#flmuseums 6: museums and me

The final week explored “the museum’s two biggest assets: objects and people”. Some useful stuff on the former, not a lot on the latter.

Objects can evoke memory, particularly when our senses are involved. What can they mean when we encounter them in a museum, or in everyday life? We might start to think about museums as having a biography: a life story.

Things to think about when considering an object:

  • intention and context of the maker(s) of the object
  • processes by which the object was made
  • ways in which the object is seen by different subjects
  • processes of distributing the object
  • ways in which the object is consumed
  • ways in which the object is used
  • whether or not – and how – the object is kept
  • ways in which the object is discarded/recycled

If we can find out enough information about an object, we can piece together a biography for it. The meanings and values ascribed to an object tend to change as its contexts change, resulting in a rich, multi-layered set of complementary and conflicting meanings. It can also tell us much that goes beyond the object, as well as being about and illustrative of the object itself.

Objects form a link to past events, people and ideas. We live by and through objects. We use them to shape our social lives, our characters and and our identities. Consider the clothes you are wearing…Our relationship with objects is, in part, socially and historically determined. Consider a basic chair…

You knew it was coming:

Pick an object that you think says something about you. It could be anything – an item of clothing, something from about the house or garden, a treasured souvenir, something that reminds you of a person or a place or a special time, perhaps.

Take some time to look at the object. Hold it, feel it, smell it, you might even be able to taste it or listen to it. Think about what that objects says about you. How does it fit into your life? How did you acquire it? What experiences have you shared with that object? Why is it important to you?

Would it be easy for someone else to work out how that object represents you? Would it be easier for someone to tell something about you if you selected a group of objects?

A nice exercise, but maybe in need of interpretation for others’ contributions to be of interest.

Spend some time exploring the collections of National Museums Liverpool online. Look at a few objects in more detail and consider the following questions:

  • How are they interpreted?
  • To what extent do the object’s biographies come to the fore?
  • Whose meanings are being represented here? Whose are absent?
  • What meanings do they have for you personally?
  • How do you respond emotionally to some of the objects you see?
  • How might you experience these objects differently if you were to encounter them in real life, rather than digitally?
  • What is lost/gained through the digitisation of these objects and collections?
  • Might technology continue to change the possibilities for exploring and interpreting museum objects and collections in radical ways?

Musuems and digital:

  • mid 1960s: computers first came to the museum
  • 1970s:computers used for automation of manual record systems
  • 1980s: computerisation of collections and of images
  • 1990s: big web revolution
  • 2000s:  mobile and social media revolutions
  • 2010s: postdigital? embedded, an innate function of the museum

Think critically as you visit museums:

Visit a few museums – perhaps museums of different sizes and types – and look at them through fresh eyes. You might like to think about the work the museum is doing – can you see any evidence that they are engaging with social justice and human rights, or health and wellbeing, for example? Are they trying to be dispassionate, or actively seeking emotional responses? How diverse are their visitors and how inclusive are their displays?

And that was it…

Told to be inclusive, not elitist, in order to justify their funding, modern museums have sometimes swung too far the other way…A successful museum isn’t about dumbing down, it’s about sharing expertise.

Quotes above from What are modern museums really for? in The Spectator, oh dear…The MOOC offered an insight into some strands of current thinking, as reflected in the three questions above, but not over-useful for my context. In the comments someone came up with Tangible Things, an edX course in August, which looks worth a whirl. See also Mysteries of the mind, tracking the development of an exhibition by students on the MA in Museum Studies at UCL.

As so often, the instructors were largely absent from the discussions.

In the Danish context, Nordea Fonden has come up with DK 20 million for a consortium of 13 museums and five universities to undertake a project exploring user involvement. Starts May 2016 and runs for four and a half years.

My interest is in taking ‘curation’ further, towards interpretation/formidling (cf public engagement) IRL. @LeicsMusStud offers an MA in heritage and interpretation – the course brochure is worth a look. UHI in Perth offers an MSc in Interpretation, and there are similar courses på dansk, not least RUC’s Turistføreruddannelse. There’s natur- og kulturformidling at Metropol and at UCN i Hjørring, and both KU’s Institut for Kunst- og Kulturvidenskab and Det Informationsvidenskabelige Akademi offer kulturformidling, which in the case of the latter brings us back to the curation angle.

