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Object Lessons: Communicating Knowledge Through Collections
Objects can be viewed from many different perspectives to reveal multiple, and sometimes contested, meanings. While we may start with object-focused questions such as: What is it made of? How was it made? Where is it from? When was it made? How was it used? Answers to these questions open up further research areas about how objects connect people and express knowledge and cultural values.
Using UCL’s unique collections, which include the Grant Museum of Zoology, the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, and Art Collections, students will build their own virtual exhibition. Starting with an object each, students will work independently and in small groups to research their objects’ ‘original’ cultural, social, historical, ethnographic and scientific contexts.
Through this process of interrogation, research, documentation and presentation, a range of research and practical skills will be developed. By using objects as the primary focus, the course will draw on interdisciplinary approaches to their study from fields as diverse as zoology and art history; anthropology and medical science. Students will develop an awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of different sources of information, for example, the textual, material, visual and auditory, and be able to combine these sources in the analysis of a particular theme or research focus.
At the end of the course, students will be able to:
- Undertake independent research
- Work successfully in a team
- Compile, edit and present information in a variety of formats, including reports, illustrations and on web pages
- Critically evaluate how other people present data
- Demonstrate direct experience of working with museum curators and other specialists in the field of object research
The course will consist of weekly small group practical sessions (2 hours), followed by whole group lectures (2 hours). Lectures are designed to acquaint students with key examples of academic research on objects taken from a range of disciplines which will inform and inspire the students’ own approaches to object analysis. Weekly independent study will also be necessary in order to undertake the assessed project work successfully.
Themes explored in lectures and practical sessions are to include: the role of materiality in culture and human cognition, scientific approaches to the analysis of materials, the social and economic contexts of manufacturing and trade, approaches to studying the aesthetic qualities of artefacts, how to design an exhibition, developing virtual media and web content, researching collections, principles of curation, and ethics and digital communication.