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.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

New logo

Ah, yes, procrastination is a wonderful thing. Instead of editing the thesis chapter I'm working on, I built a new blog logo this afternoon.  What do you think?  Can you guess the different Leicester locations?

Reflections on Writing-up #6

One must learn to live with a constant nagging doubt about your ability to complete.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Research Seminar Review: 'Museum, Market, Material Culture' (21/01/2009)

Museum, Market, Material Culture: the birth of the object in the early nineteenth century
Dr Mark Westgarth

On 21st January, Dr Mark Westgarth from the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds, came to speak to us as part of the Museum Studies Brown Bag seminar programme (all welcome!!).  Mark's very interesting presentation took as its themes the emergence of a distinctive historical consciousness in the early nineteenth century, the rise of the antique and curiosity dealer and the development of the public history museum.  These three factors were, he argued very persuasively, intimately bound and integral to the establishment of the museum object, specifically how the museum elides the commodity status of an object.  During this era the museum object became the bearer of historical knowledge, understood as holding intrinsic historical information.

The emergence and growth of the antique market, and the shift away from the collection of antiquities towards objects from the more recent past, such as Delft pottery or seventeenth and eighteenth century furniture, was a catalyst for the projection of value onto objects of the past.  By the 1830s this was the principal route by which the historical object was articulated.  At around the same time, Britain was undergoing radical social, economic and demographic changes.  Along with an epistemological shift towards the emergence of historical consciousness, together these factors acted as the catalyst for burgeoning interest in historical objects.  Collecting was becoming the prerogative of a mass public.  The term Mark used was 'embourgeoisment', which caused much debate later in the Q&A session!  The antique and curiosity dealer played a key role in meeting supply and demand.   

An emergent perception of the past as past lead to significant changes in the choice and range of objects acquired.  Collections became more expansive and representational.  This development was underscored by growing political and national considerations: the public museum and mass historical tourism indicated the growing consumption of the past in British society.  Social and historical value came to be privileged over the aesthetic and 'sublime' (the concerns of the previous century).  All this was underpinned by a historicism which stressed the primacy of historical context and accuracy.  A broad romanticism was another factor which brought the more recent past to the attention of the mass public.  Affordable collectors' guides were published, like Merrick's Specimens of Ancient Furniture (first pub. in 1836), which became a critical text republished as late as 1866.  Scholarship focused upon the more prosaic aspects of the past: the mundane and domestic became legitimate subjects for academic study.

Specimens is significant because it demonstrates the move away from the authority previously attributed to written records, to physical objects.  A new legitimacy was attached to material sources.  Illustrations were taken from 'material entities.'  Facts became important: history was recast as a science, and museums became stores of historical legitimacy.  Reconstructions made from study of written texts were banished from museums, and replaced by the authentic object.  The objects illustrated in Specimens gave declarations of ownership and provenance.  Many were owned by named antique and curiosity dealers.  This signals that objects had become rooted in a wider system of commerce.  Thus, Specimens,  is - according to Mark - a highly significant publication because it provides evidence for all the phenomenon outlined above.

Mark kindly agreed for his seminar to be recorded and this is now available for UoL PhD students to listen to via Blackboard.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Museum of Unnatural History

I'm really not sure how I feel about this. What do you think?

Background to the project/exhibition and more info here and here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reflections on Writing-up #5

Editing is a complete pig.

Cultural Heritage's Greatest Hits

It must seem like all I do is read the BBC news website. That's not entirely true, but it is true that I come bearing another tidbit regarding cultural property. This one is from the "60 Seconds to Change the World" theme, and the great idea this time is to create a sort of top-ten list of world heritage that cities could compete for hosting. There's only 4 comments, but it is telling that only one appears to agree (and I'm not entirely certain if even that positive response isn't ironic). 

I can't believe that any curator would think this is a good idea, never mind the (Google says) executive director, Arts Strategy, for the Arts Council of England. Are you kidding me??? Because all the world needs is yet another canonical list of "the greats". And this would definitely make the world a better place. And of course, it would be completely unbiased and purely objective. ...As my high school math teacher used to say, "my big left toe." Besides, UNESCO tried this, and we all know the debate around the validity of that scheme (most recently in the UK).

My problem with this idea, in case you don't think it's self-evident, is that it's ludicrously simplistic. Another aspect of the Great Myth of Materiality (which I alluded to in my previous post) is that we seem to have this idea that there are certain objects that are so important to our civilization that if they ceased to exist, our world as we knew it would somehow crumble away to dust and people's lives would be significantly worse. And so, to avoid this miserable fate, we pile things into museums and private collections, trying desperately to hold on to the meaning and immortality that objects promise. Therefore, following the logic of the myth, all objects are equally important. But what happens if you create a top-ten list, as Hayford suggests, where some objects become more equal than others? Sure, he might think that certain things might be "so important to telling our story that henceforth they can't be bought, sold or truly owned by any single person, individual, or nation,"  and indeed, at first sight that is laudable, but ownership is part of the story!

One of my great intellectual fantasy goals is one day delving into the histories of why some of our most prized international works of art have become so iconic. I am sure it's not just because of their artistic merit. Art and cultural heritage is intensely political, and it cannot be apoliticized, glamorous though that kind of utopian notion might seem. Hello, have we ever heard of the Elgin Marbles??

The other thing is: once this ultimate list of the cultural property vital to Western Civilization is compiled, and these objects are enshrined in this magical ultra-museum, what happens to the rest of the stuff that just didn't make the cut? What is the point of keeping all that junk, if the world already has what it needs to go on turning on its axis? At least that's what I envision governments saying!

But that's quite enough of my bile. Let's play along with dear old Augustus Casely-Hayford, shall we? What objects, darling readers, would you enshrine as being of supreme importance to the continued intellectual history of humankind? (My surprisingly unglamorous votes of the kind that Hayford would probably spurn: the wheel; flint stone for fire; irrigation; antibiotics and inoculation; steel; thread.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

We Love Museums...Do Museums Love Us Back?