For what this is about in practice see the Libro small business chat with Katherine Findlay, who did the Leics course and now helps “organisations to connect with their visitors through stories”. More: the Association for Heritage Interpretation | Interpret Europe and InHeritTellTale, and Scottish Natural Heritage on interpretation. Yikes!

Update: from Interpretation is dead. Long live interpretation!: “Interpretation happens inside the minds of the visitor, and all that is – or isn’t – in the space contributes to the active meaning-making going on inside any individual mind…Our job is to understand and enable this meaning-making…This could involve selecting what meanings we think should be made – that’s fine but we need to consciously own (document and publish) that we are doing so.” Hear hear!


Experiments in literature and translation

Updates, 2017: oh to be at the Ambient Literature Symposium, livetweeted by @pressfuturist with interesting papers from inter alia Bronwen Thomas, Ian Gadd, Anezka Kuzmicova and Duncan Speakman (@_dspk; abstract; on Talking Walking), plus the launch of his It must have been dark by then (see below)…the team in Aarhus Locating the literary, hosted by Sarah Mygind (@SarahMygind), which also highlighted local place writing efforts (see Elsewhere page)…panel discussion at the BL…Goldsmiths Prize for fiction that “opens up new possibilities for the novel form”

Experimental writing

A mixed bunch of examples:


På dansk:

Experimental translations

Update, June 2017: What happens when artists and writers experiment with translation in their works? What happens when the processes of translation and untranslatability are reflected on visually or artistically? Colloquium (programme) by Authors and the World (@AuthorsWorld), a research collaboration between creative writers, translators, industry professionals and literary researchers, followed by a workshop led by Outranspo, the Oulipo of translation.

Translation specific devices:

Creative and literary non-fiction

Last updated: Feb 2017.

I’m drawn to reading (and writing, translating, curating…) creative and literary non-fiction. Here’s some linkage.

Subgenres include place writing (in Denmark; sub-subgenre: nature writing), life writing, memoir, biofictionbibliomemoirs (JCO; the Gdn’s Top 10 books about reading also identifies the sub-subgenre of metabooks, or how books became).

Others are sui generis, such as Philippe Sands’ (@philippesands; Gdn) series of linked projects he calls the Lemberg Quartet: A song of good and evil ( ‘musical lecture’, 2014), My Nazi legacy (film, 2015) and East west street (book, 2016; how he wrote it).

Some bibliomemoirs and related:

I’ve a fair few Russian literary biogs in this category, for example Janet Malcolm’s Reading Chekhov.

We also have writing about the characters in (or simply recreating/imagining) classic novels. Often peripheral characters are given a voice, eg Gwendolen in Daniel Deronda, The Mersault investigation (ie “The Arab” in L’Étranger), the real Lara in Dr Zhivago.

Biofiction can be tricky (Katy Derbyshire: “using real-life characters in fiction can feel disrespectful when a writer assumes too much about what’s going on inside their heads”). As well as lots of Tolstoy, recent examples include Miss Emily (Emily Dickinson and a maid), Julian Barnes on Shostakovich (again; although JB maintains “biographical novels are kind of cheesy”), The late Walter Benjamin, notable for being set on a council estate near Watford, Polly Clark’s Larchfield (WH Auden in Helensburgh), Mikhail and Margarita, which is so obvious it’s amazing it’s taken this long to appear (here’s another one: Agatha Christie’s disappearance), and An overcoat (Stendhal).

Here we find a subgenre of graphic novels cum biographies (Gdn best 2017):

#acwri: academic writing

Updates: the Academic book of the future project kicked off in October 2014, holding #acbookweek from 9-16 November….see the open access essay collection, written as an “accelerated publishing challenge” during #acbookweek…på dansk, the poetic turn in academic writing and a moan about academic writing as incomprehensible to normal folkfinal report/s (again) from the academic book project…But Why is academic writing so academic? See Engage 2014.

