations ( Now entering its final stages, Chris recently participated in the pre-launch exhibition of the MeLa* Critical Archive, a digital platform aimed at bringing together, conveying and sharing the interdisciplinary investigations produced within project by the different partners from the UK, Spain, France, Denmark and Italy. The archive was not conceived as a mere repository of the research outcomes, but rather as a multipurpose dissemination tool drawing together and organizing the main insights by the researchers through a critical post-reflection; as a communicative project pointing out the complexity of the different approaches and findings, and illustrating the unitary yet multifarious cultural proposals. It is also a research instrument in itself, fostering questions, enhancing synergies, highlighting potentialities and opening further perspectives.

The archive includes a range of resources, from academic essays on key themes such as ‘belonging’ to photographic and film documentation, case studies of individual museums and museum objects, methodological approaches and notes and critiques of artistic interventions, political events, among other entries.

At the pre-launch, held at the Architecture Biennale in Venice, the MeLa* researchers were on hand to demonstrate how the archive works, to answer questions from the public and to be interviewed by appointment. Chris was in demand for interviews, as it turns out that a good number of postgraduate students from different countries are busy using the ideas and insights developed by the ICCHS MeLa* team!

The archive is intended to be developed and augmented iteratively, but will be available on the web in December, so keep watch for further announcements. Anyone interested in the MeLa* project can contact Chris at

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Inaugural Conference of the 2014 Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership

Brian Moss, PhD Researcher

ICCHS PhD student, Brian Moss, is one of a forty-eight strong cohort across Newcastle University, Durham University and Queen’s University (Belfast) to avail of the newly established Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The Northern Bridge DTP brings together the cutting edge expertise and exceptional resources of the three universities and their partners for the training and development of Arts and Humanities postgraduate researchers.


Hosted by Durham University on the 23rd & 24th of October, the conference provided the first opportunity for all the participants across the various institutions to meet and share ideas on their respective studies. Over the course of the highly enjoyable two days, members participated in subject-specific networking sessions to foster potential collaborations and were made aware of the various opportunities available through the programme. These opportunities included the close relationship with civic, cultural and heritage partner organisations, such as the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, BBC Northern Ireland, Durham Cathedral and the Wordsworth trust; as well as training and career development that will allow students address the challenges of modern Arts and Humanities research. In addition, the conference included a fascinating keynote lecture from Professor Thomas Docherty of Warwick University and a curator-led tour of the exhibition ‘Books for Boys: Heroism, Adventure and Empire at the dawn of the First World War’ in the Palace Green Library.

Further information on the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Programme and the opportunities available can be found on the programme website:

Newcastle Heritage Debate

Rhiannon Mason and Peter Stone

Rhiannon Mason and Peter Stone

On Wednesday 5 November 2014, ICCHS’s Peter Stone and Rhiannon Mason played a prominent part in the Heritage Alliance’s ‘Newcastle Heritage Debate 2014’, held at Newcastle University’s King’s Hall. The debate explored the highly topical issue of heritage and identity. ICCHS’s Kat Lloyd and several others live tweeted the event. Below is a snapshot of some of the tweets from the debate – click on the image to be taken to the full Storify story to see more.

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