Museums and… Museum Studies Degrees

It’s been a funny week in museums. First of all Museum professionals are reportedly murdering each other over the new definition of museums and then this tweet about crediting museum curators in the press kicked off a days worth of slightly warm exchanges about who deserves credit for exhibitions. It would seem that the museum sector is struggling a bit with fundamental definitions so what better time to dust off a 2013 blogpost I wrote whilst at UCL on Will a museum studies degree help you get a job in a museum? Originally posted here all images (c) UCL.

This post is a bit inside baseball, but then so is the metaphor inside baseball.

We get asked the above question at the Grant Museum frequently by aspiring museum professionals and volunteers and it’s a question that isn’t simply answered. I can’t say that my view on whether it helps or not is the definitive view but as an employer (sadly not as often as we’d like to be) here’s my personal thoughts on whether or not it helps. Continue reading

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Museums and… Free Admission

As someone whose job is involved with information management and preservation, modern social media is seemingly engineered to fuck this up as much as possible. Google isn’t good at digging through social media platforms (even its own ones) and Twitter’s search tools are abysmal as anyone who has tried to find something they know they saw fleetingly scroll past can testify. In order for easy reference and retrieval before it becomes irretrievable kipple, I’ll be putting some of this stuff here starting with this mini thread on Museums and… Free Admission. Continue reading

Museums and… Brexit

It’s been a while, I had a voluntary time away from writing and then an involuntary time away from writing and a stock of things I need to get out of my head and onto the page has grown. In order to satisfy some imaginary standards I set myself for content production here which predictably I haven’t stuck to, I’ll be shifting stuff I’ve written from elsewhere to here including blog posts for other institutions, stuff that only exists in hard copy and stuff from social media.

As someone whose job is involved with information management and preservation, modern social media is seemingly engineered to fuck this up as much as possible. Google isn’t good at digging through social media platforms (even its own ones) and Twitter’s search tools are abysmal as anyone who has tried to find something they know they saw fleetingly scroll past can testify. In order for easy reference and retrieval before it becomes irretrievable kipple, I’ll be putting some of this stuff here starting with this mini thread on Museums and… Brexit. Continue reading

Archives, Libraries & Museums: Time To Let Newspapers, Radio and Television Die.

A historic decision was made this week at the International Museums, Archives, Libraries and Heritage Committee (IMALHC) annual congress meeting in Oslo by international representatives of the global heritage sector. IMALHC members voted to stop giving deadmedia (newspapers, radio and television broadcasting) a free ride in order to let them die with “a bit of dignity left”. This welcomed decision is expected to be respected and actioned by heritage organisations in the coming year. The decision taken is to stop giving free time, resources and assets to deadmedia organisations to run cutesy stories or prop up the same three documentaries they keep making.

Brione Poplio, IMALHC member and Curator of Massmedia at the Museum of Communication, said “As an expert on obsolete media it was a difficult decision to pull the plug on creative industry stablemates. However, it’s been a rather one-sided relationship for the last hundred years or so. We waive filming and reproduction fees, give up our already limited staff time, help with their research and they run the same headline about ‘discovering lost artefacts in dusty basements’. It’d almost be offensive if anyone was actually reading listening or watching”.

Cereza Bayonetta, Head of Brighton Archives Centre added “We had the perfect example of this last month. We gave up two days of time and museum space for BBC filming How Old Is Your Celebrity Caravan and got three likes on our ‘we’re on the telly’ tweet. A local popular LGBTQ+ podcaster happened to mention they came to the centre in passing and our Instagram follower quadrupled overnight. They also got the name of the institution correct, unlike the BBC”.

Ian Dunlop, Director of Wenlow Museum of Horticulture said “Exposure is cheap these days. I was on the Today programme recently talking about hoes and I couldn’t even buy a coffee in my local cafe with the exposure. The young barista didn’t even recognise it as valid currency at first!”.

Jenny Jenson, Head of Marketing, Communication and Innovation at the Museum of Rocks and Dairies, offered: “We’ve got a live webcam of a creaky floorboard that once belonged to Charles I that has more viewers than at least three national newspapers have circulation figures. If we wanted to get a message out, we’d put a Post-It on the floorboard to be honest”.

