PhD Acknowledgments

It’s been quiet on the blog front for some time, mostly due to the small matter of finishing my PhD. On Friday the 20th June 2014 I successfully completed my PhD viva and I can happily say that I passed with minor corrections!

It’s going to be a while yet before my thesis is available online, and there are far too many thankyou’s to fit into a tweet. So I thought I would share the acknowledgements section of my thesis.

Over the long course of completing this thesis, many people contributed to this research project in innumerable ways, and I am grateful to all of them.

I should like, first of all, to thank the Provost Strategic Development Fund (PSDF) for its support in funding this PhD, one of the first ever doctoral awards for the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities (UCLDH), and without it I would not have been able to undertake this research. My heartfelt gratitude goes to Professor Melissa Terras, my academic supervisor and an extraordinary mentor and friend, who has been a constant source of inspiration. Not only did Melissa’s understanding of my ideas around this research often exceed my own capability to articulate them, but her advice, support and nit-picking has managed to guide my sporadic thoughts into a scholarly work. Moreover, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have Professor Claire Warwick as my second supervisor. I would like to thank Claire for her support during the undertaking of this research. I am thankful not only for her shrewd and insightful remarks but also for reminding me to believe in myself when things got too overwhelming.

Both Melissa and Claire also gave me the opportunity to learn important research and networking skills during my time on the Linksphere project and throughout my time at UCLDH which proved indispensable when carrying out my own work. Because of both of these fantastic mentors, I have developed the abilities and skills to question myself, my research, and to focus on achieving to the highest standard.

My case studies were possible only through the vital support and documentation provided by their host institutions, and I am especially indebted to the individuals within and outside those organisations who gave their time, advice and encouragement. I am grateful to all the museum staff and management at The Grant Museum of Zoology, Imperial War Museum London and Imperial War Museum North who offered information and hospitality while I was conducting my fieldwork and gathering data. At the Grant Museum I owe a particular debt to Jack Ashby, but would also like to thank Mark Carnall for his input and advice. This thesis could not be completed without the assistance of Carolyn Royston and Jeremy Ottenvanger from Imperial War Museums, and to Jane Audas and Tom Grinsted whose good humour and friendship got the Social Interpretation project off the ground.

I am especially indebted to the individuals within UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis who without whom QRator wouldn’t exist. A huge thank you goes to Steve Gray, for being the best developer I know and for sharing my eccentric sense of humour. Additional thanks go to Dr Andy Hudson Smith who provided me with helpful comments for my work as well as an external perspective which proved invaluable.

My great tower of strength throughout this research has been my friends and my family, who have given me love, help, and an important sense of perspective. Most of all, I thank my parents whose support and encouragement throughout has been never ending. Their words of wisdom and constant supply of love, support and reassurance has made me who I am today. Finally to my soon to be husband, Matt, whose patience and sacrifices so that I can complete this work have been vast. I would like to dedicate this thesis to him, my biggest critic, best friend, supporter and proof-reader and with whom this whole adventure began.

Can museums place an automatic value on their visitor generated content?

A quick ponder into visitor generated content and value classification.

Twitter has introduced new metadata for tweets; with the objective of helping developers filter out the most “valuable” tweets.  This immediately got me thinking about visitor generated content (VGC) in museums.  My PhD is grappling with the idea of impact and how you can go about measuring impact of VGC on museum experience.  Over the past couple of years working on QRator and the Social Interpretation project, it has become clear that VGC, impact and value are notoriously difficult to define, interpret and well basically study.

In essence, Twitter is going to be introducing new metadata for Tweets so that you will receive tweets tagged up with value levels; initially just no value, low and medium. No High value tweets just yet. The aim is to make it easier for developers to surface what is arguably the better and more interesting content from otherwise noisy or high volume tweet streams.

We had a similar problem with the Social Interpretation VGC in particular, a high volume of visitor comments, and no clear way of moderating, categorising or “valuing” the better quality visitor comments. As with most high volume unstructured data, finding and highlighting the signal out of the noise can represent a significant challenge.

