Curator’s Advent. Day 11. Research enquiry

Lamp-post by N. Holman, Makers, Penzance (Market Jew Street, Penzance)

Lamp-post by N. Holman, Makers, Penzance (Market Jew Street, Penzance)

The research enquiry is a most basic way for a museum to share the knowledge and stories contained in its collections–and often that about its surroundings too. A publicly-minded museum curator will relish the opportunity to share openly and widely with researchers of all motivations and from all walks of life. Answering enquiries is a direct and intimate activity between a museum and member of the public whether they are academic professors, students, TV production companies, family historians or just plain curious. Curators, where museums still keep them, have a special responsibility to dispense the ultimate purpose of a museum working for public benefit by generating and disseminating accurate and honest information. In turn, the museum may receive new knowledge from the enquirer which can be recorded and reshared to expand or challenge its understanding of its collections and the communities, and communities of interest, that it exists to support.

What Cornish National Minority Status means for Museums (and Arts and Culture organisations)

Cornish pasty (c) Tehmina Goskar

The decision to recognise the unique identity of the Cornish, now affords them the same status under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities as the UK’s other Celtic people, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.

Barely a ripple ran through the cultural sector nationally or here in Cornwall when, on 24 April 2014, then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, announced that “the proud history, unique culture, and distinctive language of Cornwall will be fully recognised under European rules for the protection of national minorities.”

Currently researching diversity issues, in rural contexts in particular, and working in Cornwall, I couldn’t understand why museums and the cultural sector here seemed ambivalent to this historic development. I have therefore been formally and informally advocating for greater consideration and awareness of Cornish National Minority Status in my work and to my peers, both here and nationally.

Thanks to an invitation by Cornwall Museums Partnership, I gave a keynote presentation on what National Minority Status means, how its governed and what features of Cornish identity museums could better embrace in their make-up and their work.

I have also advocated to the Museums Association in my capacity as regional representative for the South West. It was also a significant factor in my representations to English Heritage about their new interpretive treatment of Tintagel Castle.

Given the systemic inequality and unintentional bias that has been proven to exist in the museum sector (and in culture more generally), now is absolutely the right time for responsible institutions and individuals to better understand what Cornish National Minority Status means for them and their audiences.

Equality without prejudice

“The decision to recognise the unique identity of the Cornish, now affords them the same status under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities as the UK’s other Celtic people, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish. For the first time the government has recognised the distinctive culture and history of the Cornish.”

“It is without prejudice as to whether the Cornish meet the definition of “racial group” under the Equality Act 2010.”

So the UK Government press release qualified this excellent news. It should also be pointed out that oversight of Cornish National Minority Status has fallen to the Department for Communities and Local Government.

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 contains the diversity themes that dominate discourse around equality and social justice for those participating and working in museums, culture, arts and heritage and concern discrimination and systemic inequality against nine protected characteristics.

Under the act, National Minority status is not currently a protected characteristic but it is implied, with colour, ethnicity, national origins and citizenship under race. However, it has been made incumbent upon a successful case of discrimination being prosecuted before the Cornish would be considered a race in the same way as the English, Scots, Welsh and Irish are. Interestingly none of those groups have been made to prosecute a successful case to provide their identity – they can bypass this process by virtue of their “national origins.”

What is a National Minority?

“to promote democracy and protect human rights and the rule of law in Europe.”

Bretons in Penzance, Cornwall (c) Tehmina Goskar.

Bretons in Penzance, Cornwall.

No definition of a National Minority is provided by the Council of Europe or present in the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

The Council of Europe is not part of the EU. It is based on Strasbourg. It comprises 47 member states of which 28 are in the EU. Founded in a post-WW2 world, along similar lines to the UN, in 1949. Its particular responsibility is “to promote democracy and protect human rights and the rule of law in Europe.” It is responsible for:

  • European Convention on Human Rights
  • Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities
  • Other charters and commissions: European Social Charter, European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.

About the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

  • Instituted in February 1995
  • UK ratified the convention 1998
  • Contains 32 articles
  • Member states have to report back periodically on request of the Committee of Ministers (UK submitted 4 to date)
  • Does not define a national minority
  • Each member state decides
  • The right to ‘self-identify’ important
  • Must be based on objective criteria connected with their identity, such as their religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage.