Some heritage professionals welcome the decision to allow traditional journalism to end with some dignity such as Mia Norwich, Head of beeswax at GYRATE!: “When the lights do finally go off and the doors do finally close on the fourth estate and traditional journalism let’s remember them for speaking truth to power, for making world leaders quake in their boots. For holding those at the top accountable. Let’s make the memory of dead media one of these messages, not the papping celebs on the milk run in their PJ’s or the giving platforms to trendy fascists that they’re known for nowadays”.

Not everyone was unconcerned for the future of popular culture, newsmaking and communications though. N’Gari Hattershank, Chief Senior Junior Librarian from the Potter’s Library, warned: “Obviously, the Internet and social media remains the Wild West when it comes to ethics, checks and balances and accountability. This is a slight change to traditional journalism which has these ethics, checks and balances largely ignored but at least on paper”.

 

 

Cephalopods of the Multiverse

Wanted to put this together even since I heard about the phenomenal Journal of Geek Studies. Really happy to see it out in the wild!

Journal of Geek Studies

Mark A. Carnall

Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Oxford, UK.

Email: mark.carnall (at) oum.ox.ac (dot) uk

Download PDF

Magic the Gathering (MTG) is a popular trading and collectible card game, first published by Wizards of the Coast in 1993. Although the game now spans many formats and game types, the core concept pits two players “Planes-walkers” against each other, drawing power (mana) from plains, swamps, mountains, forests and islands to summon creatures and cast spells to battle and defeat opponents. The game has a complex and ever evolving set of rules. Wizards of the Coast regularly release new sets and blocks introducing new cards, mechanics and lore to the rich Multiverse, the planes of existence that Planeswalkers can travel between, that makes the games setting.

One aspect of the game which arguably underpins the continued success of MTG is the vibrancy and colour which gives flavour to the complex…

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Nature’s collectors

More Than A Dodo

by Mark Carnall, Collections Manager in the Life Collections

When giving tours of the invertebrate collections at the Museum, I don’t have much time to cover the considerable diversity of invertebrate animals. When it comes to molluscs (the group including snails, bivalves, squid, octopuses, chitons etc.), which perhaps most people aren’t too excited about, I try to inspire, enthuse and engage with this diverse group by pulling out some of the more weird and wonderful species from the group.

Xenophorids, or Carrier Shells, are up there on the list of weird and wonderful molluscs. Xenophoridae is a small family of around 30 species of marine snails that live on sandy and muddy sea floors in subtropical and tropical seas. So far so snail.

What makes them interesting is that these animals attach objects they encounter to the outside of their shells. The scientific and common name of the group is…

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Now THIS. Is a Game Boy

Today the V&A Museum of Childhood made this tweet to celebrate the opening of Design/Play/Disrupt exhibition at the V&A all about the design and culture of contemporary video games. Here’s the tweet in question:

My immediate response was one of sadness at the pristine Game Boy. Untouched, unused. Complete. Perhaps never fulfilling its role as a handheld console. I remember that outrageous box, the instruction booklet, the ear buds, the little cases the game carts (used to) come in. The opening screen and the noise that went with it.

I’m excited about the new exhibition, the latest in all too rare video game exhibitions. I’ve not seen it yet but for all the exhibitions about video games I’ve seen so far, I’m always left disappointed. By focusing on hardware and software, the key ingredient of what makes gaming a pastime for so many is missing. At Game On in the Science Museum, I think they boasted over one hundred playable titles. Like you’re going to play through Final Fantasy VII standing on gallery (well until you hit the disc change screen). But, for me, and many like me, gaming is also strongly tied up in memory, experience and the relationships with the games themselves and the time you played them can be a deeply personal connection.

Take my Game Boy for example. Here’s a picture.

My Game Boy. Better days have been had. I've still got the headphones (broken), poster that came in the box, original Tetris and instruction booklets.

A life well wasted. My Game Boy. Better days have been had. I’ve still got the headphones (broken), poster that came in the box, original Tetris and instruction booklets.

