Old Curatorial Archive

Citizen Curators programme launched

Street art in Santiago de Chile, one of the many important topics for the modern curator
Street art in Santiago de Chile, one of the many important topics for the modern curator

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.

Chart showing Citizen Curators competencies
Citizen Curators competencies

It is thanks to Arts Council England support through Cornwall Museums Partnership received through through the Change Makers leadership programme that I am able to conduct this pilot.

Download the Citizen Curators Pilot summary (PDF)

Download the Citizen Curators Flier (PDF)

Old Curatorial Archive

Curator’s Advent. Day 23. The learning officer

The invention of the curator, not the learning officer
The invention of the curator, not the learning officer

Just want to get something straight. The learning officer isn’t always ‘the fun one’ in the museum.

Old Heritage Archive

Industrial heritage education at risk?

Industrial heritage at London Canal Museum
Industrial heritage at London Canal Museum

In this post I outline some of my ideas for better education in industrial history, archaeology and heritage. There are currently no dedicated Masters-level programmes in industrial heritage/history/archaeology and I wanted to find out why (with no agenda either way as to whether or not they ought to exist as specialist programmes). In the first half I discuss English Heritage’s major study on Industrial Heritage at Risk as it has important implications for education. In the second I share my findings after a brief and informal survey of industrial heritage courses taught at postgraduate level, and discuss how the two could come together to improve levels of the knowledge and understanding of heritage practitioners, scholars and public.

My conclusions are given at the end and are at present ideas and thoughts based on my observations and experience. I hope to develop some of these based on more rigorous research. If you would like to contribute ideas of your own please leave a comment.

Industrial Heritage at Risk

Industrial Heritage at Risk was a major project undertaken by English Heritage in 2011 to quantify and assess the condition of England’s industrial heritage, particularly in the light of the considerable development seen at brownfield sites over the last two decades.

Overwhelmingly the public think that it is as important to preserve our industrial heritage as other types of heritage such as castles and country houses (80%).
(From survey of 2000 respondents conducted by English Heritage as part of the Industrial Heritage at Risk project)

Some of the findings that stood out for me are:

  • 4% of listed buildings and 4% of scheduled monuments are industrial.
  • The average estimated conservation deficit (cost of repair in excess of the end value) of industrial buildings at risk is twice that of non-industrial buildings at risk.
  • Approximately 40% of industrial buildings at risk are capable of beneficial use, compared to 44% of non-industrial buildings at risk.
  • Only 40% of listed industrial buildings at risk could be put to sustainable and economic new uses. The remainder are reliant on voluntary effort, public funding and philanthropy to survive.
  • Lead, tin, copper and coal mines are the industrial sites most at risk on Register.
  • 52% would like more opportunity to give their opinion about which industrial sites they think should be protected, while 44% are interested in getting involved with helping to protect the industrial heritage in their local area.
  • Younger people are less interested in industrial heritage than those aged 55 and over.

The criteria for assessing risk is outlined in the Heritage at Risk Methodology Statement (opens PDF) that is applied to all types of heritage, not just industrial.

English Heritage has pledged to undertake a number of measures to help ensure the future viability of industrial heritage sites and areas. These mainly concern offering advice, encouraging local groups to take on industrial sites and providing handbooks and guides. English Heritage obviously does not have the resources to be more hands-on with its assistance and it is right that organisations and groups in the localities in which industrial sites are based should take some responsibility for them if they are the same people who are worried about their future survival.

English or British industrial heritage?

English Heritage is only mandated to oversee historic sites within the political unit of England and as such the Industrial Heritage at Risk report does not make connections with sites elsewhere. This is a point of frustration because so much of English industrial heritage is intimately linked with that of Wales and Scotland, notably in coal and metals, and textiles. Comparable research data does not exist (at least publicly) for EH’s sister bodies in Wales (Cadw and RCAHMW–but see Cadw Buildings at Risk document), Scotland (Historic Scotland–but see Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland) and Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Environment Agency).

Industrial heritage without borders

The history of industrialisation in Britain is a story without borders. Businesses, entrepreneurs and scientists paid scant notice to national or regional identity within the UK when making profits and pioneering new technologies. The rapid success of British businesses engaged in mass industry relied on fast networks that first globalised these isles and then rapidly globalised much of the planet by its domination of maritime trade and nascent empire building. This is much more evident in the thousands of business archives held in public, private and corporate collections than perhaps in the vestiges of industrial heritage sites.

My current project to reconstruct historic supply chain information of the copper industry from business archive collections and museum collections aims to better integrate the information we have from documentation with that of archaeological and built remains. It is a material-driven approach that intends to provide a context for the quantifiable inputs and outputs that is the traditional fayre of economic and industrial historians. Teaching industrial history using this approach may well attract a wider range of students and learners who are increasingly interested in the cultural impact of economic change both locally and globally.

