Hello everyone! After a long holiday break, the ITP blog is back in business with a report on last week’s staff breakfast!

British Museum staff were given a presentation last week on the “Portable Antiquities Scheme”. To give you a little bit of information about this scheme, it is a national programme supported by government, designed “to encourage the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales.”

In the UK there is a strong tradition of metal detecting and mud-larking (where people walk along the banks of rivers looking for archaeological fragments in the mud) – this leads to the discovery of thousands of objects each year. People also, of course, find some fascinating items completely by accident. The Portable Antiquities Scheme helps UK citizens to learn more about these objects, and if they want to, donate them to a local museum!

"The millionth find" from the Portable Antiquities Scheme Photo credit: D Hubbard, British Museum. Do not use without permissions.

“The millionth find” from the Portable Antiquities Scheme Photo credit: D Hubbard, British Museum. Do not use without permissions.

The scheme is voluntary, however if a UK citizen finds something considered “treasure” (for example made of gold or valuable metal, or a large amount of coins), by law they must let their local representative know under the Treasure Act.

At the staff breakfast, we were allowed to see the latest in this year’s treasure finds, including two beautiful Roman gold rings. They were wonderful objects, and show how important amateur archaeology is to the UK.

Our presenter also discussed how much easier it is now to report finds, with local expert representatives available throughout the country to help people report, learn about and excavate potential sites.

For more information on the scheme, visit https://finds.org.uk/

What do you think about the scheme? Do you have something similar in your country? Or is amateur digging and archaeology a difficult issue for your government and museums?

Posted by: BM ITP | January 12, 2015

Your thoughts: Environmentally Friendly Museums

Following from last week’s blog about sustainability and the British Museum’s brand new beekeeping club, we would love to hear your case studies, ideas and opinions on museums and the environment.

The environmental impact of running institutions both big and small is an important issue which is becoming more and more relevant.

ITP UK Partner Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums have an environmental policy, as do many museums throughout the UK and internationally. The Horniman Museum and Gardens even has a centre dedicated to environmental understanding, with the environment included in its mission and design – the building constructed with sustainable materials

If you have any thoughts to share on how your home institutions and cultures consider the environment and nature, and how your museums reflect this, please let us know!

For more articles and information on environmentally friendly museums from the Museums Association, see the link below.

http://www.museumsassociation.org/museum-practice/environmentally-friendly-museums

Before Christmas, the British Museum announced to staff what is surely one of the most exciting initiatives for the new year: a British Museum Bee Club!

In the summer of 2014, while participants were taking part in this year’s ITP, a colony of honey bees were welcomed on to the new “green roof” of the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre.

A green roof is a space on top of urban buildings which allows the growth of gardens, allotments and other green habitats within cities.

The green roof, with gardening space, solar panels, and beehives

The green roof, with gardening space, solar panels, and beehives. Photo credit: The British Museum

With the bee population in decline, there have been numerous efforts to “bring the bees back”, and these bees have been introduced as as part of the Inmidtown Urban Bee Project.

British Museum staff now have the opportunity to train as beekeepers with staff from the Urban Bee Project, and learn more about sustainability and the environmental impact of urban life.

It is also a great way to keep staff engaged with museum initiatives – more than just witnesses to organisational changes, we can be a vital part of these projects and contribute to their success.

Our museum bees

Our museum bees. Photo credit: The British Museum

Our bees live in an Inmidtown ‘Habi-Sabi’  hive produced by a company called 51% Studios, and are cared for by a team of beekeepers, Luke, Maddie, and Harry, who manage a number of hives in the local area as part of the Urban Bee Project, and across London including at the Natural History Museum.

Our beekeepers

Our beekeepers. Photo credit: The British Museum

I will keep you all updated as I undergo training to be a bona fide “museum beekeeper” – and perhaps I’ll be able to take home some honey!

Do you have a green roof, bee hives or anything similar in your institution, maybe a garden or any on-going environmental projects? Share your stories in the comments below!

With very special thanks to internal communications, human resources and the trainers at the British Museum for providing this information. Also thanks and credit to BM photographers for the images used in this post. Please do not re-use images without permission.

This week in our presentations spotlight are 2014 ITP participants from Armenia, Palestine, Lebanon and Oman.

Such a diverse group of participants introduced a wide range of backgrounds, expertise and interests which truly enriched the programme this summer.