The problem is that “value” is highly subjective and varies on the context within which it is being consumed. One visitor’s value is not the same as the next.  Nor is it likely to match what the museum defines as adding value.  The SI team at IWM experimented with gardening comments, but we didn’t come up with a criterion to work from, so it was up to the moderator at the time to decide. At the Grant Museum with QRator we are trying to come up with criteria to look at the visitor answers to the current questions, but this is after the point of visitor contribution, and is very much based on the museum’s perceived value of the response. Is value something you add in the post moderation stage? Who’s value? The visitors or the museums?

So, is Twitter’s new value algorithm something that can be used by museums to classify VGC?

If I’m honest, no I don’t think it is. Is it really possible to create an algorithm that can classify value of comments?  Surely value is judged by the reader?   Can an automated system really evaluate subjective factors and identify the most valuable conversations for each individual?  Doubtful.

But I will be watching how Twitter deals with concepts of value of tweets with interest.

The year that was, and the year that will be

2012 was a year of ups and down for me. I snapped and broke quite a lot of my collar bone, and shoulder area on the 1st January and was left without the use of my arm for a good while, I think I managed to work the sling look, but I couldn’t quite escape looking like a wounded duck with a broken wing.  My Mam was incredibly poorly at the beginning of the year, and that shook me to my core.  It is something that I don’t/can’t/won’t think or write about.  It’s too hard.  So the lows were low, but the up’s were ridiculously high. I won Public Engager of the Year and QRator won the Museums and Heritage Award for Excellence in the Innovation Category – the team got to dress up! I had a snazzy red dress (which a waiter poured a jug of milk over, not the best form of celebration) and a QR code temporary Tattoo.  I also learnt to ski in Lake Tahoe, went on a road trip though California, got a personal trainer and started attending boot camps.  I’m the fittest I have ever been. Exercise has always been my way of processing all my academic thoughts, putting things into perspective.

Here’s a list of things, places and projects I’ve done this year:

Places visited

San Francisco, California

Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada

Truckee, California

Selma, California

Yosemite National Park, California

San Diego, California

Barcelona, Spain

Hamburg, Germany


Conferences Attended

Museums and the Web 2012

Museum Next 2012

Engaging Digital Audiences in Museums

Digital Humanities 2012

Digital Transformations Workshop (x 2)

Museum Association Joy of Text Event

UK Museums on the Web 2012


Museums and Galleries visited

Grant Museum

UCL Art Museum

Wellcome Collection

Imperial War Museum London

Imperial War Museum North

HMS Belfast

Horniman Museum

Museum of Brands

Nottingham Castle

Nottingham Contemporary

New Art Exchange

The Baltic

The Biscuit Factory

The Laing Art Gallery


Museum Picasso

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD)

San Diego Air and Space Museum


Projects, and Committee Work


Social Interpretation

Totem Labs

Share Academy

Digital Learning Network

Ignite London

Engagement Advisory Board and Research Panel of the Horniman Museum and Gardens’ Collections, People, Stories project.

Behind all of this, and the driving force for everything is my PhD. I’m now in my final year, year 3 – pulling all of my previous research, data collection and thinking together and writing it all up. I like being busy, and enjoy new challenges, so trying to keep the focus on my PhD has been hard. I’m incredibly bad at saying no. Moving to Nottingham at the end of 2011 was an attempt to be out of sight out of mind, so people wouldn’t be able to ask me to do exciting things, and I could focus solely on my PhD. But the yeses still came, and I got to do some pretty cool stuff, meet and work with brilliant people, and learn new things.  Trying to balance the research, the writing, the project work, the professional experience and normal life things, is something I really struggle with.     I’ve really enjoyed my data collection, flexing my thinking muscles and working on new projects. But my work and research in 2012 led to multiple crises of confidence and an every growing feeling of impostor syndrome.

