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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Engaging Research and Collections

By Jack Ashby, on 27 July 2012

When we go to museums we normally know the kind of information we’re going to be engaging with. In natural history museums it’s usually facts about species, minerals and environments; in social history museums it’s cultures and people; in archaeology it’s much like social history but older. At UCL Museums we’ve started an experiment that doesn’t fit this model.

We have employed a team of UCL post-graduate students to come to each of our spaces a couple of days a week to engage our visitors with their research. They have each found connections between our collections and their disciplines, but they aren’t necessarily what you’d expect. Their PhD’s range from epidemiology and the history of psychology to rhetoric – none of which spark an immediate link to zoology, for example, in most people.

In talking to our visitors about their work and academic life in general, among other things we hope that gateways open for the public to feed in to research (and this has already begun in this project), as well as our visitors seeing what life in universities is like.

The researcher/engager team have started a new blog at http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/researchers-in-museums/, and we’ll be reporting their stories as they happen, but we recommend you keep on eye on what their doing too.

    This is what they say about the project:

Welcome to the UCL Postgraduate Student Engagement project website. Beginning in April 2012, our small team was established as part of an experimental project to broaden public engagement with UCL research and collections, and to develop audience participation across the museums. Working principally with The Grant Museum, The Petrie Museum and UCL Art Museum, our aim is to develop new public engagement models through interaction with audiences in these spaces.

Who are we?
We are a group of eight postgraduate research students, employed by UCL Public Engagement and Museums to develop innovative and experimental engagement strategies in UCL museums and collections. Our aim is to broaden public awareness of current research by sharing our knowledge with museum audiences, making connections between our own areas of expertise and UCL collections. … We share a common desire to bring our research to new audiences, and to make what we do accessible to the wider public. Working as a cross-disciplinary team, we also seek to establish links between our own disciplinary fields and other, apparently unconnected research areas.

What are we doing?
When we’re not working on our PhD theses, we can be found at one of UCL’s three public museums.
We aim to use these sites as spaces where we can actively engage with visitors to discuss our own research and any connections between our work and the museum collections. Whilst some of our academic interests may not seem to have obvious links to the museum collections, we have all found objects and themes in the museums which are relevant to our research. Through our conversations with museum visitors, we hope not only to engage others in our research and encourage visitors to think about the collections in novel and varied ways, but also to broaden our own research expertise by responding reflexively to public feedback. Open-ended discussions with visitors may stimulate ideas for new lines of research inquiry, and the questions we encounter will often spark off interesting ideas and challenge us to explore unexpected links. This blog documents some of these experiences, as well as providing a platform for us to share our research reflections and further explore the intersections of research, public engagement and museum collections.

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