The Teaching Museum

Norfolk Museums Service Traineeship


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A Sense of History – Making Museum Collections Accessible For All

Before I began to work in museums I could never have envisaged the labyrinthine storage rooms full of objects. Shelf after shelf of taxidermy birds, pharmaceutical bandages, fine art and everything else you can possible imagine. Not to mention row after row of furniture, ploughs, boats and other large objects!

In Great Yarmouth we have a few thousand objects that visitors can see every day but there are approximately 40,000 objects in the collection in addition to a huge maritime archive.

Secrets from the Stores Maritime Effect Project

Secrets from the Stores Maritime Effect Project

Making all of our collections accessible, even those in storage, is a huge priority for the museum. That is why I have spent much of the last six months at Great Yarmouth working on a rationalisation project. Rationalisation can be defined as ‘Improving public benefit by refining collections in line with the museum’s statement of purpose”.  I see it as the process of assessing and developing a collection to improve accessibility, documentation and collections care. At Great Yarmouth I have been working with approximately 15,000 objects to better document and move them by the end of the year.

On my first trip to the museum stores I was amazed at the breadth of objects housed there. The movement of these was a daunting task at the outset of the 8 months but we have made real progress.

The Learning Trainee Sam and I went to a recruitment fair at a local 6th form college and we now have a team of six very dedicated young volunteers. They have been trained in object handling, packing and cataloguing. Every week we systematically go through more boxes discovering more of our hidden collections.

Orla with Jimmy and JJ at Time and Tide Museum

Orla with Jimmy and JJ at Time and Tide Museum

These Secrets from the Stores have even inspired a youth engagement project. Tricia our Youth Engagement Officer brought the Maritime Effect group to visit last week. These ten young people each choose an object which inspired them and will be developing their own creative response. Armed with a photograph of their object and a cardboard box they are tasked with coming up with a piece of art, music, drama, anything they want to create!

Meanwhile our young collections management volunteers are also using the objects for inspiration and with my guidance they will be developing their own display for the museum.

At NMS we do strive to make our collections accessible to all but this isn’t always that simple. One of my most challenging and rewarding tasks this year has been to facilitate a visit to the museum for a deafblind gentleman. Jimmy came on his Summer holidays to Yarmouth with his communicator JJ and family. I developed a handling session and tour which told the story of Great Yarmouth and Time and Tide Museum through our collections.

A real sense of history! Some smoked herring to touch and smell

A real sense of history! Some smoked herring to touch and smell

Amongst the objects I choose to give Jimmy a sense of this history were a barnacle encrusted wine bottle from a shipwreck, a drill bit from the off shore industry and best of all a piece of smoked herring! JJ runs a charity enabling alternative access to the arts for the deafblind and you can learn more about this here.

For those who cannot travel to be at the Museum virtual access can be the next best thing. At the beginning of my traineeship I wrote object profiles for the Norfolk Museums Service’s collections website.

More recently I have worked with our Learning Officer John on his Stories From the Sea Project. This project is run with the National Maritime Museum Greenwich and is all about developing literacy skills in young people. John chose fifteen objects from the collection on the theme of Explorers and I provided him with the necessary information and organised a professional photographer to capture images. Next month these object images and profiles will be up on the website of RMG. This enables people from all over the world visiting the site of this national museum to learn more about museum collections in Great Yarmouth.

Working with the collections at Great Yarmouth and Cromer Museums is a real privilege and being able to make them accessible to the entire community is what really makes it all worthwhile!

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The West Runton Mammoth Walks Again: And other News from Cromer Museum.

August is often a quiet month behind the scenes in museums as there are no school visits. You are less likely to be squeezed into a staff room full of “Pirates” (learning assistants!) eating their lunch or queuing behind a group of eager 10 year old “Victorians” to get into the museum.

The hoards of students are definitely noticeable by their absence but I have still managed to have a rather boisterous month! This started off with the Summer Camp for Looked After Children at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. The only priority that week was to ensure the young people enjoyed themselves and learned something new, which they certainly did.

Me at Cromer Museum with a replica of the tibia of the West Runton Mammoth, courtesy of the NMS Natural History Department.

Me at Cromer Museum with a replica of the tibia of the West Runton Mammoth, courtesy of the NMS Natural History Department.

I have also been delivering handling sessions in Cromer which have proved quite popular. While I had been expecting mainly families with kids we did actually have a greater number of adults come through the doors. The Reminiscence days proved really popular. Children were completely fascinated by meat mincers, cup and ball wooden toys and even cassette tapes!

The Punch and Judy Box recently acquired by Great Yarmouth Museums.

The Punch and Judy Box recently acquired by Great Yarmouth Museums.

The Punch and Judy Box recently acquired by Great Yarmouth Museums.It was a great chance to chat to visitors about their own memories of Cromer and other parts of Norfolk and get to know a little more local history. A particular favourite has been the Punch and Judy box which was recently donated to the collection of Great Yarmouth museums. This beautifully crafted piece is made of wood and plaster of Paris and was made by a real Punch and Judy man. He was Professor Richardson who worked on Yarmouth beach. The Punch and Judy box is the performance from the perspective of the Professor with the puppets on the outside of the box and the audience inside.

The audience inside the Punch and Judy Box

The audience inside the Punch and Judy Box

These handling sessions have been a great way to show visitors that museums have “living” collections. We want to continue to reflect the society and community in which we are based so we continue to collect objects and ephemera that tell the story of the people and places around us. Some visitors were amazed that I was encouraging them to pick things up and have a proper look and feel. Museums have developed from muted and reserved domiciles of objects behind glass to buildings that serve communities and encourage visitors to see, feel and experience history. In Great Yarmouth you can even smell history in Time and Tide Museum, an old herring curing works!

Museums still want visitors through the doors but we are also very dedicated to outreach and getting out into the local area. Cromer Museum is particularly good at this. The museum site is right in the middle of Cromer town and close to the beach and pier. The Museum hosts ghost walks through the town as well as other guided tours including next Sundays’ discovery of the lost hotels of the town. For more on these walks go to click here.

Up close and personal with the head of the West Runton Mammoth replica!

Up close and personal with the head of the West Runton Mammoth replica!

This dedication to outreach has been the foundation of the museums most popular event this summer – the Mammoth Adventure. On August 13th over 350 people arrived at West Runton Beach in North Norfolk to see the West Runton mammoth walk the beach for the first time in 700,000 years. The real West Runton mammoth was the steppe mammoth or Mammuthus Trogontherii and his sub-fossilised remains were found in 1990. He is the largest almost complete mammoth ever found with 85% of his bones being recovered.

An aviation engineer and a group of artists came together to build a life sized replica and many months of hard work came to fruition last month. You can see some of the sub-fossilised remains at Cromer Museum and Time and Tide Museum. I would also recommend joining us when he walks again in the near future as it really is a sight to behold – he even made the BBC news! I hope to see you there!

The Mammoth walk on West Runton beach.

The Mammoth walk on West Runton beach.


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Collections, Conservation, Communication and Curiosity; a Curatorial Trainee Experience

Meeting with Richard from the Norfolk Musical Record Society, one of the many public enquiries I deal with at Time and Tide.

Meeting with Richard from the Norfolk Musical Record Society, one of the many public enquiries I deal with at Time and Tide.

I am sitting in my office with a taxidermy hare on one side and pieces of a 1970’s fondue set on the other. This ties in rather well with the

Museums Association definition of a curator is an “all-embracing term for someone with responsibility for a collection of objects, be it paintings, rocks, stuffed animals, tools, or anything else”. Well in my first 6 months as a curatorial trainee I can certainly say that my job has involved a lot of responsibility and care for all sorts of objects from woolly mammoth teeth to Roman tiles, Victorian costumes and modern art .

Collections are the bed rock of a museum. They are what it is all about and they are what I love. I have been a big history fan for as long as I can remember but I have come to realise that museums are actually about much more than that.

Doling out Justice during Museums at Night and showing that even curators like dressing up sometimes!

Doling out Justice during Museums at Night and showing that even curators like dressing up sometimes!

I am really curious about the world around me now as we create our own history for future generations. This has come in pretty handy recently as at Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth we have just opened our new “Remember When” exhibition which is all about exploring history within living memory.  I also really want other people to share in my curiosity…you might say I like to talk quite a bit, I get a real buzz from being in peoples company and I am also rather fond of the written word.

I am fascinated by how we look at, conserve, interpret and display objects and correct record keeping and documentation is an essential part of that process.  But that work itself might leave me rather lonely and I certainly have a lot more on my agenda at NMS. I work on team projects like rationalising our stores, recruiting volunteers, brainstorming for future exhibitions and making sure our social media feed is updated.

Doing my bit for#museumselfie day. This was part of #MusuemWeek on Twitter which I planned and managed for Time and Tide.

Doing my bit for#museumselfie day. This was part of #MusuemWeek on Twitter which I planned and managed for Time and Tide.

My love of history was definitely the driving force in getting me to where I am now but in fact every single job I have had since my teens has informed how I do my job here – that is how diverse the role of a curator is!

 

 

 

It's not all hard work ...having fun on the Farm with Design Trainee Lauren at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

Object Measuring for the Super Models Some Assembley Required Exhibition

When I am checking the museum for pests I am reminded of my job on quality assurance in a food factory, my experience as a summer camp leader comes in useful when facilitating kids visits to the museum and the time I spent as a political researcher taught me not just about research but also diplomacy and writing for government bodies.  I also spent four years working as a tour guide at an Irish Heritage site which was a real grounding in good customer service and public speaking and I have even tried my hand at genealogy.

Hard at work moving the museum stores

Hard at work moving the museum stores

I have a BA in History and Politics, an MA in Public Affairs and Political Communication, a Diploma in Journalism and I also spent some time studying digital marketing. While none of these are museum courses they were certainly not wasted years as museum work now requires you to be able to try your hand at anything – from explaining Ancient Rome to 5 year olds to writing a funding application to the Heritage Lottery Fund and everything in between.

 

Object Measuring for the Super Models  Some Assembley Required Exhibition

Object Measuring for the Super Models Some Assembley Required Exhibition

I moved from Ireland to take up this position and while it was a huge change and in some ways a leap of faith I would do it again in a heartbeat.  The opportunities and guidance provided to me at Great Yarmouth and Cromer Museums have meant I am finally on the path to the career I know I want and I am looking forward with nothing but excitement and optimism to my next 6 months here.