The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Break out the bubbly!

Silver champagne bottle ticket, ca. 1750
V&A, M.84-1944

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Photo Resource Online

A quick heads-up about a new photo archive resource available online. The American magazine LIFE has done a deal with Google to make it's photo archive available (and searchable) online. Check out this Google search term: exhibition source:life. Hours of fun!

[Via This Blog Sits At The]

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Material Worlds: A belated review of the conference at the University of Leicester, 15-17 December 2008

Trying to avoid computers this Christmas has not been too much of a chore. However I was reminded that I intended to write a brief (for me!) review of the recent-ish Material Worlds conference organised by the Award-winning (can we say that now???) Department of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester in honour of Sue Pearce. I think I should furnish some links or something but being a 'researcher-on-holiday' I have reverted to a laziness which induces in me a wilful abandonment of my usual attention to detail so apologies - I am sure that Amy has posted some earlier links which can be referred to. Also I am sure you are well aware, this is purely an opinion piece and may bear little or no relation to the actual reality of the conference for other people there, which has since disappeared under a tinsel, trifle and present-induced haze of contentment.

My interest in the conference was directed mainly to the ways in which museums create meanings for objects, how these are or might be contested, how audiences engage with objects and how objects can be intangible as well as tangible. I found that 15 minutes a paper was not always enough to sate my appetite but it presented me with many new avenues for exploration. A session on 'The real and unreal in museums' presented the themes of 'absence' and 'presence' and how these (seemingly) opposed ideas can be used to potent effect in the museum e.g. the absence of a mannequin in historic costume enables us to imagine the shape of the person who wore it; the absence of a body inside the uniform of a gulag convict invites interpretations that may be broader than the story of the human who once wore it. In the desire to appeal, museums might perhaps be too anxious to fill every space with an object or a story - such as the open-air museum with its 'haunted' house - instead of using absence to more radical, and perhaps spectacular, effect?

The tangibility of the museum object is something which really comes into question when looking at visitor engagement with objects, often because visitors are denied an interaction with objects except through the medium of sight. I shared the frustration of examples of students who wanted to touch objects at the V&A to get a feel for their touch, weight etc but having to do so from behind glass. It was not surprising therefore that where handling is permitted, visitors report that they feel more engaged with a topic, in one example, prehistory. A collection of posters created at the height of the British Empire and trade with the colonies prompted an interesting discussion about the differences between how audiences and museum staff respond to such a difficult and challenging subject. In this case the audience were able to make broad connections with the past and the present whilst the staff were much more institutionally focused and anxious as a result. The findings from research looking at audience reactions to the 2007 Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade was alarming in that certain visitors felt that they were being forced to feel guilt and shame over Britain's role in the Slave Trade and thus felt disengaged from the museum exhibitions that they had willingly gone to visit. It seemed important to me however to me that museums were creating such feelings in visitors; rather than giving them a cosy narrative of how Britain was wonderful because we 'abolished' slavery in 1807 they seemed to present a more complex picture. I look forward to seeing more results from this study in the future.

A final session on how objects and their meanings / uses in the museum might be contested saw museums (excuse my vulgar phrase) experience a bit of a bashing! It looked at the limitations of the 20 word label and how limited numbers of objects are supposed to speak for entire cultures (you can also extend this to historical periods and entire civilisations if you so wish). Alternatives to the 'norm' are silenced through convention or fear, ways of presenting objects that are seen as standard or traditional which often exclude more challenging or complex narratives for a more simple, recognisable alternative. There might also be political reasons, as in the display of material related to the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

So. Museums - what are they good for?

I suppose the conference made me despair a little about museums, probably not its intention. As the world seems to be enveloped in a large degree of trauma it makes me wonder why the way in which objects are presented in museums should be a matter for such minute concern. It speaks to me however of larger concerns, the difference to me between truth and an approximation of the truth which all too easily slips into everyday culture - the difference between myth and history for instance. History is 'dry' whilst myth is spiced with the thrill of what we want to happen in history, the difference between real life and Eastenders for instance. Perhaps if museums were more open about the choices that they have made in presenting material to the public it might begin to make more sense as to why particular narratives endure at the expense of others?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 23

The Poor Actress' Christmas Dinner
Robert Braithwaite Martineau (1826 - 1869)
Ashmolean Museum

Monday, December 22, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 22

Today's featured object was found by Jim Roberts...

