New Museum School podcasts 2020

Officially announcing the second series of the New Museum School Podcasts from Culture&.

From October 2019 – May 2020, I worked with 18 of our New Museum School trainees and podcast producer Catriona Oliphant from Chrome Media, as they researched, wrote and recorded their own podcasts on themes relevant to their work-placements and interests. I am very proud of their hard work, creativity, integrity and passion.

Keep your eyes (and ears) peeled to learn more about our trainees’ placements, the interesting objects they are working with, and the fascinating stories they have been uncovering on the Culture& website.

Below are some of the podcasts we have already released. You can find the full series on SoundCloud.

Hermenia Powers: ‘Leaving A Legacy: Liberia’s R.Vahnjah Richards’, 2020 Series

Leaving A Legacy: Liberia’s R.V Richards
A podcast exploring the legacy of Liberian sculptor R.V Richards, detailing his life endeavours and his work as an arts and heritage advocate. Hosted by Hermenia Powers, New Museum School Trainee at Art UK part of our New Museum School Podcast series produced with Chrome Media.
Many thanks to the University of Michigan for permission to use the MTiA radio archive.

Image: R.V Richards, © From the Richards and Coleman Family Association (RCFA) featured in the 2006 reunion magazine

Original Music by Culture& Archives & Digital Media Trainee, Eno Inwang
Bayryam Bayryamali, Magnum Photos: ‘Museum Un-Watching’, 2020 series

Museum Un-Watching
A podcast featuring Bayryam Bayryamali, New Museum School Trainee at Magnum Photos part of our New Museum School Podcast series produced with Chrome Media.
What is a museum without objects of questionable origin? Who belongs in these spaces of cultural significance? Who holds the rights of representation over a museums possessions?
In this podcast Bayryam Bayryamali attempts to answer each of these questions by investigating photography from Elliot Erwitt’s “Museum Watching” series.

Image: ENGLAND. London. 1996. British Museum. © Elliot Erwitt/Magnum Photos

Original Music by Culture& Archives & Digital Media Trainee, Eno Inwang
Denise Odong, Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery: ‘Memory Palace: inspiring Dialogue’, 2020 series

Memory Palace: Inspiring Dialogue
A podcast by Denise Odong, New Museum School Trainee at Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery ,the former country villa of the prominent English architect, Sir John Soane; part of our New Museum School Podcast series produced with Chrome Media.
In this podcast Denise discusses a recent art installation at Pitzhanger by interdisciplinary artist, Es Devlin. Devlin is known for her striking installations within art and stage design for theatre and music. She has designed stages for significant contemporary musicians such as ‘Beyoncé’, ‘Kanye West’, ‘The Weeknd’, ‘Lorde’, and many more.
‘Memory Palace’ filled the gallery with a personal atlas of the evolution of thought; a vast chronological landscape mapping pivotal shifts in human perspectives over millennia. 

Image: Memory Palace – Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery. PHOTO CREDIT: PETER MALLET

Original Music by Culture& Archives & Digital Media Trainee, Eno Inwang

Behind the Scenes at the Museum – book launched

Your access-all-areas guide to the world’s most amazing museums!

Last year I worked with the fantastic editorial team at DK books as the lead consultant on this new children’s book all about museums. The aim was to give children an an exclusive tour of the world’s most exciting museums and discover their hidden treasures. It was, by far, one of the most enjoyable freelance projects I’ve worked on in my career and I’m really proud of the end result.

The book isn’t out until 15 July 2020, but you can read more about it here on the DK books website

This behind-the-scenes guide showcases a huge range of incredible artefacts from history and reveals the hard work, care, and effort that goes into collecting, preserving, and storing them.

Ever wondered what happens to an astronaut’s space suit after it’s been worn on the Moon? Or how the world’s most valuable diamond is looked after? Find out all about how museums work and the people that make it happen – from how historians care for Anne Frank’s diary to what it takes to excavate and exhibit a wooly mammoth skeleton.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum gives you exclusive access to hidden objects that aren’t normally on public display. It lets you into a world of animal specimens pickled in jars, priceless jewellery too valuable to be on display, and fragile papers that must be kept in carefully controlled conditions. Filled with incredible images, step-by-step explanations of exciting techniques, and job profiles of the people that make it happen, Behind the Scenes at the Museum offers unique, behind-the-curtain access to the secret delights of the world’s most interesting museums.

Developing Emotions – resources launched

As you may know, I am currently doing my PhD in the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University. Recently, I was lucky enough to be involved, in the capacity as a cultural heritage consultant, in the Developing Emotions schools project, led by the wonderful Living with Feeling team.

Developing Emotions is a pioneering programme of lessons designed to promote emotional literacy and emotional awareness in school children. It has been developed as a collaboration between the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University of London and TKAT Multi-Academy Trust.

There are six units in Developing Emotions, covering topics including sadness, joy, tears, laughter, anger, revenge, fear, worry, love and friendship. It is a cross-curricular programme with an emphasis on the history of emotions, literacy, vocabulary, and the creative arts. It also covers topics in PSHE, science, and philosophy.

Each of the six units is made up of three lessons. Each lesson is 30-40 minutes in length. At present, materials have been developed for use with Year 3 and Year 5 classes (children aged 7-8 and 9-10), although they could of course be adapted for other age groups.

Activities include art, writing tasks, debates, music, dance, and a final quiz for each unit. Children will encounter blues music, Shakespeare, the philosophy of utilitarianism, Romantic poetry, Charles Darwin’s ideas about emotions, modern dance, and more.

In February and March 2020 the lessons were piloted in eight TKAT schools. Today, as the current school closure continues we are making the lessons, activities and resources available to other schools, and to parents teaching their children at home.