The sad reality is that today a PhD won’t get you a job.  I’ve always wanted to go into an academic post, so I can bring my own brand of enthusiasm to new minds, but realistically a good academic post is very hard to find.  You need to be a known name, have experience in everything, and ultimately be exceptional. I’ve always been ambitious and a hard worker (and I have two wonderful inspiration supervisors to guide me on my way; Melissa Terras and Claire Warwick), but I’m also equally lacking in self-confidence and never think I’m good enough. Not the best mix when hoping to go out into the big bad world of academia.  But 2012 has taught me that academia might not be my only option and I’m very grateful to both Jane Audas and Martin Belam for demystifying the world of freelance work and for the digital museum community for continuing to be a source of opportunity.   2013 undoubtedly will be hard, but I’m hoping by the end of my thesis it will bring perspective, enjoyment and some easing of that impostor feeling.

Claire Warwick wrote a really great blog post about Bradley Wiggins yesterday, you might be wondering what that has to do with my PhD or academia.  But actually it has rather a lot.  Doing the impossible is possible. Claire also bought me a copy of Steve Peter’s The Chimp Paradox, which actually resonates with me quite strongly.  Oonagh Murphy has written some really good new years resolutions on her blog; I’m going to add a few of my own below taking into consideration caging chimps and world class cycling:

  1. Do Less, Better
  2. Think logically not emotionally
  3. Balance ambition with reality
  4. Enjoy the journey.
  5. Stop saying yes to everything
  6. Slow down and attend to the details. The turtle wins out over the hare.

Comic strip summing up my PhD?


I discovered this whilst reading Chris Unitt’s post about runaway comments. Chris has some interesting things to say about The Oatmeal’s latest comic strip, some thoughts and musings on making things for the web . Check it out.  Visitor commenting is clearly harmful…

This image in particular pretty much covers the preconceived view of visitor commenting in museums and represents a vast percentage of  my PhD research.


How do you measure the immeasurable in museums? And will the academic REF teach us anything?

image from The Value of Bibliometrics, March 2011 / Matthew Richardson The Research Excellence Framework: revisiting the RAE

As part of my PhD I’m considering issues to do with intangible impact and how and why this should be measured in museums. Most, if not all, measurements of impact, of pretty much everything, concentrates on the economic dimension. And really why wouldn’t it? Measuring the quantifiable makes sense. But what I’m really interested in is intangible impact. Values that aren’t concrete, tangible or physically discernible. I’m probably quite stupid for looking at things you can’t actually quantify.

In the past museums and impact has been more to do with evaluating services in terms of outcomes, whether that be economic or social value and all really for box ticking to ensure future funding. But how does that filter down to digital technology in museums? Can you measure the subjective experiences of visitors? How do you attempt to address the notion of impact of digital technology in museums? It’s easy to think that what is trying to be identified is an already defined concept. But really, impact evaluation is complex, not helped by the fact that definitions are still being determined and understood.

So how do you measure the immeasurable?

For a while I have been thinking about something my supervisor mentioned in a meeting, about how UCL is trying to work with the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF) and how they are thinking about measuring intangible evidence for impact.

Is it possible to look at the intangible impact of museums and digital technology through the lens of academic research impact?

UCL and every other HE institution are currently addressing how to capture research impacts in anticipation of the forthcoming REF. The REF now includes an impact measurement and has been met with some anxiety and unease,particularly by Humanities academics. There are concerns within the arts and humanities about the ability and the value of metrics as indicators of impact. Mostly because in the humanities, impact is more likely to be intangible than tangible.
So for the purposes of the REF, HEFCE have defined impact as:

an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia.

Impact includes, but is not limited to, an effect on, change or benefit to:
• the activity, attitude, awareness, behaviour, capacity, opportunity, performance, policy, practice, process or understanding
• of an audience, beneficiary, community, constituency, organisation or individuals
• in any geographic location whether locally, regionally, nationally or internationally.

It’s makes really interesting reading, particularly as Case Studies are required and that impact will be assessed in terms of their ‘reach and significance’ regardless of the geographic location in which they occurred. But if I’m honest the REF seems to go back on itself somewhat when it starts to ask for key outputs from the research, and evidence about the quality of the research. So despite trying to address intangible impact, academics have to resort to physical countable outputs.