[Via Nerdgasms 2.0]

Exhibition: David Wilson Library Special Collections

New Special Collections Exhibitions
From The David Wilson Library, University of Leicester

How have children’s books changed over the years? Developments in printing processes have meant a movement from black and white woodcuts (such as William Caxton’s Aesop’s Fables in 1484) through to modern full-colour illustrations.

This exhibition, based on the Higson Collection, concentrates on the Nineteenth Century with examples from British publishers and writers.

It reflects the ethos of the times: the Darton family’s desire to educate children, Henty’s adventure stories for boys and the distinctive illustrations of Kate Greenaway.

See it all in the Special Collections Exhibition Cases in the basement of the David Wilson Library.

Also, on the 3rd floor of the David Wilson Library is an exhibition looking at Darwin's Origin of Species 150 years on.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Preserving the Materiality of the Holocaust

Fascinating BBC News article - two opposing viewpoints, really - about whether or not Auschwitz should continue to be preserved. I've never been to Poland (I didn't feel psychologically ready when an opportunity arose sometime in high school), so I don't know what the camp site itself is like in terms of evoking the past. The two authors make interesting points (though I am inclined to agree with the second individual), and the comments are also fascinating as a reflection of popular morality. But no one has mentioned anything about the implications of singling out Auschwitz itself - there are dozens of camps scattered throughout Eastern Europe that have been allowed to decay, without any such debate about preserving the material remains of the Holocaust for humanity's sake. I am actually a little worried about preserving just the one, as that might give the impression that there was only one, instead of a whole infrastructure of human exploitation and destruction. 

This, of course, also raises the whole issue of material remains generally. That is, what I like to call the myth of materiality: that somehow, magically, by just looking at a thing (any thing) you can derive from it all the information inscribed upon it through its creation, use, and associations. Because "objects speak", don't you know. But actually, objects just hold witness, and reflect what we already know. They are not a mirror,  so please don't think I am an object relativist, but the careful interpretation of objects (within a museum/heritage context) is vital, because people need to know what to look for. People who visit Auschwitz (to return to the point of this entry) come with certain assumption, knowing certain things already, and the place itself reflects those because of its being the same wood, stones and metal components as the original soldiers and prisoners knew it. (Unlike, let's say, Waterloo, where a farmer's field doesn't exactly give you the sense of the Napoleonic War.) There is a power to that kind of material testimony. So in a way, it will not make a difference when the last survivors pass away; we will not be able to experience them, flesh and blood, standing before us, but we will still know their truth.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Reflections on Writing-up #1

I have soooo much research material I don't know where to start...or end.

Department of Museum Studies: Brown Bag Seminar Series

Brown bag seminar - all welcome!
28th January 1pm LR1 at Dept of Museum Studies 105 Princess Road East

The Personal Inquiry project: bridging the school's science lab to the home

Dr Stamatina Anastopoulou
Learning Sciences Research Institute
University of Nottingham

The PI: Personal Inquiry project, a joint project between the University of Nottingham and the Open University, is developing a new approach to 'Personal Scripted Inquiry Learning' as a learning experience where children are engaged in a scientific process of gathering and assessing evidence, conducting experiments, visualising rich information, and engaging in informed debate. Technology is put, literally, in the hands of the learners, so that they contribute to data collection, not just in the lab but in their everyday life, and they take some responsibility, collaboratively, for its authority and provenance.

The technology is designed in the form of a personalised learning toolkit, supporting mobile and contextual learning, with handheld and desktop technology between formal and informal settings. The seminar will focus on the first case study across a school classroom and the home of year 9 students of a local Nottingham school, using a first prototype of the personal learning toolkit. The case study is going to take place in November 2008. The main aim of the study is to incorporate inquiry learning activities within an extended school science environment in order to investigate opportunities for technological mediations and to extract guidelines for the design of personal technology to link inquiry learning across different settings. A set of evaluation activities will be carried out, the outcomes of which will be discussed in the seminar. We will also discuss our insights for the development of the technology to support the learning activities and how such technologies could be appropriated as tools for learning.

Publication: museum & society

The latest issue of museum & society is now available online at:

Click on the drop-down menu on the left-hand side and select Vol 6:3 Nov 2008.

Holocaust lists and the Memorial Museum
Henri Lustiger Thaler

Not what we expected: the Jewish Museum Berlin in practice
Peter Chametzky

Crafting emotional comfort: interpreting the painful past at living history museums in the new economy
Amy M. Tyson

CFP: Africa on My Mind: Contemporary Art, Home and Abroad

From H-ArtHist:

The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) will host its third biennial Art History Symposium, Africa on My Mind: Contemporary Art, Home and Abroad, February 26 27, 2010.

Deadline: May 15, 2009

The goal of this symposium is to encourage representation by a variety of media and cultural and geographical areas in Africa and the African Diaspora. Possible topics could address the role of contemporary African and African Diaspora art in shaping regional, ethnic and individual identity; the gendered responses to the colonization of the body and mind; contributions of technology and international art fairs to shaping identity and careers; questions of interpreting and exhibiting contemporary work; pedagogic theories and methods addressing African and African Diaspora art; the vitality of African traditions in coastal South Carolina and Georgia.

Open to scholars and graduate students. The editors of Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture have agreed to consider papers by symposium participants for publication. The symposium will feature a keynote address by Simon Njami (lecturer, art critic, novelist and essayist).

Deadline for abstract submission: May 15, 2009. Please submit an abstract (300 words max) and a CV, including complete contact information (address, phone, and email).

