What makes a good museum? The Art Fund knows – a guest post by Amy Jane Barnes

Amy Jane BarnesBy Amy Jane Barnes, University of Leicester

This article was originally published on The Conversation.  Read the original article here.

On July 9, the annual Museum of the Year Prize, run by the Museum Prize Trust and sponsored since 2008 by the Art Fund, awarded £100,000 to the winner: the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which shone in a shortlist of six museums and galleries.

The prize’s stated aim is to highlight the role of museums in society, to encourage more people to visit and to recognise the very best exhibiting institutions in the UK – but pinning down the characteristics of what the Art Fund calls “truly outstanding” museums is harder than it sounds.

As someone who studies museums, I have strong opinions about what makes a good one. To get my vote, a museum has to be prepared to take some risks, to remain intellectually (and physically) accessible while challenging its audiences. It should present different views and ideas and avoid neutrality, or rather, refrain from perpetuating the myth that the museum (and knowledge) is objective – we know it is not.

Museums with these characteristics are inspiring. They will also probably play a role in society that encompasses, as the UK Museums Association puts it, not simply just the collection, preservation and sharing of collections (although these of course remain core roles).

They will also act as catalysts for community cohesion and regeneration, and be places where social issues can be publicly explored.

What matters?

That said, everyone has a different opinion, as do many of my colleagues. When I asked them what makes a good museum, they all had different answers. It should have a clear identity; it should have an environmental conscience and a commitment to sustainability; it should be innovative and involved with its local community.

This was hardly a scientific poll, of course, but the range of answers I got highlights the considerable impact individual preferences and priorities have on perceptions of what a good museum does.

Pinpointing excellence in the museum sector is a tricky business, and is partly (if not entirely) shaped by the concerns and policies of the day. The Art Fund’s five-person judging panel will select the winner for the Museum of Year Prize, from six shortlisted institutions, each judged to have had a “transformative” effect on their users and audiences.

The big six

The Ditching Museum of Art + Craft in East Sussex presents examples of work by artists and craftspeople who formed a community in the village during the 20th century. In recent years, the museum has undergone major renovation and reopened last year. It has been praised by the judges for its “dedicated learning space” and fully accessible site.

The Hayward Gallery, on London’s Southbank, has been dedicated to displaying contemporary art since its creation in 1968. Its touring programme and exhibitions, which focus on “important issues in contemporary artistic practice”, attracted “record-breaking audiences” in 2013.

Opened to the public in May 2013, the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, houses the remains of Henry VIII’s flagship, sunk in 1545 and recovered in 1982. Its selection recognises the engaging and “intensely personal nature” of the museum’s narrative, which provides visitors with “an inimitable insight into Tudor life”.

The Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, Norwich, designed by Norman Foster to house the Sainsbury collection of art and artefacts and opened in 1978, relaunched last year after major renovation. The new SCVA features a redisplay of the permanent collection, and new exhibition and retail spaces.

Similarly, the oldest part of Tate Britain was restructured to bring nine galleries up to contemporary standards, and to allow for the creation of new spaces for schools and learning activities. On reopening, visitors were also able to experience a new chronological display of British art.

And finally, the winner: the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield, which features works by major sculptors from around the world. Among other things, it was highlighted by the judges for “engaging new audiences and providing a unique art experience for hard-to-reach groups” via its learning programmes.

More than money

In addition to the cash prize, Yorkshire Sculpture Park will benefit from an enhanced profile and wider public recognition – and in turn, a more secure future, something the Prize has done for winners before.

Last year’s victor, the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, had been been under threat of closure just six years earlier. But after winning the prize, the gallery experienced a massive increase in visitor numbers, which the local head of cultural services hoped would bring increased funding and stave off the threat of future cuts.

Just as we all came up with different definitions of what makes a “good” museum, I expect me and my colleagues would each have a strong opinion about which of the shortlisted museums most deserves to win the prize. We may not all fully agree with the final decision, but ultimately, anything that gives “immediate national attention” to museums, promotes excellence in the sector, and demonstrates their immense social and cultural value deserves our wholehearted support.

Museum representations of Maoist ChinaThe ConversationAmy Jane Barnes is author of Museum Representations of Maoist China: From Cultural Revolution to Commie Kitsch

The United Nations, Peacekeeping and Global Governance – Kate Seaman’s book is a YBP core title for 2014

Untied nationsKate Seaman’s book Un-tied Nations: The United Nations, Peacekeeping and Global Governance has been selected by Yankee Book Pedlar as a UK core title. This is a special commendation, as only 300 books a year receive this designation.