Is this something museum and impact researchers should be doing, producing case studies about the intangible benefit and then trying to quantify it with additional references?

Regardless, it’s going to be really interesting to see how arts and humanities departments go about quantifying intangible impact. Maybe it’s something to look at in the future. But currently, I’m a bit stumped.

An Unintentional Hiatus

My blog has been on hiatus; in fact quite a lot of my digital life has been in an enforced hibernation. 2012 so far has been utterly rubbish.  Firstly there’s the situation with my gammy clavicle.  I’m slinged up and in pain since the beginning of January.  Doing anything remotely computerised is difficult when you only have one hand for typing, holding, pinch and zooming.  The chorus of politically incorrect terms of endearment that now follow me from my loved ones, friends, and colleagues are numerous and increasing in volume and inappropriateness (mentioning no names… Jane).  That aside, there have also been a series of other unfortunate events that have left me with little time for anything else.

Because of this I am currently living a very slimmed down digital existence.  I still use digital services sporadically day to day, my iPad has become my saviour, allowing me snippets of my digital life (its much easier to use with one hand). Haphazardly checking emails, but not really being able to reply.  Quickly firing up an App to have a sneak peak at interesting links.  Occasional Tweets. But that’s pretty much it.  I thought I would miss Facebook and the iPlayer, but interestingly I don’t at all.  I do miss having the time to peruse my RRS reader, but the ever growing list of interesting things I want to read about is something to look forward to when I have the time.

Now that January has been and gone, and I’m beginning to settle into this digital hiatus.  I do feel guilty for the work that I have had to postpone, delegate and the friends and colleagues emails that remain pending.  I also miss my restraint for holding back the emotional hissy fists, grumbles, feet stomping, and emails sent it haste.  Turns out my usual enthusiastic self, doesn’t cope too well with immense stress. But what I really do miss is this; Blogging.  Over the past two years blogging has become my research space, it is my escape, providing time for me to stop and stare.  So being without it, means I have a brain full of half baked ideas and ponderings that have nowhere to go other than round and round, and then scooting out my ear, never to be seen again.  It has been really frustrating for my PhD research too.  My inability to focus on research ideas is leading any writing I’m doing to be utter tosh.  It is fascinating to think how a series of unfortunate events can change everything.  I always thought I had the ability to focus, no matter what.  Turns out at the moment that isn’t the case at all.   If the things that make me a digital humanist are on hiatus, does this mean I’m losing my research identity? Can I be a digital museumaholic if I can’t reach or have the time to find the gin cupboard?  Is it possible to find a balance between processing real life in the digital life, when real life, doesn’t allow time for the digital?

Which is why I found it really interesting to see Matt Hayler’s ever excellent blog discuss something similar. Matt has had to streamline his digital scholarly life in order to succeed at being an early career teaching fellow and has found a number of digital essentials which he can’t do without.  His blog has been on hibernation mode too.



The year what was and the year that will be

Sky Mirror by Anish Kapoor a hidden gem in Nottingham. It draws people in and it reflects people back a good way to start the year I think

This time last year, as the days shuffled towards the start of 2011, and then hurried into January, I was full of nervous excitement about the coming year.  I had quit my job and was about to start my PhD.   I had very few expectations for what the year would bring, or what the change from staff to student would mean.   2011 was a time for change and flux for me, so it seems apt that I try to reflect on the year what was.

It is only now that I have realised what I busy year I have had, fuelled by excitement and inspiration and surrounded with passionate, creative, intelligent people. Sometimes I still pinch myself that I work with awesome people: I laugh every day, continually find out new things, and I am always astounded by the wealth of knowledge that surrounds me.  I really do love what I do.