Industry and regional identity

However industries were undeniably regionally specific because of their locations near raw materials, as hubs in national and international transport infrastructures, and the development of specialist factory workforces that percolated down the generations, often defining entire places, whether hard rock mining in Cornwall or cotton manufacture in Lancashire. Copperopolis (Swansea), Tinopolis (Llanelli), Jutopolis (Dundee), Cottonopolis (Manchester)… are epithets that are testament to the huge impact of regionally-specific industry on perceptions of place. The capacity for industry to bestow regional distinctiveness on a locality has strongly influenced the way in which many sites and areas have been interpreted, much more so than the global story and connectedness of which it was once part.

What about education?

The Industrial Heritage at Risk project has identified the need for better educational resources and to this end has provided a set of teacher’s kits to help teach school children  about industrial sites in their area. The topic range is broad and I am particularly glad that the creators of these packs urge teachers to address issues of why we preserve industrial heritage sites and their value to society. We don’t know how much having debate like this will affect the views of children when they become adults but I am pleased that attempts are being made to de-adultify industrial heritage. Of all the fields of history and heritage, the interest in industry has been the preserve of (mainly male) enthusiasts, economic historians and historians of science and technology. And the average age profile of these groups is currently much higher than other sectors such as art and social history. But I digress.

Having set some of the scene of industrial heritage in the UK today I want to continue by exploring how industrial history and heritage is taught. While the English Heritage Teacher’s Kits go a long way to providing high quality resources for schools I am naturally led to question the level of knowledge and understanding of teachers, trainers and lecturers themselves, and where you might go as a prospective learner to ‘up-skill’ in the area of industrial heritage. There are four main areas I would like to investigate:

  • Key Stage 5 (A-level / Baccalaureate etc)
  • Tertiary / Higher Education (Diplomas, First Degrees, Vocational)
  • Postgraduate Taught courses
  • Adult Learning / Continuing Professional Development / Lifelong Learning courses

Postgraduate education in industrial heritage/history/archaeology

It is at postgraduate level (Masters level) that many students have the opportunity to pursue the advanced study of a subject and it is at this level that my exploration of the current state of industrial heritage education begins. This follows an email enquiry to a number of mailing lists, followed up by correspondence, about where people have taken industrial heritage courses and what forms they have taken.

I was keen to find out why there are currently no dedicated taught Masters courses in industrial heritage/history/archaeology in UK universities. My underlying motive is to find out how collaborative resources created through research, particularly those from heritage-led knowledge exchange initiatives (e.g. Welsh Copper Project) could be developed into modules, courses and entire programmes whether taught through distance learning, traditional lecture and class sessions, work-based training and blended learning (combining any of these).

My enquiry received over 35 responses via email and a few via Twitter. Responses came from those teaching industrial heritage/history/archaeology, or who had taught it in the past, and from those who had taken courses. A small number of responses came from the USA and I have included these for comparative purposes, although my main interest is in what is happening here in the UK.

Where courses are/have been taught and taken

I am including responses from those who have taken courses in the past that are now defunct (marked ceased). This list is response-driven and is not an exhaustive search for industrial heritage modules within other programmes.

  • MA Historical Archaeology, Sheffield, 1997, taught by David Crossley. Included industrial heritage, ceased
  • MA Heritage Management, Ironbridge Institute (University of Birmingham), 1989-current (distance learning option since 2004)
  • MA Historic Environment Conservation, Ironbridge Institute, 2005-current
  • MS and PhD, Industrial Heritage and Archaeology, Michigan Tech University, Prof. Patrick Martin
  • MA Archaeology, University of Nevada, Reno, led by Dr Don Hardesty, American mining archaeology
  • Department of the History of Science and Technology, John Hopkins University
  • MA Industrial Archaeology, Ironbridge Institute, 1985-6, taught by Barrie Trinder and late Michael Stratton, ceased 2007/8 (est. 1981), relaunched by Roger White 2001, last modules taught 2005/7, ceased
  • MA Industrial Heritage, Ironbridge Institute, 1994-1999, ceased
  • MA Archaeology of Buildings, University of York, one module Industrial Buildings
  • MA Historical Archaeology, University of York taught by John Schofield, John Finch, Kate Giles
  • MA Historical Archaeology, University of Leicester (distance learning option)
  • Postgrad Diploma Industrial Archaeology, Wroclaw Polytechnic, Poland, 2001
  • MLitt Lead Mining industry in North Pennines, Newcastle University
  • Undergraduate course in Industrial Archaeology, Newcastle University, 1990s/early 2000s taught by Stafford Linsey, ceased after retirement
  • MSc Mining and Industrial Heritage Management, Camborne School of Mines (University of Exeter), taught by Tony Brooks, head of Mining, ceased after retirement
  • MSc Heritage Science and Professional Archaeology, Queen’s University Belfast
  • Ordinary Degree Industrial Archaeology module for English, History, Geography, Geology and other subjects, College of Higher Education, Liverpool, validated by Lancaster University, 1980s
  • Industrial Archaeology topics taught at Bristol University


Why did people choose to take a course or programme in industrial heritage/history/archaeology?

