Elee Kirk

Children, Nature, Museums

visitors Archive

Monday

8

June 2015

0

COMMENTS

Notice Visitors, Create Joyful Gallery

Written by , Posted in Children, Exhibitions, Natural history, Visitors

A while back, I discovered that Derby Museum and Art Gallery was about to open a new natural history gallery. This was exciting to me for three reasons: firstly, because I ‘collect’ natural history galleries by visiting as many as I can; secondly, because Derby is very easy for me to get to; and thirdly, because the new gallery had the incredible name of ‘Notice Nature Feel Joy’. This I had to see.

Notice Nature Feel Joy gallery

Notice Nature Feel Joy gallery

Last week, with my sister, Alice, in tow, I managed to get to the new gallery. It’s a lovely space: calm, bright and clutter-free, and full of natural materials (including, of course, the natural history collections). Alice said that it made her feel like she was in a forest.

We were also lucky enough to speak to Andrea Hadley-Johnson, who led the project to put the gallery together. When I asked where the concept came from, she explained that from the outset, the museum didn’t have a particular plan, or even a name for the gallery. All of this came from work carried out with visitors and volunteers to find out what they wanted from such a gallery, what objects they wanted to see, and what nature meant to them. (more…)

Saturday

16

May 2015

0

COMMENTS

Talking about museum learning

Written by , Posted in Children, Interview, Research

This is a super-quick post, just to say that you can hear me talking about my research on the Boundary Objects podcast, with Dr Amy Jane Barnes and Dr Ceri Jones. Amy and Ceri are good friends of mine, who also studied and now work at the wonderful School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. In this podcast, we discuss my PhD research with young children in a natural history museum, and Ceri’s PhD research about teenagers and Medieval living history. We also think more broadly about the challenges of carrying out research with schools in museums. And we get a bit carried away reminiscing about the 90’s TV show Maid Marian and her Merry Men.

You can find the podcast, and a few useful links, here. It’s fairly long (nearly 40 mins), so I reckon this is a good one to listen to on a long commute, or whilst you’re doing the ironing.

Boundary Objects is a group for early career researchers working with museums and collections. Get in touch with them through their website if you’re interested in joining.

Sunday

26

April 2015

0

COMMENTS

Finding the Familiar in the Unfamiliar, Or, Reece in Space

Written by , Posted in Children, Exhibitions, Meaning, Photography

Boy wearing an astronaut suit

Reece at the National Space Centre

Last weekend I visited Leicester’s National Space Centre with my seven year old nephew, Reece. As a researcher, I have an annoying tendency of carrying out experiments on my poor nephews. I decided a little while ago that I’d like to start visiting museums with families that I know, and, just as I did during my doctoral research, giving the children cameras to record their visits. The main difference from my PhD research would be that this time I would actually get to join in with the visit. So this was my first attempt at this new project. It was also Reece’s first visit to the Space Centre.

In spite of being related to me, Reece’s family don’t visit many museums, preferring more energetic and outdoor activities. Over the past few years I’ve taken my nephews to an animatronic dinosaur exhibition, to Thinktank, the Birmingham Science Museum, and to the Transport Museum in Coventry. Reece also told me that they’ve been to the Sea Life Centre. This is probably more museum visiting than many children manage, but still not enough to make these comfortable and familiar places to be. It also became clear that Reece doesn’t have a strong personal interest in space as a topic, so the actual theme of this centre didn’t give him any hooks upon which to hang his understanding of where he was and what was supposed to happen there. What all of this meant that the really interesting thing about our visit to the Space Centre was the number of ways in which Reece connected this unfamiliar, over-stimulating, and confusing place to things that were familiar and comprehensible to him. (more…)

Wednesday

4

February 2015

0

COMMENTS

On How Museums Got Under My Skin

Written by , Posted in Visitors

Dinosaur skeleton at New Walk MuseumGosh, it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. Last year was a busy one, to say the least: I spent the first half of the year finishing off my thesis, and then almost immediately began working full time. There’s also been a big and slightly disconcerting change in my life — for the first time in 14 years, I am neither studying, nor working in, museums. I’ve also had very little time to visit museums, so at the moment I’m feeling a bit like there’s a gaping, museum-shaped hole in my life. It’s made me wonder why museums are so important to me.

Several years ago, my parents moved house. In the process, they discovered one of my old primary school exercise books, dating from when I was around 10 years old. In a style that was typical of the ’80s, one of the pieces of work I had undertaken was entitled ‘What I will be doing in the year 2000’. Unfortunately, for a museum person, I am spectacularly un-nostalgic, and seem to lack the urge to hoard, so I no longer have the book. But as far as I remember, my prediction was something along the lines of: ‘In the year 2000 I will be working in a museum. I will live in a flat and have a cat and a car.’

