Objects and stories from your ‘home culture’ – whatever that means

I have just spent an excellent morning considering the connections between objects, culture, identity, ownership and meaning with a lively and stimulating group of students from the Masters course in Museum Studies at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester. I was a student there on the equivalent course just over thirty years ago and it was a surprisingly strong ‘blast from the past’ to be back.

I was delighted to be invited to be a guest lecturer and it was an interesting challenge to work out how I could contribute to a course on ‘Museum Ethnography and World Art’. I had been asked to talk about interpretation (obviously) and, after a little encouragement from Dr. Viv Golding (many thanks, Viv), realised this was only a small skip from my talk in Perth last November. (That talk will appear on the web soon – just as soon as I have edited it for publication). So, once again, I talked about the telling of stories in interpretation (interpretelling), particularly in a multi- and/or cross-cultural context.

The small group of students included people from seven countries so we were able to experience and experiment with cross-cultural communication. I had asked everyone to bring an object from their ‘home culture, whatever that means to you’. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised but as people talked about these objects, I experienced again the fast, strong and deep connections between objects and not only personal histories but also social, cultural and political contexts. These simple everyday objects: stamps, a passport, cooking utensils, a jar of (admittedly rather exotic) perfume, postcards, a box of convenience food; all had layers of stories. We moved rapidly and naturally from the personal and particular to the wider context. The objects shed light on who we are on many levels. And as we talked about our own objects and about other people’s we explored  those things we can easily understand, the things we don’t understand and the things we don’t realize we don’t understand. (Very Rumsfeldt – she says, in another of those very culturally-specific moments). I am becoming increasingly interested in spaces and silences – the gaps in our storytelling.

We also looked at case studies from the British Museum and the Cannings Stock Route exhibition that I managed to miss (but Peter saw) in Perth. That provoked lots of excellent discussion.  I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of these, mainly young, trainee curators. It was a fascinating and energising session for me.  I hope it was for them too.

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About susancrosstelltale

Great visits to heritage and natural sites do not happen by accident. This blog is about the work that make special sites great places to visit. I hope it will be useful to visitors and host alike. Find out more at me and my blog.
This entry was posted in Australia, Cultural difference, Interpretation, Interpretelling, Museums, Training and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Objects and stories from your ‘home culture’ – whatever that means

  1. Suzer says:

    What a wonderful idea to bring ‘show and tell’, as we used to call it back in primary school in the US, into the adult realm.

    • Thanks Suzer, for that interesting comment.
      Yes, you are right. It is amazing how these ‘things for kids’ can work at a whole new level with adults. I very often find this sort of thing really moving. The parallels are strong – my sister who is a primary teacher uses show and tell to teach “speaking and listening skills’: I was doing exactly the same technique to demonstrate key lessons in multi-cultural communication. Especially about the importance of listening! In fact there’s a blog bubbling under about that which I plan to post next weekend – call in again.

      BTW I think it’s also important to get adults drawing – but that’s much harder – I’m pretty certain my sister gets better results from 7 year olds that I do from many of my guys to whom it comes as a real shock!

  2. Suzer says:

    Well now the only thing I have at my house for the kids who visit is colouring books, and I’m more than happy to tear out a page and join them. Many adults might agree that art is a good form of meditation, so perhaps just present it to them along those lines.

    As for teaching multi-cultural communication, I’ve often suggested that here in Australia, that is something we are very much in need of training on, with new waves of immigration. Glad to hear you are doing something positive along those lines. I will call in again – now I just need to be able to follow you on Facebook (when you build a page) as I’ll be more likely to remember your blog if reminders show up in my news feed there;)

    • I think I would like to come to your house, Suzer.

      Big thank you for your helpful comment regarding the Facebook page. I notice that you are an experienced blogger so I value your advice. I am relatively new to blogging and learning fast. It’s a steep but enjoyable and exhilarating learning curve. You are the second person to point out the value of using Facebook in this way in the last 48 hours, so I will definitely get onto it.

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