The World's First Commercial Christmas Card, 1843
The British Postal Museum & Archive

Attic Advent Multicultural Intervention, part 2

In honour of the solstice:

Chris McCaw (American, born 1971)
Sunburned, GSP #166, Mohave/Winter Solstice (2007, gelatin silver print)
34.7 x 26.6 cm (13 11/16 x 10 1/2 in.)
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), 2008.386–.389 Purchase, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, 2008

Attic Advent Multicultural Intervention

In honour of Channukah, the Jewish festival of lights:

Hanukkah lamp, 16th century Gilt bronze from Italy
Height 16.5 cm
Width 22 cm
Victoria and Albert Museum: M.419-1956, Dr. W. L. Hildburgh FSA Bequest
"Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. It celebrates the victory of Judas Maccabeus over the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC. This winter festival lasts eight days and an extra flame is lit for each night of the festival."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 20

Christmas Day, by Colin Self (b. 1941), 1995
Tate Collection

A long long way off Topic - A Review of 'Twilight'

One of the audiences that museums are keen (nay desperate?) to attract is the elusive teenage audience, for which there seems to be no agreed 'plan' so to speak, although teenagers themselves are rigorously stereotyped as narcissistic, melodramatic, rude, obsessed with themselves and bodily functions.  Having been a teenager I can see the point however it strikes me as very difficult to appeal to persons whose hormones are all over the place and who probably don't know what they want themselves.  Which is why it is so interesting that other cultural providers seem completely clued into what teenagers want.  One example of this is the film Twilight, something of a cultural phenomenon since the last one (Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings...) although this one is unashamedly aimed at susceptible teenager girls who are in love with the idea of being in love with a handsome, brooding, unobtainable hunk, plus a bit of action for their (probably very bored) male dates.  Having read many reviews of this film which signified it was scoring very high on the 'crap-o-meter' I was rather disgusted with myself for being entertained by this film, even admiring the slow, very slow build up in the relationship between the two main characters; a pale and interesting (supposed) loner/Geek (?) Bella (who actually attracts a lot of friends despite her stand-offishness, it is helpful being pretty), and the object of her teenage crush (and probably most of the teenagers flocking to see it) a pale and interesting enigmatic, dare I say it Byronic, Vampire called Edward.  I liked the subtle honesty of this film - Bella doesn't seem to see herself as attractive whilst at the same time having such a high opinion of herself that she ignores every other boy's attempts to woo her.  Mind you, whilst the boys are nice enough this film taps into the prevalent idea that girls do not want 'nice' - they want the dark brooding man, the rude, obnoxious loner such as Edward.  Just as long as he is attractive mind!  I suppose it is the idea that there is a kind, caring person just waiting to come out.  This film does nothing to dispel that notion and revels in it, having our heroine do all the work to ensnare her beau whilst all he has to do is stand around, looking pretty, occasionally stalking her and watching her sleep at night.  Oh and he does save her life like an old-fashioned gentleman, opens car doors, formally introduces himself to her father... ahem you probably get the picture by now.  Even writing it down has me reaching for the sick bucket.

Nevertheless it is bizarrely compulsive viewing.  I find it hilarious that this film is so honest about the fact Bella is in love/lust with a serial killer, someone who likens his desire for her like being on heroin, although it seems to me that it is Bella who is addicted; for anyone who has read Dracula it is evident that the Vampire has a dangerous charm built in to attract victims so how far her love is 'real' is a moot point. Never does she question it either which makes it seem more real to me than the Dawson's Creek versions of teenager-dom and their endless blathering about the meaning of things.  Ironically, less real are the Vampires, which the film romanticizes to the point of lunacy.  No longer do they have any hideous traits left, such as withering in sunlight, losing their attractiveness if they don't drink blood etc. All that is icky is the fact that they drink BLOOD, but even this is conveniently dampened down in the film except at a key moment.  But in another way the film does turn the conventional romantic story on its head - Edward is apparently harmless, he plays piano, likes long walks blah blah however he is technically evil inside despite being 'good' on the surface.  I sort-of liked the tension this creates.  Perhaps he will get fed-up with being nice and go all Anakin Skywalker on us at some point?

So an appeal of the film is that it taps into the apparently universal desire for trauma which makes life meaningful.  Bella already has the divorced parents, the enforced move to a new school, an aloof Father and now she has the Vampire boyfriend to add to the list.  The film also makes much of the idea that Bella constantly attracts a stream of bad events, some induced by her own actions.  Like soap operas you wonder how so much can happen to one person whilst thinking that at least she has an interesting life... for what else is there to do in a small town except gaze wistfully at the mountains or into the amber eyes of your Vampire companion (of which there is a tedious amount).