Articles in the Convention with resonance to the museum and cultural sector

My emphasis.

Article 5:

“The Parties undertake to promote the conditions necessary for persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their culture, and to preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely their religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage.

Without prejudice to measures taken in pursuance of their general integration policy, the Parties shall refrain from policies or practices aimed at assimilation of persons belonging to national minorities against their will and shall protect these persons from any action aimed at such assimilation.”

Article 6:

“The Parties shall encourage a spirit of tolerance and intercultural dialogue and take effective measures to promote mutual respect and understanding and co-operation among all persons living on their territory, irrespective of those persons’ ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity, in particular in the fields of education, culture and the media.”

Article 12:

“The Parties shall, where appropriate, take measures in the fields of education and research to foster knowledge of the culture, history, language and religion of their national minorities and of the majority.”

Article 20 has be criticised by some as a kind of get-out clause i.e. there will always been a reason, if increased consideration and recognition of a National Minority is considered politically unappetising, this clause may be invoked. Decide for yourself:

Article 20:

“In the exercise of the rights and freedoms flowing from the principles enshrined in the present framework Convention, any person belonging to a national minority shall respect the national legislation and the rights of others, in particular those of persons belonging to the majority or to other national minorities.”

How did the Cornish prove their case?

“It is an anomaly – some say an injustice – in a society that extols the merits of equality and tolerance, for the identity of the Cornish, the People at the heart of this long and proud story to remain unrecognised, unequal and uncounted, at the outset of the 21st century.”

What features of Cornish identity were put forward when campaigning for minority status?

This milestone is the result of a long and sustained campaign with a long history in the modern era for official recognition of the distinctiveness of the Cornish, rooted in a historical past, and Cornwall as a territory with particular characteristics that distinguish it from the “English counties.” A modern political consciousness of Cornish separateness goes at least back into the 19th century and dissent and rebellion against English rules goes back even further than that.

Evidence was gathered in at least two influential reports (see sources below):

The 2011 report by Ian Saltern on behalf of the Cornish Gorsedh, was the most hard-hitting in terms of evidence gathered and the strength of the case put forward, for example:

“It is an anomaly – some say an injustice – in a society that extols the merits of equality and tolerance, for the identity of the Cornish, the People at the heart of this long and proud story to remain unrecognised, unequal and uncounted, at the outset of the 21st century.”

The case was also built on a positive vision of what official recognition could bring to Cornish and British society as a whole:

“National minority status will enable the Cornish to play a full and active part in British society, contributing to the diversity of the United Kingdom.”

Led by Cornwall Council and its predecessors, with a large collaboration of others the case for National Minority Status was based on:

  • Self-identification
  • Religion
  • Language
  • Traditions
  • History and Cultural heritage
  • Long-term association with a specific territory

The need was based on barriers to: “Maintaining, celebrating and asserting a distinct identity.”

Self-identification is a particularly important feature of Cornish identity, measured through the Census – and thereby addressing Cornish people outside Cornwall and also the Pupil Level Annual Schools Census (PLASC) as a barometer of the growing consciousness of Cornish identity among young people: 37% in 2011 up to 48% in 2014.

Not England

Welcome to Penzance sign (c) Tehmina Goskar.

The aspect of Cornish identity I find most compelling is that based on historical territorial integrity and resistance against England and English assimilation – something museums need to be acutely aware of, for example:

  • Kernow—suggested in use for “at least 2000 years” (unknown sources)
  • Early Anglo-Saxon references to Corn wealh – peninsula of foreigners
  • West Wales
  • River Tamar as border with West Saxon kingdom since 10th c (no source given probably referring to a later 12th reference in William of Malmesbury including expulsion from Exeter—use of medieval history is needs more rigour)
  • Norman Conquest – creation of Earldom in 1068
  • Creation of Royal Duchy in 1337
  • Stannary Parliament and Courts
  • Laws of England intermittently applied to ‘Anglia et Cornubia’ into the 16th century
  • Foreshore Case arbitration case held between 1854 and 1858 between British Crown and Duchy of Cornwall over mineral rights.
  • Bona Vacantia – intestate property in Cornwall goes to Duke of Cornwall’s private estates, not to the Treasury via the Crown.

International recognition of Cornwall in over 30 languages as a separate entity to England is a hard-hitting fact that is difficult to refute, and formed part of the case made for national distinctiveness. This is not afforded to other English counties which is why many Cornish people will rail against designations of Cornwall being in England.