Submit to:

Notification of acceptance: September 30, 2009 via email

For information on the 2008 symposium:

Jane Rehl, PhD and Andrew Nedd, PhD
Symposium Co-chairs
Department of Art History

CFP: Museums and biographies

From H-Museum:


"Museums and biographies"
National Gallery London
10-12 September 2009

To be held at the National Gallery Thursday 10th - Saturday 12th September 2009, co-organised with the Museums and Galleries History Group and the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies at Newcastle University.

The conference will bring together those who study the interconnections between museums and galleries, collecting and biography. Drawing together analyses of representation, material culture and personality, we invite papers that can cast new light on the study of lives, objects and display. Abstracts are invited from historians, museologists, artists and others.

Keynote speakers: Arthur MacGregor, Nicholas Penny.

Papers are invited that consider historical and/or current aspects of the following areas:
. The lives of curators, dealers and collectors
. (Auto)biographical display
. Institutional histories
. Object biographies
. Personality museums

Papers will provide innovative methodological or reflexive insights and be based on original research. There will be opportunities for museum practitioners to detail new acquisitions or recent developments in the sector, and other forms of presentation may be considered as well as conventional papers.

Please email a one-page abstract (maximum 300 words), including brief autobiographical details, to Catherine Todd - (or to Catherine Todd, Publications & Conference Assistant, ICCHS, Bruce Building, Newcastle University, NE1 7RU) - by 31 January 2009.

Registration and payment (including speakers) will be invited by 30 June 2009, rates TBA.

CFP/Publication: The Romanian Journal of Museums

From H-Museum:

Call for papers

The Romanian Journal of Museums (RJM)
Theme: Museum Projects
Submission deadline: March 1st, 2009

The Romanian Journal of Museums (RJM) invites museum specialists to submit papers for publication consideration in the first issue of the Journal for 2009, dedicated to successful projects developed in museums.

RJM is the only Romanian publication dedicated to all museum specialists and to all types of museums - Art, History, Archeology or Natural History, public or private, national, county's or local. Since 1965, the Journal has been a forum for the specialists, a space of exchanging ideas, of presenting successful projects in museum field, on the national or international level, of debating best practices or the latest museum standards. RJM has been greeting contributions from all sectors of museum-related work - curatorial, design, conservation and educational programmes.

Among the contributors are Virgil Ştefan Niţulescu, secretary of state in the Romanian Ministry of Culture and the President of the Romanian National Commitee of ICOM, Patrick Greene, who reorganise the Museum of Science and Industry of Manchester, or Giovanni Pinna, Chairperson of ICOM Italy in 2003.

The objective of this issue is to present projects that have been developed in museums and whose results have/had an impact on the museum audience or on the museum work.

The topics could include:
- the impact of the project on developing the audiences
- rethinking the permanent exhibition
- new approaches in exhibition design
- outstanding temporary / travelling exhibitions
- original educational programmes and other public programs
- reaching out communities
- cooperation with other organizations etc.

The paper should be between 10 and 15 pages long (TNR - 12 pt., spacing -1.5 lines). Harvard citation system should be used. Author(s) should specify full name, institution, address of the institution, email address. All pictures should be submitted separately, jpeg format, titled, and so on. Inside the paper, figures' placement should be specified as follows: title, source or other information if the case.

Deadline of submission: 1st of March 2009
Author notification: 7th of March 2009
Final acceptance of paper: 14th of March 2009

Please submit an electronic version of the paper to:
Mihaela Murgoci, editor in chief, email:

A webcomic, because I am too lazy to type a real entry

Courtesy of Cat and Girl

Friday, January 23, 2009

CFP: Building Capacity and Collaboration at the Intersection of the Learning Sciences and Informal Science Education

Intersection Workshop height="500" width="100%"> value="">    
   Publish at Scribd or explore others:        

Performance, Learning & Heritage

For anyone interested in the "uses and impact of performance as a medium of learning in museums and at historic sites", the Centre for Applied Theatre Research (CATR) at the University of Manchester have published a report from their three-year AHRC-funded project - Performance, Learning & Heritage.

Congratulations... Dr Wing Yan Vivian Ting, who is graduating today!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

More book collections!

Jen's recent post on her book collection reminded me that I have a pile of old books sitting on my fireplace at home (not to mention more at my parent's house!)  Whilst I had a specific reason for collecting old LPs I do not really have a reason for collecting old books other than I prefer them to modern books.  I like the old bindings and the way that the spine is generally a different colour to the front of the book because of bleaching by the sun.  The following picture is of a particularly attractive binding by the publishers Blackie & Son:

Gold and red binding is a popular colour for nineteenth century books, such as this copy of 'The Earthly Paradise' by William Morris (1896):

I like the way they smell, usually slightly musty, and the pages are usually hand-cut so they are all jumbled and messy.  Some of my books are unfortunately mouldy - as this one shows they are not always in the best condition:

The more 'expensive' (when they were new) books are lavished with illustrations, some of which are protected by a thin sheet of tissue paper.  The engravings and wood-cuts used can be very elegant, as this illustration from the fronts-piece of the William Morris book demonstrates:

Although books were obviously mass-produced then as now, the fact that these books have survived for a hundred years or more makes them seem pretty special to me, although I doubt they are worth very much in monetary terms.  The endpapers can be fantastic especially the marbled ones, some of the patterns are almost psychedelic as in this 'Handbook to the National Gallery' from 1890:
The same book, which is pretty hefty for a 'handbook' also has a map of the National Gallery: one day I intend to visit the NG with this guidebook and see how things have changed since the 1890s!

