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2011 Conference: 'Objects and Words: Writing on, around and about things'

Conference Organisers: Jeremy Coote & Alison Petch

Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford

Thursday 14 and Friday 15 April 2011

The conference featured papers that focussed on the analysis of the words written on, around and about museum things; that is, the diverse forms of tangible and virtual documents written about objects including inscriptions, labels, display texts, indexes, catalogues and databases. Papers explored the role of words in the documentation, interpretation and presentation of objects—both historically and in the present, and what such analysis tells us about both explicit and implicit aspects of museum practice.
The theme of the conference built on the final discussion at 'Making Things' (MEG's 2010 conference at the University of Reading's Museum of English Rural Life), when there was an interesting but unresolved discussion about the point of analysing labels and catalogue entries. While some argued that the main point of such work was to throw light on original provenance and thus on indigenous purpose and meanings, others emphasized the value of a focus on old labels and texts for studying the lives of objects in museums. The 2011 conference was an attempt to continue and broaden this discussion.

For an account of the conference, see:


Sally Ayres (Plymouth), 'Hidden "Charms": Writing On, Around, and About a Congo Collection'

Patricia Davison (Cape Town), 'Limitations of Labels: Interpreting Rock Art at the South African Museum over the Past Century'

Philip Jones (Adelaide), 'Carefully Sculpted Words: The Lake Eyre Toas in their Time and Place'

Katja Müller (Leipzig), 'The Egon von Eickstedt Collection'

Ana Rita Amaral (Coimbra), 'From Social to Material to Spiritual: Objects and Words from the African Collection of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (University of Coimbra)'

Ann French (Manchester), 'Ethnographic Specimen or Art? Reflections on the Greek Embroidery Collecting and Associated Writings of R. M. Dawkins and A. J. B. Wace'

Vibha Joshi (Göttingen), '"A Pastor's Cloth": Constructing a Story of Religious Conversion among the Naga of North-East India through the Collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum'

Chris Wingfield (Birmingham and Oxford), 'Iconoclasm and the Label'

Katy Barrett (Cambridge), 'Coming Out of the Eighteenth-Century Cabinet: Documenting Historic Coin Collections in the Modern Museum'

Ken Teague (Horniman), 'Cataloguing Central Asia: Whose Fingers are in the Museum Pie?'

Elizabeth Crooke (University of Ulster), 'Documentation and Interpretation of Meaning in Politically Charged Collections in Northern Ireland's Museums'

Françoise Lauwaert (Brussels), 'Words, Words, Words...: A Glance at Some Museums in the People's Republic of China'

Alana Jelinek (Cambridge), 'Words and Objects: The Many Things We Know but Don't Communicate'

Jennifer Walklate (Leicester), 'Unforeseen Constellations: Documentary Porosity in the Ethnographic Museum'

Work in Progress and Short Reports

Tabitha Cadbury (Plymouth), 'The Charms of Scarborough'

Helen Mears (Brighton), 'A Stories of the World Project at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery'

Chiari De Cesari (Cambridge), 'Memory Voids and the Transnational Heritage of Europe'

Tsai Tsan-Huang (Hong Kong), 'Forgotten Voices behind the Display Glass: Formosan Musical Instruments at the Pitt Rivers Museum and Historical Research on the Music of Taiwan'

Caroline Cornish (London), '"Useful and Curious": A Totem Pole at the Kew Timber Museum'

Len Pole (Independent Researcher), 'Effective Collections Project in Five Museums in the Eastern Counties'

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