Is life over as we know it?

I love my life.  I love my job. I love working at one of the top universities, in an amazing discipline.  I love what I do.  I have worked hard to get here. Some people think I am too young to be at this stage in my career, but I have worked my socks off to get where I am today.  I have always known what I wanted to do, there has always been a plan A.  People yesterday during the aftermath of the CSR were joking about what their plan B was going to be when Plan A gets slashed by the coalition government. But what if you don’t have a plan B? I have always wanted to do what I am doing now; I don’t have a plan B. At best I have two plan A’s. Both involve museums and learning and digital technology.

What was announced yesterday is frightening; people say it could have been much much worse. I’m sure it could have been.  Regardless what has been announced is going to change our society and culture significantly. Especially if you work, in fact work doesn’t cover it, if you love higher education and the cultural sector.

Government funding for higher education is to be cut by 40 per cent over four years, with strong indications that public funding for teaching in the arts, humanities and social sciences may come to an end. The Comprehensive Spending Review unveiled yesterday a reduction in the higher education budget from £7.1 billion to £4.2 billion – by 2014-15. Science and other STEM subjects are safe.  However, no mention is made of other subjects.  Following from the CSR live in the Willetts’ press briefing the minister was asked whether funding for arts would be cut. He didn’t answer. That makes me sick to my stomach.

Not only that; but culture is being slashed.  It’s all well and good that parliament cheer when the statement was made that National Museums will remain free. I am thankful for that. But there are only a handfull of national museums and hundreds of non national museums and galleries around the country. What about them?  Arts funding is being cut by almost 30% and what about the local authority museums? It is looking increasingly grim.

So much for my plan A’s.

I am not concerned about my short term future, I am lucky that I have a safe and secure cocoon of a 3yr PhD studentship to go into. What I am concerned about, is what will have happened when I emerge from that cocoon. What will the state of cultural heritage be? Will arts and humanities in higher education still exist? If it does will it just be an elitist endeavour for those privileged enough to attend?  I am worried about people who are ten years younger than me, who love history, museums and heritage.  What is to become of them? What is this government indicating to them? That it’s a pointless endeavour? That cultural heritage and arts and humanities don’t matter? What is to become of our museums? Of our heritage? Our cultural pursuits?  Is life over as we know it?

Also I am worried for the people who are just coming out of the cocoon of PhD’s what is to happen to them? If you haven’t read Matt Hayler’s harrowing account of his fears, you should. It puts a chill down your spine.

Geordie bank holiday: Seaton Delaval Hall

I’m back up in the North East for the bank holiday full of procrastination and fear of failure for the upcoming paper I’m due to give at the forthcoming DRHA conference. I’m finding it very hard to talk about a project which is still in progress. However in full work avoidance mode I’m making the most of my time oop north. Friday saw Howick, Seahouses and Bamburgh. You cannot beat Northumberland for its beaches or its fish and chips. Bamburgh is simply breath taking.

Today (Sunday) I went to Seaton Delaval Hall. For years when I was younger we would drive past this outstanding hall, and I would wonder what on earth it was like inside. Seaton Delaval Hall was designed by Vanbrugh and has quite a long and varied, some say, raunchy past with rumours of royal mistresses, terrible fires and visits by Katharine Hepburn. All this history came into jeopardy in 2008 when there was a risk of a private sale. A massive campaign was launched to save Seaton Delaval Hall, after lots of fundraising the Hall finally became the newest member of the National Trust family and is now open to the public. And boy I’m glad it has been saved; because it’s a brilliant place to visit.

The formal gardens are beautiful and so colourful, despite it being blowing a gale! The colours whipping round in the wind making it all the more vibrant, it’s a hidden gem which I wasn’t expecting at all. The facade of the Hall is spectacular and then you go inside and you see what fire, disuse and disrepair can do to a beautiful building; but this is accompanied by the volunteers who clearly love this place, their enthusiasm and generosity makes it what it is. And being the nerdasaurus museo that I am, I was enthralled not by the sculpture, the masonry, or the box hedges and rose garden (as great as they all are) but by the leaflet. Not forgetting the matching volunteer fleeces. genius. A striking pink print image of the hall with a welcome mat and a simple statement: “play a part unfolding the colourful story of the National Trust’s newest place. Enjoy your visit!” love it.