What is strange about this is that I actually have very few significant memories of museums from my childhood. (more…)

Sunday

29

September 2013

8

COMMENTS

Some Thoughts on Shopseums

Written by , Posted in Museum shops

A thought has been brewing in my mind for a couple of years now, that there is an interesting crossover or relationship between shops and museums. Both are places full of stuff, both have the stuff intentionally displayed to show it off and to convey something about it, and both are places that some people like to mooch around in their leisure time. Most museums have a shop in them, and many shops have displays of things that are not for sale, but are displayed to give a particular feel to the place. I even wondered about creating a Shopseum Scale. At one end would be shopless museums, and at the other would be Argos.

On Saturday, I visited a place that would fall right in the middle of this scale, at the Old Skating Rink Gallery in Norwich. This lovely old building houses both the South Asian Decorative Arts and Crafts Collection (SADACC), a museum of vernacular Asian arts and crafts; and Country & Eastern, an Asian clothing and furnishings emporium. (more…)

Sunday

7

October 2012

2

COMMENTS

Seeing Voices in the Museum

Written by , Posted in Exhibitions, Taxidermy, Text panels

Human beings are incredibly social animals. This manifests itself in a whole host of ways—from our desire to share ideas and conversation, to our tendency to see agency and intention in inanimate objects (‘my computer hates me’), to our ability to form relationships with everything from people, to cats, to cars. If museums are clever, they can make use of this inherent sociability to create some really compelling exhibitions.

This was revealed to me particularly on a recent visit to Manchester Museum, where I was delighted to have a good chunk of time in which to explore the new Living Worlds gallery, which reopened last year. I had been wanting to go ever since seeing the old gallery in 2010 and hearing that the redesign was going to be carried out in association with a fashion design company (catwalk show producers Villa Eugenie). I’d heard good things about the new gallery since it opened, and had been looking for an excuse to travel up to Manchester and see it for myself. (more…)

Sunday

22

July 2012

2

COMMENTS

Welcome to the gallery of the real

Written by , Posted in Exhibitions, Taxidermy, Visitors

Some time last year I was in a natural history gallery with a Natural History Museum educator from the USA. I asked her, “What question do children most commonly ask in your museum?”, already anticipating that the answer would be, “Is it real?”. I was right, of course, with children’s favoured question number two, on both sides of the pond, being, “Did you kill it?”.

The world over, young children seem to be totally baffled by taxidermy. A couple of months ago I visited the Oxford University Museum of Natural History with my two nephews, aged seven and four. They spent most of the visit trying to get their heads around the relationship between ‘real’, ‘alive’ and ‘dead’. “But when are we going to see the real ones?”, they kept asking. And they weren’t convinced by my patient, rational response that these were real, they were just the skins of dead animals that someone had stuffed to make them look alive. To the boys, ‘real’ meant ‘alive’ (more…)

Friday

6

July 2012

3

COMMENTS

Biophobophilia, or, why children (sort of) love big, pointy teeth

Written by , Posted in Research

During the course of my research at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon. This may not come as a surprise to those of you with children, or who actually remember being a child, but it seems that children really love animals with scary teeth. In this particular museum, the favourites seem to be a large stuffed crocodile, and a model T. rex head.

My PhD research involves getting 4- and 5-year-old children to photograph things they like in the museum, and then talk to me about the pictures. Two thirds of the children photographed this head. And when it was mentioned in interviews, children often told me that they liked it (it was sometimes a favourite), that they liked it’s sharp teeth, and that they had put their hands in its mouth or touched its teeth. (more…)

Tuesday

26

June 2012

0

COMMENTS

100 Languages of Visitors

Written by , Posted in Research, Visitors

I said “Do you speak-a my language?”
He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich

Land Down Under, Men at Work

When I worked in a museum in multicultural Birmingham (UK), myself and the other staff would sometimes worry about whether or not we should provide any of the museum text or leaflets in additional languages other than English. Since starting my PhD I’ve gone back to thinking about the languages used in museums, but my concept of language has changed somewhat.

My research in part draws on the Reggio Emilia approach. For those of you not familiar with early childhood education (probably the majority of you), this is a progressive preschool education system from northern Italy, much beloved of and envied by nursery teachers everywhere. One of the concepts that Reggio educators like to use is that of the “100 languages of children”. They don’t mean “language” in the sense of English, French or Mandarin, but rather any means by which children take in information about the world, and then express their understanding to other people.  (more…)