Last Thursday at Cornwall Museums Partnership’s annual Share and Learn day in Helston, I launched the Citizen Curators Programme and introduced its prospective pilot at Royal Cornwall Museum.
Citizen Curators is basically museum studies in the workplace and takes the place between attending one-off training and a full-on course at a university such as an MA in Museum Studies.
Citizen Curators is a work-based training programme aimed at skilling up volunteers (and also staff who want to develop new skills) in modern curatorial practice. The idea behind this programme was developed over 18 months ago in response to the increasing lack of opportunities to learn curatorial and modern museum skills while working or volunteering in a sustained manner, and have the opportunity to test and assess competencies and in a peer learning framework.
The rural context of Citizen Curators is important. People of smaller museums in large rural regions lack the most access to training, skills, networking and peer groups.
For me it’s an opportunity to experiment with delivering education to workers while they work, and also led by the needs of their work. Colleagues will know about my growing interest and involvement in museum skills development and I am grateful for this opportunity try out something new.
Apart from access to skills and an opportunity to test them out, the Citizen Curators pilot will also focus on recruiting at least 50% under-25s.
The emphasis will be on the participants’ learning goals, rather than on fancying up a regular volunteer opportunity or disguising a dreaded unpaid internship.
That said, participants will have to demonstrate commitment and a dedication to completing the course and creating an outcome that is meaningful to the museum.
I continued the theme with the local Cub Scouts Group based at another Paddington primary school, St Mary Magdalene (5th Paddington). My tack was slightly different here. The incentive to listen and learn was to earn the Local Knowledge badge. Team competition is also important to the Cubs and while initially they were suspicious of any sit-down activity, when they realised points meant prizes (and these were really good–all my old arcade toy wins). So over two sessions we swotted some Paddington history. I drew up a ‘Top 10 Paddington history facts’ and based a Q&A session around that. Another leader brought in the film The Blue Lamp (1950), largely filmed in Paddington before the A40 Westway–a massive flyover that has forever divided Paddington into an area stark social contrast–was built to demonstrate the idea of change in the built environment. The next week they had to complete the ‘Local Knowledge Quiz’, a series of pub quiz style questions.
Rather than sitting on my computer hard drive I wanted to share these. I found it hard to find a decent source of information on Paddington history, save for the trusty Paddington Wikipedia entry which is of decent quality.
So here you are, reproduced and downloadable, free to use non-commercially, please do give us a mention if you use this material.
1. Paddington Green Police Station is the most important high-security police station in the UK. The most dangerous suspects are brought here to be questioned.
2. The Tyburn Gallows were near Marble Arch. Until the late 1700s criminals were brought here to be hanged. London slang, ‘Paddington Fair Day’ meant a public hanging day and ‘To dance the Paddington frisk’ meant ‘to be hanged’.
4. Edward Wilson was a scientist and a doctor who worked in Paddington. He was part of the famous expedition of Captain Scott who tried but failed to reach the South Pole in 1912. Everyone died. Edward Wilson school was named in his honour.
5. Paddington Stationis one of London’s most famous railway stations and was designed by a famous engineer called Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1854. It was one of the destinations of the world’s first underground railway, called the Metropolitan Railway, established in 1863. There is a statue of Brunel at one of the station’s entrances.
6. Paddington Bear is the most famous fictional character from the area. The story begins that the bear was from ‘deepest, darkest Peru’ and arrives at Paddington Station with a note saying ‘Please look after this bear, thank you’.
7. St Mary’s Hospital dates from 1845 and is one of the important places for learning medicine in the world. Part of the hospital used to be multi-story stables for horses that worked for the Great Western Railway. You can still see the ramps for the horses today. Many members of the Royal Family were born at St Mary’s Hospital, including Prince William, and Prince Harry.
8. Before the building of the Grand Junction Canal in 1801 Paddington was just fields. The canal brought goods and people from the countryside to the growing city of London. The canal flowed into Paddington Basin. This area is currently being developed into one of London’s most important business districts.