The Decline of the British Butterfly

I have a fascination with most things, for as long as I can remember I have been interested in things. All sorts of things. When I was growing up that particularly focused on history, geography, museums of all shapes and sizes and natural history. I used to be able to recite and identify any dinosaur, bird, or constellation put in front of me, my knowledge of these things hasnt remained fully intact but I’m proud of the fact that once knew these kind of things. It’s interesting, now that I work in the digital humanities discipline with its feet firmly planted in both the science and humanities camps, I can see more and more why I fit in here. I was a mishmash of a child fascinated by everything and anything. I tried specialising in pure humanities, but I never felt totally comfortable, and I always enjoyed science, particularly as a little person, but never felt confident of my ability to understand it completely. Now, being able to work in both camps is brilliant, it opens up perspectives to things that I didn’t have the opportunity to consider when I was solely a humanist.

What’s this got to do with the decline of the British butterfly?

One summer, when I was about 10 I think, I became obsessed with butterflies, catching them and identifying them and attempting to understand the patterns on their wings. So I was particularly interested in an article I came across randomly in an old magazine in the local hairdressers. It was an interview with David Bellamy and he was enthusing about butterflies.
I tried to find the article online so I could link to it, but of course it’s in the Times Science Magazine, so the Eureka archive is trapped behind the paywall. Fail.

The article spoke about people’s favouritism of bees over butterflies due to their economic importance, and that everyone is aware of the decline of bees whereas no one is really that bothered about the significant decline of the butterfly. Are bees and butterflies polar opposites; bees are disciplined and industrious whereas butterflies are ‘creatures selected as the types of airiness and frivolity’ as Henry Walter Bates the 19th century naturalist, discoverer of mimicry and all round cool dude stated.

I find naturalists and antiquarians fascinating, because they are so inquisitive and engaged in their subject of choice, and they collect lots and lots of things. Walter Bates felt that butterflies would become one of the most important aspects of biological science, according to this article. This time is now.

In all ecosystems there are some organisms that are more sensitive to change than others: for example at Geevor due to all the mine drainage pollution there is a mosaic of natural and man-made habitats that has led to a colourful post-mining environment. There are a wide variety of weird and wonderful Lichens, which are a brilliant early warning indicator of pollution. But lets be honest if they disappeared normal people wouldn’t be that bothered. But what about the butterflies? What shocked me was that the article highlighted the 97% loss of mature grass meadows since the 1930s, that’s insane, and that has lead to more than three quarters of the 54 butterfly species resident in Britain to have declined in the past 20 years . The Guardian highlights the 12most threatened species.

However all is not lost! Butterfly world is here! The 27 acre site is designed in the shape of a giant butterfly’s head, with a 100m Biome (to be completed in autumn 2011) as its geodesic eye. Its like the Eden project for butterflies and its off the M25! Awesome.

I’m planning a trip to release my inner child naturalist.

The aftermath.

The past 48hours have been quite something.

You may or may not have noticed the large amount of press coverage about a certain Mr Murdoch, involving opinions on creativity, culture, humanities, digital content and in particular the British Library; that were flying around online today. I don’t think a bunch of overly tired, yet still buzzing digital humanists have been so excited in a confined space with flower pot muffins before. (some coverage can be found here, here, here, here, and here and many many more places)

Why? Well…  We officially launched the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities yesterday evening! Hooray!  James Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of News Corporation, the guest speaker gave a really interesting speech with some strong opinions (you can read the full text of the speech here).

It’s going to be really interesting to hear the alternate view of what James Murdoch spoke about.  There are a lot of strong opinions flying around, particularly with regards to cultural heritage institutions and electronic publishers and digital humanists.  I have yet to get my brain in gear about my thoughts on what James was suggesting.  It will be very interesting to hear the responses from others, particularly those championing freely available digital content .  ucldh are seeing what we can do to facilitate that response. watch this space. If you want to respond do let us know.

