Tuesday 25 June 2019, 14:30-17:00

Reanimating collections, sharing knowledges

Room G03, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD

How can archives and collections be more openly available to indigenous researchers? What are the potentialities and drawbacks of digital knowledge bases? What is the role of historic collections to contemporary indigenous peoples? How can indigenous knowledge be displayed on a par with scientific knowledge?

This round-table brings together European and Brazilian researchers and curators, including indigenous researchers, to discuss ways of advancing co-curatorship on Latin American collections in European archives and museums.

Speakers include: Andrea Scholz (Ethnological Museum Berlin), Mariana Françozo (Leiden University), Nildo Fontes (FOIRN, Federation of the Indigenous Organizations of Rio Negro), Aloisio Cabalzar (ISA, Socio-environmental Institute), William Milliken (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), Mark Nesbitt (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), Viviane Kruel (Rio de Janeiro Botanic Garden), João Pacheco (National Museum, Rio de Janeiro), Laura Osorio Sunnucks (British Museum).

Chair: Luciana Martins (Birkbeck)

14:30 – 14:40  Introduction

14:40 – 15:40  Short presentations

15:40 – 16:00  Coffee break

16:00 – 17:00 Discussion

This round-table forms part of the research project ‘Digital repatriation of biocultural collections: connecting scientific and indigenous communities of knowledge in Amazonia’, funded by a British Academy Knowledge Frontiers award.

This event is free and open to all. Postgraduate students are particularly welcome.

This event is jointly organised with CILAVS.

Friday 7 June 2019

Small Museums in a Global Context

Keynes Library, School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square

Composite of a Tibetan monastery museum display; the sign for the Gopher Hole museum, and the entrance to the museum of sexual diversity in Sao Paolo

During the late twentieth century there was a massive rise in the numbers of museums across the world. In the main, these new museums were small, independent and addressed non-traditional subjects. However, very little is known about the differences and commonalities in museum development in a global context. In this half-day symposium, specialists on Brazilian, British, Canadian, Tibetan, and Kenyan museums will explore the various factors that underpinned museum expansion in specific countries or regions. We will ask: what forms did the new museums take, who founded them, for what reasons, and with what effects?


Lianne McTavish: From Gophers to Fear and Wonder: Studying the Small Town and Rural Museums in Alberta, Canada

Louise Tythacott: The Buddhist Museums Boom

Bruno Brulon Soares: Community museums of the 21st century in Brazil: local experiences for a global reflection

Fiona Candlin: Village Life, the Cold War, and the Beeching Cuts: Opening museums in the UK

To be followed by a round-table discussion.

Chair: Annie Coombes

Full details including abstracts and speaker bios


Tuesday 28th May

What is a Museum? (And how would we know?)

Professor Fiona Candlin (Inaugural lecture)

A wooden hand-painted sign for a museum standing in a bank of nettles

The Mapping Museums project aims at analysing development and change within the UK museum sector from 1960 until the present day. In order to achieve that ambition, the research team has had to compile a dataset of all the museums open during that period. Doing so led us to ask what kinds of organisations should be included and how we should make that decision. Should we include heritage and visitor centres, historic houses and other buildings, or the exhibitions in hospitals, town halls, and corporate headquarters? What about galleries without collections or museums that are only open for five days per year? Should we draw the line between private collections and private museums, and if so, where and how? In her inaugural lecture Professor Fiona Candlin, Principal Investigator on the Mapping Museum project, outlines the various approaches that the team adopted (and mainly abandoned) in their pursuit of a coherent selection strategy.

Fiona Candlin is Professor of Museology within the History of Art department at Birkbeck College, University of London. She is the Principal Investigator on a large scale research project entitled ‘Mapping Museums: The history and geography of the UK independent sector 1960-2020’. In this capacity she collaborates with Alex Poulovassilis, Professor of Computer Science at Birkbeck. They lead an interdisciplinary research team that is collectively documenting, visualising, and analysing the recent development of the UK museum sector.

Candlin also collaborates with the Bishopsgate Institute on the ‘Micromuseums Archive’, and has published widely on various aspects of museums, particularly on the history, curation, and architecture of small independent museums. She co-edited The Object Reader (Routledge 2009) with Raiford Guins, and is the author of Art, Museums, and Touch (Manchester 2010) and Micromuseology: An analysis of small independent museums (Bloomsbury 2015). Her current writing retains an emphasis on grass roots venues and additionally focuses on definitions of museums and data collection within the museum sector.

