Melrose Abbey: danger sign

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Melrose Abbey © David Gill

This is a variant of the more usual, ‘Danger. Do not climb on the walls’ sign (e.g. Bury St Edmunds Abbey; Hadleigh Castle; Kirkham Priory; Lindisfarne Priory; Pickering Castle; Warkworth Castle). Lindsifarne also has, ‘Danger. Do not climb’.

Perikles and the present

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Perikles from Towneley Collection, British Museum © David Gill

The Athenian general Perikles died from the plague in the early years of the Peloponnesian War (see Thucydides Book II). As illness hit the city, sanctuaries were ‘doored up’ to prevent people taking refuge in the sacred spaces. The urban population had been swollen as people had fled inside the walls as a Spartan army ravaged the countryside of Attica.

This fifth century BC leader and the epidemic that hit Athens provide a model for our present time: “Coronavirus: What Boris Johnson’s Greek hero teaches us about epidemics“, BBC News 13 April 2020.

Melrose Abbey: commendator’s house

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Melrose Abbey © David Gill

The Commendator’s House at Melrose Abbey was constructed in the 15th century although its original function is not clear. It became the Commendator’s House in 1590 (recorded above the lintel of the house) after the Reformation.

It now house the site museum that includes finds from the nearby Roman fort at Newstead.

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Melrose Abbey, Commendator’s House © David Gill

Winifred Lamb: from the Argolid to Anatolia

A lecture on Winifred Lamb to mark 100 years since the first women were elected as Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries. Lamb excavated at Mycenae, Sparta, in Macedonia, on Lesbos (Thermi and Antissa) and Chios (Kato Phana), and then at Kusura in Turkey.

Place-making or place-keeping ?

MP4 project placekeepingIn tackling my backlog of grey literature reading, a report re-emerged in my files on an EU-funded project which ran as part of the 2007-2013 North Sea Region Programme.  The project, entitled “Making Places Profitable – Public and Private Open Spaces”, shortened to MP4 focused on exploration of approaches for planning and designing, maintaining and using public places in the long-term. It set out to demonstrate how open space improvements offer positive socio-economic benefits, and how the benefits offered to key communities can be maintained in the long run.  It also illustrated support for greater interaction between all those involved in the open space management process.  The original project website is no longer active (and I’d advise anyone not to click the link in the project report as the project domain has been re-used for something else entirely!) – but it can be found archived here.  Broader research and case studies were also published in an academic text. (I also hadn’t realised that a Heriot-Watt colleague was involved in the study, and I will now track him down for a conversation!).

The key phrase used within the project which has stuck in my mind over the past few days, is ‘place-keeping’, mainly because I haven’t consciously heard it being used in the historic environment milieu which I am embedded in (rather than the open space management context where it originated).  That we haven’t picked up on the term ‘place-keeping’ surprises me therefore – as the ethos of balancing preservation and managing change which is at the heart of heritage management seems to be neatly captured in it,  particularly where community and stakeholder engagement is at the fore, and especially where it is trying to encourage greater sense of ‘ownership’.  Place-keeping, however perhaps better captures aspects of our discussions in heritage management which which have co-opted ‘place-making’ as a term to use somewhat uncomfortably at times, where heritage has been hard-wired to regeneration and as an instrumental tool for development.  Place-keeping also has an implicit sense of history within the term, whilst place-making just doesn’t – to me it suggests a constant act of development.    Perhaps I have missed it entirely, but I think I shall now be slipping place-keeping into meetings and discussions and see where it finds new traction – or gets challenged forcing me to consider this all a little more.

Heritage observatory observations

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Useful discussion has continued around the notion of what a heritage observatory might look like, and there seems to be common agreement that what the sector doesn’t need is another static repository where information, data and what could otherwise be useful knowledge gets dumped and gathers digital dust.  We’ve got those already.  Any such development needs to be useful and ultimately sustainable (therefore useful might be replaced with vital).