Below are introductory presentations about the work and home institutions of:

Hayk Mkrtchyan, Senior Researcher, Department of PR and Excursions, Memorial Museum of AvetikIsahakyan, Armenia

DSC_0410

O’bour, Hayk, Marine and participants during an ITP session

Marine Mkrtchyan, Deputy Director, Russian Art Museum Yerevan, Armenia

Rhéa Dagher, Research Assistant, Department of Archaeology and Museology, University of Balamand, Lebanon

Ameena bint Abdullah al-Abri, Collections Registrar, National Museum of Oman

Waad Awisat, Department of History and Archaeology, Birzeit University, Palestine

and

O’bour Hashash, Branches and Partnerships Manager, The Palestinian Museum

We think you’ll agree that these participants are doing some great work, and having been home now for 3 months, are surely continuing to share what they have learnt during the ITP with their colleagues and institutions.

Posted by: BM ITP | December 19, 2014

Presentation Spotlight: Our participants in G&R

Today is the first of a series of mini spotlight blogs. Throughout the summer our ITP participants gave us insight into their cultures, customs and interests, and we feel we have come to know them very well both professionally and personally.

Yet we want to give you all more information about what they do and where they come from.

So, we will be posting our participants’ presentations on their work and institutions, starting with our colleagues placed in the department of Greece and Rome, all of whom come from Turkey.

Below you will find presentations from:

Seyda Çetin, an Events Specialist at the Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations,

Participants with Seyda, Berkay and Fatih in a session on collections storage

Participants with Seyda, Berkay and Fatih in a session on collections storage

Berkay Küçükbaşlar, a researcher at Istanbul’s Bilgi University

and Fatih Yucel, also a researcher, who works with Berkay at Bilgi.

These were presentations given at the beginning of the ITP – you can see their final ITP exhibition projects, and how they relate to their interests and professions, here.

If you want to get in touch with our participants about their work or institutions, let us know in the comments or by email!

Posted by: BM ITP | December 16, 2014

ResearchSpace – working together for better data

For those of you specialising in research and databases, this could be very useful!

Staff at the British Museum have been attending seminars on an on-going project called “ResearchSpace” – a system encouraging different institutions across the globe to contribute cultural heritage data and work together in researching this integrated information within the cultural heritage community.

The ResearchSpace team will also be contributing to workshops in India and other events for Chinese cultural heritage institutions, as well as working with institutions and people in other countries to encourage international cooperation and to share skills and knowledge.

One example of how Research Space could help curators and scholars is the Naukratis project at the British Museum. This project aims to collect and combine data on Naukratis objects and images into a centralised resource on the BM website for access by the general public and scholars worldwide.

It aims to do this with other museums (some with hundreds of Naukratis items, some with only a few), with each institution providing contextualised data (that retains local meaning) into the ResearchSpace platform and creating a wider, international database.

More detailed information is available here: www.researchspace.org

Research Space can increase the amount of meaningful and scientific information available to scholars and the public through international collaboration. It is also a great way to define objects in relation to the real world. By collecting data from all kinds of sources and of all kinds: from physical attributes to social importance, researchers can gain a much wider and better picture of the artefacts we study.

Sincerest thanks to Dominic Oldman, head of the British Museum ResearchSpace project for his help with this blog.

Posted by: BM ITP | December 10, 2014

Staff Breakfast: The Meroë Head

One of my favourite objects in the museum and now the subject of a designated Room 3 exhibition: The Meroë Head.

BM staff at the weekly staff breakfast were introduced to the team behind the conservation, interpretation and display of this remarkable object – buried in the sands of Sudan and discovered in 1911.

The head, made of cast bronze using the “lost wax method”, once formed part of a statue of the Roman Emperor Augustus (ruled 27 BC-AD 14).

The statue was decapitated by the rivals of Rome, and ritually buried far from the borders of the Roman Empire.

Bronze head from an over-life-sized statue of Augustus: the head is broken through the neck but is otherwise in an excellent state of preservation.  There are four fragments of plaster from the head. The eyes are inlaid, with glass pupils set in metal rings, the irises of calcite. The eyebrows are plastically rendered. The emperor's head is turned to his right, with the pronounced twist to the neck typical of Hellenistic work. The hair falls on the brow in the divided and curving cut that marked most of Augustus's portraits as emperor.  The facial planes are broad. The mouth is slightly downturned, a feature of late Hellenistic portraiture. The ears project markedly, the upper lobes bending forwards.

Credit:British Museum

The Room 3 display returns the head to its former glory – showing how important lighting and good object mounting is to a successful exhibition. Even more amazing is that the lighting lets people see ancient grains of sand fused to the head – almost as if it had just been uncovered!

Compared to other Room 3 exhibitions (search the blog for more information!) there was more of a focus on contextualisation.