As a story though the rest was pretty standard; the stoic, but somewhat misguided heroine who will do anything for her man, the cast of friends who are waiting in the wings to help her out (including here a Vampire family), random events of peril and a distant, aloof hero who is battling his own inner demons.  Even despite all this awareness I was still completely entranced by this film, which makes me feel slightly tainted and dirty, rather perhaps like the Vampires when they welcome (a rather ungrateful) Bella, a human after all who tests their will power enormously, into their home and everything starts goes wrong as a result.  What can I say except there is still a part of me that has never got past the teenage phase...

Like teenagers, Vampires think a lot of themselves and are obsessed with their own needs so like Lost Boys before it, this film is very cunning in bringing the two together.  The adults are practically non-existent, boring and embarrassing.  I am not sure what museums can learn from such blatant attempts to attract the teenagers like this; it is not exactly challenging nor is it subversive, suggesting that for all their posture most teenagers are actually very conservative, they just want to feel that things have been made especially for them and to cater exclusively for their desires.  Museums in all their authority are perhaps too symbolic of the adult world, into which some teenagers don't want to enter just yet (and maybe some of us never want to at whatever age).

Friday, December 19, 2008

Museum Studies @ Leicester: Open Day

From the Department:

There's never been a better time to study with the Department of Museum Studies at Leicester. Our world-class reputation has been given a further boost in the recent Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) with the Department being rated as having the 'greatest cluster of world-leading researchers of any discipline in any university in the UK' . The University was also recently recognised as the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2008-9.

I would like to extend a warm invitation to you for our annual Open Day and Evening on **Wednesday 18 February 2009**. This event will give you the opportunity to get to know more about our courses, meet some of our staff, and explore our campus. Separate sessions are being organised for those interested in studying on campus, or by distance learning.

Full details of the event are available at To book your place, simply e-mail providing your name, the course(s) you are interested in, and stating whether you will be attending in the day or evening.

An Attic Advent: Day 19

Tinned Christmas Pudding, 1940s
Buckinghamshire County Museum

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More good news, for prospective PhD students

Thinking about doing a PhD at Leicester? The University is offering a number of (frankly generous!) PhD scholarships for UK/EU students, to celebrate being named as the University of the Year 08/09 by the Times Higher Education Supplement.

For more info, see here.

An Attic Advent: Day 18

Christmas Stocking, 1906
Museum of London

RAE Success

More media coverage...

BBC Education News, 'Many UK Researchers World Class'

UoL Press Release, 'Museum Studies Emerges as Britain's Top Research Department'

It's good to note that completed PhD research also contributes to the RAE.

BREAKING NEWS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Big gold star! By Larsz


If you ever doubted that Leicester was THE PLACE TO BE for museum studies, then think again! The latest Research Assessment Exercise (the outcomes of which have been published today) reveal that not only is the Department of Museum Studies Undertaking WORLD CLASS research, but it has, to cut a long story short, received the HIGHEST rating in ANY discipline in ANY institution in the WHOLE country!!!!! Basically,


Congratulations to everyone involved!

For more info see here, here and here (with comments from Richard).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Material Worlds: An Epilogue

Cross-posted at Material Worlds

So, Material Worlds is over. My first conference paper is presented. My love-hate relationship with University Catering has been renewed. I've caught up with old friends and met new, always a joyful occurrence. My hopes for the Material Worlds blog were not fulfilled, but to be fair, the action-packed programme left little lee-way for 'panopic' (good word, eh?) blogging. But, while the conference is over, the blog will remain open and active, at least in the immediate future. Place your doubts and fears aside, seize the day and BLOG, dammit! We'll be gentle with you...honest. ;)

An Attic Advent: Day 17

Vegetarians, look away now!

A Christmas poultry and game display at Leadenhall Market , 1953-12
By Henry Grant
Henry Grant Collection, Museum of London

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

Conference Alert: Jewish Cultural Treasures in Europe After the Holocaust

From H-ArtHist (I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit to the Jewish Museum, in fact I'd even go so far as to say that it restored my faith in museology in practice! One day I'll get around to writing a post about it...):


24th and 25th of JANUARY 2009

The Conference is part of the supporting program for the exhibition

SATURDAY, 24th of JANUARY 2009


10:00 Introduction
Inka Bertz, Jewish Museum Berlin

10:30 Reconstructing Jewish Cultural Landscapes –
The »Tentative Lists« Project
Elisabeth Gallas, Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and
Culture at Leipzig University

