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Old Curatorial Archive

Curator’s Advent. Day 9. The showcase

A nice museum showcase, anti-bandit, anti-UV, anti-pest, anti-humidity... get the idea?
A nice museum showcase, anti-bandit, anti-UV, anti-pest, anti-humidity, antacid… get the idea?

The museum showcase is the frontline defence system that repels all manner of undesirable effects on our hallowed collections: bandits, the environment and sticky fingers. You may laugh but most curators will have to specify a showcase made from anti-bandit glass at some point in their careers. But there is a more elevated purpose for the showcase. It maintains the air of reverence and mystique surrounding a museum object. The vitrine is a window to wondering. It provides artful elevation of even the humblest artefact – a bit like a simple ingredient in the hands of a skilled cook. Visiting museums with showcases full of object is a bit like watching a cookery programme – you can imagine and long but you can’t taste, touch or smell.

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Old Curatorial Archive

Curator’s Advent. Day 8. Light and UV

Two identical coasters showing the effects of UV and sunlight damage
Left: on a window sill. Right: Not on a window sill*

Few of us use the p-word any longer – perpetuity but it would be nice if our museum objects could weather at least a few generations’ worth of abuse. Some wavelengths of light, especially sunlight, and ultra violet greedily snatch colour away from many of our written, painted, printed and dyed objects. This may reinforce the idea that the past really was all black, white, beige and grey. While a museum object kept permanently in the dark is of as much use to the curator as an empty box of teabags, let’s be grateful for those who assiduously protect our colourful heritage. *No real museum objects were harmed in the writing of this post.

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Old Curatorial Archive

Curator’s Advent. Day 7. Object record

An object and a record, but not an object record
An object and a record, but not an object record

They say that without provenance the museum object is worthless. The object record acts as a certificate of authenticity and contains everything from vital statistics on materials, dimensions, broken or worn bits, to ownership history, exhibition history, publication history… quite a lot of history. Index cards used to be the favoured medium of the curator’s record keeping but now we use all manner of databases–all that history reduced to 0s and 1s. Led by simple names controlled by peculiar technical dictionaries called thesauri or vocabulary lists, there was a strange habit, that I believe some still indulge in, whereby it’s frowned upon to write in proper sentences so you might get something that reads like a Victorian telegram:

record, vinyl, 7″ (17.78cm), black and silver, with sleeve, paper, torn, 1964.

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Old Curatorial Archive

Curator’s Advent. Day 6. Gloves

Me as a curator wearing full length oven gloves as a precaution against contaminating museum objects
I prefer to leave nothing to chance.

Museum objects are living gods and goddesses. Lords and Ladies of the material world. Most usually donning white cotton (or purple nitrile) gloves the curator is able to undertake her calling as high priest and footman.  It’s vital museum purity laws are adhered to. Contamination of the museum object by greasy palm or sticky fingers or unappointed non-curators results in the need for complex ritual cleaning and prayers involving Pygmy goat-hair brushes and holy distilled water and liturgical implements too numerous to list here that you wouldn’t understand anyway. 

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Old Curatorial Archive

Curator’s Advent. Day 5. The accession number

Chaos represented by a tangle of cellophane ribbons
Chaos

The accession number imposes order on chaos. It turns a gaggle of tat into a collection and is a museum object’s status symbol. 

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Old Curatorial Archive

Curator’s Advent. Day 4. Entry form

Wheel, East Pool Mine, National Trust. Not sure what this object's mission is and it probably doesn't have an entry form.
Wheel, East Pool Mine, National Trust. Not sure what this object’s mission is and it probably doesn’t have an entry form.

The birth certificate of the museum object, its proof of purchase. The entry form marks the start of an artefact’s rite of passage from prop, trinket or reject to sacred relic on a mission.

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Old Curatorial Archive

Curator’s Advent. Day 3. Moths

Butterflies on display at the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro. Not moths but you get the idea.
Butterflies on display at the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro. Not moths but you get the idea.

Moths and other creepy pests are The Enemy of the curator (unless they are already dead and desirable specimens, pinned and catalogued). If you see a furrowed brow and haunted look, a struggle with sticky pheromone-fueled patches, spare a thought. We are saving museums from the very real peril of textiles and taxidermy annihilation. No one wants to see a naval rating’s uniform with holes in its unmentionables.

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Gemmology Old Curatorial Archive

Curator’s Advent. Day 2. The label

Luray Vallery Museum, Virginia, USA. This curator liked this exhibit and label very much.
Luray Vallery Museum, Virginia, USA. This curator liked this exhibit and label very much.

The art of a well-tempered label is a museum’s greatest gift to humanity. As selector and interpreter, the label is an opportunity for the curator to display her prowess. Curators believe in facts not opinions. The label contains up to 50 learned words. One idea per sentence (we prefer facts). Reading age: 12. Sans serif all the way.

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Old Curatorial Archive

Curator’s Advent. Day 1. Please do not touch

Curator’s Advent is a little idea I’ve been toying around with to explore some of my beliefs and values as a curator and playfully challenge some myths about what ‘curator-types’ are like. Every day in the run up to Christmas I’ll be playing around with curatorship in a series of mini posts and pics. You may not necessarily know whether I am being serious.

In this scene I examine a finger ring, reusing a late Roman agate seal, from southern Italy, late 7th century in the Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Napoli. In the next scene, the custodian of the stores tried it on and asked if it suited her (not pictured).
In this scene I examine a finger ring, reusing a late Roman agate seal, from southern Italy, late 7th century in the Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Napoli. In the next scene, the custodian of the stores tried it on and asked if it suited her (not pictured).