Sources and reports

Cornish National Minority Report 2, 2011: http://www.gorsedhkernow.org.uk/archivedsite/english/downloads/cornish_minority_report_2.pdf

Why should the Cornish be recognised as a National Minority within the UK, 2014: https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/media/7326793/FINAL-Cornish-Minority-Report-2014-pr7.pdf

See also: Cornish Gorsedh, Case for Cornwall, Devolution Deal for Cornwall, Cornish Culture Association, Bewnans Kernow—Partnership of Cornish Cultural Associations.

Call to action for museums

the dignity of visibility.

The 2011 report makes direct reference to how Cornish culture and heritage should be treated by institutions with Cornish collections:

“National minority status will confer upon the Cornish the dignity of visibility. It will acknowledge that Cornish language, culture and heritage are the products of Cornish people – a group with historic national origins no less deserving of official recognition than the Welsh or the Scottish.”

No museum or archive collections were used as examples of Cornish distinctiveness and museums do not feature in the heritage and culture Case for Cornwall, March 2015 (relating to devolution powers to Cornwall Council).

It also directly challenges museums who abide by the Museums Association Code of Ethics which states a museum’s important position of trust in relation to, amongst others,  source communities. 

Ways museums, culture and arts organisations can reflect Cornish diversity

  1. Embrace it! Don’t ignore it.
  2. Look at your governance – ask yourself who makes the decisions?
  3. Do you have a Diversity Policy or Action Plan? Do you state your commitment to the Cornish National Minority and Protected Characteristics?
  4. Look at your programmes – what are the themes of your collections, exhibitions, learning programmes and events?
  5. Partnerships: Who do you tend to work with? Who else could you work with?
  6. What is the make up of your community (not just local area)?
  7. Which audiences do you tend to aim for repeatedly, who isn’t joining in?
  8. Be authentic and be careful of stereotypes.

What next for this research?

  1. Cornish heritage in conflict case-studies e.g. Tintagel Controversy
  2. Develop a toolkit to help you apply the principles of Diversity in a Cornish Context to your work—funds permitting
  3. Explore Welsh, Irish and Scottish contexts
  4. European comparisons – minorities and under-represented
  5. International comparisons – minorities and under-represented
  6. Open dialogue with national agencies to raise awareness of the view from Cornwall and suggest how it can be brought to bear on their policies
  7. Looking for interview subjects
  8. Organise outreach and education programme and set up Rural Diversity Network using Cornwall for action research–funds permitting.

If you work in or use cultural services like museums and art galleries, or you are a practitioner with an interest in diversity in a Cornish context, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.

Debate: Should museums charge for entry? #museumhour

Update:

This debate has now happened. You can explore it on Storify.

Essential info:

On 11 April at 20:00 BST (UK time) Museum Hour is debating the thorny and loaded question of entry charges for museums.

We are helping the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) with their crucial research on this issue which is primarily being conducted through a sector-wide survey: The Impact of Charging Museum Admission. The deadline for taking part is 11 April as well but AIM may extend this by a couple of days following the #museumhour debate.

The research is being undertaken by DC Research and also in partnership with Arts Council England and also supported by the Welsh Assembly Government.

Museum Hour will Storify the debate shortly afterwards and the interactions will feed into the broader research into the question of museum admission charges.

Go straight to the museum charging survey.

There is a lot of misinformation about museums and entry charges, and a lot of misunderstanding within the sector and its audiences. Free museum entry to UK Nationals is pretty much the only manifesto pledge you will see on most political parties’ agendas that have much to do with museums in society. Is there a sense that the expectation of free entry confuses some museum visitors who hesitate when confronted with an admission fee–not helped by national radio DJs proclaiming that “we have to keep our museums free.” Lines could also be blurred with the socially-defining issue of library closure.

Echoing the social worth and function of their museums many Local Authority museums have supported free entry as a way to embed their role in their communities but in the Age of Austerity several museums face pressure to introduce entry charges to improve their income streams against a backdrop of falling and failing grants–that’s if they aren’t facing total closure.

Of course there is the huge (majority) independent museum sector for whom income from admission fees is a strategically crucial part of their sustainability and have happily charged for years without being at odds with their moral and social contract with society. Some have also gone free having seen that entry charging was limiting their work and also their resilience.

