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Spark Humanities Students host inaugural Dig My Discipline event

On the 29th of March 2019, Apolline Malevez, Xi Wang and Homer Wagenaar, three of the humanities fellows of the SPaRK programme, created an interactive day to show the contribution and the way of thinking of their discipline. Read their account here.

On the 29th of March 2019, Apolline Malevez, Xi Wang and Homer Wagenaar, three of the humanities fellows of the SPaRK programme, created an interactive day in the Ulster Museum to show the contribution and the way of thinking of their discipline to eight of their colleagues from completely different scholarly backgrounds, from pharmacy to palaeontology, and from psychology to physics. Interdisciplinarity is a fundamental part of The SPaRK Marie Curie fellowship programme, because it believes this will result in more rounded and effective scholarship.

As humanities researchers from art history, translation science and economic history backgrounds, we chose the museum as a central institution around which to showcase the humanities discipline and its way of thinking. Each of us approached the museum from a different angle and exercise.

Apolline started the day by looking at the museum as an institution, a place to safeguard, research and educate about objects. All of this implies selection however: selection on what are the relevant objects to safeguard, research and educate! The architecture of the museum (grand, small, modern or classical), the shape and organisation of the exhibition space as well as the theme of the museum guides the interpretation of the selected objects. This all asks for a critical mindset: is the logic of the museum sound? What are the advantages and disadvantages of representing the objects this way? Why have these objects been chosen, and why not others? To train in the application of this critical thinking,  Apolline had chosen three case studies: the controversial decision of the Victoria and Albert Museum to buy a social housing estate, the crowd funding call for setting up a Vagina Museum, and the Musée de l’Homme. We were pleased by the high quality of the discussions.

Xi (Julie) approached the Museum from the perspective of accessibility. Many shared social and cultural spaces are not accessible for everyone to some extent, and museums are not different in this. Splitting the group in two, she let us experience the museum as a blind individual and his or her companion, while visiting the exhibition on the treasures found of the Girona, a ship of the Spanish Armada. This effective (and fun!) exercise taught the difficulty of access in a very physical way, as well as how to retell the museum’s exhibits in an accessible manner, e.g. audio description for blind or partially sighted visitors, in many degrees an appropriate metaphor for each of our research projects.

To round off the visit to the Ulster Museum, Homer took everyone to the exhibition ‘Fashion and Feminism’, as a case study of an exhibition to talk about what makes for a ‘good’ exhibition. Unknown to us, however, Charlotte McReynolds was in the room, who revealed herself to be the actual curator responsible for having designed this very exhibit. She blessed us with an insider’s information, talking about her next exhibit, and some of the choices she made with this exhibit. She also shared with us the purchasing policy of the museum when it comes to fashion items (only buy items that are unique for the time). An appropriate end to our three workshops, where selection, interpretation and accessibility had been central concepts!

Taking the lessons of these sessions at heart, we asked groups to design their own museum. They came up with a museum on Bollywood that included making music and dances, a ‘useum’ that would turn around the possibilities of virtual reality software, and a museum of the Chinese Dragon, combining both the cultural and historical narratives and the common presence of dinosaur bones in China. All presentations took accessibility strongly at heart.

We ended our day by showing a video of a museum curator on women in museums. Her main argument? The museum is not neutral, so be better think carefully about what to put in them.

 

 

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