I think my interest in old books was kindled when my mum found an old 19th century history book in a jumble sale and it kind of grew from there.  I go through phases of what I like to collect so there is not really an overall focus, although I have continued to buy old history books when I see them in charity shops.  A while ago I got a bit obsessed with the poetry of Byron and so I have about eight books of his poetry and some about his life.  Three of them were published whilst he was still alive and in a way that makes them more special, although I have not been able to identify why exactly.  I do know that I became interested in Byron when I was about 9 years old and we visited the Castle of Chillon in Switzerland.  Byron had left some 19th century graffiti by carving his name into a pillar and even at that young age I wondered who would have the audacity to do such a thing.  It was only later that I found out Byron was a poet and a bit of a scandalous one at that.  The books however mostly contribute to the myth of Byron as a dark and gloomy poet, especially those published after his death.  The image below shows one of the more melancholy engravings from a book published in 1863:

Many of the collections of poems like to feature a romantic image of the poet himself - this one is from a book published in 1912:

A very similar portrait from 'Poems by the Right Honourable Lord Byron with his Memoirs, published in 1823 after Byron was forced to flee England for the continent following all sorts of scandals about his private life.  It's interesting how Byron looks more 'boyish' here compared to the suave-looking poet in the later image:

Tucked away in a book from 1832, one of fourteen volumes of the 'Works of Lord Byron' is a facsimile copy of Byron's scrawl.  It is pleasing to realise that even great poets have appalling handwriting:

One theme however that does run through my collection is that I like to buy the most battered ones, the ones that are cheap and more likely to be abandoned.  I had some dream a while ago of being able to repair them but this still remains a dream.   Sometimes I feel sad for my books because I do not take wonderful care of them despite their age; my only attempt at preservation is not reading them!  I like the idea though that if I do read them one day I will be following in the footsteps of previous owners, some of whom have left evidence of their ownership in the form of names, scribbles in the margins and, in one extreme case which sadly I don't have with me in Leicester, pasted in pictures and advertisements from newspapers.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Relational Museum

Another one of my v quick posts...

Chris Gosden (University of Oxford) talks about The Relational Museum project on the Material Worlds blog.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Welcome... Ashraf Melika, the latest member of our PhD community. Ashraf is a distance-learning student based in America and will be researching Pharaonic material culture in the present. Sounds like a very interesting project. Hope to meet you at Research Week Ashraf!

An Inauguration Day Diversion

Click here to create your own Obamicon based upon Shepard Fairey's famous 'Hope' poster.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

London's 70 Best Unsung Museums

Another quick post (writing-up is a blinking nightmare!)...

Time Out has compiled a list of London's lesser-known museums. You can read about them here.

[Via I Heart Museums]

Saturday, January 17, 2009

To be, or not to be...*

I'm not sure how to alleviate PhD despair (sorry Ceri), but I've made great roads into defeating dreaded PhD procrastination this using a timer.  

The idea is that you set a timer (I use my phone) for a few minutes 'on,' during which you focus completely and obsessively on the task at hand.  As soon as the time is up, you allow yourself an equal amount of 'off' time (I knit).  I appreciate this wouldn't work for everyone, but I've found it a really useful technique for dealing with writer's block.

This site recommends 8 mins on/off.  That works just fine for me. 

* Hamlet was, of course, le procrastinator par excellence.

Friday, January 16, 2009

It's a Material World

Quick post...

Interesting short video from Demos which explores what we choose to value and preserve.

Thanks to Ross Parry for providing the link.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Solutions for PhD Despair??

I am not sure whether it is the cold weather or the fact that I am over half-way through my PhD now (three out of six years) but I am feeling the full force of PhD Despair e.g. the feeling that I will never get it finished, it is a complete waste of time and nobody will read it anyway.

I am sure that most PhD students will feel like this at some point in their research.

I was therefore wondering if anyone had some suggestions as to how to combat the feelings of despair? The weirder and wackier the better. I am finding that because I made some ridiculous new years resolutions, such as giving up chocolate, I have narrowed my options somewhat on the 'cheering myself up' front...

And so this post is not completely miserable, some things I have tried recently which have cheered me up:
Going to the gym (surprisingly effective)
Painting my nails bright yellow
Mooching round charity shops
Reading a trashy novel
Watching Hollyoaks (or any other trashy TV)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Maintenance: the Curse of the Museum

Perhaps I'm just bitter because the electricians haven't yet come to fix the faulty fire alarm light that has been beeping continuously since this morning, but this story made me laugh: Drunk Worker Starts Fire in Museum. It's so classic - drunken Russian nearly torches one of the bastions of his own culture by accident... Ah, my people!

CFP: GradBritain (Spring 2009)

Spring Issue of GradBritain: Call for Articles
Deadline: 1st Feb 2009

Feeling the post-Xmas credit crunch blues? Why not earn some cash and amuse yourself (and hopefully others) by penning an article for GradBritain? The article must be no more than 800 words and can be on any aspect of PhD life; be it the joys or pitfalls of doing a PhD, the challenge of finding a job afterwards or your opinions on the state of higher education. Please send all articles as a word attached document saved in your name to

The spring issue will also feature an article on the RAE results, so if you have any gossip or amusing stories (published anonymously of course) involving your university or department and the RAE, we would love to hear from you. Please email

If you haven’t read our Autumn issue, it is just a click away:
Guidelines are also available for authors at:

GRADBritain is a magazine written by and for postgraduate researchers (PGRs) in the United Kingdom. It is published once per academic term (three times per year) and contains articles written by PGRs of all ages and backgrounds from a variety of disciplines in the sciences, arts and humanities.

GRADBritain provides a platform for PGRs throughout the country to share experiences, advice, and ask questions in order to improve the experience of their PhD. On occasion, it may even make you laugh.

Collector's Corner: No 2 (?)

I am a collector of the Chalet School books by Elinor Brent-Dyer. There are 66 Chalet School books which were written and published from 1925 to 1970, which follow the exploits of two sisters who move from England to Austria to start a girl’s school. I could assume that most people, within my generation at least, will not have heard of them as other children’s series such as by C.S. Lewis and Enid Blyton were more popular. And of course children want to read more grown up books so these old fashioned books were passed over by my friends in favour of more modern novels. Despite my assumption that the Chalet School books are were less favoured, I know that I am one of a great many who treasure these books. There are a few societies, such as Friends of the Chalet School, which are dedicated to everything ‘Chaletian’.