Day 1. Please do not touch

Everyone knows curators are born with a special ability to handle museum objects. When you are ordained to be a curator you will receive a signal that you are a chosen one. Begloved, the curator lifts her precious treasure ve-ery slowly from the acid-free paper draped altar. Stay a safe distance away for any disturbance of the air between the beholder and the beheld may cause a small part of the object to die. When an artefact travels through the corridors of time and straight into a museum the curator has nourished it upon the elixir of eternal life with a monastic devotion. Anything less and you might just think you’re in an old junk or pawn shop. And that won’t do.

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Old Heritage Archive

#100museumhours

#100museumhours logo

  • 2 years
  • 100 chats on 100 subjects
  • Two Hosts: @tehm and @sospot
  • 46 Guest Hosts
  • 22.1K Tweets (all time)
  • 130-140K Impressions per month
  • 4-5K Impressions per day
  • ~25-100 Engagements per Tweet

It’s a very simple enterprise, light weight but high energy and without any constrictions of institutionalism or stakeholder expectation. It’s free and for all-comers.

Follow: @museumhour
Mondays 20:00 UK time
Hashtag: #museumhour

In October 2014, I wrote about the idea of #museumhour, a (yet another) Twitter movement following the model of weekly, fortnightly and monthly chat forums. Today we celebrate museumhour’s second birthday and our 100th #museumhour.

It was Sophie Ballinger’s tweet from the Eureka! Museum account back in May 2014 that I found a couple of months later (wondering if anyone had started up a regular museum slot on Twitter) that started it all off.

Over the last two years and 100 museumhours things have evolved but not a huge amount. I thought it would be useful to outline museumhour’s current philosophy and how it works. It’s a very simple enterprise, light weight but high energy and without any constrictions of institutionalism or stakeholder expectation. It’s free and for all-comers.

Our philosophy

To provide a regular, open forum for the discussion of museum issues. It is for anyone with an interest in museums, not just museum workers. You don’t have to participate to benefit from it.

Free from influence. Museumhour is run entirely on a voluntary basis, week in week out with occasional breaks. We don’t receive any funding or in-kind support beyond our own resources.

Platform for communication, not broadcast. There are very few rules that govern museumhour. All we ask is that the topics that are suggested to us are broad enough to encourage as wide an audience as possible. However we also welcome specialist topics that don’t often get public airplay.

We will not accept themes that are solely for the promotion of one initiative, project or organisation. It’s fine for your thing to be used as an anchor for debate but prompts, cues and links must range broadly. The best museumhours are those where the host engages with a range of the responses tweeted in return – it’s not always easy though when it gets very frenetic!

It’s also ok to use the #museumhour hashtag to help promote and plug your events and activities but when you’re hosting you must be mindful not to broadcast but to exchange and communicate.

Why Twitter?

Twitter is a relentless quick-fire ‘of the moment’ forum for rapid exchange. That’s why we chose it – or rather it chose us.

Managed well, Twitter also promotes the sense of an open and diverse community that we need for museumhour to work and provides a healthy and productive environment for people to share their views and information without fear of thinking they or what they have to say isn’t important enough or might be subject to sneers, reprisal or other puerile behaviour.

The other benefit of Twitter, over, say, Facebook, is that it is open for everyone to see, not just those who have an account and are logged in. This way anyone with access to the internet can head on over to twitter.com/museumhour and see the discussions, or, follow using the saved hashtag #museumhour.

Museumhour only exists on Twitter and that’s where it is staying. We do not maintain separate channels such as website, enewsletter or other social networks. We or our Guest Hosts will occasionally Storify museumhour debates or include content in their own Storify account or other work which is great.

Featured

Museumhour benefits from occasional blogging by us and others. We’ve been really pleased to be featured by the Ministry of Curiosity, Fran Taylor, and others, as well as featuring in museum articles such as Museum Practice.

Our 46 Guest Hosts have also done a brilliant job using their websites, blogs and social media channels to promote the subjects of their museumhours.

We do want to take part in the big debates and issues facing museums and have played a role in helping other organisations with hosting sessions whose results have fed into research, for example, AIM’s work on museum charging, and the MA’s work on workforce professional development.

Is this a good format for museumhour for the foreseeable future? And can you suggest changes to refresh the experience? Do you want to join our team?

What next?

Our format is simple. After the first couple of weeks of museumhour we realised that the big wide open world of topics made it difficult for people to engage meaningfully with each other so we started to introduce themes.

We or our Guest Host comes up with a range of prompts, cues and links to information prior to (usually) and most importantly during the hour – approximately one every 5-10 minutes. Some of these are in the form of questions, others are statements that are responded to.

Museumhour happens and then it ends. We move on to organising the next week.

Is this a good format for museumhour for the foreseeable future? And can you suggest changes to refresh the experience? Do you want to join our team?

Two years of relentless weekly organisation is bound to take a toll on the schedules and lives of its two founders. Two people who haven’t even met each other in the flesh but who have somehow made this thing work.

Tribute

I would like to pay tribute to my co-founder Sophie Ballinger for being a brilliant colleague and friend making the museumhour enterprise both fulfilling and fun! We seem to fill each other’s gaps naturally and with minimum fuss. That can be quite a rare quality in a team.

But museumhour isn’t all about us. We have prided ourselves on taking a back seat and gently herding from behind. We think it is about time our team expanded. We are therefore shortly going to be advertising for new members of our small team. If you have read this and feel excited about museumhour please stay in touch.