11:15 Hashavat Avedah: JCR, Inc. and the Rescue of
Heirless Jewish Cultural Property After WW II
Dana Herman, Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives,

12:00 Lunch Break


13:30 To Whom do the Jewish Cultural Treasures belong after 1945?
Conflict of Interests in the City of Frankfurt am Main
Katharina Rauschenberger, Jewish Museum Frankfurt am Main

14:15 The situation in Berlin 1945–1953

15:00 Displaced on Three Continents.
The Fate of the Material Heritage of the Jewish Community in Vienna
Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek, Jewish Museum Vienna

15:45 Coffee Break


16:15 What Happened in Prague?
Michaela Sidenberg, Jewish Museum in Prague

17:00 Dealing with the Jewish Cultural Assets in Post-War Poland
Nawojka Cieslinska-Lobkowicz, Art Historian and Provenance Researcher,

17:45 The Jewish Historical Institute as a Repository for Jewish
Cultural Treasures in Poland
N. N.

SUNDAY, 25th of JANUARY 2009

10:00 A Matter of Conscience? Legal and Moral Aspects of Dutch
Restitution Policy
Julie Marthe Cohen, Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam

10:45 The Fate of Jewish-Owned Cultural Treasures in Paris and in France
Laurence Sigal, Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme, Paris

11:30 Looted Jewish Art and Cultural Properties in Italy.
The Difficult Restitution and Compensation after 1945
Paola Bertilotti, Sciences-Po, Paris / Ecole Normale Supérieure Lettres
et Sciences Humaines, Lyon

12:15 Lunch Break

13:45 Lviv 1944 – Now. Jewish Cultural Objects and Property. Some Cases
and Tendencies
Tarik Cyril Amar, Center for Urban History of East Central Europe, Lviv

14:30 Restitution Issues in Post-War Romania
Hildrun Glass, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

15:15 »Disappeared?« The Fate of Jewish-Owned Cultural Artifacts in
Hungary after 1945
Eszter Gantner, ELTE University of Budapest – Center for Central
European German Jewish Culture

16:00 Final discussion: Open Questions, Ongoing Controversies


PHONE +49 (30) 25993 353
FAX +49 (30) 25993 330
10969 BERLIN

An Attic Advent: Day 15

Everyone loves chocolate at Christmas...

Three Tin-Glazed Earthenware Chocolate Cups (c.1740-45)

The British Museum

Sunday, December 14, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 14

Material Worlds blog

Next week sees the Material Worlds conference, in honour of Professor Susan Pearce, here in Leicester. Some of us will be blogging the event here.

If you're attending the conference, please do pop by and say hello. I'm the one with the partially purple wonky hair, likely to be sporting some form of leopard print upon my person. ;)

Friday, December 12, 2008

CFP/Publication: University of St Andrews Postgraduate Journal of Art History and Museum Studies

Open Call for Papers

The University of St Andrews Postgraduate Journal of Art History and Museum Studies

The annual journal that publishes original and innovative research by current postgraduate students from the UK and abroad seeks articles 1,500-4,000 words in length, written in English, for the 2009 publication.

Submission closing date: 14 February 2009

We invite papers from the disciplines of Art History and Museum Studies on any topic from all periods and geographic areas.

Attach submissions via email as a Word document:

Or send to: Kate Groninger, Editor
School of Art History
University of St Andrews
9 The Scores
St Andrews KY16 9AR
United Kingdom

Enquiries for further information:

An Attic Advent: Day 12

Snow Knife, c. 1845
National Maritime Museum

Thursday, December 11, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 11

To ring the changes, today's choice was made by Anna.

A Christmas carol : in prose : being a ghost story of Christmas
Charles Dickens ; illustrator John Leech ; engraver W.J. Linton
London : Chapman & Hall ; 1843
National Art Library

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 10

I want one of these!

Working model (scale 1:2) of a machine for making candles (c.1888)
Price's Patent Candle Company Ltd, Battersea, London.
Science Museum

Conference Alert: Tourist Experiences - Meanings, Motivations, Behaviours

International Conference: Tourist Experiences - Meanings, Motivations, Behaviours, to hosted by the University of Central Lancashire, UK on April 1st - 4th 2009. (Keynote: Prof Chris Ryan).

The conference will focus on three broad themes within the context of tourist experiences, namely: the social / anthropological meaning or significance of tourism (individual to societal); tourist demand and motivation; and, the analysis of tourist behaviours.