For me though, it wasn’t the speech that was the highlight of the launch, for one, I didn’t actually get to see James speak. I was running (well walking quickly whilst trying to maintain an air of decorum –most likely failing) with a clip board and an iphone trying to make sure everything went smoothly. Yes, I can now add, major event planning to my repertoire. No, this isn’t my job. For the past month as well as working on three research projects I have been juggling quite possibly the biggest (I don’t think I have ever seen as much bottles of champagne in my life) event I have ever been a part of. Crazy. Myself and my colleague Simon took up the organisation  of the launch after another colleague had to take leave unexpectantly. I don’t think we really knew what we were letting ourselves in for. I’ve organised conferences before, but nothing like this! We have been so busy, I think I have forgotten what hot tea tastes like as I never had time to drink it. But it all came to a head this week. Its been stressful, but brilliant. Yesterday involved so much running around, phone calls, emails, sticky wotsits, logos and name badges.  During the day, what could go wrong did go wrong. Thank goodness for  iphones – they were our life saver yesterday, also my ability to memorise securities multiple phone numbers (my number memory response is now at all time high). But the event itself was a triumph! (i hope)  we may have been paddling furiously under the water, but on top we had the elegance of a swan! It was the people who came to the event, the people who helped, the people who gave us their time and energy, and most importantly the people who gave their smiles yesterday, that was the highlight for me.  I cannot thank enough all the people who helped on the night, and on the run up. We couldn’t have done it without you!

I have also seen so much more of UCL than I ever thought possible, a special lift in the library and the roof! Oh my the roof is amazing! ( I took some pictures from the roof with a very cool app called Hipstamatic, I will post them as soon as I find the usb cable).  I must also add that none of this would of been possible without the genius of Claire Warwick and Melissa Terras, they are quite simply amazing.

But that was only the first event. Oh yes. Two events, makes Claire a very dazed girl. Today saw the Time Trust and Authority: is web 2.0 the tool for you? event, which I have been working on with Anne and John. I fear I let the side down on this, I was a incoherent mess after all the running around at the launch yesterday. But nevertheless a brilliant day! I learnt some really cool stuff, UCL is really flying the flag for social media content and distribution, with some interesting research projects and technologies already in place.  Utilising social media in an education institution is always frought with difficultly with questions about trust and authority not to mention copyright and ownership of content. Despite this, UCL is doing some brilliant work; creating digital content, encouraging discussions and collaborations and broadening audiences for our research and teaching (possibly a controversial thing after the launch speech).

There is likely to be many more posts about the past 48hours to come. But right now I am going to have a sleep. Drained is not appropriate for this. Drained but happy.

Geevor and World Heritage… what does it all mean? do you know?

In my previous incarnation I learnt a lot.  Not only about museum digital learning, but also a great deal about Tin Mining, Industrial heritage, community organisation as well as the pros and cons of being involved in a World Heritage Site.  But it wasn’t all work. I learnt a lot from the people around me.

Geevor was full of absolutely amazing people. Some experts in their field, some hard workers, knowledgeable, funny, others were gracious, kind hearted, gentle, and some were plain strange. Don’t get me wrong there were disagreements, and politics, there’s always politics. But two people in particular, there are others Jo, Nick T, Joby, Claire, Kay and Fiona all brilliant, but the two who I shared an office with day in day out, made Geevor an absolutely wonderful place to be. Firstly Cyril (there is not enough words in the world to describe how wonderful, wise and kind Cyril is so I’m not even going to attempt it), and secondly Rebecca.

Rebecca is the most lovely person. Never a bad word to say about anyone, she puts her best into everything she does, a brilliant museum learning professional and boy she is a very good conscience when I was trying to avoid eating too much cake.

A bit about Geevor: since 2001, Geevor Tin Mine in Cornwall has been managed by Pendeen Community Heritage (PCH), a village based registered charity. The local community has driven and shaped the development Geevor. The local community and ex-miners create exhibitions, act as guides, complete project work to conserve the significant site archive, as well as community involvement in the governance of the charity. It is this living history which has helped to develop Geevor into the internationally respected example of hard rock mining which it has become.

And for a place that not a lot of people had heard of outside of Cornwall until recently, the people down at Geevor have done an amazing job.  However, on 13th July 2006 , the rest of the world took notice and select mining landscapes across Cornwall and west Devon were inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, of which Geevor is a major part of.  This gave PCH and Geevor the responsibility to make the history of Geevor available to the broadest possible audience.  But no-one had clearly thought how becoming a WHS would affect the short, medium and long term plans of running an awesome site.

Now this is where Rebecca comes in. Rebecca is now working towards her MA in Museum Studies at Leicester (as well as being an excellent learning team manager at Geevor) and is undertaking research into the role of museums within the ‘world heritage’ agenda. In particular, museums potential role in advocating both the value heritage and the importance of preserving it, at the local and national level.

So I graciously ask; would you mind filling in a survey for her research, which is not only a cracking dissertation topic but is also really going to help Geevor in the future.