Aug 2017: notes from latest FutureLearn MOOC, Learning English for academic purposes: first steps  (#FLEnglishatUniversity), at foot of post.

I may have spent over 10 years editing writing by academics into something more accessible, but heck! academic writing is a thing, and as written by non-native speakers offers some opportunities for editorial and translation interventions. Can we boil things down to some rules?

First off, I took a look at FutureLearn/Reading’s Beginner’s guide to writing in English for university study, aka #FLeng4study, which started on 6 October and ran for five weeks. According to the organisers there were over 28K learners from 55 countries enrolled. Like most FutureLearn MOOCs the level felt sub-HE to me, but the following emerged:

  • the key features of academic writing are content (the main ideas and information you want to give plus evidence, ie details and examples), organisation (well structured and linked, giving a coherent whole), language (accurate grammar, good spelling, formal and objective rather than personal style)
  • more on organisation:
    • introduction – two parts; the first part gives some background to the topic, the second part has a narrower focus, telling the reader exactly why you are writing the essay (the thesis statement)
    • paragraphs – also two parts; the first part introduces the reader to the focus of the paragraph (the paragraph leader or topic sentence), the second, the paragraph body, develops the idea as introduced in the first part
    • conclusion – the first part summarises the ideas in the essay, the second part has a wider focus, giving a suggestion for the future, eg a prediction, recommendation or solution to a problem

Week 3 was on using academic language, perhaps rather basic, but illustrates some basic errors:

  • use the present simple for facts, which are permanent or always true and activities, which are repeated or regular; note that the auxiliary verb do is used with the present simple to form negative sentences and questions
  • use there is/are to introduce new information, followed by more information in the rest of the sentence or the next sentence
  • describe general situations using plural nouns without ‘the’
  • use the present continuous for situations which are temporary or changing; formed by using the auxiliary verb to be and the present participle
  • use a variety of clause structures:
    • compound sentences with two simple clauses linked by linking words (and, but, or, so)
    • complex sentences using subordinators (although, because, when, whereas)

Week 4 had some tips on writing a plan, perhaps using mindmapping software:

  • collect all the ideas you have
  • identify the main points and focus on these
  • draw a diagram to show which ideas and evidence to use, organised in a way to answer the hidden question in the title
  • don’t forget evidence (details, examples, facts) to expand on your points

Next up, #acwrimo, aka Academic Writing Month, which with impeccable timing started on 1 November. Find it on Twitter | Facebook | Scoop.it | spreadsheet | map. Launched in 2011 on PhD2Published, #acwrimo is not about quantity over quality but rather about “positive attitudes to writing and established regular and sustainable practices”, with participants encouraged to commit to six basic rules. There’s loads of activity already. Interesting reflections from regular participant Explorations of Style (2012 | 2013).

There’s also a permanent hashtag, #acwri, with fortnightly chats, which I shall keep an eye on no longer run, plus subhash #acwribomo.

And cue linkage!

English for Academic Purposes (EAP):

Style and alternatives:



Aimed at learners, we have Learning English for academic purposes: first steps (course | Twitter), FutureLearn MOOC, six weeks from 3 July 2017, from the Open University. Active learning: “each week of this course will take you through a process of input, transformation and output, where you are introduced to language and then are taken step by step through the process of creating an academic output”. Splendid.

  • week 1: building academic understanding
  • week 2: finding and interpreting information (skipped; see effective searching and referencing primers)
  • week 3: describing problems – listening and note-making, learning language for describing problems and cause and effect
  • week 4: proposing solutions – using a table for note-making, being concise, writing a coherent paragraph, referencing
  • week 5: writing a report – structuring, planning and writing

Useful points:

  • academic vocabulary – formal, precise and complex; includes general academic terms and specialised subject-specific terms; “it is a good idea to record and study new vocabulary in a clear and systematic way” (still!); Academic word list
  • tools for memorising vocab: Quizlet | AnkiMemrise

Basic features of academic texts:

  • designed for study and learning purposes
  • include facts and information based on evidence and research and can be used to develop arguments, ideas and theories
  • use language that is precise and concise; often you will find technical terms relating to a specific subject
  • carefully structured, often in the form of reports, essays, articles or book chapters
  • language is usually formal and abstract, avoiding slang, idiomatic language or friendly terms
  • can contain long, complex sentences that have many nouns
  • aim to be neutral or objective – the language is not emotive or subjective

Strategies for reading an academic text:

  • scanning – letting your eyes run quickly over a text to find the precise piece of information you need, for example scrolling quickly to find a date, heading or name
  • skim reading – reading quickly to get the main ideas of a text because the details are not so important, for example when you read an article but only need the main points, not all the precise details (the main ideas are often found in the first sentence of each paragraph, the introduction and conclusion)
  • intensive reading – taking time to read very closely, and possibly taking notes, when you need to understand the ideas in a text very clearly or when you might need to explain the information to someone else
  • reading for the main ideas – find the main ideas as above, make a note of them using a note-making technique that suits you and keep them for future reference; check any new vocabulary and make a note of it

The importance of paraphrasing:

  • an important skill when communicating information for an academic purpose, as it shows you have understood what you have read
  • also helps you to avoid copying sections of text when you write
  • should be accurate, formal and concise; you do not have to change every word, as there are some words and expressions that have very precise meanings

Ideas about what makes information ‘coherent’ vary from culture to culture. As a general rule, in English:

  • long texts are divided into paragraphs to help the reader find the main ideas
  • each paragraph usually contains one main idea, which is developed over several sentences
  • the main topic of the paragraph is usually presented in the first sentence
  • the following sentences develop the topic by providing supporting examples or further details
  • signposting words and phrases are used to show the reader how the ideas link together, for example; ‘however’, ‘consequently’, ‘and’ or ‘therefore’

Writing a report:

  • report types: reporting on research, writing up a case study, explaining a process
  • be clear about the purpose of the report, eg to inform, persuade, recommend
  • structure:
    • explain the issues; then offer potential solutions and comments on those solutions, (optional) make a recommendation of how to fix these issues
    • address each aspect of the issue in turn and offer suggestions and opinions before moving onto the next one
    • introduction: state the issue by giving some brief background information, and tell your reader how your report will be organised
    • conclusion: summarise the main points very concisely, with a recommendation/s
  • plan: c200 words
  • draft: paragraphs, linking words, formal style (no idioms, contractions, sloppy sentences etc)

Different ways of reading

Updates: Digital Conversations@British Library (#bldigital) on 24 September 2015 focused on Acts of reading, considering how we read in the digital age; see Andrew Prescott’s post (redux)and Bronwen Thomas’ report, in which she discusses ‘power browsing’: “the sharing of content via retweeting or emailing links, and the curation of reading via apps such as Evernote…this isn’t an entirely unskilled activity…often in turn leads to readers claiming ownership of what they read, customising or creating their own content, resulting in rich participatory cultures and activities.” Co-hosted with the Academic book of the future project (@AcBookFuture). Also: “transfer that reading experience to Instagram and suddenly something 300 words-long becomes vast…If you sneak into the space of social media, you have to deal with its speed of reading.” (source)…Literature and the reading public (12 month project)…

For a several years I’ve found reading on a screen (and even at all) hard in that I’m programmed to scan, but what with ebooks and tablets really gaining traction and more quality ‘lean back’ content on offer it’s time to review my habits. I’m also interested in different ways of reading – and how they might relate to different ways of writing. Reading on a screen:

What works for reading on the Web? It doesn’t have to be short, see #longform, but does the nation still shudder at large blocks of uninterrupted text? For more see Ebooks and digital literature. Ways of reading:

Then there’s academic reading (from #FLcuriosity, full post archived), “a very practical way of dealing with books and materials. Instead of reading through every single piece of the material, begin by going straight to the sign posts:

  • chapters – read the opening and concluding paragraphs and ask: “is this relevant?”
  • index – look for keywords
  • signal words – ‘therefore’, on the other hand’

Three main approaches:

  • scanning – locate specific information (statistics, details, particular names or keywords) by just looking at the page, in particular the key terms
  • skimming – read a longish text or parts of one (eg the first and last couple of lines of paragraphs) to get the gist (the main idea) of what it contains; the aim is not to get a detailed understanding but rather an overview that may be relevant to your enquiry
  • critical close reading”
  • see Barbara Fillip on What happens when I read a non-fiction book

I practise curated reading (I’ve just made this up). If you read book reviews, vaguely literary blogs etc, you already know a fair amount about a book before you pick it up – one of those sources may have made you pick it up in the first place. I might also have done a bit more searching around the book, looking for interviews with the author, their website, free/open bits of their writing elsewhere, online book reviews…so after I’ve read around 50 pages I might feel I’ve had enough. OTOH I might go through the curation process while I’m reading the book, or afterwards, and then put the whole thing together as a book review. In what happens when I read non-fiction Barbara Fillip talks about connecting: “Once I’m deep into the book, my mind starts wandering and I start making connections with totally different aspects of my life…I get interrupted, read something else, and the connections between the two items I’ve been reading appear.” Think of it as an introvert appropriate approach to social reading.

The other side of this particular coin is that you can sound as if you have read the book without having ever opened it, channelling Pierre Bayard (in Brain Pickings). I’ve heard Iain Sinclair bemoaning a couple of times that people can talk reasonably intelligently about his books without having made the effort to read all 400 pages. And if you do make the effort, maybe you can write a book about it? Surely there have been loads of these (eg Susan Hill’s Howards End is on the landing: a year of reading from home), but The year of reading dangerously: how fifty great books saved my life by Andy Miller seems to be the latest in the canon. After listening to the Little Atoms podcast and scanning the sample chapter I feel like I can tick it off my to read list, especially as Andy admits his choices are “literary lad classics”. But his advice is to sticking with a book, particularly in these days of instant opinions, as the value of say, Middlemarch, may be in the whole experience.

Update, Dec: in Five Dials 34 (PDF only; pp44-47) Nick Hornby is interviewed about the guilt of not reading and his column/book Stuff I’ve been reading. The June 2010 column, reprinted in Salon, covers Francis Spufford’s Red plenty. As the man says,

Read what you enjoy, not what bores you.

Ebooks, tweeting about reading

Update: could do with updating this page, but for now here’s a link to PhDer Alastair Horne (@pressfuturist).

Digital literature offers new forms of interaction between author, work and reader:

Why ebooks:


How tos and tools:

Mainly in HE:

Free stuff:

Publishing platforms:

A post on ebook platform accessibility addresses the what is an ebook? issue.



Singles/longreads are a thing:

I have no luddite prejudice against new technology; it’s just that books look as if they contain knowledge, while e-readers look as if they contain information.

Julian Barnes, quoted by @currybet.

Anouk Lang in reading as/and performance on the micro-narratives of reading:

  • what role does Twitter play in the reading lives of individuals?
  • a presentation of self, esp in relation to books which already have high cultural value, eg via prizes, book clubs
  • in tandem with one’s reading habits as a platform to broadcast one’s own sophistication:
  • for quoting favourite excerpts
  • critical pronouncements, negative reactions providing insights into the background knowledge and expectations with which readers approach a book, using the vocabulary of creative writing classes
  • desire for discussion with others to help with one’s own processing of a book (familiar to those who study reading in offline spaces)
  • articulations of pleasure, some of which give insight into the location of reading and the immersive power of a narrative
  • (comment):  showing an unfolding relationship with the book that is not part of typical literary analysis or even less formal reviewing. It’s more viewing than re-viewing!

See also her burst analysis on #canadareads, and #1b1t: Investigating reading practices at the turn of the 21st century.

