Monday, 9 April 2012

Three #museums in Oxford

A couple of weeks ago I went over the The Other Place for a conference about library history.  The conference was very interesting, but I did manage to sneak a bit of time away from it to visit some of the other attractions of Oxford, and I thought I'd record some of my thoughts about what I liked.

A doorway in the Bodleian Library quad
photo by me
Bodleian Library Exhibition: The Romance of the Middle Ages
This exhibition looks at the variety of stories captured under the heading 'medieval romance', and how this genre has influenced later writing, right up to the present day.  It's a vehicle for the exhibition of a great number of medieval manuscripts, alongside some artefacts and some archival material.
  • I really enjoyed the selection of exhibits, and the way they were presented. Objects, such as ivory panels and a floor tile are displayed alongside books and texts, thus brining to life both the expected and unexpected exhibits by bringing out some of their wider cultural and artistic contexts. The inclusion of archival material from C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein and Terry Jones was also very successful, because of the thematic links and their links to Oxford.  The inclusion of modern material may have seemed gimmicky if there weren't such strong connections with the rest of the exhibition.
  • The exhibition makes good use of the space available.  I appreciated the free exhibition guides at the entrance, and that there is a small shop (which doubles as a supervisor's desk). Two computers are also available, nicely screened off the main exhibition area, to allow visitors to explore the online exhibition.  It might seem redundant to have the online version available in the physical space, but I think that it's good to be able to explore the exhibition in more than one way, and as you can zoom in to the online exhibits, it can be easier to read them and to see the fine detail than is the case with physical object in a case.
  • My favourite exhibits:
Oxford Museum of the History of Science
This museum, housed in the original building of the Ashmolean Museum, has an enormous collection of scientific instruments spread over three floors, as well as a special exhibition area that mounts changing displays.  I only had time for a quick look round, but made a note to remember:
  • It's a cluttered, busy space, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but might be difficult to navigate for a new visitor.  This difficulty is mitigated by having a really clear, obvious floor plan displayed right in front of the entrance. It sounds like a silly little thing, but it stopped me getting too confused!
  • Another thing that helps a visitor navigate somewhere where the cases are very full and busy is that the museum guide and plan picks out highlights on each floor.  The location of these is marked, along with a photograph of the object in question and a short description of what it is.  This helps to establish a way to approach the visit.  Obviously, the museum's choice of highlight object might not match the individual visitor's favourite(s), but it's a nice way to start exploring. 
  • Again, there were computers available, this time allowing the exploration of current and previous exhibitions, and searching of the collections.
  • Favourite exhibits:
The Ashmolean Museum 
 The Ashmolean Musuem is enormous, and I only saw a little of it.  But I still had some thoughts:
  • Galleries 3 and 4 are dedicated to museum conservation work, and I particularly liked an exhibit that showed the effects of repeated touching on museum objects.  It was made from variety of materials (silver, silk, limestone, gilded picture frame), with half of each covered by a clear perspex screen.  Visitors are invited to touch the exposed side, and touches are recorded on an electronic counter.  Even the most study of the materials (the stone) was clearly showing damage, and the silk had completely disintegrated.
  • The museum has a liberal photography policy, which allows the use of cameras, without flash, for private non-commercial use, except where stated otherwise.
  • The museum actively uses Twitter: I asked a question about the availability of the collections online, and had a helpful and friendly response well outside working hours! The only downside is that I couldn't find this advertised on their website (a missed opportunity?) - I found the Twitter account by searching Twitter itself.
  • I had lots of favourite exhibits, including:


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