MuseomixUK 2014: Some reflections and a chart

MuseomixUK 2014 6-9 November 2014

MuseomixUK 2014 6-9 November 2014

It’s over. After months of planning, countless emails and a few trips to Derby, it’s over. MuseomixUK 2014 ran from Friday 7 November through to Sunday 9 November with a showcase of the prototypes on Monday 10 November. And what a weekend!

Lots of carbs and caffeine saw us through the long days and I’ve been in awe of what the teams made. It was odd not being on a team this year, but it was nice to be allocated to one team to keep them informed of their deadlines and help progress where I could. This meant I didn’t really feel ownership of any of the prototypes, but I did get a better idea of what was going on elsewhere rather than being in the bubble of a team. I was also looking after evaluation which meant I got to work with Derby Museum, as well as our student volunteers, to develop a visitor evaluation. I was also attempting to monitor the changing emotions of the participants, but more of that later.

Team “Museums as Conversations” see their Tumblr here:

Firstly, I want to mention the team I worked with. They were ‘Museums as Conversations’, and as a facilitator I was very fortunate that the team worked very well together from the start. I’m not saying it was plain sailing from the get go. Saturday morning was a particular challenge as the team wrestled with their ideas and how they could be realised into a physical prototype. In that, I am also grateful to Dominic and Fraser from Mixed Reality (one of our sponsors) who helped talk them through the variety of tech possibilities. But I have to say that once that got their idea, and agreed, I did very little. I helped put together a to do list, gave them jobs and off they went. I was occasionally asked for tape or post-it notes and had a sing-along, but apart from that they got on with it. Amazing!!

Museums As Conversations map and projection

Museums As Conversations map and projection

And what did they make? It was a tactile 3D map of Derby with particular places of interest available to be selected by pushing them down on to a touchscreen. This activated a projection displaying historic information on the building and a twitter feed that represented memories of that location submitted by the public.

The central point of the prototype was that it stimulated and invited memories from the public.Consequently the group envisaged that a final product could have an interface that allowed people to contribute memories there, through a keyboard etc. The history of locations could also be connected to museum objects, so visitors could simply enjoy learning the history and seeing personal connections or use this as a stimulus for their memories or thoughts. Beautiful!

The other teams were also impressive and it would take me too long to explain them all, so if you want to know more please see their Tumblr sites:

Before I mention the evaluation process I was also looking at over the weekend I should also say a huge thank you to Dr Cath Feely and her five students from Derby University who gave up their time to help us. There were times when there wasn’t much to do, but having them there for the sudden ‘we need this’, ‘can you get this’ and as roving reporters was brilliant. They were also essential to putting together the brochure and tour for the public on the Monday, and they led some tours on the Monday and helped me monitor and think about evaluation. One of the students was keeping blog over the weekend, see here.

Talking about evaluation, the important part of this is yet to come, and we’ll be sending out a post-event evaluation to participants soon. This will be the most important part for our feedback for our sponsors, the Arts Council, but we have also done a couple of other this. A pre-event evaluation for a baseline of thoughts and feelings. Also, over the weekend I put together a visitor evaluation for the public on Monday. A quick look at this shows that the prototypes were very positively received and words to describe the exhibits included:
Intriguing; Fun; Interactive; Tactile; Thought-provoking; Alive; Inspirational; Innovative; Crazy; Left-field; Exciting and Future!

I was also using emotion boxes to attempt to monitor the emotional rollercoaster of MuseomixUK.

Emotion Boxes at MuseomixUK - they always started with one small block to encourage others

Emotion Boxes at MuseomixUK – they always started with one small block to encourage others

This is probably not the most scientific method, but from the feedback of a few participants over the weekend, many found them therapeutic. Many people called for a tired box, I said I knew they were all tired and didn’t need a box to tell me, and other said the size of the blocks really mattered to them, so they’d put in a large block for inspired and a small one in frustrated. I hadn’t planned to account for the volume of the boxes, but may include it an anecdotal in my final evaluation. So far I’ve standardised the results and made this graph. What do you think??

MuseomixUK 2014 Emotion Boxes Standardised Graph

MuseomixUK 2014 Emotion Boxes Standardised Graph


Volunteering for London Oral history Projects

British Library Sounds Archive webpage

For a while now I’ve been interested in oral history, wanting to learn more about its contribution to our knowledge and understanding of the past. Consequently last year I started volunteering on oral history projects.

Oral history was a practice that was first cultivated by the folklore and linguistic scholars. With the popularity of social history in the middle of the twentieth century, it began to talk to social historians. Oral history was initially seen as a way to discover ‘hidden histories’, to give a voice to the every-man (or woman) in industry or agricultural.

With the cultural turn came a new critical and literary understanding of the technique. Cultural history encouraged the use of oral history, especially as a way to research the everyday, but underlined that it’s value is best realised alongside other sources to help evaluate its reliability and factual content.

Advert for Female Telephonists, Museum of London

Today oral history is used to cover a breadth of people and topics, made all the easiesr by the growing British Library Sound Archive and other smaller archives. It is also extremely popular in museum exhibitions and in community projects, this may be because it is one of the simplest ways to get communities involved and engaged in history. I have been volunteering on such community two projects, based on opposites sides of London to try to learn more.

The first project is Britain at Work: 1945-1995, and focuses on the employment history of ordinary people in the West London area after the Second World War. The idea is to record how ordinary people helped rebuild the country after the War through their jobs as factory workers, teachers, bus conductors etc. It is run by the local history society, HistoryTalk and funded by the TUC, which also leans the project towards an interest in union history, but it is an overwhelming influence.

The other project is a bit different and mainly focuses on an area in East London called the Hackney Cut, part of the canal that cuts away from the River Lee, and now sits in the shadow of the new Olympic Park. This is an artist lead project, so we volunteers conduct the oral history interviews with locals who have memories/experience of the Cut and the artists use them as inspiration for art work. This is run by [SPACE], an arts organisation, based in Hackney that provides studio spaces for artists to work in and exhibit work, and is funded by the HLF.

Olympic Stadium from the Hackney Cut, Jonathan Eudall Nov 2010

Both projects, though quite different in style and focus have one main objective in common, to record a part of history that may otherwise be forgotten or at least not recorded in some way.

Many interviewees ask why their story is important, and it’s my job to explain that in years to come we’ll have the official record of how a company functioned, or where houses were built, but that isn’t the same as an account of the atmosphere of a factory, or why they enjoy living on the canal. The small human details.

Consequently through these projects I feel that I have learnt a lot about oral history, what it is and how it is used. I also feel that I have helped contribute to worthwhile historical projects and through my role as interviewer become a part of those histories.

Please feel free to get in touch if you’d like to get involved with these projects, I’d be happy to forward the project coordinators details. It would also be great to hear about any other Oral History projects going on in London, or indeed the country or world!!