It has been a whirlwind year; my PhD research took a back seat at the beginning, when I was still adjusting to being a student rather than an employed staff member.  But during that time I worked on some brilliant projects including Europeana and QRator.  QRator brought me into the realms of things I never thought I could possibly understand: Science.  Zoology, Spatial Analysis and Programming all had their part to play, and it has been this experience and the brilliant people at CASA and the Grant Museum who have opened my eyes to new ways of thinking.  It is fascinating to see how my ideas have transformed over the past year, and what milestones have influenced my PhD research.  I am now pursuing a different tangent entirely.  One which focuses very heavily on impact. Impact and visitor experience.

I have travelled the world, and met wonderful people who share my passion for museums, technology and all the exciting possibilities they bring. There are too many people, places and projects to mention, but you all know who you are.  Thank you for making 2011 an exuberant mess of brilliance.

And what of this year? Well so far, I’ve fallen down the stairs so I’m a bit battered and bruised. But again it’s a busy one, what with my PhD upgrade, some heavy duty data collection and analysis and the ups and downs of agile project work and user centred design of Social Interpretation with IWM.  It’s going to make for an ambitious, hectic and exciting year. Brace yourselves chaps.

Defining a Museum. Should you bother?

As part of my PhD literature review on museums and technology I am attempting to define some terminology.

Take Museum for example.  How do you define it?

The most widely used definition is that by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) who define a museum as:

 “a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.”

ICOM state that this definition has evolved continuously in relation to changes in society, even opting to try and overhaul it in the early 2000’s but realistically it hasn’t fundamentally changed since it was first adopted in 1974.

I have two main gripes about the ICOM definition. Firstly the words permanent institution. What is that in this day and age? It automatically suggests a physical presence, and doesn’t take into consideration the fluidity of museums, or any mention of a digital presence.  Does a museum have to have to be a real building in order for it to be a museum?  The Nationaal Historisch Museum of the Netherlands doesn’t have a building  therefore it cannot be a museum? I think not. Also Jasper Visser has a great post on what a museum is, or can be.

The second main gripe is of including the activity of acquisition. Many museums due to the political nightmare of funding cuts no longer have an active acquisition policy.  Does this mean that they are no longer viable museums?

You can also define museums by size, shape, collection, funding, management the list is endless. But as definitions are supposed to state what a word means, rather than describe an institution or activity how do you go about stating what a museum is, when the answer is so diverse? Is there such a thing as a generic museum?

So after pondering this definition for a while, I did what any self respecting Digital Humanist would do and asked Twitter : How do you define a museum?