I’m not entirely sure how I got interested in these books however I think it is likely that the cover designs would have been what made me want to read them. Not long after I started to read these in the small local library they started to became harder and harder to find and so I started collecting them whenever I found one for sale. My dad also had a big influence in this collection as he himself is an avid collector of stuff (stamps, coins, Lilliput houses, model aircraft kits, trains, gadgets etc.) and had for years tried (not very successfully) to get me and my brother into collecting stamps and coins.
My collection at the moment stands at about 50 books, of which several are doubles, so I still have some collecting to do. I also own a rather rare hardback 1st edition of the twenty-third novel in the series ‘Carola Storms the Chalet School’ which of course I treasure. I have only ever found a few hardback copies of these books and was exceptionally pleased that I found this edition and happily forked out all my pocket money with a little in advance from my Dad. This however is not my favourite of the collection. My favourite is a 1988 hardback reprint of ‘The Princess of the Chalet School’ which has a lovely dust slip of the original cover design that has kept the book in excellent condition. This design is based on the 'big' adventure in this lovely story where Jo, the younger founding sister who has frail health, ventures out into the Tyrolean mountains to find her fellow student, the Princess, who has run away from the School.

With these books the older the better in my opinion and in line with my belief that it was the covers which originally got me interested in these books I will not buy a copy if the cover is of the more recent mid-late 90s styles. They just don’t fit my idea of treasured old stories of a time and place where things were never that bad and the worst thing kids did to each other was put snails on their rival’s window. Despite that old saying ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ it is the covers job sell the book so I feel no shame in being short sighted and judging by pretty picture alone. Psychology informs us that in the first few seconds of meeting a new person you have formed an opinion of them so I would propose this could be applied to object also.

It is a strange thing collecting, something which I hadn’t actually thought about in relation to myself for ages until Amy’s email, and then I realised how much it is still a part of my life now. I still cannot leave a charity shop or second-hand book shop without looking to see if there is by chance a lonely book waiting to be part of my collection. Also, partially as a result of my love of these stories, I have visited the real life location that was used for the setting of the fictional Chalet School twice. Pertisau am Achensee in Austria is beautiful little town set on the banks of the Achensee lake and it is not hard to see why it as chosen by Brent-Dyer as the perfect place to base these stories.
I am now off to search for the books which are missing from my collection on Amazon and eBay!

Quick post - The carbon cost of searching the internet

Has anyone else seen this interesting article featured on today's BBC news website?

I hadn't even considered that my quite frankly frequent use of google is like potentially boiling a kettle!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A short walk through Welford Road Cemetery, Leicester

One of the hidden heritage gems of the UK in my opinion are graveyards and cemeteries, particularly those pre-World War I when the fashion was, for those who could afford them, grand and ostentatious memorials.  I am often seen as morbid for having a fascination with such places of death but for me, memorials tell us far more about the life of those in the past, as well as about the change in funeral customs for instance.  Unlike the history books, graveyards etc are also places where you can see the names of ordinary people and although this is often restricted to just their name, age and relatives, occasionally memorials contain more information to tell us about the lives of those buried beneath us.  There is a wealth of social history here which is recognised by the number of Friends and volunteer groups who protect and care for these important sites.

Welford Road Cemetery in Leicester is very close to the University, in fact the entrance gate on the west side (if the North entrance is the one on Welford Road) faces the main University campus on University Road.  My MA dissertation focused on how cemeteries are used as public heritage sites so I was already familiar with the Cemetery before I even considered moving to Leicester.  There are guided tours, which I can recommend as a way of learning more about Leicester as well as those who are buried in the Cemetery, and a guide book called 'Grave Matters: A Walk through Welford Road Cemetery Leicester' by Max Wade-Matthews, published in 1992 by Heart of Albion Press.

Cemeteries are also havens for wildlife and can make pleasant places for walks. Although in the past they tended to be managed on the same scale as parks, the collapse of the private cemetery companies left many in the hands of unsympathetic Local Authorities leading to either wholesale demolition or willful neglect. Whilst neglect lends the cemetery a mournful atmosphere in keeping with the Victorian fantasy, it does not feel very safe to be in a wilderness of ivy and trees.  Welford Road Cemetery is thus perfect because it is very open, mostly grass, with tree-lined walks on the fringes.  It is a working cemetery still, with a visitor centre for those who are interested in finding out about the history of the site and how it has changed over the years.

I took a walk on Saturday afternoon through the Cemetery (on my way to Morrisons supermarket); it was bitterly cold and grey and my hand almost froze taking photographs.  In historic cemeteries it is tempting to only take photos of the most important memorials, however I tried to take a mixture so that I could get a feel of the Cemetery in its entirety rather than simply its 'best bits.'  Below are some of those photographs, with a short commentary, which I hope will encourage you, if you are in Leicester, to visit this fascinating site, if only to enjoy a quiet walk in the heart of the bustling city.

One of the most striking memorials in the Cemetery is a tall, decorative Celtic cross dedicated to Benjamin Sutton.  The book 'Grave Matters' tells me that Sutton made a lot of money on the Stock Exchange and, having no family, he left all of it in trust to Leicester Infirmary to help destitute persons to 'be able to start afresh in the world' (p20).

The bulk of the Cemetery is scattered with the memorials of more 'ordinary' Leicester citizens.  Memorials such as these were often chosen from enormous pattern books in the 19th century and a complicated symbolic language was developed in order for families to express their grief at the passing of their relatives and friends.