The national press has picked up on this issue, including the Financial Times. Sector commentators have put their views forward on this topic. The Museums Association has come out strongly in favour of defending free entry to civic museums. Civic museums are not well-defined in their context (except as Local Authority museums which used to be free) — another facet to this debate that needs better engagement.

On the other hand those running successful independent museums who are fully engaged in their commercial and market viability present a slightly different view. This Apollo Feature on museum charging contains both views.

This is a very complex and confusing picture which will not result in one answer that all museums can apply. But to have the starting point of good, solid research can only be a good thing to help the museum sector understand how it is they are seen by society and what society expects from us.

It is incredible to think that proper research on this fundamental issue for museums has not already happened. As the UK Government in its recent Culture White Paper announced it is going to review museums (which ones, how and why as yet undetermined) I cannot think of a more crucial issue for Whitehall and politicians to engage with than how museums are perceived by their communities, and the visitors to those communities, and surely the question of who pays and at what point is basic to this understanding?

Here is a taster of some of the questions and provocations that we are chairing on the night. We will be inviting new and different questions from the floor too:

  • Are we asking the right question? Free entry museums need money from somewhere so should museum funding change?
  • If people expect to pay for tickets to the cinema, theatre and football, why not museums and galleries?
  • Is museum charging a practical funding problem or an ethical and moral issue? And whose problem is it?
  • Free at the point of use? Do museums’ ethical responsibilities towards its communities mean #museumcharge becomes a barrier?
  • Do you charge entry for everyone? Which categories of visitor go free?
  • As a museum and gallery visitor, are you more likely to visit a free museum than one that charges?

Copper research funding success!

Excerpt from a copper ore book

Excerpt from a copper ore book

I was delighted to hear on Friday that I had been successful in my application for a small research grant from Glamorgan County History Trust for continued research on my project entitled, Biographies of British copper: The heritage of a global commodity, c.1700-1980. The Trust supports research into any aspect of the history of Glamorgan, south Wales.

The specific aspect of my research this funding will benefit is for further work into business archives relating to the copper industry found in Bangor University Archives. Following my survey of copper business archives held in Swansea, I identified related papers held in Bangor which not only have direct relevance to understanding the supply chain between mines and the Glamorgan smelters but also to further my knowledge about how the Grenfells operated during the formative 1800-1830s period.

The key relation to the Swansea Grenfell Collection are the records in the Williams and Grenfell Copper Smelting Firm collection, 1829-34, held at Bangor University Archives. I will use the grant to enable me to travel to Bangor and study the records and then use copied material for furthering this project in subsequent months. Having already consulted the small number of business records relating to the early years of Grenfell involvement as mine agents and speculators in the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies in Aylesbury last winter, this will be a crucial stage in gathering evidence for reconstructing supply chain information through the development of one company.

The most valuable part of these fonds are twelve bundles of ticketing documents dating 1829-34 which document a formative period in the growth of the copper industry and the centralisation of smelting and refining processes in Glamorgan, especially Swansea.

These documents are rare survivals which have hitherto escaped the attention of scholars. They bear testimony to the business negotiations that took place between smelters’ agents (overwhelmingly based in Swansea, Neath and Llanelli) and mine companies. The ticketing events took place in Cornwall (Redruth) for Cornish ores and in Swansea for the sale of Welsh, Irish and foreign ores.

While statistical synopses are available for this period in contemporary editions of the Mining Journal and other serials, analyses of these documents will enable me to map actual relationships between specific mining companies and smelting concerns. It will also help to establish how the supply chain centred in Swansea compared with that of Cornwall.

Combining this new research with that I have already undertaken on the Swansea and Buckinghamshire documents, I hope to publish an article on these archives that will also highlight their value as sources for understanding the nature of how business was done and also more about how industrial history can be better appreciated through tracing the biographies of the commodities themselves.

Ethics: Is it acceptable to use illicit material for academic research?

This ethics question was originally posed by Caitlin Griffiths of the Museums Association in September 2006. I was undertaking continuing professional development for my AMA (Associateship of the Museums Association) at the time and felt, with my role in both academic research and heritage, that I had strong views on the subject. My response was published in the October 2006 issue of Museums Journal. I was also undertaking my PhD at the time.

