Accuracy and reality in historical interpretation – a reflection on ideas of inclusion, representation and relevance

I can still clearly recall my excitement when I travelled to Melbourne, from my job teaching in Katherine (NT), for my second interview at the State Library of Victoria, where I was to be offered the position of Education Officer – Medieval Programs.  I had met a range of interesting and inspiring future colleagues, I had been taken through the amazing maze of buildings that made up the Library and I had even handled a Medici Manuscript.  Before I had even begun, I was completely sold on this new professional path I had taken.

I have a great personal interest in Medieval History and I was delighted to be able to spend my working hours playing the role of storyteller to others.  I loved finding the fascinating, obscure and shocking stories and capturing children’s interest by retelling them with as much drama and intrigue as I could muster.  What’s more, this role opened to me a new avenue to use my skills in Education and open the minds of children to new ideas, an idea that had romantically motivated me to enter the teaching profession in the first place.

At the conclusion of the State Library’s Medieval Manuscripts exhibition, my role became more focused on Victorian and Australian history, and other programs relevant to the Library’s collection and services.  I was enthusiastic in delivering the mission to make students feel like it was their library: relevant, useful and accessible to them.  I also considered myself progressive and willing to share the difficult and uncomfortable stories as well as the fun and happy ones.

But since those first months working in the cultural sector I have travelled a path of my own personal and professional learning and now, 11 years on, while I still love and believe in the sector I work in, I have a more complex and less romantic idea as to my role, responsibility and influence.

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Mobile Devices for Learning on Excursion

Mobile Devices for Learning on Excursion

Mobile devices have great potential to transform the excursion experience of students, making it more relevant, personalised and richly informative.  Traditional museums are sometimes limited to panels and labels for providing information and context to their collections, while outdoor museums, like Sovereign Hill, are sometimes limited by the absence of explicit information on panels and labels.  While museums are engaging in innovative and enriching interpretation techniques on top of this, mobile devices offer a broader, and simultaneously more explicit, interpretation experience.

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What makes a good museum?

Article Reflection – What makes a good museum?

Recently, one of my Twitter colleagues, @stoleasheep, sent me an article: What makes a good museum?  It was good to read an article suggested by someone else, rather than one I had looked for myself.  The article caused me to reflect on my beliefs about what makes a good museum, but also my experiences with museums in both a personal and professional capacity.

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Museums Australia Conference – Reflections from Day 4

The last day at the MA and IA conference began with another contrasting mix of keynote speakers.  First was Professor Ross Gibson who talked about the power of art to transform a person and the importance of considering emotions and aesthetics when planning exhibition to encourage this transformation.  I understood the ideas he expressed and I have seen the power an aesthetically thoughtful space can provide, but I thought the ideas were possibly over-analytical for a good portion of the audience and that some practical suggestions could have made the information more useful.

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Museums Australia Conference – Reflections from Day 3

Back at the Heath Ledger Theatre in Perth for Day 3, the program began with some very different keynotes. Firstly Andrea Witcomb discussed, from quite a philosophical platform, how immersive or interactive approaches provide reflective opportunities to build empathy of challenging topics.  Andrea used the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin as an example of a good reflective space.  She argued that these spaces are important because: visitors need the provision of some vantage point to question their own relationship to the topic.  Andrea compared these reflective spaces to role-play experiences putting the visitor in the victims place, which she thought easily became a farce and did not allow for an emotional transition.  I felt however, that it was comparing a very good immersive space example to an average role-play example.  I don’t believe it means we should dismiss role play out of hand – especially in the case of children visitors.

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Museums Australia Conference – Reflections from Day 1

This week I’m fortunate enough to be attending the Museums Australia and Interpretation Australia Conference – At The Frontier – in Perth.  I am enjoying taking the time-out to think broadly, be inspired, meet new people and collect new ideas and understandings.

The day started with a very moving Welcome to Country by two local indigenous men Richard and Trevor.  It was presented bilingually and made the delegates feel truly welcome.  I found it very uplifting and a great way to start the conference.

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