Thursday 23rd May 2019

Patrons and Lovers of Art: Art Institutions, collecting and the wealth of empire in early nineteenth century London

Sarah Thomas, Catherine Roach, Susanna Avery-Quash, Kate Retford (Chair)
Pieter Christoffel Wonder, Patrons and Lovers of Art (1830), private collection

Pieter Christoffel Wonder, Patrons and Lovers of Art (1830), private collection

The foundation in Britain of a National Gallery in 1824 was commemorated in a remarkable painting by Dutch artist Pieter Christoffel Wonder, Patrons and Lovers of Art (1830). With forensic attention to detail, it amply demonstrates the wealth and confidence of British art collectors and connoisseurs in the period. Sarah Thomas (Birkbeck), Catherine Roach (Virginia Commonwealth University, USA), and Susanna Avery-Quash (National Gallery, London) discuss the painting from different perspectives within the context of British cultural history. Kate Retford (Birkbeck) will chair the discussion.

This event was part of Birkbeck’s annual Arts Week.

Monday May 20

Jews, Money, Myth

Anthony Bale, Joanne Rosenthal, Marc Volovici
Room B04, 43 Gordon Square

Jews Money Myth header image

How can museums best confront the stereotypes that feed antisemitism? Join our panel to explore the challenges of exhibiting difficult histories and shaping the stories objects tell.

Coinciding with the major exhibition Jews, Money, Myth, currently showing at the Jewish Museum and developed in collaboration with Birkbeck’s Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism, Anthony Bale and Marc Volovici, academic advisors to the exhibition, and its curator, Joanne Rosenthal discuss their approach. Chair: Sarah Thomas, Director of the Centre for Museum Cultures.

Jews, Money, Myth runs at the Jewish Museum until 7 July and explores the role of money in Jewish life and its vexed place in relations between Jews and non-Jews, from the time of Jesus to the 21st century. It examines the origins of some of the longest running and deeply entrenched antisemitic stereotypes: the theological roots of the association of Jews with money; the myths and reality of the medieval Jewish moneylender; and the place of Jews – real and imagined – in commerce, capitalism and finance up to the present day. “Next time I’m asked how antisemitism started, I’ll say: ‘go to this exhibition’” Daniel Finkelstein, The Times.

Anthony Bale is Executive Dean of Arts and Professor of Medieval Studies at Birkbeck. His research interests include the histories and theories of ‘antisemitism’, late medieval English literature, culture and popular religion. He served as an academic advisor for Jews, Money, Myth.

Joanne Rosenthal is a freelance curator based in Sheffield. She was formerly Chief Curator and Head of Exhibitions at the Jewish Museum London and served on the board of the Association of European Jewish Museums. Her exhibitions for the Jewish Museum include Jews, Money, Myth and Blood: Uniting and Dividing. Her curatorial interests lie in the representation of difficult histories and explorations of collective memory and identity.

Marc Volovici is a Research Fellow at the Pears Institute. He served as an academic advisor for Jews, Money, Myth, and co-edited the exhibition catalogue. He is completing a book on the language politics of Jewish nationalism.

This event was part of Birkbeck’s annual Arts Week.


Wednesday 15 May, 6pm

The Museum of the Flat Earth: Curating as Art Practice?

Kay Burns and James Mansfield
Keynes Library, 43 Gordon Square

Interior of the museum of the flat earth. Various objects in display cases.

Throughout the 20th Century, artists have sought to be collected and exhibited by museums, and many have also presented critiques of the social and economic structures of museums. More recently, moving away from the expected role of the public art institution, a number of artists have appropriated the physical space, attributes, and authority of museums in the creation of their work, including Kay Burns’ Museum of the Flat Earth. Kay founded this Museum, located on Fogo Island in Newfoundland in 2016, as a repository and adaptation of many years of artistic research and practice.

The Museum combines fictional narrative, historical artefacts, and museological practices with creative performance and interpretation to provide a participatory experience for visitors. Kay will talk about how she came to create the Museum and will also be joined by James Mansfield, artist and PhD candidate at the University of Reading, for a discussion around how the Museum functions as a contemporary artwork and as a work of institutional critique.

Kay Burns is a multidisciplinary artist based in Fogo Island, Newfoundland (Canada). Her work includes performance art, sculpture, photography, audio, installation and locative media. Through her practice, she reinterprets local histories, mythologies, and eccentricities of site and society. A significant aspect of Burns’ research since 2002 has been the reinstatement of the defunct Flat Earth Society of Canada through her performance persona, Iris Taylor. This work has culminated in the creation of the Museum of the Flat Earth, which is both a non-profit museum and an evolving art installation. Her artwork has been presented internationally in Reykjavik, Amsterdam, Belfast, New York and Los Angeles; and across Canada from Dawson City, Yukon to St. John’s, Newfoundland. She previously held the post of curator at the Muttart Public Art Gallery in Calgary, and has taught at the University of Calgary Fine Arts Department and the Alberta University of the Arts.