The lead curator explained that when deciding which information to share alongside the head, context was a big priority: not just historical context in the ancient world, but in the modern world also.

As a result, the head was shown alongside photos from different periods of history – from the ancient to the present day, of various leaders and rulers whose statues had suffered a similar fate.

For those of you who prepared a Room 3 Exhibition proposal, you will remember the importance of narrative and telling a story – this story of Africa and Rome is brilliantly told.

Posted by: BM ITP | November 20, 2014

The New Sutton Hoo – a staff breakfast evaluation

Another Wednesday morning, another fascinating staff breakfast at the British Museum.

At this week’s talk, the interpretation team at the department of Learning, Volunteers and Audiences discussed the major changes made to one very important British Museum gallery, holding relics from the Sutton Hoo ship burial.

For those who don’t know, the Sutton Hoo ship burial is a hugely important piece of British history. Excavated in 1939 by a team led by Basil Brown and Edith Pretty, one of the Sutton Hoo sites contained a large number of rare and in some cases pristine artefacts within the burial chamber of an enormous ship (only the indentation of this ship remained). It is thought to possibly be a royal burial, due to its size and extravagance, and the artefacts within are of major historical value.

The interpretation team explained how before renovations, visitors were not getting the most out of the “Sutton Hoo Gallery”, which also contained artefacts from early Europe and the Byzantine period.

Using various data collecting methods such as observation of visitors, interviews, time measurements and so on, the team were able to paint a picture of how visitors responded to the gallery, and what to do to improve it.

They discovered that visitor “dwell time” (how long people stay inside a gallery) was very short. They also found that the Sutton Hoo helmet, one of the most important items, had the most “attracting power” (more visitors went to see that object), whereas other parts of the gallery were often overlooked or ignored. They showed this through a “temperature” chart – popular sections were in yellow, orange and red, less popular sections blue or light blue. There was a lot of light blue!

So – how to change the visitor experience?

Stuart Frost, Head of Interpretation and Volunteers, explained the many interpretive challenges – how to connect the collections, how to introduce visitors to the gallery, and how to make people stay.

Stuart explained that by using key themes and connecting sections of the popular collection (the Sutton Hoo) to other parts of the space through these themes, visitor experience vastly improved.

By removing some objects (cases were overcrowded), redesigning cases, repainting, changing lighting and adding digital media, the gallery is a breath of fresh air.

After renovations, the gallery has a “dwell time” almost three times longer, and the temperature chart is looking much warmer!

ITP 2014 participants were lucky enough to see the new gallery just after opening and have a session with Stuart Frost, who explained this project and the practice of interpretation in more detail – if any of you would like to share your thoughts, please do so below.

Posted by: BM ITP | November 13, 2014

Build your own Pop-up Museum!

National Museum Wales: “Coal not Dole” pop-up museum

When I first came across the term “pop-up museum” at the annual Museums Association Conference I was eager to participate in a fun, hands on exercise: working in teams to create a mini museum for unusual spaces.

Firstly however, I had to ask… “what actually is a pop-up museum??”

After a great deal of debate and brainstorming, I have summarised what I consider to be the vital components of a pop-up museum. With these guidelines, you too can eventually create your own.

1. A pop-up museum is a temporary museum. Pop-up museums must, eventually, pop down. With a short amount of time to set up, display, and dismantle, they must be easy to put together and “create”. They must also draw attention quickly, to ensure maximum visitors in a short period.

Although time could be a disadvantage, it can also be used to celebrate a particular event or occasion.

2. Context is important. If you have a pop-up museum in a school, you might want to theme it around childhood. If it is in a local village, perhaps community issues or local industry.

3. Do pop-up museums move? Can pop-up museums go on tour? While it was agreed that pop-up museums can move around the local area, it was felt that meaning is lost if taken out of context.

Below is a challenge to create a pop-up museum – using instructions from the MA conference session, and our own guidelines. These of course are not set in stone – feel free to make changes and see what works for you.

With a £1000 budget, create a pop-up museum based around an object or theme.

Think about: audience, marketing, what and how you will exhibit, what people will do at the museum and how they will relate to it.

Why a pop-up? Is it to draw attention to your institution or highlight something unseen? Is it to encourage debate?

Conference delegate and ITP team observations:

Budget

A low budget means strict priorities – mobility and digital equipment could be very important here.

Using ‘valuable’ objects could take up a great deal of the budget – with insurance, conservation and so on.

Sometimes the value of the object is in emotional connections. Perhaps visitors could bring their own objects to add to the display, and tell their own stories.

