Snapshots of Museum Experince forthcoming in Korean

I’m hugely excited to announce that Elee’s Snapshots of Museum Experience will be translated into Korean by Dr Lena Lee. The book will be published by the brilliant Muse&Logic. Elee would have been incredibly excited to see the book out in Korean. One of the things that fascinated her was the question of how cross-culturally applicable her research was — or, indeed, wasn’t. She was keenly aware that cultures of museums, and cultures of childhood, differed. [Read More]

Elee Kirk: Snapshots of a Life in Museums

The journal Museum & Society has just published a special issue in memory of Elee. The editors — Elee’s good friends Gudrun Whitehead, Julia Petrov and Helen Saunderson — asked me to write a contribution. I thought for a while about something more academic, but in the end settled for a personal introductory piece. I thought I would share my piece here on Elee’s blog.

There is a tuna skeleton in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. It is beautifully displayed in a wood and glass case. Its jaws gape, and whenever I see it, I am reminded of quite how big tuna are.

But there is something else about the skeleton that is strange and wonderful. Because if you stand in front of it, and if you crouch down (you need to crouch!), when you look into the fish’s mouth, you can see all the way to its tail.

There is something topsy-turvy, something both fascinating and funny, about looking into the mouth of a fish and seeing its tail.

It was Elee Kirk-my long-time partner, collaborator and friend-who first introduced me to the topsy-turvy tuna. Elee did her doctoral research in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. She knew the museum intimately. She worked there with young children aged four and five, giving them cameras, asking them to photograph exhibits. When the children had finished scooting round the museum taking snapshots, Elee interviewed them about the images they had taken. Like many of the best pieces of research, it was deceptively simple. And it was amazingly fruitful.

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Snapshots of Museum Experience Now Published.

I’m delighted to announce that Elee’s Snapshots of Museum Experience: Understanding Child Visitors Through Photography has now been published by Routledge. I’ve not yet received the author copies, but I’m looking forward to seeing the book in real life. Elee’s book is available initially in (prohibitively costly) hardback and ebook formats, so if you want a copy, it might be better to get in touch with your local library. There will also be a cheaper paperback edition coming out next year. [Read More]

Snapshots of Museum Experience

Elee had planned to turn her thesis into a book. She got as far as sketching an outline for the final book before she became too ill to continue. Since Elee’s death, I have been working on refashioning and reworking the thesis, and I’m delighted to now be able to announce that Elee’s Snapshots of Museum Experience: Understanding Child Visitors Through Photography is due out from Routledge in 2018. The book combines museum studies and early childhood studies, mapping the experience of child visitors to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History through their photography and through interviews. [Read More]

Notice Visitors, Create Joyful Gallery

A while back, I discovered that Derby Museum and Art Gallery was about to open a new natural history gallery. This was exciting to me for three reasons: firstly, because I ‘collect’ natural history galleries by visiting as many as I can; secondly, because Derby is very easy for me to get to; and thirdly, because the new gallery had the incredible name of ‘Notice Nature Feel Joy’. This I had to see. [Read More]

Finding the Familiar in the Unfamiliar, Or, Reece in Space

Last weekend I visited Leicester’s National Space Centre with my seven year old nephew, Reece. As a researcher, I have an annoying tendency of carrying out experiments on my poor nephews. I decided a little while ago that I’d like to start visiting museums with families that I know, and, just as I did during my doctoral research, giving the children cameras to record their visits. The main difference from my PhD research would be that this time I would actually get to join in with the visit. [Read More]

On How Museums Got Under My Skin

Gosh, it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. Last year was a busy one, to say the least: I spent the first half of the year finishing off my thesis, and then almost immediately began working full time. There’s also been a big and slightly disconcerting change in my life — for the first time in 14 years, I am neither studying, nor working in, museums. I’ve also had very little time to visit museums, so at the moment I’m feeling a bit like there’s a gaping, museum-shaped hole in my life. [Read More]

The Armchair Museum Visitor

No, I haven’t been visiting museums of armchairs. In fact, for the past couple of months, for unavoidable health reasons, I haven’t visited any museums at all, which is sad. But today, thanks to my Tumblr-mad little sister, I have totally immersed myself in a rather wonderful museum, which I plan to keep visiting at regular intervals over the next few museum-restricted months. The museum isn’t even local. It’s the Philip L. [Read More]

Seeing Voices in the Museum

Human beings are incredibly social animals. This manifests itself in a whole host of ways—from our desire to share ideas and conversation, to our tendency to see agency and intention in inanimate objects (‘my computer hates me’), to our ability to form relationships with everything from people, to cats, to cars. If museums are clever, they can make use of this inherent sociability to create some really compelling exhibitions. This was revealed to me particularly on a recent visit to Manchester Museum, where I was delighted to have a good chunk of time in which to explore the new Living Worlds gallery, which reopened last year. [Read More]

Evolution galleries: Humans and other animals


I’ve been interested in human evolution ever since spending time learning about it during my Human Sciences degree in the late nineties, so whenever I’m in a museum with a human evolution gallery, my antennae start quivering. I’ve visited a couple in the USA over the past few years — one in the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and, last year, in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. I just love the idea of looking back at our ancestors, and also of being reminded that over the past few million years other species of humans and hominids have existed, often in parallel with each other.

I’m used to seeing these galleries, or even the single human evolution cases in some museums, presenting the various human species on their own, or maybe alongside a few other primates. The museums nip off a single twig of the evolutionary tree, usually starting with modern humans evolving from something like an australopithecus, and maybe hinting that these evolved from an earlier primate species.

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