UN-Tied Nations provides a concise and analytical introduction to the ongoing debates around the development of global governance, global security governance, and the continuous impact these are having on the ability of the United Nations to act as an international peacekeeper.

With the recent developments in the Middle East the United Nations is once again making headlines. The failure to reach agreement on Security Council resolutions demonstrates the continued problems in forging a coherent international response to crisis situations. This lack of coherence continues despite recognition of the need for more cooperation to solve the growing list of global problems. With the relative success of global governance initiatives in relation to the environment, health issues, and economic problems, the focus has increasingly shifted to the problems of international security. This timely and important book represents a response to that shift and the implications this has for the wider international system.

Using a number of relevant case studies (including the UN interventions in Bosnia, Somalia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and East Timor) Kate Seaman examines the securitisation of global governance through the prism of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations and demonstrates that the development of both global governance and global security governance have transformed the environment in which international organisations, such as the United Nations, are operating. The author also brings together a number of the key academic debates surrounding both global security governance and peacekeeping, and combines an examination of the power relations of global security governance with the changing nature of peacekeeping operations. By bringing the two areas together the book for the first time bridges existing literatures and debates, from theoretical discussions of global governance, to practical examinations of peacekeeping operations.

‘As peacekeepers engage with peace-building in intensely divided post-conflict environments, they find themselves labouring in the engine room of other societies’ political systems. Should peacekeeping become a form of governance, and if it does, what becomes of the original enterprise of peacekeeping? Kate Seaman’s book argues that peacekeeping has been degraded and delegitimised by its encounter with global governance. She supports this argument with interviews with prominent policy-makers, a wide ranging review of the literature on peacekeeping and global governance, and case studies. This book makes a critical contribution to the debate about how peacekeeping and global governance should evolve.’   Hugh Miall, University of Kent, UK

‘Conceptually informed and empirically rich, Seaman skilfully unpacks recent developments in UN peace-keeping through the lens of global governance theory. This incisive work brings together and synthesises the -at times – confounding array of voices surrounding the utility of UN peace-keeping operations and brings an impressive degree of clarity to a frequently opaque discussion. The analysis presented is compelling, at times provocative and always illuminating.’   Feargal Cochrane, Conflict Analysis Research Centre, University of Kent, UK

Kate Seaman is a teaching fellow at the University of Bath.

How the First World War has been symbolized over the past century – a guest post from Stephen Heathorn

StephenHeathornThis is a guest post from Stephen Heathorn, author of Haig and Kitchener in Twentieth-Century Britain: Remembrance, Representation and Appropriation

One of the long-lasting images of the British experience of the First World War has been that the British fielded armies were filled with brave soldiers (‘lions’) led by incompetent, reckless and callous generals (‘donkeys’), the latter sitting safe miles behind the murderous frontlines.  This ‘lions led by donkeys’ image became very popular after the Second World War because it implicitly contains a then popular critique of British society: the British high command had been led by aristocrats and gentry who, because of their class position, were largely contemptuous of the middle- and working-class men they sent into battle.

This view of the war was emotionally satisfying for some as it identifies clear villains and victims of the conflict, which was especially important after the interwar years demonstrated that the war had not brought about a necessarily better Britain and the second calamity of the Second World War solidified existing doubts on the motivations for going to war in 1914 in the first place.  But the very idea of ‘lions led by donkeys’ is a myth.  It is a way of understanding the past that contains elements of the actual story, but arranged in a way that overly simplifies what had happened and apportions responsibility for tragedy too neatly and without full context.  It is also not the way in which most people in Britain understood the First World War prior to the 1950s.

A number of historians have tried to debunk the ‘lions led by donkeys’ myth, showing that as a group the British generals (of which there were hundreds who saw service, and some 78 were killed in action) learned the necessary lessons of trench warfare better and quicker than did their opponents, which is why Britain and its allies were able to defeat the Germans.  Others have argued that the generals did not learn very quickly, but that ultimately they were never in complete control of their armies’ efforts anyway, and indeed, because of the limitations of technology at the time, often could not even communicate effectively with their subordinates while battle raged.  Technological, logistical, demographic and geographical factors impinged on what the leaders of the armies could do – regardless of their imaginative frame of mind or tactical abilities.