If you are willing to help, the link to complete the survey is as follows:

(N.B. Rebecca will be collecting responses until 20th June 2010)

Thanky you!

insight into my flooded desk, floor and mind

I’ve been thinking about the idea of weeknotes for a while. This idea is quite simple yet interesting. It says it all on the tin really. They are meant to give you (and me) an insight into what the writer/blogger/person has been up to in the previous week, so reflecting on work, work practices, work gossip and the kind of things people do on a weekly basis.

I have always shied away from this kind of activity, as it seems a bit too much like a diary entry. But over the recent weeks and months I have become addicted to blogs that update regularly particularly the daily updates about what delectable outfits Katie wears on what Katie wore as well as the updates from the Digital urban blog, the IMA, retronaut and museum marketing oh and I enjoy following Ernesto Priego’s Journeys into endless scrolling over at butterflyhunt. These consistent updates really brighten up my day and inspire me to work harder at what I love.

I really loved co writing a guest post last week with the delectable Rhiannon Looseley, over on the Museum Computer Group blog. Rhiannon has also recently started blogging more regularly and I’m really enjoying her updates.

I have been looking for something to make my blogging more consistent, a way of keeping up the writing momentum and keeping myself immersed in the wonderful world of museums.  Due to no longer working in a museum every day I have been finding it difficult to keep engaged, but last week writing the cultural heritage post has shown that I still follow interesting cultural heritage things despite not being ensconced in a museum! Brill.

From now on I am going to attempt to keep regular updates on interesting things that I come across as well as the normal sporadic posts on nerdasaurus things that I go to and think about.

So here is a quick insight into my flooded desk, floor and mind:

  • I came across ConnectionFactory via the BBC R&D blog.  Not only is ConnectionFactory strangely pretty  but it is an EPSRC (Digital Society) funded project which aims to create a knowledge exchange network between media professionals and academic researchers, to explore the potential of new forms of public service media. It also aims to explore ways in which academic researchers can utilise new technologies to better disseminate and exchange their research and ideas. All good in my book.
  • I managed to read the Draft Report on Digitisation and Online Accessibility of Cultural Material provided by the Collections Trust on the train back from Newcastle.  Trains are very good at forcing you to read stuff with minimal distractions, and it was only delayed by 10 minutes… an improvement. The report is a great opportunity to take a look at UK’s progress with online access and digitisation of Digital Cultural content.  There is so much stuff going on all around the UK in museums, libraries and archives.
  • I’ve been plodding my way through technical documents about Europeana, to provide a case study on cultural cross repository searching for the LinkSphere project.  Do you what I like the sound of? A template for deliverables. That makes my project management synapses dance!
  • Beatrix Potter! Over the Easter break in the Lake District I went to Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s house in the lakes.  It was brilliant to see some of the objects and places that inspired many of her tales.  I now have a Mrs Tiggy-Winkle sitting on my desk. This makes me happy.
  • Yumchaa teas! Tasty tasty tea for tasty tea lovers, Im currently loving caramel sweetheart.

an WKW outfit or an object a day… keeps the blues away

my favourite What Katie Wore outfit...i wonder what my favourite museum object would be

For 335 days I have been following a brilliant blog called what Katie wore.  What’s that all about? Well, A challenge was set that Katie had to wear a different outfit everyday for a year. Katie’s lovely boyfriend Joe then decided to write a blog with a picture of what Katie was wearing every day, and i mean every day, for a year.  The result is a blog full  of beautiful photos of Katie’s colourful, joyful, eclectic style, which had me hooked from the beginning (well I missed the first couple of weeks). I live my fashion life vicariously through Katie’s colourful attire, I will usually be found in black and cardigans, I vow that this will change this year. The point is, that Katie’s outfits and Joe’s words have inspired me and lots of other people for a year.

So that got me thinking about museums, instead of an outfit everyday for a year, a blog about a different object everyday for a year, imagine how many people could be inspired by a different wonderous museum object, that could potentially improve so many peoples days. This is when I came across google gadgets: British Museum Object of the day, and I thought cool. Also the IMA’s pharmacy is a regular dose of really interesting things, linking in with an ArtBabble video and a IMA work of art, really clever really. And then it reminded me that its nearly the start of AHOW!!  Otherwise known as A History of the World, a amazing project with the British Museum and BBC radio 4, where the history of the world is to be told in 100 objects. It starts on the 18th January, and I am very excited.  I hope it is just as inspirational as seeing a colourful outfit everyday! We shall see.

and if by magic, BBC / BM History of the World promo, check it out