Social reading:

Telling stories with maps: literary geographies

Updates: the first issue of Literary Geographies (blog cum bibliography) is out, with an editorial seeing litgeogs going beyond human geography to embrace literary criticism, literary cartography, geocriticism, comparative literature, and the digital and spatial humanities, situating it in the intersection of literary studies, geography and cartography…literary geography is essentially a way of reading, “an approach to literary texts, a geographically-attuned way of reading fiction or poetry or drama” but also “making connections while reading scholarly work in geography and literary studies”…Neal Alexander writes in Thinking Space that litgeogs might be regarded as one specific articulation of the cultural turn in human geography…see also the reading from RHUL’s GeoHumanities’ introductory workshop: Geography within the humanitiesEditorial from the first issue of the GeoHumanities journal | What might GeoHumanities do? | Narrating space /Spatializing narrative (review; has a chapter on streetnames)…Creating earth futures commissionsAt the Poetic Places launch event David Cooper gave a good introduction to the topic, starting with Willam Sharp’s 1904 Literary geography (review), referring everyone to De Certeau and subdividing #litgeogs into inter alia mapping a text, big data across a corpus, deep mapping and (broadly) field trips, plus just going for a walk…shout-out too for Nottingham’s Centre for Regional Literature and Culture…see the special issue of Humanities on Deep mapping edited by Les Roberts, a typology of geohumanities from the launch of the RHUL Centre for the GeoHumanities, and Sheila Hones’ Literary geographies: narrative space in Let the great world spin…plus See also Robert Tally’s Routledge handbook of literature and space and the Palgrave handbook of literature and the city, both 2017

Telling stories with maps: the geoweb, qualitative GIS and narrative mapping (programme) was a seminar (report | another one) held on 30 April as part of Hestia2, a project centred round spatial reading and visualising Herodotus’ Histories (see posts). Sessions in the morning covered narrative mapping while the afternoon focused on literary analysis and networks.

Sessions of particular note:

During the lunch break participants tried out the MapLocal app (Android only), which allows users to take photos and record audio commentaries which are geolocated and uploaded to a shared map. Echoes of the Gdn’s Google  Street View Sleuth?

Time to revisit Kierkegaard in maps, although other personally related themes might prove more doable.

A recurrent theme [was] the conceptual and technical challenges associated with efforts to shift the focus away from traditional ‘Cartesian’ cartographic methods – with their focus on surfaces, images and topographies – onto the topological and networked representations contained in narrative depictions of space.

What is lost in translation from narrative to map or map to narrative form?

Great livetweeting from @muziejus:

A further event on 6 June explored digital pedagogy.

Some linkage:

From #corpusmooc materials on spatial humanities (full post archived):

Some notes:

  • literary cartography
    • an approach using a symbolic language
    • spatial elements of texts are translated into cartographic symbols
    • allows new ways in exploring and analysing the geography of literature
    • tools of interpretation – show something which hasn’t been seen before
    • not just supporting the text
  • the space of fiction – categories
    • settings – where the action takes place (house, village)
    • zones of action – several settings combined (city, region)
    • projected spaces
      • characters are not present but are thinking of, remembering, longing for or imagining a specific place
    • markers – places which are mentioned; indicate the geographical range and horizon of a fictional space
    • paths/routes – along which characters move; connections between waypoints (settings, projected spaces)
  • database support
    • data model
      • general text information, including bibliography and assigned model region
      • about the author
      • the temporal structure of the story line
      • spatial objects
    • maps created automatically from database
  • what elements of the literary space can be mapped
    • the city in literature
    • interactions/tensions between centre and periphery
    • travelling
    • crossing borders
    • imaginary places
    • literary tourism
  • what elements are unmappable
  • different representations for epochs, genres?
  • spatial models
    • maps in literature, eg Treasure Island
    • imaginary settings
    • mapping of a single text
    • mapping of groups of texts
      • where and when do cities appear on the literary map of Europe?
      • how international is the space?
    • placing literature on a map
      • simplistic
      • no theoretical foundation
    • issues and uncertainties
      • the artistic freedom of the author
      • semantic and linguistic variation in describing places and spaces
      • vague geographical concepts
      • reading variations by different readers
      • visualisation need to make some things clearer than they actually are
      • texts do not always provide distinct or correct information
      • different interpreters can provide different viewpoints – subjective
      • mark data as direct/indirect reference
      • detail may not be provided of a journey, but a straight line gives the wrong impression
  • maps as an intermediate results, sources of inspiration, generators of ideas for future research
    • makes aspects visible which were invisible before
    • creates knowledge about places, their historical layers, meanings, functions and symbolic values