But the generals at the top – Field Marshals Douglas Haig and Herbert Horatio Kitchener in particular – have since the war continued to be the focus of popular fascination, regardless of whether they have been depicted (as they have at various times) as heroes, villains, unfairly scapegoated, or really quite irrelevant.  Indeed, at different times over the course of the 20th century these two men have become symbols of how the war itself was popularly understood and argued about.  Haig, for instance, was given a hero’s funeral attended by more than a million people in 1928, when the mass of the population still believed (or wanted to believe) that the war had resulted in a meaningful, if costly, victory.  The proposed statue in Whitehall (actually erected in the late 1930s) to commemorate him was controversial from the start not because Haig was reviled, but because numerous constituencies wanted it to reflect their values and sacrifices: the monument to Haig was popularly perceived as standing for more than just the man, Haig stood as a contested symbol of how the British war effort ought to be understood.  Similarly, in the 1990s when a newspaper campaign was launched to have the Haig statue removed, it was because a far more negative view of the war (more in line with the ‘lions led by donkeys’ image) had become popularly entrenched.

Haig’s example points to one of the paradoxes of how the First World War has been remembered and popularly understood.  For while it was a conflict that involved millions and operated according to a depersonalized, alienating logic, subsequent attempts to understand the war have almost invariably tried to do so through the experience and understanding of individual participants.  The experience of a few individuals in the trenches immortalized by the young officer-writers like Owen, Graves and Sassoon, subsequently came to represent for many who did not experience it first hand, what the war was like for the ‘everyman’ in the trenches.  These writers and their perceptions shaped our culture’s understanding of what the war (and indeed for some, all modern war) was like.  The changing representations (and their subsequent use, politically, commercially and academically) of the military leadership, on the other hand, points to the continuing need to have heroes/villains who might be held accountable for the events that occurred – even if such an accounting overly simplifies/amplifies these men’s actual role.  Both representations – of the everyman soldier and of the general – have telescoped a huge variety of experience and context into simple, mutually re-enforcing symbols that have changed considerably over the course of the century since the war began.  Understanding how these symbols have evolved provides us insight into how the war itself has been understood, and why those understandings have changed.

Stephen Heathorn is Professor of British History and Director of Graduate Studies of the Department of History at McMaster University, Canada  He is the author of the research monographs, ‘Earl Kitchener and Earl Haig in Twentieth Century Britain: Remembrance, Representation and Appropriation’ (Ashgate, 2013), and ‘For Home, Country and Race: Constructing Gender, Class and Englishness in the Elementary School Classroom, 1880-1914′ (University of Toronto Press, 2000), and more than two dozen peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters.

Haig and KitchenerMore about Haig and Kitchener in Twentieth-Century Britain: Remembrance, Representation and Appropriation

Sharon Gregory’s ‘Vasari and the Renaissance Print’ highly commended by the 2014 SRS book prize judges

Vasari and the Renaissance PrintWe’re delighted to learn that Sharon Gregory’s book Vasari and the Renaissance Print was highly commended by the 2014 Society for Renaissance Studies book prize judges.

From the SRS website:

The 2014 SRS book prize was awarded to Alec Ryrie for his book, Being Protestant in Reformation Britain (OUP, 2013). Two other books were highly commended, Guido Alfani, Calamities and the Economy in Renaissance Italy: The Grand Tour of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, trans. Christine Calvert (Palgrave, 2013), and Sharon Gregory, Vasari and the Renaissance Print (Ashgate, 2012).

The judges were impressed by the high standard of the books entered for the prize and were extremely grateful to all the many publishers who sent in their books to the committee making the decision of choosing a winner extremely difficult.

Professor Gregory’s book was singled out by all three judges because of its comprehensive nature and painstaking research in making available for a wide readership all the prints associated with Giorgio Vasari, and for providing a fascinating commentary that explains why they were so central to his thinking and artistic practices. The book is the product of many years of serious scholarship and is exactly the sort of work that justifies what academics do in opening up the archive for others to understand and use and which makes being part of the profession a pleasure. The committee also wishes to congratulate the publishers for producing such high quality images.

Read the full announcement here

About the Author:  Sharon Gregory is Associate Professor in Art History and Erasmus Chair in Renaissance Humanism at St Francis Xavier University, Canada.

As well as being highly Commended for the SRS Book Prize, Vasari and the Renaissance Print also received honorable Mention for the IFPDA Book Award, 2013, and was designated as a US Core Title for 2012 by Yankee Book Peddler.