I had to go 'off the beaten track' to find this fine memorial, unfortunately the inscription was too eroded to read who it belonged to.  That is another interesting thing in cemeteries, the type of material used to make memorials.  Before the advent of the canals and railways, local stone was mainly used.  With the development of faster, more reliable means of transport different stone could be imported from all over the world.

Angelic sculptures are found all over cemeteries and Welford Road is no exception.  This is a particularly fine one I think - unusually the angel is placed at ground level, most of the ones I have seen have been on a plinth.  It gives the memorial a very intimate feel.

The 'curse' of Health and Safety - despite the fact that very few people are killed in graveyards and cemeteries each year, memorials that are presumed to be in danger of collapse have had to be taken down.  I can understand the reasons why but it is irritating that they cannot make them more secure instead whilst retaining the shape of the memorial - I guess they would argue that it would be too expensive.

Occasionally you come across a quirky memorial; quite a few memorials in Welford Road are inlaid with metal inserts.  I was surprised to see that quite a few remain, as these are often stolen.  I used to volunteer for the Friends group at Sheffield General Cemetery and I remember being told that bits of stolen memorials were quite often sold as garden ornaments.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Collector's Corner: No 1 in a (sort-of) series

 I have been collecting vinyl records (LPs, 7-inch and 12-inch) on and off since I was a teenager.  The odd thing is that I do not own, and have never owned, a record player so I cannot, as yet listen to my records.  My friends think that this is hilarious, but to me there is something magical about this old format that does not easily translate into collecting CDs and even less for digital files.

I remember the first album I bought was in the 1990s, called "Masters of the Universe" it was a compilation of Pulp tracks from the 1980s and it had a weird, warped image of the band on the front cover.  It wasn't available on CD so I guess this is the reason I bought it.  I think I borrowed my Dad's record player to listen to it.  My Dad always had a box of records which very rarely came out - I think this is what might have convinced me that they were something sacred, as well as the sense that listening to a record involves a sort of ritual.  Taking the record carefully out of the sleeve, placing it carefully on the turntable (free of dust) and lining up the stylus.  

My recent spate of album buying was triggered by an article which talked about how albums from the 1970s and 1980s sounded better on vinyl.  I was getting obsessed with discovering music from the 1980s and most of the CDs you can buy nowadays have been re-mastered from the originals.  Many say that this has removed the thrill of the original and it made me wonder if that was true - or just nostalgia talking.

A chance finding in Help the Aged charity shop started my quest; passing the racks, usually filled with unwanted Val Doonican or ABBA albums, I saw a compelling image; a smartly dressed man, with his hand almost touching a screen of light.  The album was called 'Metamatic' by John Foxx.  I had never heard of John Foxx but a little research revealed that he was the original lead singer with Ultravox, famous for their new romantic hit 'Vienna.'  When I went back to buy the album, it was still there so I saw that as a 'sign' it was meant for me to find.  It has since opened up to me a whole new musical world - the 'post-punk' and 'new pop' sounds of the late 70s and early 80s. Unlike the Ultravox of 'Vienna' fame, Foxx's Ultravox were spiky, sarcastic, angry, and, as conveyed by the cover of their 1977 debut album, a little bit scary...

This leads me onto another reason for collecting LPs, the artwork. Well, you get the same artwork on the CD booklet, however the size of the LP gives the design a different aura and feel to the smaller size of the CD booklet. The different textures too are interesting - some LP covers are highly shiny, others are more of a matt texture. The most successful covers for me reflect the mood of the music. Take 'Sulk' by the Associates (1982) - the cover is super glossy, almost over-bright; singer Billy Mackenzie and instrumentalist Alan Rankine sat amongst strange exotic plants looking fantastic... or are they? It is evident that they are sitting on a couple of dust sheets and are pulling strange facial expressions, trying a bit too hard. It kind of makes it a little bit tacky too which suits the glossy, melodramatic songs they were making at the time. This is one of my favourite albums for all those reasons.

There are several ways for me to collect records. From charity shops, Ebay, and the monthly record fairs that are held in Town Hall square in Leicester. Ebay is good for getting the exact album you want but I prefer the charity shop for the unexpected find - ploughing through piles of albums and finding one you want is a time consuming experience but you feel that you have earned it. I guess I enjoy the process of discovery as much as the collection.

A few highlights from the collection:

'Poor Old Soul' by Orange Juice which has a 'traditional' Scottish flavour:

A Scritti Politti single which, true to their (then) Marxist principles, does not have an A and B side but instead all four songs share equal status:

And finally, before I started my collection of vinyl I did not realise that they used to produce albums with pictures printed onto the surface of the record.

I have decided to buy myself a record player as a treat for writing up my two PhD case studies so then I might be able to test the theory about vinyl sounding better than the CD or digital version, however in some ways I fear that I will become too precious about my collection and not be able to use them for fear of wearing them out. I imagine I am not the only person to experience this dilemma!

Apologies for the photographs, I had not realised that LPs would react badly to the flash.

Permanent British City of Culture Prize

News comes today from the MLA that they are supportive of a permanent British City of Culture prize, similar to the European idea which has seen Glasgow, and most recently, Liverpool take on the mantle (almost wrote 'mental' oops) of City Of Culture.

Roy Clare, Chief Executive of MLA, said:

"We are very supportive of the idea of a permanent British City of Culture prize and agree that culture and creativity alongside sport are a vital part of tourism, renewal and regeneration, as many places already demonstrate."

I was wondering what other people thought about this development? I can see that the kudos for the city would be something to celebrate, and as Liverpool has shown it does increase visitor numbers (although who these visitors were I have not been able to find out) ... However I can also see that it creates an enormous amount of cost in administering the scheme as well as for the cities which wish to enter. Is the cost worth it? Does it bring more value for the people of the UK when engaging with culture? Could that ever be measured?

Perhaps they could just pick the names out of a hat at random? In that way it could be positioned more as a showcase than a competition and it might help to appreciate the wealth of culture that the UK has already?

