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Micromuseology

In 2012 Fiona Candlin, Senior Lecturer in Museum Studies at Birkbeck, University of London, was awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for a project entitled ‘Micromuseology’. Her research asked how ideas about museums might change if academics focused on small independent single-subject museums – micromuseums – instead of major institutions.

Mundersley

The Leverhulme Fellowship funded Fiona to extend her existing fieldwork by visiting multiple micromuseums across the British Isles. She hired a camper van and drove from London, up the East coast of England to Scotland, from the Orkneys to Skye, took the ferry to Belfast, travelled through Ireland and returned home via Wales. During the tour she visited venues as diverse as the Victorian Science Museum in Glaisdale, The Giant Angus McAskill Museum in Dunvegan, and the Irish Republican History Museum on the Falls Road. Fiona then focused on selected micromuseums to reappraise dominant debates within museum studies.

In her forthcoming book Micromuseology she considers the independent status of micromuseums, their accommodation in domestic spaces, and in turn, the implications for their status as public venues. A preliminary version of this section of her research was published as ‘Open House at the Vintage Wireless Museum’ in Open: Cahier on the Art and the Public Domain. 23. (2012). Fiona also concentrates on the Museum of Witchcraft in Cornwall, to show that exhibits are not automatically disconnected from their previous uses or circuits of belief and, contra received opinion, can elicit strong emotional and spiritual responses in visitors, even in those who come from outside the associated communities. This analysis prompted invitations to speak at the 2013 Annual General Meeting of the Friends of the Museum of Witchcraft and at a British Museum Study Day entitled ‘Encountering the Sacred’, while a version of the chapter has been published as ‘Keeping Objects Live’, in Michelle Hennings (ed.) The International Handbook of Museum Studies Vol. 4 (Museum Media), Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell (2014).

Micromuseology also contains a chapter on the Lurgan History Museum, an avowedly partisan micromuseum that led Fiona to question the validity of multi-perspectival approaches to curation and to suggest that there is a place for unilateral modes of display, and a chapter on the Bakelite Museum in Somerset. Taking its unfashionably packed exhibitions as her subject matter she discusses recent claims that the number and importance of objects has been reduced within museums and advocates academic analyses that, like the Bakelite Museum, can encompass ‘clutter’. Her last chapter attends to the British in India Museum in Nelson and discusses the low-value objects that donors have given to micromuseums, a topic that is otherwise almost entirely unmentioned within museology. Finally, the book closes with a broad comparison of micromuseums and major institutions.

Micromuseology is due to be published at the end of 2014.

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