‘… an exemplary piece of scholarship, deeply considered and scrupulously documented, that will be of interest to curators and historians and literary scholars alike. The first focus here concerns the many uses Vasari made of the prints both for his own artistic production and then for the accounts of those artists included in his text The Lives whose work he knew from evidence such as this. But Gregory also lays out here a fascinating and carefully grounded account of the dissemination of visual materials in this first moment of printing and the ways prints could become a vital part of the larger culture. It is rare to find a study on these subjects that is so sure of its details yet manages also to move beyond them to offer original insights and conclusions.’   David Cast, Bryn Mawr College; author of The Delight of Art: Giorgio Vasari and the Traditions of Humanist Discourse

‘This well-researched and well-structured book examines a number of different aspects of its subject… This very welcome book opens up many perspectives beyond its immediate subject.’ The Burlington Magazine

‘… an ordinary reader with a passing knowledge of Italian Renaissance art will find much of interest in this new book… these essays form a clear, well-sourced analysis of the role of prints in the Renaissance artist’s studio.’   The Art Newspaper

‘This clearly written, well-researched, and intelligently structured book will remain a fundamental point of reference for all those interested in the history of printmaking as well as in Vasari’s fundamental contribution to art history.’   Renaissance Quarterly

‘[Gregory's] very wide-ranging and clearly written text is a valuable source of evidence and ideas for anyone interested in theVite, or for the use of prints in Renaissance workshops.’   Print Quarterly

‘Throughout Vasari and the Renaissance Print the author displays an admirable depth of knowledge with fascinating statistics, such as … the history of prints, Vasari, Florentine history, and print culture in early modern Europe.’   Sixteenth Century Studies Journal

Full information about Vasari and the Renaissance Print

Helping to support Project Luangwa in Zambia

Eleanor HillThe Estelle Trust is a small charitable fund which works with others on schemes to improve education, health and governance in Africa and runs a small number of its own projects in Zambia. Ashgate donates a proportion of its profits to the Trust each year, and Ashgate staff members are also involved in supporting the Estelle Trust through various fund raising activities. Recently, Eleanor Hill, Ashgate’s e-books Administrator, went one step further. She spent a week with Project Luangwa in Zambia, helping them with database design for their child sponsorship and building project management. This is her account of her visit.

The Estelle Trust has close links with Project Luangwa in Zambia. The Trust funded the building of a library for Mfuwe Secondary School which is now built and stocked with books but not yet open pending the cataloguing of the books by a volunteer. Karen and Dave (who run Project Luangwa) are particularly delighted to be seeing this volunteer again as they know him, and know that he will do a thorough and accurate job! He will also be doing some training of both staff and students before the official opening of the library.

Mfuwe Secondary School Library

Mfuwe Secondary School Library

The purpose of my visit was to analyse and design a couple of databases to help with the administration of the Project. One will help Karen with the Sponsorship records, currently held in 134 separate spreadsheets and the other will help Dave administer his building projects and allow him to produce more accurate estimates for each new school block or teachers house they build. Having succeeded in producing the designs I will now have plenty to occupy my evenings and weekends turning the designs into working databases.

Mfuwe baboon

I had been told to expect views of wildlife across the lagoon outside the office window but hadn’t expected the wildlife to be quite so up close and personal!

I couldn’t be more impressed with the work that Karen and Dave do in providing educational opportunities for orphans in rural Zambia. AIDS is not the only killer out there and there are huge numbers of orphans who would have no hope of an education if it weren’t for the work they do. And, as if poverty were not enough of a handicap, the girls have to overcome even more obstacles to get the chance to achieve their potential, which is where the Mfuwe Secondary School Girls’ club comes into its own.  This is a wonderful group of girls all from problem backgrounds, who are determined to improve their lot. I attended their weekly meeting where they had a guest speaker – the delightfully down to earth, unshockable and entertaining local western doctor whose brief was to answer any questions the girls wanted to ask – Karen and I both learned things there too. At the end of the meeting there was great excitement as Karen had some T shirts and knickers to hand out to the girls – see below:

Mfuwe Secondary School Girls' Club

Mfuwe Secondary School Girls’ Club

If you want to find out more about the sort of lives and problems the girls can look forward to in this area do take a look at the following link http://www.projectluangwa.org/gendersupport

If anyone is interested in making a donation to the very worthwhile work that Karen and Dave are doing in Zambia, you can find more information here: http://www.projectluangwa.org/library

Call for Contributors: Controversies in Criminal Evidence

Posted by Sarah Lucy Cooper, Birmingham City University

In 2012, Birmingham City University’s School of Law launched a new centre of excellence, the Centre for American Legal Studies (CALS). CALS was launched to celebrate and advance the School of Law’s expertise in the theory and application of American law. The Centre’s members have expertise in a variety of areas including American criminal law and procedure, the death penalty, equal protection and environmental law. In addition, CALS hosts the largest UK to USA student internship programme and the British Journal of American Legal Studies (BJALS), the only peer reviewed journal of its kind in the UK. The BJALS Editorial Board is headed up by President Obama’s first Federal judicial appointee, the Honourable Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr., and is currently in its third volume.