9. William Whiteley created Whiteley’s [department store, now shopping centre], situated between Queensway and Westbourne Grove in 1867. He was the Lord Alan Sugar of his day and called himself ‘the Universal Provider’ selling everything from ‘a pin to an elephant’. In 1897 a huge fire burnt the store down and flames could be seen from Highgate Hill in north London. The store was completely rebuilt and the building we see today was reopened in 1911.
This afternoon was spent back at my old Primary School. The chairs and tables have shrunk but everything else is pretty much the same. That more or less is what the study of history is like. We look for things that changed and can’t help but notice what hasn’t. The reason I found myself faced with 60-odd Year 3s (7-8 year olds) was because I happened to get in touch with the teacher in charge of history and geography at the school who thought it might be fun for the children to learn from an ex-pupil while also hearing about what it is like to work in, for want of a better term, the historical industries (or as one pupil said, ‘a historician’). I didn’t have a lesson plan, I didn’t really know how I was going to go about this until I got there and could gauge their interest, which, I will confess, I expected to be middling to polite (or not so polite). The result was quite a contrast. We went on for double the time intended and they still hadn’t run out of questions some of them literally seemed bursting to ask (though not in the William the Conqueror way).
I did what all good historians do and gathered together my sources. In the process of moving, I have had occasion to go through a lot of old stuff. It’s amazing what I have kept, or not thrown out. Perhaps more amazing what my parents have kept, or not (yet) thrown out. If I was going to help inspire these foundlings with history I needed not to give them a career lesson (and I would not exactly be a great exemplar) but just to understand the satisfaction that understanding the past can bring. So where better than to start with self, family and locality.
‘A little bit of TRUE information can be used to make people believe something which is UNTRUE’
My bag of sources contained:
A newspaper article from about 1984 headlined ‘And they spoke with many tongues’, probably from the Sunday Express no less, about the school and the 32 languages spoken by its pupils, ‘a modern day tower Tower of Babel’. Our headmistress was an early exponent of the school’s cosmopolitanism but stressed how a few weeks at the school got everyone speaking and reading a good standard of English.
My first junior school report (handwritten).
A selection of photographs, of family, school outings and assemblies and friends, including one of my father as a little boy who had also attended the school.
My first swimming certificate (which one pupil mistook for an ‘achievement award’).
A letter of thanks from the Queen for a poem I wrote for her 60th birthday.
The programme from my final year school play, signed by our teachers.
Some badges relating to notable local places that exist or no longer exist (e.g. the long lamented London Toy and Model Museum).
My first story book from the equivalent of Reception/Year 1 (age 5-6).
My handwriting book. I was banking on them still having a handwriting book as an example of things that don’t change.
The school’s first ever computer-based project, undertaken by a friend and me in our final year (equivalent of year 6) in 1989. Print-outs of pie-charts and summary reports were mounted on what was once purple sugar paper. It is now faded and torn but one of the most interesting personal and social documents I have. It was based on a survey made of computer use by girls and boys in our year. If ever I can pinpoint my attitude towards history and historians it is the conclusion we wrote, clearly with a little help from our teacher: ‘A little bit of TRUE information can be used to make people believe something which is UNTRUE’.
A copy of a book I wrote on medieval food and feasting.
A book on the local area.
Postcards of Edwardian images of people who worked in the local area.
I think it is fair to say that this would rival any loan box the school could have got hold of and yet all the items are relatively mundane, relatively for someone to procure. Without my museum or archive hat on I could also let them touch the things, although I was careful to guide them to the notion that old things are more fragile and therefore need a little more care. My intention was simple. By relating my own life and that of my family to both the school and locality and then to these documents and objects I wanted to show how studying history was as much finding out who we are and the truth of our past as it was to know what the Romans ate for breakfast.
Both classes I took part in had just done the Romans and had some rudiments of local history. A pupil in the first glass greeted me with an in-character Roman Centurion soliloquy. I was seriously impressed. After a brief introduction as to who I was, my connection with the school, and why I love history started the many and several questions. ‘How old are you?’, ‘do you know what carpe diem means?’ [yes really], ‘how old was Claudius when he invaded Britain?’ [gulp], ‘why did you want to become a historician?’ and ‘when did William the Conqueror burst?’ [excuse me?]. Following these and several more, they were split into groups to come in turn to my history table.
The groups in the first class were most curious about my story book and handwriting book. Others pored over the photographs, particularly impressed with our school outing to Buckingham Palace and the photography of one of my school assemblies. One pupil thought it looked exactly the same, the other thought it was totally different. Go figure how differently we interpret the same sources. The first ever school computer project was however beyond them, perhaps more of interest to the teachers. They were not familiar with pie charts and they couldn’t quite understand why it was such a big deal, ‘I have a computer at home’. Quite so. A photograph of my great-grandmother, grand mothers and mother caught their eye, particularly when I explained that I had been named after my great-grandmother. One girl piped up that she was named after her grandmother and a light switched on. I asked them to read the date on the letter from the Queen and work out how many years ago it was. 1986 to 2011 presented them a problem.
At an age when we all remember the almost interminable summer holidays, working out how many years ago that was was something mind-blowing. One of them eventually got to 25 years but the appreciation of the passing of time was clearly still not there. It was all I could do to get them to figure out that I was four times their age. This made me appreciate most acutely how hard it is to teach chronology and the scale of time to people who have existed for such a short time. I could only convey distance in time by emphasising the number ‘fifty years ago!’ ‘three HUNDRED years ago’ ‘I’m not that old’.
A better appreciation of the passage of time came with discussing what in the local area had changed and what hadn’t. The big shopping centre that was closed for most of my early life, previously a department store (that took some explaining), reopening on my last day at the school (and here is the badge we were given), the toy museum that is now no longer next to the school (alas from all of us), the library which they all still go to, that I also went to, the swimming pool we learnt to swim in, the carnival we went to. For some of them it may take many years for the ideas to be absorbed. This was history but it wasn’t the kind of history they knew or would even recognise.
The second class’s personalities were completely different. They were most interested in my book and generally about food, and of course, the Romans. ‘Did you know that July is named after Julius Caesar?’, ‘Did all Romans wear togas?’, ‘how old are you?’, ‘when was paper invented?’ Showing the group my photographs I asked how long they thought there had been cameras and photographs. Estimates included 5000 years, 2000 years, 10 years and 2 years until a small voice hesitantly hazarded 100 years. Ok, let’s not quibble about 50 years. What got them all singing was the shock that medieval Europeans did not eat crisps, chocolate, tomatoes or sweetcorn. A veritable travesty they thought. An appalling affront to their sensibilities. When asked where they thought the potato came from, keen responses included ‘England’, ‘Asia’, ‘Pakistan’, ‘Australia’ and finally ‘America’. Finally they had a flavour of when the Middle Ages were and largely what it was lacking. They also correctly identified the epoch as being after the Romans.
Class 2’s group work was not dissimilar to the first. They were enthralled by my exercise books and complemented me like the previous class had on my handwriting. Even the teacher said that she couldn’t believe how high the standards were. I didn’t want to enquire further. This group were more interested in the objects, the badges and heliograph. One of their fathers was in the army and they understood the concept of morse even though they hadn’t yet been taught it. One pupil was so enamoured with the badges that she scooped them up and admired them livingly on her jumper before asking where each came from. Another one asked if I drew all the pictures in my book on medieval food. I thought it beyond the pale to explain manuscript illumination in such a short space of time so just relented and said someone else did them.
Most of all both classes were pleased at being able to identify me in the Tower of Babel newspaper article. One of them even said I looked nice in the picture. Historians in the making?
