#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!

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Experiments in literature and translation

Experimental writing

A mixed bunch of examples:

Tools:

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:

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)…Memories of fiction (AHRC 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 also Barbara Fillip on What happens when I read a non-fiction book and the THOMAS mnemonic

Finally, reading as a writer.

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:

Bloggers:

How tos and tools:

Mainly in HE:

Free stuff:

Publishing platforms:

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

Reading:

Denmark:

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: