Last month I attended the Beyond the Lecture Theatre conference at the University of Aberdeen. It was both the furthest north I’ve travelled and my first time in the city, and after braving the winds off the North Sea I really enjoyed visiting such a vibrant place. The conference brought together staff and students from the archive and museum sector in higher education to discuss cross-disciplinary working and innovations. It was hosted in the beautiful Sir Duncan Rice Library located in Old Aberdeen, with views out over the coast from the 7th floor. The conference was run in collaboration with University Museums in Scotland and the Scottish Universities Special Collections and Archives Group.
I was treated to speakers from across the UK and Europe talking about their experiences of cross-sector and discipline working with the aim of increasing the reach and potential of museum and archival collections to students and other audiences. This is an area I’m particularly interested in and am always looking to introduce new ways of working with students and collections here at the University of Gloucestershire.
Each speaker brought a new dimension to the discussion and it was fascinating to hear of all the innovative outreach work taking place in university archives and museums. Anna McNally from the University of Westminster described her experience of co-teaching on a dedicated MA Art and Visual Culture module which used collections from their in-house archive. Students took part in various archival orientation activities such as cataloguing, description and background reading on archive theory whilst also conducting their own research to produce tailored exhibitions. Other embedded approaches included Middlesex University’s collaboration between academics and the university museum’s design collection to engage students with magazine collections, whilst Maastricht University’s On Exhibition course saw two students travelling to China to re-trace the footsteps of Jesuit scholars found in travelogues in the Special Collections.
The essential links between using collections to aid teaching and digitisation of material were evident. Giovanna Vitelli from the Ashmolean Museum discussed integrating text and object teaching at Oxford University with their new Cabinet software. This tool allows items from museum collections to be digitised, made available online and become part of teaching by allowing staff and students to annotate and manipulate the digital image. Staff can add new objects to discuss in an online forum each week.
There were also inspiring talks on using student placements from the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Glasgow and University of Stirling. All were examples of stimulating and relevant internships which were mutually beneficial to both students and organisations. A lively ‘PechaKucha’ session saw PhD students from the University of Glasgow discussing their experiences of using museum and archive collections in their research. It was a really enjoyable two days and which left me feeling inspired to try new ideas here.