In participating in a discussion with the wonderfully entitled ‘helping to help things happen’ group (part of the wider Heritage2020 programme of activity in England), my takeaway is that there are a set of areas/activities where an observatory function might operate which need further considering in a future feasibility study.  These are:

  1. Signposting of data / research / resources.  There is lots out there, but it can be hard to find or sometimes accidentally stumbled across. The signposting could therefore be passively pointing to what is held elsewhere, and also actively undertaking scanning outside the core sector to signpost knowledge and data that is useful.
  2. Brokerage. There is a need for further assistance in putting partners together (users / producers of knowledge), and supporting knowledge exchange in the heritage policy space. There are excellent projects and partnerships already underway (such as the Oxford TORCH Heritage programme, or our own work at the Scottish Confucius Institute for Business & Communication’s heritage and tourism activity streams supporting international working), and also organisations that exist to support this area of work (such as knowledge exchange units or the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement which focuses on the ‘translation’ of research into wider society) but much more could be done here on a national basis specifically within the heritage sector.
  3. Synthesis. Complex datasets, information sources, and technical detail which exist can be synthesised and translated for end users (particularly in the ‘SME’ world of NGO heritage) where little capacity exists to undertake this.  Again, organisations such as The Heritage Alliance and the Built Environment Forum Scotland already play a key role in this, but their own capacity is limited and could be scaled up further.
  4. Horizon scanning, scenarios and research agendas. There could be a ‘think tank’ role for an observatory, looking at longer term issues or macro pictures and drivers affecting the business and policy environment of the heritage sector.  In undertaking the potential roles listed above, an observatory might play a role in forming a shared heritage policy research agenda (taking aspects of the Heritage Counts / Heritage Audits programmes further, and picking up on the UKHRG work previously blogged about).
  5. Rewiring the relationships and transforming practice. A key aspect of any observatory development might be that it can support the transformation of the way we already work in the heritage policy arena, thinking about how we can do knowledge management better, and support skills and practice development at an individual and organisational level. New ways of working, creating shared knowledge, and better ‘evidence deployment’ techniques in policy debates could be the transformative element for making the case for heritage.
  6. Geographical coverage. Discussions at the moment are centred in England, however many heritage policy issues are cross-cutting in terms of geography, and the research funding councils which fund most of the University-centred research activities have a UK-wide remit. Whilst heritage and cultural policy is largely a devolved issue across the home nations, any observatory development should try to work at a country-wide level, not least as the devolved approaches in heritage are already raising interesting opportunities for learning from each other about difference – and can collectively support the wider public policy challenges for the sector that lie ahead regardless of where we live.

 

 

 

The long road to museum transformation

I was delighted to attend the Opening Reception last night at the National Museums of Scotland to celebrate the completion of the 15 year transformation of the main National Museum building on Chambers Street in Edinburgh.  As the final three galleries to be represented included the East Asia gallery, we were treated to a performance of Japanese drumming, which echoed amazingly through the main atrium of the Museum.NMS drums

Speeches were kicked off by the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Fiona Hyslop, who re-emphasised the point the culture is at the heart of flourishing societies, and were a vital part of public life (and policy).  She has consistently stuck to this script, and as a longstanding political overseer of the culture and heritage portfolio in Scotland, it remains heartening to hear her continue to win the argument for culture within Government realms.  Were that always the case south of the border, and oh to have a culture minister in England that lasted more than a couple of years!

We were then given short speeches by the National Museums Scotland Chair, Bruce Minto; the Chair of the Scottish Committee of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Dame Seona Reid (formerly known as the HLF, but renamed as part of their new strategic plan last week); and finally by Dr Gordon Rintoul, who as Director of NMS has seen the project through from the start.  We then headed off to view the new galleries – covering ancient Egypt, East Asia and ceramic collections – and were left to ponder whether 15 years on, and with the changing fashions and expectations for museum display and experiences, whether it is time to start the whole process again, akin to painting the Forth Bridge.