Question: Although it is clearly unacceptable to acquire or display illicit material, is it acceptable to use this material for academic research?

Originally published in: Comment (ethics): ‘Although it is clearly unacceptable to acquire or display illicit material, is it acceptable to use this material for academic research?’, Museums Journal, 105 (10) (October 2006).

My response

If it is morally unacceptable for a museum to acquire and display
illicit objects then it is likewise unacceptable to conduct academic
research on them. If the tide of ‘trade’ in illegally acquired
objects is to be stopped, or at least allayed, then researchers and
universities must unequivocally take the ethical higher ground. There
is no reason why academic research needs to be carried out at any
cost, devoid of any social and political (small ‘p’) responsibilities.
Academic institutions and museums should, in any case, work more
closely together than they currently seem to. Those who have, have
shown how academic research can help trace the rightful location of a
cultural artefact, whether a painting spoliated during World War II
(1939-45) or ancient funerary objects from an Iraqi museum. This may
be the only case for allowing scholars to work on certain objects of
known or suspected illegal origin. Even humanities academic research these days
requires commitments to certain ethical standards by funding bodies.
If it is not already, I suggest that funding bodies join the cause of
putting an end to the trade in illegally-acquired artefacts by
requiring a commitment from academics to report suspect material to
its holding institution and omit them from their research programmes
altogether.

Tehmina Goskar
Centre for Antiquity and the Middle Ages
University of Southampton

Textile Conservation Centre finds a new home in Glasgow

Clearly much continued to happen behind the scenes by the TCC Foundation before and since its closure in Winchester. A press release was made last week announcing a new home in Glasgow for many of its activities, particularly in research and education. I have taken the liberty of reproducing the press release in full below:

Press release issued by the University of Glasgow on 24th March 2010

New conservation centre preserves the fabric of the nation

Preserving the fabric of the nation’s treasures for future generations, a new textile conservation centre is to be established at the University of Glasgow.

The Textile Conservation Centre Foundation (TCCF) and the University of Glasgow have agreed to found the new teaching and research facility – the only resource of its kind in the UK – in the University’s Robertson Building.

Professor Nick Pearce, Director of the Institute for Art History and Head of the Department of History of Art, University of Glasgow, said: “This is a tremendous opportunity both for the University and also for the conservation profession in Scotland, the UK and internationally. Expertise, facilities and the wealth of the collections make Glasgow the ideal place for the kind of interdisciplinary research and study which the centre will promote.”

Peter Longman, Deputy Chairman of the Textile Conservation Centre Foundation said: “There was such concern over the closure of the Textile Conservation Centre in Winchester that over the last 18 months we have been approached by several institutions anxious to work with us to continue aspects of its work. We have considered a number of options, but the combination of Glasgow with its world class University and History of Art Department and the unrivalled collections in and around the City proved an irresistible location.

“This is a unique opportunity to build on the UK’s reputation in textile conservation training and related research; we look forward to contributing to its future success in Glasgow.”

The new centre for Textile Conservation, History and Technical Art History will focus on multidisciplinary object-based teaching and research that encompasses conservation and the physical sciences as well as art history, dress and textile history. It will be the first time that conservation training has been undertaken in Scotland and, combined with the University’s recent developments in technical art history, the new centre will have national and international impact.

The new Centre will inherit existing library intellectual property and analytical equipment from the TCCF, so that staff and future students will be able to draw on the key physical and intellectual assets built up over more than 30 years. Students will also have the opportunity to work with some of the best textile collections in the world held by Glasgow Museums, the National Museums of Scotland and the University’s own Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery. New academic posts will be created and the Centre will work closely with the Foundation to establish a global research network in textile conservation, textile and dress history and technical art history.

The first student intake is planned for September 2010 offering a 2-year Masters in Textile Conservation and a 1-year Masters in Dress and Textile History as well as opportunities for doctoral research. These new courses will join the existing Masters programme in Technical Art History, Making and Meaning, as part of the Centre. The Foundation is also offering a limited number of bursaries in the first years of the textile conservation programme and a fundraising campaign is already underway to raise further funds for the new development including additional studentships and new research projects. Potential students who would like to receive updates on the development and course details should email Ailsa Boyd at the University of Glasgow at: a.boyd@arthist.arts.gla.ac.uk or t.mccabe@arthist.arts.gla.ac.uk