Friday 3 May

‘Other possible stories. Rethinking the collections of the Museo de Arte de Lima’

Professor Natalia Majluf

El casabe y su origen
Brus Rubio. 2011
Photo: Daniel Giannoni

This presentation attempts to account for the work carried out by a group of curators and experts at the Museo de Arte de Lima over the past two decades. It explores the challenges of incorporating historical and contemporary objects within a panoramic survey collection that spans cultural production in the Andean region from the pre-Columbian period to the present. This effort has contronted the museum with notions of art, time and place that establish oppositions between crucial categories of museological classification: high and popular culture, art and craft, history and ethnography, tradition and modernity, the local and the global. These issues are discussed through examples of specific collecting and research projects related to forms of cultural production traditionally excluded from the museum’s narratives.

Natalia Majluf, currently Simón Bolívar Chair at the University of Cambridge, 2018-2019, is an art historian who works on the long nineteenth century in Latin America, from the era of Independence to the early twentieth century. As Head Curator and Director of the Museo de Arte de Lima, between 1995 and 2018 she oversaw the renovation of the historic building that houses the museum and was responsible for enriching and broadening the scope of the collections. She has held fellowships from the Getty Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts in Washington, D.C. She is editor, among others, of Los incas, reyes del Perú (2005), Luis Montero’s The funerals of Atahualpa (2011), José Gil de Castro, pintor de libertadores (2014) and has co-authored Tipos del Perú. La Lima criolla de Pancho Fierro (2008), Fernando Bryce. Drawing Modern History (2011), Sabogal (2013) and Chambi (2015), among other books and exhibition catalogues.

Co-hosted by the Centre for Museum Cultures and the Centre for Iberian and Latin American Visual Studies.

Wednesday 1 May

Pakistan’s Best Kept Secret – Lahore Museum

Chandak Sengoopta, Anwar Akhtar, Sarah Thomas

The first UK screening of Pakistan’s Best Kept Secret – Lahore Museum, filmed in and around the extraordinary Lahore Museum and its unique collection of Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist artefacts.

Lahore Museum has a rich, ancient and varied collection which demonstrates the historical wealth, religious and cultural plurality of Pakistan, one of the largest Muslim majority countries in the world, with large diasporic communities across the globe.  The film explores the significance of the Museum in Asia, but also in Britain today. Its collection tells stories of ancient cultures: Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Muslim histories, and those of empire, trade, the arrival of the East India company, the contribution of British Indian soldiers in World Wars I and II, the partition of India, and the creation of Pakistan. It also gives some insight into life in Pakistan today.

The film features Anwar Akhtar, British Pakistani journalist and director of samosa media, in conversation with the Lahore Museum’s ex-director Sumera Samad, and playwright Shahid Nadeem (Ajoka Theatre Company). They view the Museum’s collection, and discuss the future role of the institution within Pakistan’s wider social, political, religious and cultural context today as well as Pakistan’s relationships with Britain.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Professor Chandak Sengoopta (Department of History, Classics & Archaeology, Birkbeck), Anwar Akhtar, Dr Natasha Eaton (History of Art, UCL), and chaired by Dr Sarah Thomas (Director, Centre for Museum Cultures, Birkbeck). The discussion will consider Lahore  Museum’s collection within a global context of sectarian tensions, culture wars and the populist rhetoric of politicians today. It will also ask how films like this can support and embed diversity in museums.


Monday 25 March 2019

Professor Jennifer Tucker and Johnathan Ferguson

Curating Firearms in Museums in the 21st Century’

Keynes Library, School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square

Tower of London, lantern slide, c.1870

Firearms collections and exhibitions share many affinities with other museums of technology. Today, there are around thirty national, state and publically owned collections of firearms in the U.S., as well as hundreds more that are privately owned or in collections on military bases. Even in the UK, with its less extensive historical and contemporary ‘gun culture’, many museum collections contain firearms of one sort or another, although many remain in storage. In both countries firearms collections raise many challenging questions. How do curators of museum firearms collections make choices for exhibition stories, as well as facilitate research and study?  This session convenes a historian and a curator to discuss how guns and their histories are exhibited and narrated in American and British museums today.

