Guest Blog: Catherine Robins of Unlocking Ideas Worth Fighting For on how blogging helps put their museums’ vision into action
“We don’t believe in digital for its own sake, but as an enabler for your vision of your museum – taking the work that goes on in all areas of your museum out to a bigger and more included audience” The Digital Museum ‘About’ page
Unlocking Ideas Worth Fighting For is a collaborative project between Manchester’s People’s History Museum and Salford’s Working Class Movement Library, both of which collect and interpret the history of people’s fight for rights, as well as more general British political history.
The project’s aim is to research, find and unlock the hidden collections of both institutions, make links between them and take them beyond the confines of the store to bring them to new audiences. Our blog is one of the ways we have sought to do this.
The idea behind the blog was pretty straightforward; to have a space in which we could easily showcase interesting objects found during the course of the project.
Why a blog?
But why a blog? What opportunities does a blog offer that traditional exhibition spaces cannot? Why are we, as The Digital Museum said, “creating the sort of exhibition that is really only possible online”?
Very few (if any) museums have the space, let alone resources, to constantly display new, somewhat disjointed objects every time someone finds something they want to shout about.
A blog, on the other hand, can be updated whenever the collection throws up something new, can be as long or short as the topic you are talking about dictates (within reason) and can use as many objects to illustrate the story as you wish.
It also allows the author to link the reader to further contextual information without interrupting the narrative, such as in the fourth line of this entry about WWII tunnel shelters.
And how are we utilising this opportunity? Well, The Digital Museum kindly offered that we are “curating stories around objects, rather than the objects themselves.”
It is true that we have rarely followed the usual blog route of telling the detailed story of just one object. But in many ways this has been a happy reaction to project necessities.
As I said, part of the aim of Unlocking Ideas is to draw out the links between the People’s History Museum and Working Class Movement Library and their collections.
Writing a blog post centred around just one object from just one of these organisations quite simply doesn’t achieve this. What does is a blog which uses collections from both organisations to define research and illustrate a story.
Telling a story
A really clear example of this is the post about Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners Strike (LGSM), written using research from the LGSM archive at the People’s History Museum and illustrated primarily with ephemera from the Working Class Movement Library.
Other blog posts, for example about tuberculosis treatment or May Day, draw more on outside secondary sources (online newspaper articles, transcribed diaries etc.) but again follow the format of telling a story inspired, informed and illustrated by the collections of both organisations.
Of course there are exceptions to our define-research-illustrate style – a few entries such as this one about a signature book, or this entry responding to the horse meat scandal, do focus on just one object.
A couple of others focus on events rather than collections, such as the recent post offering information about our upcoming Hackathon.
But these do meet other project aims, and this too is part of the appeal of a blog – this space which has been left deliberately loosely defined allows us to talk about what we feel is important to the project, and of interest to the reader, thus utilising this digital tool not “…for its own sake, but as an enabler for [our] vision of [our] museum [and library].”
This post was written by Catherine Robins the Unlocking Ideas Project Assistant. Unlocking Ideas Worth Fighting for is funded by Effective Collections; a partnership between Esmée Fairbairn and the Museums Association. If you would like any more information you can follow the project blog, our twitter, or contact Catherine on catherine.robins[at]phm.org.uk