Now THIS is a Game Boy. My brother, sister and I were given Game Boys (maybe each or maybe two between the three of us) by my Uncle who had been living in Australia for a long time as a present to make up for all the missed birthday and Christmases in between. My Game Boy is a long lost Uncle coming home. It was an amazing gift. My mum labelled each of them and the identical copies of Tetris with Dymo tape.

My family has always been a gaming family. Before the Game Boys our Grandma had a number of Game & Watch err games and watches which I think belonged to my auntie, uncles and mum. Snoopy Tennis, Octopus, Manhole and Donkey Kong Jr. I still have Octopus and Donkey Kong Jr. today and recently downloaded Donkey Kong Jr on my 3DS. With the Game Boys(?) in the family, traditional family dinner at my grandma’s on Sunday became day long Tetris competitions either head to head using a link cable or undertaking B-Type challenges. My mum and auntie were freaks on the challenges, competing for times on 9-5 settings (a feat I still can’t do today). My Game Boy is the dog Rosie, the smell of Yorkshire puddings and gravy and my deceased Grandfather.

Image of the game boxes for Gremlins 2, Asterix and Kirby's Dreamland

Before games journalism, before Metacritic there was just what’s on sale at Argos at the time. I wonder if that amazing Asterix tie-in with Stena Sealink is still valid?

At the time, like today sadly, there weren’t really video game stores. For the longest time Canterbury only had one computer shop at the top end of town, which mostly offered a random assortment of Amiga games. There weren’t gaming websites or shops or really magazines either so what Argos and later Blockbuster had in stock was the major decision making process for the games we bought with Christmas or birthday money. My first game was Asterix, my brother’s a far more respectable Kirby’s Dreamland and my sister’s was either tough as nails Alien Vs. Predator or Gremlins 2. My Game Boy is a bizarre line in licensed games which were impossible to beat.

My best friend who lived down the road from me in my family home also had a Game Boy. He had a rubberised case for it (the coolest thing) and even the ridiculous light extension. The Game Boy didn’t play well in the dark or the car without it. He had The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening which he temporarily swapped for… a really awful game, ah the memories are hazy I can’t remember… and never got it back. I’m still in touch with Fraser. When we (too) rarely meet, we still communicate in the Amiga soundbites of our childhood. In the Summer holidays, we’d set all our Game Boy and handheld games up on the sofa like a mini arcade. My Game Boy is care free summer’s with the kids from the neighbourhood.

After a while with the N64 and PlayStation coming out, the Game Boys still got play on Sundays. By this time, our cousins had grown up and kept up the console abuse. By this time, the case was yellowed with age and countless sweaty hands. We’d lost one of the little plugs which went in the cable slot (they were too loose after taking them in and out). My Game Boy is a connection between generations.

I moved away to University and met Richie. Richie had a Game Boy colour. We bonded over video games, especially Pokemon. One summer I dug out the old Game Boy and Pokemon Yellow to take to University. The screen had come off through all the years of Tetrissing. Richie and I talked for hours about video games and I especially remember him playing Pokémon Trading Card Game on the coach during fieldwork. His Game Boy is me being hungover vomiting into a plastic bag on the back of a coach in the Czech Republic. Richie was the best man at my wedding.

It was during that next Summer that my Game Boy in my bag was landed on by my friend James. My Game Boy is dead. Maybe. I don’t want to put batteries in it to see if it still works today. It’s earned the rest to be honest.

At my wedding I did a solo dance to what still remains, the greatest Tetris remix to date. Dacav 5’s Tetris. My Game Boy is getting married to the woman I love surrounded by friends and family celebrating our lives together.

So THIS. Is a Game Boy. Not the package perfect, unused, unloved, unconnected Game Boy and these are some of the stories I wish museums would tell when it comes to gaming. Not the technological innovation, the empty shells of the hardware, the marketing materials and the catridges and cases in glass coffins. The antithesis of play. It’s the stories and connections I’d rather see. A row of stickered, battered, broken Game Boys, each with it’s owner’s stamps, lifelong friendships, family and memories that make us.

I’ll reserve judgement of Design/Play/Disrupt for when I see it but I’ve yet to see a video game exhibition which really puts players, not just the games at its heart.