Jonathan Ferguson is Keeper of Firearms & Artillery at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, UK. He is based at the National Firearms Centre, successor to the Ministry of Defence Pattern Room and one of the most comprehensive firearms collections in the world. His research interests include the use and effect of firearms both historical and modern. He also works with Armament Research Services as a technical specialist. Publications include the article ‘Trusty Bess’: the Definitive Origins and History of the term “Brown Bess” (2017), the book ‘Mauser “Broomhandle” Pistol’ (2017), and a co-authored small arms handbook for field researchers (due 2018).

Jennifer Tucker is Associate Professor of History and Science in Society at Wesleyan University (USA). Her research explores historical relationships of technology, science and culture, and law in nineteenth-century Britain and U.S.: interests which extend to the study of firearms in British and imperial history. She is the editor of the forthcoming book, A Right to Bear Arms? The Contested Role of History in Contemporary Debates on the Second Amendment (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, 2019), and the moderator of a recent round table discussion in Technology and Culture journal with seven curators of national and local firearms museums on the topic of history and heritage. She also writes about cowboy shoot outs and historical reenactments and the symbolism of guns in the current election ad cycle. A member of the new Association of Firearm Museum Professionals and Historians, she is the recipient of a 2016 National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Award.

The Royal Armouries is the UK’s national museum of Arms & Armour, spanning sites at Leeds, the Tower of London, and Fort Nelson. Its stated purpose is: ‘To excite and educate the public about arms and armour and their impact on the people, history and cultures of Britain and the world from ancient times to the present day’. The Armouries holds in trust for the public one of the finest collections of its type in the world, from exquisite pieces of the gunmaker’s art, to the most functional military weapons, and from the medieval period to the present day. The already impressive firearms collection was more than doubled in size in 2005 by the acquisition of the British Ministry of Defence’s former ‘Pattern Room’ collection.

Friday 1 March 2019

Professor Wendy Shaw

‘Museums and Islamic Art: Whose Culture? Whose Colony?’

School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square

The category of Islamic art begs an ontological problem: it is a category produced by the fact of being studied. Emerging through the accretion of modern art historical methods as applied to cultures distinct from those of Europe, Islamic art history is supposed to translate the culture of the “other” into a language of art that claims universality. To what extent is this practice intrinsically colonial? And to what extent can culture nonetheless come to be expressed in the interstices between our claims to knowledge? This talk examines how Islamic art history emerges from methodological art historical layers, and becomes globalised in the modern era, both as a representation of Islam and as a representation of power, ultimately to ask how our rich collections might also speak otherwise.

Wendy M. K. Shaw (Ph.D. UCLA, 1999) is Professor of the Art History of Islamic cultures at the Free University Berlin. Her work focuses on the impact of coloniality on art-related institutions, modern art and pre-modern discourses of perception, with emphasis on the Ottoman Empire and regions of Islamic hegemony. She has written Possessors and Possessed: Museums, Archaeology, and the Visualization of History in the Late Ottoman Empire (University of California Press, 2003), Ottoman Painting: Reflections of Western Art from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic (IB Tauris, 2011), and What is “Islamic” Art: Between Religion and Perception (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

10 December 2018

Thomas Gainsborough by Thomas Gainsborough

NPG 4446. Thomas Gainsborough by Thomas Gainsborough. Oil on canvas, circa 1759. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Meet the Curator at the National Portrait Gallery

Dr Lucy Peltz, Head of Collection Displays (Tudor to Regency) and Senior Curator 18th Century Collections, gave an informal talk and answered questions in Gainsborough’s Family Album about her role in co-curating this fascinating exhibition.


22-23 November 2018

Conference: Classical Material Culture in the 19thCentury

Organised by the Birkbeck Centre for Nineteenth Century Studies


19 October 2018, 6pm

‘Design for a Nation: The Victoria and Albert Museum in the 21st Century’

Birkbeck History of Art Anniversary Lecture

Dr Tristram Hunt, Director, V&A

Dr Tristram Hunt is Director of the V&A: the world’s leading museum of art, design and performance. He will discuss how the museum’s founding commitment to design, education and industry continues to define it today. Tracing the museum’s genesis, from its Victorian roots in the Design School Movement of the 1830s, through the Great Exhibition of 1851, to its establishment in 1852 as the Museum of Manufactures, he considers how the V&A’s British, Germanic, Indian and Oriental origins engendered a world-class collection. In our contemporary age of Brexit, Netflix and digital technology, Dr Hunt uses this cultural lens to consider the museum’s place in the world today.

Dr Hunt’s lecture will be followed by a drinks reception and the launch of the Centre for Museum Cultures.

6pm–8pm: Beveridge Hall, Senate House WC1E 7HU