Teething problems

Since the revamp, the 'Read more' function (currently at the base of each post) hasn't worked. Rest assured I'm on the case, and hope to get it sorted soon. :D

CFP: As the Art World Turns

From H-ArtHist:

Call for Proposals

As the Art World Turns
An artists meeting project

As the "Art World" -- as we knew it for the past 15 years -- unravels in the midst of world-wide recessions and economic crises, the question of who/what will survive and how have become prevalent in discussions amongst art critics, art fair attendees, dealers, art students, museum goers, gallery visitors, collectors, curators, and, of course, artists themselves. However, it is also a chance (especially) for the latter to imagine, implement and defend new parameters for art production and circulation. The question is what should these models look like,what direction should they take, and how would they fit into the world at large?

The artist group ArtistsMeeting (AM) plans to publish an edited sampling of theories, proposals and opinions, as well as diagrams, graphics and images in hope to jumpstart a fresh critical debate. Therefore, we call for image and text contributions from across the current "art world".

Please e-mail your responses to:

The deadline is January 31st, 2009.

Conference Alert: Visual Conflicts

From H-ArtHist:

Visual Conflicts: Art History and the Formation of Political Memory
A one-day conference at University College London on Saturday, 7 March

Location: Cruciform Building, Lecture Theatre 2:

The conference will explore ways in which visual culture has engaged with armed conflict and politically-motivated acts of violence of all types. It aims to provide a platform for developing links between issues of memory formation, the politics of violence and visual representation. Working with the analytical framework of the discipline of art history, it will consider the entire field of visual representation, to include, for instance, documentary film, reportage as well as images produced by individual agents but that were made public in one wayor another. It will consider questions such as how pre-existing narratives of conflict condition the way in which we derive meaning from representations of politically motivated acts of violence and to explore the implications for art historical inquiry posed by shifts in imaging technologies and of the experience of war itself.

Closing date for registration 27 February 2009. There is no fee. Lunch provided.

If you wish to attend please forward your name, affiliation and a contact number to , or


Registration and coffee

Tamar Garb, Paul Fox, Gil Pasternak
Introductory Remarks

Tom Gretton (University College London)
Camp life: news pictures of military men and domesticity in British
and French imperial armies c.1870 to c.1900

Eva Kernbauer (University of Bern)
Mediality and historiality in Videograms of a Revolution

Sue Walker (University College London)
Fragments and the epic: soldierly subjectivity after Napoleon


Katy Parry (Liverpool University)
Haven't I seen that before? Photographic clichés of conflict and loss
in the British press

John Curley (Wake Forest University)
Life magazine "Picture of the Week" from 22 May 1944


Thomas Cauvin (European University Institute)
Exhibiting a conflict during a peace process; bicentenary of the 1798
rebellion in Ireland and Northern Ireland

Kira Shrewfelt (University of South California)
A martyr's aesthetic: digital media in the twenty first century Middle

Summing up and discussion


Thursday, January 08, 2009

New Look!

New Year, new look! As you'll see The Attic has had a bit of a make-over. I thought it was high-time for a slicker, more minimal approach. I hope you all approve. There are a few teething problems mind, so please don't be surprised if more changes happen over the next few days; it'll take a little while to get everything 'just so.'

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Museums for Peace?

Apparently, we are still living in the 19th century; at least that's what the BBC news website Magazine would have us believe. An article called, provocatively, "Murder, mayhem, and museums," suggests that lasting peace in Iraq may be accomplished through building museums out of Saddam's palaces. Certainly, by making something "part of history," within a museum, you remove its active power potential. But to rebuild/recreate civilization by making up museums?

Obviously I think this is more than a little problematic. Museums, as we know, are filled with power discourse, and can be considered colonial. The fact that the article interviews a curator from the British Museum (for many a symbol of the ultimate colonizing museum) just serves to underline the power disparities between the British and Iraqis.

Even more than that, I suggest that there is a disturbing class discourse here. Museums are not just places for the masses to be indoctrinated, they are also primarily middle-class sites of leisure. Middle-class intellectuals cannot be created or imposed just through building a museum; that layer of society takes a long time to build, and perhaps even longer to re-establish after traumatic events. You have to create the class first: by rebuilding universities, by creating an economy in which subsistence and survival are no longer the primary priorities, by protecting and encouraging freedom of speech and the arts. Then those people will decide what their museum will look like, and won't need the British Museum's fantasies about the cradle of civilization to patronizingly and condescendingly "help".

It is all so painfully Utopian: to pick and choose the acceptable bits of Iraqi history to commemorate, and to do so in acceptably Western ways: palaces of civilization, reclaimed by the people from tyrannical dictators, repurposed to represent new freedom while paradoxically celebrating the concentrated products of the resources of the previous social structure... Is this really what people want? Is it really how we see and use museums? Is this what museums are really about?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Call for Participation: London Debates

LONDON DEBATES at the School of Advanced Study, University of London
14 - 16 May 2009

The School of Advanced Study at the University of London invites applications for the first of a series of international debates for outstanding young researchers in the humanities and social sciences.

London Debates are three-day discussion workshops at which a subject of broad concern in the humanities and social sciences is debated by a small group of 5 invited senior academics and a selection of early-career researchers. Plenary seminars will be combined with small-group discussions. On the last afternoon a report will be drafted and later published online by the School of Advanced Study.

The competition is open to scholars based in the EU/EEA countries, who are in their final-year of doctoral study or up to 10 years beyond the award of their doctorate. Selected applicants will be awarded bursaries to cover travel and accommodation.

You are invited to send the following in English by email attachment

* Your curriculum vitae (2000 words maximum);
* the name, address and email address of one referee;
* a response of 2000-3000 words on the subject below

to Rosemary Lambeth ( ), by the closing date of Monday 16 February 2009, with a hard copy sent to reach School of Advanced Study, University of London, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1 7HU, by Friday 20 February 2009.