Further information (including a booking form) may be found at

Webcast TODAY: How The National Gallery of London Manages Image & Document Libraries

V. short notice I know, but this might be of interest to those of you into digital heritage...

How The National Gallery of London Manages Image & Document Libraries

TIME: 4:00pm GMT

WHO: The National Gallery Head of Photography, Colin White


Find Out How The National Gallery:
§ Manages thousands of digital images and documents
§ Implements DAM best practices
§ Achieves ROI and plans for the future


Click to register
Join Colin at the end of the webcast for a live Q&A.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 9

Ceri was determined to get some sheep in...

'Annunciation to the Shepherds'
Stained glass panel
About 1340-1345
Victoria & Albert Museum

Monday, December 08, 2008

Sunday, December 07, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 7

Better late than never!

Swimming Reindeer
Late Magdalenian, around 12,500 years old.
From the rockshelter of Montastruc, Tarn et Garonne, France
British Museum

Saturday, December 06, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 6

I'm sure there are some of these in my late Grandma's Chrimbo decorations stash...

Christmas decoration (Pale green paper lantern with floral decoration suspended from a wire), 1961-1970
Manufactured in Hong Kong for F.W. Woolworth and Company Ltd.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Brilliant opportunity to get your work published!

Information on a proposed National Museums Book (emerging from the NaMu project) is now available on

Please read and respond to Simon Knell if you're interested in submitting a contribution.

Conference Alert: Traditions and Transformations

From the icme listserv:

Traditions and Transformations: Tourism, Heritage and Cultural Change in the Middle East and North Africa Region

4 - 7 April 2009, Amman, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

We are pleased to send you the link to a brochure for the above event which outlines the programme as it presently stands:

We hope that you will agree that we have put together a fascinating conference which, as well as providing an important forum for research, also allows you to network with a truly international group of academics and professionals involved with tourism, culture and heritage. The conference will also allow delegates to see at first hand some of the issues being discussed in Jordan.

We would recommend that you register for the conference as soon as possible to avail yourself of the 'early bird' registration rate. The registration form can be downloaded at

Please check on the conference web pages for updates -

For any enquiries please do not hesitate to contact us via email at

Museum Study Days at the British Museum

Museum Study Days

Thursday 29 January 2009
BP Lecture Theatre, Clore Education Centre
A day of talks by British Museum staff giving a behind-the-scenes insight into the running and organisation of an internationally-celebrated museum. Education, Marketing, Curatorial and Collections Management staff discuss museum theory and practice. Students wishing to broaden their knowledge of museums and the culture and heritage sector are welcome.

Friday 13 February 2009
Stevenson Lecture Theatre, Clore Education Centre
British Museum staff and volunteers discuss the varied roles the volunteers have in the Museum, including assisting and working with curators, working on outreach and community projects, interpreting the collection through tours and object handling, and supporting the learning programme. Speakers will highlight the advantages of working with volunteers, the mutual benefits, diversity and best practice.

Thursday 19 March 2009
Stevenson Lecture Theatre, Clore Education Centre
The British Museum's interpretation team give an introduction to the world of interpretation practice, and describe how this relatively new field is becoming integrated into the planning of new displays and public programmes. The day will feature sessions covering aspects of visitor studies, display development and text writing, using a current exhibition as a case study.

For full programmes visit,

Admission for these events is free, however, booking in advance is advised. Booking may be done in person at the Box Office or by telephone at +44 (0)20 7323 8181. The Box Office is open every day from 10.00-16.45.

An Attic Advent: Day 4

Today's object is a wonderful example of mid-century festive kitsch.

Pink Evergleam Aluminum Christmas Tree
Six-foot Evergleam Christmas tree with 94 branches made by the Aluminum Specialty Company of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, c. 1966
Wisconsin Historical Society

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 3

Today's object is a donkey.

Isokon Penguin Donkey Bookcase, 1939
Designed by Egon Riss and Jack Pritchard
V&A Collection.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 2

Today's choice, is a mince pie. But not the sort of mince pie we know today...

Banquet Piece with Mince Pie, 1635
Willem Claesz Heda
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Monday, December 01, 2008

An Attic Advent: Day 1

To celebrate the run-up to Christmas I, aided and abetted by researcher extraordinaire Ms Ceri Jones, will post an image of a Christmas-related museum object - both religious and non-secular- everyday until Christmas. Enjoy!

Ecce Ancilla Domini! (The Annunciation) 1849-50
Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882
Tate Collection