chrisspeed @clairey_ross not by it’s architecture! Thu Oct 20 16:54:15 +0000 2011
chrisspeed @clairey_ross well I would read Thrift’s Non-Representational space and approach it that way. But that’s the hard way! Thu Oct 20 16:56:32 +0000 2011
NickPoole1 @clairey_ross ICOM Definition of a museum is available at Wld love to know if it works! Thu Oct 20 16:56:32 +0000 2011
kostis43 I prefer definitions that answer to the question what a museum ‘does’; not what a museum ‘is’ @clairey_ross @chrisspeed Thu Oct 20 17:00:01 +0000 2011
chrisspeed @clairey_ross @kostis43 Giaccardi likes the idea that museums offering a ‘pause’. In time, space, society, culture. Thu Oct 20 17:03:40 +0000 2011
kostis43 @clairey_ross @chrisspeed Not necessarily activities; that’s too specific. Objectives sound good; practices can also be part of the mix Thu Oct 20 17:15:08 +0000 2011
robmyers @clairey_ross: it’s a big building with lots of old things in it #thismaynotbeaparticularlyrigorousdefinition Thu Oct 20 17:20:19 +0000 2011
kostis43 Ultimately definitions are on the eye of the beholder, so by definition every definition is context-specific;not helpful agree @clairey_ross Thu Oct 20 17:21:03 +0000 2011
kostis43 @clairey_ross or indeed with the PhD! Well if you have a whole chapter on it, then that’s good; see also Luebbe and Huyssen Thu Oct 20 17:24:15 +0000 2011
chrisspeed @clairey_ross it’s a big question! Would keep me thinking for ages! Thu Oct 20 17:29:37 +0000 2011
mdoness RT @clairey_ross: I’m currently writing a PhD chapter on defining ‘a museum’ its making my head hurt.  how do you define a museum?>broadly Thu Oct 20 17:32:28 +0000 2011
mdoness @clairey_ross  good luck with the chapter :_) Thu Oct 20 17:40:07 +0000 2011
jenniwaugh RT @mdoness @clairey_ross: currently writing a PhD chapter on defining ‘a museum’.  how do you define a museum?> with love & awe Thu Oct 20 17:42:06 +0000 2011
mdoness @jenniwaugh @clairey_ross now I like that one…. brings in a different level..why be just rational..its all about emotions! Thu Oct 20 17:46:49 +0000 2011
jenniwaugh Ha ha! You’re welcome! Good luck @clairey_ross have you seen this darling little definition Thu Oct 20 17:48:53 +0000 2011
NickPoole1 @clairey_ross It’s interesting though – bearing in mind *huge* diversity of the sector internationally, does it not provide a common ground? Thu Oct 20 19:38:33 +0000 2011
poisonchallis @clairey_ross go back the Greeks, the home of the muses. Thu Oct 20 20:21:45 +0000 2011
nettys1 @clairey_ross A museum is a public cultural institution. It therefore intends to serve the public. #museumdefinition #definingamuseumcoffee Fri Oct 21 07:31:33 +0000 2011
nettys1 @clairey_ross it is not a private collection, not a commercial enterprise. The collections are scientific (Lapaire, 1983) #museumdefinition Fri Oct 21 07:33:04 +0000 2011
nettys1 @clairey_ross Museums use economic resources and produce "outputs" like education, the preservation of objects and entertainment. #museum Fri Oct 21 07:34:11 +0000 2011
nettys1 @clairey_ross one can characterise the museum according to the catchment area – a national, regional or a local one.  #museumdefinition Fri Oct 21 07:36:15 +0000 2011
nettys1 @clairey_ross sip of coffee in between 🙂 Fri Oct 21 07:36:30 +0000 2011
nettys1 @clairey_ross Lewis, Brian N. (1980): The museum as an educational facility. In: Museums Journal, vol. 80, pp. 151 – 155 Fri Oct 21 07:40:00 +0000 2011
nettys1 @clairey_ross my study was mainly about open-air museums. Hope this was a little bit of help. #museumdefinition. ICOM is a good source! Fri Oct 21 07:43:48 +0000 2011
sociablephysics @clairey_ross "big building with stuff in" #youreWelcome #wheresMyPhd Fri Oct 21 08:10:49 +0000 2011
digitalurban @clairey_ross building with old stuff and hopefully a cafe. Fri Oct 21 08:43:13 +0000 2011
dhgermany @clairey_ross maybe you have to write our museum definition. A good one that everybody will quote… I think museums have changed so much!!! Fri Oct 21 08:51:34 +0000 2011
dhgermany @clairey_ross @kostis43 @chrisspeed not all museums have activities, not all museums have even gone digital – or participate with web 2.0 Fri Oct 21 08:52:42 +0000 2011
dhgermany @clairey_ross @NickPoole1 in Germany especially many museums do not have a very good website or digital collections. Fri Oct 21 08:53:35 +0000 2011
dhgermany @clairey_ross @NickPoole1 nothing is very permanent these days. A museum has a place in most cases, is attached to a location. Fri Oct 21 08:54:32 +0000 2011
dhgermany @clairey_ross @sociablephysics museums are not always big building. They should be nice/have interestingness but that is not always the case Fri Oct 21 08:55:58 +0000 2011
dhgermany @clairey_ross @digitalurban museums offer culture, stuff people want to see & experience; the visitor online and offline decides where to go Fri Oct 21 08:56:55 +0000 2011
dhgermany @clairey_ross @NickPoole1 virtual exhibits & digital elements are new to museums, not necessary but this will happen everywhere now Fri Oct 21 08:59:09 +0000 2011
dhgermany @clairey_ross permanent in the sense that the info and exhibits will be there always and add-ons. I do not like the word permanent really Fri Oct 21 09:00:52 +0000 2011
dhgermany @clairey_ross older exhibits are in the archives #museumexhibits Fri Oct 21 09:01:24 +0000 2011
dhgermany @clairey_ross @NickPoole1 all good museums will eventually make use of digital elements. What do you think? Fri Oct 21 09:02:30 +0000 2011
dhgermany @clairey_ross @NickPoole1 Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Lima)  has no physical location. Is this a museum? I’d say yes. Museum in dig. age! Fri Oct 21 09:03:50 +0000 2011
dhgermany @clairey_ross will think about aspects for a good museum exhibition during the day! #museumdefinition Fri Oct 21 09:04:25 +0000 2011
nettys1 @clairey_ross the museum definitions seem all a bit antiquated maybe. A new one is needed! #museumdefinition Fri Oct 21 11:09:23 +0000 2011
nettys1 @clairey_ross @dhgermany you do not need the digital element to call it a museum. That’s extra – a place to discover treasures. Fri Oct 21 11:13:07 +0000 2011