For further information contact Professor Naomi Segal on .

The 2009 topic is: What role do museums play in the globalisation of culture?

Your response may include, but is not limited to, the following:

(a) Museums as treasure-houses: from bringing the world to our attention to preserving antiquities;

(b) How are indigenous people represented in metropolitan museums?

(c) Does modern travel render the museum redundant?

(d) The museum out of doors: what is the role of public memory-sites?

(e) Global museums: do they belong to everyone?

(f) Taxonomy of the museum: how and to whom is material presented?

(g) How can museums preserve difficult memories - famine, holocaust, slavery, etc.

(h) The museum of the future: material or digital?

Rosemary Lambeth
School of Advanced Study, University of London
Senate House, Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU

Visit the website at

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Seminar: Only Human

Only Human: Social History & Ethnography

This seminar is a joint venture between Social History Curators' Group (SHCG) and Museum Ethnographers' Group (MEG). Talks from specialists in social history and ethnography will discuss the differences and similarities between the two disciplines. Both use museum objects to study and interpret the lives of human beings but how can we bring them closer together in productive and enlightening ways? The day will also include a guided tour of the redeveloped Leeds City Museum, which recently re-opened in the refurbished Grade II listed Leeds Institute building in Leeds city centre. New galleries in the museum include the World View Gallery, with an opening exhibition on Africa, and the Leeds Collectors Gallery.

Venue: Leeds City Museum
Date: Friday 27th February 2009
Time: 10.15 – 4.00
Cost (including lunch): £20 SHCG/MEG Members, £30 Non-members

LIMITED PLACES – BOOK NOW! We expect this seminar to sell out quickly.

Seminar Programme:

10.15 Registration and Coffee

10.40 Welcome
Seminar Organisers – Adam Jaffer, Kylea Little, Hannah Crowdy

10.45 Introduction to Leeds’ redevelopment and new Social History and Ethnography galleries

11.15 The Edith Durham Collection of Balkan Textiles
Miriam Scargall, Bankfield Museum

11.45 Beauty – in the eye of the beholder?
Tony Eccles, Royal Albert Memorial Museum

12.30 LUNCH

13.15 Tour of relevant galleries

14.30 Worktown and Mass Observation
Daniel Smith, Bolton Museum

15.00 Coffee

15.15 ‘Ethnography’ and ‘Social History’ on Display – Examples from New Zealand
Sauda Motara, Newcastle University

15.45 Evaluation

16.00 Close

Contact Kylea Little or Hannah Crowdy for a booking form and/or more information.

CFP/Publication: ERAS

Fro H-Museum:

Submissions Due: 31st March 2009

Eras is an online journal edited and produced by postgraduate students from the School of Historical Studies at Monash University. As a fully refereed journal with DEST status, Eras is intended as an international forum for current or recently completed Masters and PhD students to publish original research, comment and reviews in the following fields covered by the School's teaching and research: History, Archaeology and Ancient History, Religion and Theology and Jewish Civilisation.

We are seeking papers from postgraduate students working in any of the fields listed above. Papers are also strongly encouraged from students in other disciplines, such as Cultural Studies, Indigenous Studies, Gender Studies, Philosophy, Sociology and Politics, provided such manuscripts are relevant to the journal's primary fields of interest.

We are also interested in papers relating to history of the museum.

Papers of 5000 words and a short abstract should be submitted to by 31st March 2009. Detailed notes and editorial guidelines for individual contributors are available on our web site (listed below).

It is anticipated that the eleventh edition of Eras will appear in November 2009. Look for our tenth edition online at:

James Gill and Marianna Stylianou

Eras Journal
School of Historical Studies
P.O.Box 11A, Monash University
Victoria, 3800

CFP: Imagineering the past

From Museum-L:

Imagineering the past: The (mis)uses of anthropology and archaeology in tourism

Anthropological and archaeological imaginations: Past, present and future
University of Bristol, UK, 6-9 April 2009

Organizer: Dr. Noel B. Salazar (University of Leuven)

In a bid to obtain a piece of the lucrative global tourism pie, destinations worldwide are trying to play up their local distinctiveness. This is sometimes done by borrowing from traditional ethnology an ontological and essentialist vision of exotic cultures, conceived as static entities with clearly defined characteristics. Ideas of old-style colonial anthropology and archaeology – objectifying, reifying, homogenizing, and naturalizing peoples – are widely (mis)used in international tourism by individuals and organizations staking claims of identity and cultural belonging on imagined notions of place and locality. Ironically, this is happening at a time when anthropologists and archaeologists alike prefer more constructivist approaches to human heritage, taking it for granted that cultures and societies were never passive, bounded and homogeneous entities.

Of course, academic writings (often outdated ones) are only one source of inspiration that shape tourism imaginaries of peoples and places, but they are an underestimated and under-researched one. While there is a growing literature on how fieldworkers engage with tourism, at their research sites or on a theoretical level, there has been little systematic investigation of how archaeological and anthropological knowledge is (mis)used, à la carte, by tourism stakeholders to produce easily sellable interpretations of heritage (and, in the process, transforming local peoples’ lives). This panel presents empirical case studies that critically analyse which aspects of the two disciplines are used in tourism to create nostalgic essentializing imagery of so-called authentic traditions and cultures and what the ascribed and self-identified roles and responsibilities of scholars are in these processes.

If you are interested in participating, please go to the conference
website ( ),
click the ‘Propose a paper’ link and follow the instructions.
Note that the deadline is February 6.
General instructions about submitting abstracts:
More information about the conference in general:
High-quality papers will be selected for publication in an edited volume.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Resolutions for 2009

So, dear Readers, what are your resolutions for 2009? Mine is to submit my PhD before Easter and, dammit, I'm going to do it!!!