By Zara Kesterton (@ZaraKesterton)
In recent years, it has become fashionable to talk of an ‘archival turn’ in history, in which the site of record-keeping has itself come under scrutiny. At the same time, material history has risen to prominence as an intriguing counterpart or companion to the paper-trail left by written documents. As someone who became fluent in the visual language of a museum long before I encountered academic history, I like to think of a fashion gallery as something that can be ‘read’ in similar ways to an archive, combining the perspectives of both historiographies.
By Evelyn Strope (@develyn_16)
Location: 3rd & Chestnut Streets, Philadelphia, PA, USA, Independence National Historical Park
Ticket Prices: $18 Student, $21 Adult
Opening Hours: Mon–Sun, 10am–5pm
While undertaking archival research in Philadelphia this summer, I finally had the chance to visit the Museum of the American Revolution (MAR), situated at the heart of the United States’ Independence National Historical Park. The Museum is still relatively new; it opened in 2017 on the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington & Concord – 19 April 1775. Both its modern architecture and its attention to visual experience and to cutting-edge digital history reflect its age. More importantly, those technologies, woven into eye-catching text panels and amongst many extant artefacts, help the MAR to tell a cohesive story within its main exhibit, divided chronologically into four sections: Becoming Revolutionaries (1760–1775), The Darkest Hour (1776–1778), A Revolutionary War (1778–1783), and A New Nation (1783–Present).
By Clemency Hinton (@clemencyhinton)
Have you ever left an online review after dining at a café or staying in a hotel? What about after a visiting a museum or a local heritage site? You probably left your comment for the benefit of future visitors or to get the attention of management, but that review may have had unintended consequences. Although you not have known it, your opinions could be creating valuable digital sources for the historians of tomorrow.[i]
It might feel like websites such as Google Reviews, TripAdvisor and HotelWorld are a pretty new phenomenon. Certainly, online reviews are a product of the twenty-first century. But as consumers, we humans have been recording our opinions on recreational experiences for a long time. The best historic example of this is the visitor’s (or guest) book. Typically identified by its leather cover, heavy pages, or dusty appearance, this thick tome sitting in the corner of a museum room or end of the gallery corridor should not be overlooked. Though some visitor’s books may only elicit a signature, akin to ‘X was here,’ most are filled with colourful and reflective feedback. Even the briefest of autographs can open intriguing avenues of research, whether exploring the nature of the ink to the style of the handwriting.[ii]
By Emily Redican-Bradford
How will museums look in the future? That’s the question that the #FutureMuseum Project seeks to answer. Through an online collaboration platform, international experts in the heritage sector have been sharing their views about how the industry will change in coming years. One of the most prominent ideas is that the success of future organisations will be determined by their ability to engage with visitors, with ‘experience-driven’ enterprises expected to thrive. How can these predictions influence the way museums interact with their visitors today? With over 2,500 museums, the UK has plenty of options for museum-lovers, including national, local, university and science museums, all of which have their own focus. Arguably the most interactive experience is offered by open-air or ‘living’ museums. These organisations have shifted away from traditional ‘indoor’ museum spaces to ‘outdoor’ sites, offering visitors the chance to immerse themselves in the day-to-day activities of the past by wandering through reconstructed towns and villages.
By Jeremiah J. Garsha (@jjgarsha)
It is comforting to think of the collecting of human heads as existing in the distant past. When visitors to the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford marvel at the shrunken heads display, they do so under a combination of alterity and distancing. The process of shrinking the heads renders them distinguishable from life-sized heads, as does their distant geographic origins as creations by Amazonian ‘tribes’ bought by Victorians as souvenirs. Visitors to art museums also encounter human heads. Dubbed memento mori, the appearance of skulls in early modern European works of art was a leitmotiv reflecting mortality. Viewers of these paintings can relegate even this artistic practice as existing in a removed history, like the objects themselves.
By Alice Procter (@aaprocter) and Mobeen Hussain (@amhuss27)
Alice Procter is a historian of material culture based at UCL. She has six years of tour guiding experience at heritage sites and galleries and runs Uncomfortable Art Tours, podcasts and writes under the umbrella of The Exhibitionist. I had the chance to interview you her about her work and to discuss how her tours fit into wider critiques of national history, spaces and narratives.
By Elissa O’Connell (@ElissaOConnell)
As readers will surely be aware, 2018 has been a historically significant year for women’s history and archives. The centenary of some women gaining the vote has created many opportunities to celebrate women-led activism across the UK, as well as to reinforce the need to document and protect these herstories through archiving and heritage. 2018 also marks the 40th anniversary of the Feminist Archive South (FAS), established in 1978 to document the herstories of international feminist social movements active between 1960-2000. The need to celebrate these vital campaigns for democracy and women’s rights has raised important questions about imperialism in women’s movements more widely.
By Clemency Hinton (@clemencyhinton)
Does the past sometimes feel ‘far away’? Can we ever ‘go back’? And ‘where’ did we come from? These questions demonstrate that we often conceptualise and speak about history in spatial terms. That is, we describe the past as a place. History has famously been called a ‘foreign country’. Perhaps the more ancient the history, the more time we need to spend in transit – interpreting, translating, contextualising – to get there.