It’s interesting how many people went for the ‘building’ as attempt to define and others plumped for the ICOM definition. I like how ingrained responses become from what we have been taught previously. I quite like thinking of museums as big grand buildings containing secrets and knowledge and excitement. But is that what a definition should be, a nostalgic memory of building that stole my imagination as a child (and continues to do), should it really be defined as such, when there are so many more modern developments to consider? Then there are the more personal responses, considering emotions and feelings. But what was really interesting is that no one on Twitter really came up with a definitive decision on what a definition of a museum should be. Let alone taking into consideration the more digital elements or the participatory ones. I do think we need a new definition, but as of yet I’m not quite sure what that might be.

Really we have the power to define and redefine the meaning of a museum willy nilly, to suit our purposes. Is it really right to have a generic ‘official’ definition at all? In reality, shouldn’t we let the public who use/visit/experience museums to do the defining?

PhD ponderings: Sherlock Holmes keeping Bees as Inspiration for a lost PhD Student

Whilst on holiday during a particularly horrendous storm last week; I read Laurie R King’s the Beekeeper’s Apprentice. It’s an interesting book, about a retired Sherlock Holmes who keeps bees and his replacement sidekick Marry Russell a gawky witty, irritatingly clever teenager.  The holiday was a break from everything.  My brain had pretty much burnt out and it was nice to spend a week away from technology and thinking in general.  But it was whilst reading this book, that I realised despite working really hard all year, I wasn’t really any further forward in my PhD. In want of a better term, I had gone around in circles a few times and gotten well and truely lost.  A particular passage in the book hit a nerve:

“I drove myself. I ate less, worked invariably into the early hours of morning, drank brandy now to help me sleep.  I laughed when a librarian at the Bodleian suggested only half joking, that I might move into the stacks… I became, in other words, more like Holmes than the man himself: brilliant driven to a point of obsession, careless of myself, mindless of others…. I, in the midst of the same human race, became a thinking machine.”

This is how I functioned during my undergraduate and Masters degrees. I’m not saying it’s a good way of working, but I thrived on it.  Surrounded by papers, books, scribbling, working till I fell asleep and then starting all over again.  However the problem is I haven’t been doing that with my PhD. I’ve been treating it like a job, and trying to get a work life balance. But all I have succeeded in is getting lost.   It’s hard going from a job, even an academic research job, into a PhD. The rules change. It’s a different mindset. I thought I was adapting to the change from job to student quite well, but in reality I was faffing; still working on research projects which weren’t my PhD, saying yes to new exciting projects, even though I knew I shouldn’t of, and becoming addicted to exceedingly bad television programmes.

I realise now that the rules really have changed and if I don’t change too, I will wander off completely.  I have drive and I work hard, but it’s been pointed all over the place, rather than focusing  in on one, lets face it rather important, place.   I need to become a PhD thinking machine.

In attempt to keep on the straight and narrow I’m going to blog regularly about my research, trying to take it step by step, in an orderly fashion rather than leap frogging all over the shop. I hope you don’t mind.