Space

Another challenge is the lack of a physical museum space – how to get the best out of  your museum with limited room. Whereas the ITP Room 3 Project was a proposal for a much bigger space but set up on a table top, for a pop-up museum sometimes a table IS the space itself.

Virtual space is a great solution – with photo galleries, videos and sound to help the visitor experience, you can also increase the space and number of ‘objects’ on show.

We hope that this will get your creative energies going, and we look forward to hearing from you if you decide to create your own!

Our thanks to the National Museum Wales for the session, and their invaluable help.

Credit: Museums Association

Credit: Museums Association

Posted by: BM ITP | November 10, 2014

Staff Breakfast: The Sikh Fortress Turban

Members of the UK partnerships team delivered a presentation on one of our successful touring exhibitions: The Sikh Fortress Turban.  We were also honoured to have three of our partner museums – Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester New Walk Museum and Museum of Lancashire, Preston, give a talk on their own experiences adapting and interpreting a shared exhibition.

The Sikh Fortress Turban is a tall, conical turban worn for ritualistic purposes by members of the Sikh faith. Made in the late 19th century, it was restored and prepared for display by British Museum staff. It is currently being exhibited in collaboration with our UK Partner museums.

sikh_turban-main_l

Museum staff heard how communities were at the centre of this project. Exhibition ideas were created by bringing together the expertise of the Sikh Community, museum professionals and others, to help recreate the turban; community consultations were vital to ensuring that everyone’s voice was heard, not just in how to display the object, but how to tell its story.

With this, the exhibition evolved into a tour of seven locations over two years. The involvement of our partner museums, three of which spoke at the breakfast, shed an important light on the impact of museums on communities across the UK. Their own interpretations and work with their local communities show how members of society across the UK engage with history and with objects.

Adam Jaffer from the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (one of our ITP partner museums!) spoke of Birmingham’s large Sikh community, and how the Turban exhibition formed part of their larger South Asia programme. Given how long it had been since the museum had worked with Sikh communities, the exhibition was a way to restart dialogue and complement their small Sikh collection. Work with community partners, including a blessing of the turban and a communal celebration, added to this sense of involvement.

BMAG opneing

Adam spoke of the process of partnership with the British Museum and Birmingham – with the BM providing the object and the touring pack, and BMAG developing their own interpretation.

This creative interpretation included interviews with local residents, and a film which focused on the responses of young Birmingham residents to seeing the turban behind the scenes at the British Museum. The film personalised and localised the exhibition, however, as Adam remarked, the local nature of the film meant that it would be difficult to travel and use nationally.

Adam finally mentioned the importance of freedom when working in partnership – to allow museums to interpret in their own way, and adapt an exhibition to reflect the needs of their community.

Sikh Fortress Turban  BMT  G10   01

Malika Kraamer from the Leicester New Walk Museum spoke of how some museums might have concerns about hosting the Sikh Fortress Turban – for example, a museum with a small budget may have questions about the costs of displaying, interpreting and organising a programme around such an object. Further, with a museum which works with Sikh communities often, there is a wish to ensure plurality, and have other communities heard.

However, working with other museum partners such as BMAG and Preston led to a wonderful and worthwhile exhibition. Malika enthusiastically spoke of the benefits of sharing good practices and how this truly helped her organisation with the development of a programme.

2014.07.05 Tozer 04

With the support of other partner museums, New Walk was able to create an engaging events programme for the local community, which shared Sikh cultural heritage and identity with local residents. One of these events was a turban wrapping session, which helped visitors to understand both the meaning and the physicality of wearing such an important religious object.

Furthermore, the exhibition gave New Walk museum the opportunity to explore how to bring different voices together, even within Sikh communities. The result was an opening which invited all members of these communities, with presentations and comments encouraged.

2014.07.05 Tozer 07

Charlotte Steels and Kate Eggleston-Wirtz from the Museum of Lancashire, Preston, also spoke of the importance of community engagement when holding the Sikh Fortress Turban exhibition. It allowed the museum to work with newly involved communities, and offer local people a chance to express what the turban meant to them.

This was facilitated through the use of media, similarly to Birmingham, with video and film work in Manchester and Preston offering personal testimonies.

Key to the interpretation of the turban at Preston was a focus on art and community. Art-based workshops and sessions encouraged the creation of a community gallery – with people creating their own Sikh ‘houses’.

Overall, it is clear how important partnership on a national and global level is to museums and to their communities. Through sharing and collaboration, the British Museum and partner museums were able to display a beautiful and important object in their own unique way, giving voice to local people and encouraging dialogue.

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