  • Course near to where student lived
  • Had already done first degree at same institution
  • Ability to do degree part time while working in cognate profession (commercial archaeology)
  • To aid career prospects or prior to undertaking PhD
  • Inherent / personal interest in subject
  • To formalise existing research undertaken privately

Positive points

What people like about learning and teaching industrial heritage.

  • Inclusion of work placement
  • Practical surveying techniques
  • Learnt applied skills for use in architecture
  • Course based on an industrial site
  • Using industrial site visits and projects to teach broader issues of sustainability, conservation practice
  • Skills-based learning including desk-based and field work, photography, surveying, documentary study
  • Wealth of material on British industry 1650-1939 materials and practices
  • Interpretation of sites and monuments including conservation of buildings and artefacts

Negative points

What people did not like about learning and teaching industrial heritage.

  • Topics dated
  • No introduction of new ideas
  • Disinterested lecturers. End of course malaise
  • Dwindling student numbers making it financially unviable
  • Too much emphasis on museums
  • Can be conservative
  • Courses are expensive to run
  • Career opportunities limited in UK
  • Cost cuts and need to take on more students lowering standards
  • Recruitment low because career prospects poor/cannot see benefits
  • Industrial sites need to engage with community’s history as much as technology
  • Local politics

Other issues arising

  • Vocational courses like Heritage Management recruit better, into 20s and 30s FTE. Teach industrial heritage as part of that
  • Disciplinary differences in the US: industrial history thought in History of Science and Tech programmes or Science, Technology and Society (STS) programmes
  • Heritage is considered ‘public history’ in US
  • History of science has emphasis on written record rather than material culture—industrial archaeology offers this pathway (but not a major field in US)
  • Many courses heavily relient on subject specialism of tutor/lecturer, when they retire or leave course does not continue
  • There remains a disparity between what is required by archaeological profession and what is taught in universities
  • Growth of historical and contemporary archaeology as a field of study on a par with prehistory

Conclusions: Is industrial heritage education at risk?

The main conclusions reached by this survey of opinion are:

  • After the heyday of dedicated industrial heritage/archaeology programmes in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly those offered by the Ironbridge Institute and the University of Leicester, the subject is now taught mainly through historical archaeology and heritage management modules and programmes
  • The offering of industrial heritage/history/archaeology courses is more heavily dependent on research expertise present in a department or institution whereby replacement is not necessary sought once a person leaves or retires, than other subject areas
  • Changes in professional needs and aspirations of prospective students have changed the nature of postgraduate taught programmes towards teaching broader-based skills in archaeology, heritage and historic environment
  • There is a divide between those who learn industrial heritage through history of science and technology programmes (documentary based study) and archaeology programmes (site and landscape based study)
  • There is a skills gap. What is taught to students is not necessarily what is needed by heritage practitioners, especially field archaeologists (see Archaeology degrees stuck in the (far distant) past by Matthew Reisz, 6 Oct 2011, Times Higher Education, including response by Prof. Marilyn Palmer)

My conclusions (in no particular order)

  • Industrial heritage/history/archaeology is still a minority subject in spite of a clear public interest in the subject indicated by English Heritage’s Industrial Heritage at Risk research and a general increase in participation in humanities programmes
  • There is a lack of research interest in industrial heritage/history/archaeology within universities as a direct result of its absence in many postgraduate curricula
  • The growth in knowledge exchange/knowledge transfer/community participation projects is generating unprecedented amounts of high-quality publicly-circulating research that can be repurposed to provide teaching and learning materials beyond the life of the project
  • The increasing number of high-profile industrial heritage sites provide ready opportunity for academic collaboration not just for public engagement but for course development
  • There is a lack of intellectual engagement with the subject area contributing to a near absence of theory and ideology applied
  • The decline in interest in industrial heritage as a subject of study or research seems to parallel the decline in economic history
  • Course development for a new industrial heritage needs to embrace documentary and archaeological aspects, particularly business archives and site-specific or desk-based field study
  • The subject has the potential to fulfil several employability needs for students including research, analytical and scientific techniques
  • There is huge potential for studying industrial heritage/history/archaeology as part of global history as several industrial case-studies are international by their very nature (e.g. global copper industry)
  • There is huge potential for studying industrial heritage/history/archaeology with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects.
Old Heritage Archive

When did William the Conqueror burst? Or Back to School History

My school history kit
My school history kit
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 grandfather’s standard issue heliograph.
  • 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.

Old Curatorial Archive

The Science of Noah’s Ark

Noah's Ark from Marxchivist
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.