By Dan Johnson, University of York (@Dan_Johnson19)
Prison museums are becoming a popular form of dark tourism around the world. In the last few decades, infamous prisons that have been in use since the beginning of incarceration as a form of punishment in the nineteenth century have begun to close their doors to make room for more modern prisons. In the UK, many former prison buildings have been saved and repurposed, rather than torn down. Some former prison buildings have even been transformed into boutique hotels and student accommodation. Although there has been a recent rise in the closures of Victorian prison buildings, there was a first wave of closures of some of the first British penitentiaries following the nationalisation of the prison system in 1878. In the nineteenth century, many prisons were destroyed, however, some became tourist attractions. One of these prison buildings-turned-tourist sites is the Victorian Prison at Lincoln Castle. Read more
Fifty years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, Nailya Shamgunova (@nailyas_) reflects on how public exhibitions have engaged with this event.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. It is an important milestone for queer history, and as such it was commemorated in various forms throughout the country. I attended four different exhibitions in three museums, two in the North and one in the capital, prompting me to think about the ways in which we remember and display queer history. Read more
By Atlanta Rae Neudorf
Approaching the past as an historian is comparable to trying to solve a puzzle whose pieces are constantly changing shape. An element which momentarily appears to fit snugly in place comes suddenly into focus as glaringly wrong when new evidence comes to light. Whilst frustrating at times, these moments of clarity during the historical research process can also be wildly exciting and lead to new understandings of the past. Equally thrilling is the experience of applying different approaches to one’s research that results in two apparently incongruous pieces of the historical puzzle joining together perfectly. The process of piecing together the complex puzzle of historical problems involves searching for the hidden tensions and unspoken meanings inherent in all human activity. Read more
Tom Smith (@TomEtesonSmith)
The Declaration of Independence, approved on 4 July 1776 by the thirteen colonies which were about to form the United States of America, has returned to the headlines recently after a parchment copy of the iconic document, only the second known to exist, was discovered in the somewhat unlikely surroundings of the West Sussex Record Office. The excitement generated by this discovery on both sides of the Atlantic is testament to the enduring power of the Declaration. Read more
By Megan Suster
The unofficial mantra of Riverside, California by the beginning of the twentieth century was ‘Citrus is king!’ Starting with Valencia oranges in the California missions in the southern half of the state, and further catalyzed by the Bahia Navel orange that came to town in 1873, the citrus industry became central to how Riverside, and surrounding cities like nearby Redlands and faraway Pasadena, identified themselves. As a result, there is an unwavering nostalgia in Southern California for its citrus heritage, and California Citrus State Historic Park aims to preserve some of this in the form of nearly 300 acres of groves, as well as a small museum. Read more
by Tom Smith – @TomEtesonSmith
What connects the obscure lives of neurophysiologist Geoffrey Sonnabend and opera singer Madelena Delani? Are these people even real? Is there really an elaborate miniature engraving of the Crucifixion on that seemingly ordinary fruit stone? Are we supposed to take these heroic portraits of the dogs of the Soviet space programme seriously? Are bees really seen to be so integral to the life cycle within certain cultures that they must be told if a member of the family has married or died, and are invited (in writing) to funerals? And what on earth does that have to do with Alexander Fleming? Read more
By Carys Brown @HistoryCarys
Attempts to shape the female form are nothing new, as current exhibitions at the V&A and York Castle Museum show. Neither is the particular concern with the posterior, demonstrated today by an increased demand for buttock implants. Such permanent “improvements” are beyond the financial reach of most people. The less wealthy (or less confident that the fashion will be a lasting one) can employ rear-enhancing items of clothing such as the Booty Pop to supplement their behinds. Modern fashion and lifestyle magazines give ample guidance to those who want a large behind with a small price tag. But what did women in the past do, and what might paying attention to these fashions suggest about our modern obsessions? Read more
by James Lloyd – @jtlloyd3
James is a PhD student at the University of Reading/Exeter in Classics. His thesis is entitled: ”Music and Ritual in Ancient Sparta: the lead votive figurines of the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia”
In recent years, there has been a flurry of new technologies emerging at a price which makes them (just about) affordable, notably 3D scanners and printers, and such technologies have attracted attention in the news of late for their employment in the digital recreation of artefacts and archaeological sites destroyed by IS. Indeed, 3D printing is a wonderful tool for bringing the past to life: Museum3D, for example, uses its 3D prints to engage museum visitors with low-vision and Alzheimer’s. However, as this post will show, 3D scans are just as important to public history. Read more
By Spike Gibbs
Spike is a first year PhD student in working on office-holding in late medieval and early modern England.
London can appear to be an overwhelmingly modern city with its towering 20th century office blocks and grand Victorian architecture. Whilst there are some very famous medieval landmarks such as the Tower of London, and early modern ones such as St Paul’s Cathedral, these can appear to be oases in the capital. However, if you know where to look London has many surprises for the pre-1750 historian and here are ten of my favourites: Read more
There are around 2,500 museums in the UK. Many of the larger ones, particularly in London, contain internationally-renowned collections of great historical and scientific significance, and are always worth a visit. In some cases, however, it is the local and specialist museums that provide the most inspiring, entertaining, and educational days out. In celebration of this, the Doing History in Public team has put together a collection of our favourite museum experiences.
If you have a favourite museum, we’d love to hear from you!