In order to celebrate the launch of CALS, bring together the scholarly interests of its members, and further engage with colleagues in the United States, CALS was delighted to strike a relationship with Ashgate Publishing Ltd to develop, under the Series Editorship of Dr. Jon Yorke and Dr. Anne Richardson-Oakes, a multi-volume series entitled Controversies in American Constitutional Law. The volumes, each of which will be led by the Centre’s faculty, will include edited collections on equal protection law, death penalty law and international law and American exceptionalism. The first collection in the series, Controversies in Innocence Cases in America, led by Sarah Lucy Cooper was published in May, 2014. Founders of the American Innocence Movement, Peter J. Neufeld and Barry C. Scheck, reviewed the collection and commented that “Anyone who cares about miscarriages of justice and thinks critically about the system as a whole will find this collection to be a provocative, insightful, and valuable resource.” Purchasing information about this title can be found here, and the Editor’s review of the collection can be found here.

Ms. Cooper’s second collection — Controversies in Criminal Evidence – will bring together leading experts on the theory, application and scholarly analysis of evidence law in America, from a variety of legal, scientific, policy and ethical perspectives. The contributors will investigate contemporary questions concerning the issues presented by criminal evidence. The chapters will be placed within a multi-disciplinary perspective to provide cogent observations and recommendations for the effective application and development of criminal evidence law.

The topics to be included are:

  1. Theory and criminal evidence.
  2. Basic principles, burdens, presumptions and procedural aspects.
  3. Perspectives on major federal and state admissibility frameworks such as the Federal Rules of Evidence.
  4. Expert evidence, including scientific, forensic and medical evidence in criminal cases.
  5. Circumstantial, character, hearsay and impeachment evidence.
  6. Integrity issues and criminal evidence.
  7. Judicial notice, privileges and trial procedure.
  8. Current legislative and policy reforms in evidence law.
  9. International perspectives and/or comparative discussions.

Submissions Information

Interested contributors may focus upon one of the above topics or submit a different issue to be analysed. Co-authored chapters are welcome. Chapters should be approximately 12,000 words, including footnotes. Footnotes should be Bluebook compliant, but chapters will otherwise accord with the Ashgate house-style. The submission deadline for abstracts (max. 400 words) is December, 12, 2014. After this, a proposal will be formed and forwarded to Ashgate for approval. The provisional deadline for first drafts is August 1, 2015.

If you have any questions or you would like to discuss an alternative topic to the ones identified above, please contact me the Editor at: sarah.cooper@bcu.ac.uk.

Restorative Justice Symposium 2014, sponsored by RJ4All

Posted by Sarah Stilwell, Senior Marketing Manager

Ashgate authors Theo Gavrielides and Vasso Artinopoulou recently organised a 2nd Restorative Justice Symposium on the island of Skopelos, Greece.

The highly successful Symposium was built on the model of the 1st International Symposium on Restorative which took place in 2012; as before, it was sponsored by the Restorative Justice for All Institute (RJ4All), and followed the format of an ancient Greek symposium to allow in-depth discussion.

This year’s Symposium took the theme ‘Race and Power’ and brought together international experts in the field of race equality, international relations and restorative justice to explore new avenues in dealing with the issue of power structures within society, racism and the growing levels of violence and xenophobia locally, nationally and internationally. Delegates were a mixture of academics and practitioners in order to achieve an interdisciplinary dialogue.

The Symposium methodology allowed the exchange of ideas and experiences that will help bridge a gap in restorative justice and race equality issues in academia, research and policy areas internationally. It is hoped that the final output of the Symposium will be the production of a series of webinars using the delegate presentations. These will form part of a package that will be made available through the RJ4All website.

The Aristotle RoomPrior to the Symposium a book launch was held at the Panteion University of Athens – the photo here is of the ‘Aristotle’ room.

Authors Theo Gavrielides and Vassao Artinopoulou

Authors Theo Gavrielides and Vassao Artinopoulou

The proceedings of the first Symposium of seven days of in-depth discussion, debate and collaboration, are published by Ashgate under the title Reconstructing Restorative Justice Philosophy.