I cannot predict what the learning outcomes for these children will be. There is no instant result in this kind of learning. It is what it is. I remember certain episodes in my primary school education that had a definite effect on me and my choices but I didn’t know it then.
After ages, a meaty debate has been developing on the Group for Education in Museums Jiscmail list. It centred around an initial post by Richard Ellam on the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC) decision to award their quality badge to Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm. On balance the response from list members has been hostile towards CLOtC’s decision, and highly critical of the educational value of Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm. The gist being that, although much of the publicity about Noah’s Ark claims to offer the learner/visitor the opportunity to both consider creationism (perhaps that should be Capital C Creationism?) and evolution as theories/evidence for the origins of Earth, humans and other animals, Noah’s Ark’s real agenda is to promote Creationism over science (perhaps that should be Capital S Science?) or worse, to give the illusion that Creationism is Science. You can read the responses here and other responses here.
Over the past two years or so I have been working with Dr Eleanor Quince, Postgraduate Research Coordinator for the School of Humanities at the University of Southampton, on a project to deliver skills training online. A training programme for Humanities postgraduates already existed as class-based sessions but a need was identified for those students who were either studying away from campus on a regular basis and part time students whose time commitments prevented them from attending daytime classes. Training covered all major sections of the Research Councils’ joint skills statement on the acquisition of generic and transferable skills such as oral presentation, career development, time management, as well as more specific skills such as research ethics, archival research, ethnographic techniques, and the four milestones of completing an MPhil/PhD thesis (first year presentations, MPhil upgrade, submitting your thesis, the viva).
Phases 1 and 2 of the online course were completed by April 2010. Phase 1 was concerned with gathering course materials, evaluating the target audiences (working part timers, distance learners, students abroad) and selecting the most appropriate delivery mechanism. Phase 2 was solely focused on developing the learning objects and training themes for the course. These were divided into ‘core’ and ‘additional’ learning objects. An expert assessor has evaluated their content and feedback has been responded to in additional improvements. In addition, informal feedback has been gathered throughout the process. If funded, phase 3 will concentrate on qualitative evaluation of the course and its elements. The project so far has been funded by the School of Electronics and Computer Science and the Roberts Skills fund (named after the Roberts Report which identified the need for postgraduates to complete their doctoral studies while also gaining skills), both internal to the University.
Much of our past is contained in documents few of us can read, let alone understand and interpret. The National Archives have created a set of online tutorials in beginner’s and advanced medieval Latin and palaeography, or, how to read old handwriting. It is the first time a course like this has been offered, free and online. It will be interesting to see who will take on the twelve-lesson challenges. It claims it does not require prior knowledge of classical Latin (usually what we were taught – those of us that were – at school) and is suitable for beginners or those who want to refresh their skills.
Can an online experience be more satisfying than learning in a classroom of people where you hesitate with your ablatives and datives? Will anyone come out of these courses able to have a good stab at old documents in an archive and to debate hotly with another how many minims a word contains? Will these courses be able to convey the importance of grammatic jargon that goes with learning Latin, and still inspire through the gems contained in documents such as Domesday book?
Although I am reading many documents in medieval Latin at the moment, I am going to take the online medieval Latin challenge and report back with a comparison with my book-based and classroom experience.
Tehmina has now written two books, aimed at young adults (but very readable by any age really!). Her first is entitled “Medieval Feasts and Banquets: Food, Drink, and Celebration in the Middle Ages” which gives a great introduction to the subject, and blows away quite a few myths (bones being chucked over shoulders onto sawdust for the dogs for one!).
Her second is entitled “Charlemagne: The Life and Times of an Early Medieval Emperor” which gives a concise and enjoyable introduction to the infamous Holy Roman Emperor known as ‘Charles the Great’. He is an important historical character who led a complex life, and many books written about him are heavy-going – Tehm’s book is the most lucid introduction to his life that I have come across (and superbly written). Read more about Charlemagne at Wikipedia.