This was a joy of a project to be involved in. To access the resources you need to go to the Emotions Lab Schools pages.

I also recommend browsing the blog posts and listening to the podcasts about different emotions on The Emotions Lab to get a flavour of the research behind Developing Emotions – and checking out our two games.

Once Upon Us

This summer I was lucky enough to be asked to speak as part of a panel for the Once Upon Us project by @immuto_c. The project was inspired by the latest medical research on how our environment influences our genetic expression and how memories could move across generations through DNA coding. It explored how we blur boundaries of our individuality across space and time and how ancestral memory can take many different forms. A video of my talk and images and outcomes of the project installation and workshops is now available online here

Developing Emotions in the Classroom: Teacher Workshops

This summer the Living with Feeling project launched ‘Developing Emotions’, a new schools engagement programme. Over the next year and beyond, we’ll be working with primary and secondary school teachers to develop educational and pastoral resources about emotions, with the aim of improving children’s emotional literacy and wellbeing. To launch this programme, we held three workshops with teachers, to share our research and explore how we can support those working at the coalface. This blog post summarises some of the main things we learned from the teachers, headteachers and other educators who attended.
These workshops were a timely intervention, tapping into an increased appetite for discussions about emotional health in UK schools. The Ofsted Inspection Framework 2019 includes a new judgement category of ‘personal development’, which refers to the importance of character and resilience, while emotional wellbeing remains a central topic in relationships and sex education and health education. New statutory guidance mandates teaching the links between physical and mental health; exploring what constitutes a ‘normal’ emotional range; and developing children’s emotional literacy and vocabulary.

While recognising these important changes to the educational landscape, we’re also keenly aware of their possible limitations. Does a focus on building resilience ignore the systemic injustices children and their families might be facing? Do we risk introducing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ template that pathologises certain behaviours or feelings – such as loneliness – as ‘unhealthy’ or ‘abnormal’? We want to reflect that pupil wellbeing and the emotional culture of schools are much more complex than new mandates might suggest. Further to this, we want to avoid being prescriptive about emotions, and champion a child-led approach, that prioritises students’ own experiences, ideas, and feelings. What is a “normal” and “healthy” emotional range for one child in one school will not necessarily feel healthy or normal for another child or in a different school.

In July and August 2019, our workshops – held at the QMUL campus at Mile End – brought together 23 teachers from different schools, including primary and secondary, state and independent. The events attracted heads, teachers in subjects ranging from languages to art to geography, and many with direct responsibility for pastoral care and wellbeing. We were also joined by a sexual health facilitator from a counselling centre for young people, and a teacher from Turkey who was staying in the UK.

The workshops were shaped by Thomas Dixon’s research into various aspects of the history of emotions and were facilitated by Jenny Pistella, a museum and heritage learning consultant currently completing a PhD at the Centre for the History of the Emotions. The workshops were also supported by Engagement and Impact Manager Alison Moulds, Project Manager Agnes Arnold-Forster, Research Fellow Emma Sutton, and PhD candidates Evelien Lemmens and Dave Saunders. Together, we sought to gauge appetite among the teachers, build partnerships, and measure the impact of these initial scoping events.

Each of the workshops ran along the same lines and comprised research-led presentations, group activities and discussion. We began each day by asking attendees ‘what is emotional health?’. We discussed how it might encompass recognising and managing one’s own emotions and those of others, and how it might be a broader category than mental health (and thus a less scary and less medicalised way for children to talk about their feelings). Balance, self-awareness, and emotional literacy were recurring themes. We considered how emotions are a spectrum, and that one person’s version of emotional health might not be the same as another’s. We also asked attendees what they wanted to get out of the day – they were typically looking for new resources, strategies and approaches to teaching emotional wellbeing.

We then invited attendees to participate in a ‘three corners’ debate. They were presented with provocative statements such as ‘crying in public is a bad thing’ or ‘people are less content or happy than they were in the past’. Attendees had to decide whether they agreed, disagreed or were unsure, and then defend their stance and attempt to persuade others of their perspective. The exercise stimulated debates about gender stereotypes, displaying emotions in public and private spaces, nostalgia, and nature vs nurture.

Thomas then gave a series of presentations derived from his research on anger, tears, and friendship – all themes which resonated with teachers’ experiences in the classroom. Thomas described the etymology of and history behind various terms for anger and anger-like emotions, showing how a richer vocabulary could reveal more nuanced or even different feelings. He also explored how the history of friendship – which was originally seen (in a European context) as the preserve of the male elite – might encourage children to re-evaluate their own preconceptions about making, maintaining, and expressing friendships. The purpose of the historical talks was to push beyond the idea of a universal set of basic human emotions and to present a historically and culturally informed view.

The presentations sparked some in-depth discussions about the challenges teachers faced and where they had opportunities to make a difference. They spoke about how they managed and displayed their own emotions in the classroom. Is it okay for teachers to cry in front of children? Can they model healthy emotional behaviours for their pupils? Participants explored the shifting landscape of childhood friendships, including how they are influenced by age and gender, and how they are enacted both in the classroom and in less supervised spaces like the playground. We also discussed the difficulties of problematizing basic emotions when children and teenagers might be struggling to identify their feelings or lack confidence in expressing themselves. At the same time, identifying the complex interplay of emotions that might sit behind common behaviours like bullying, aggression, sadness or withdrawal was seen as a key priority.

In groups, teachers discussed how our key themes – anger, tears, and friendship – manifested among school pupils, and how they could be taught in the classroom, using some of the insights derived from Thomas’s presentations.

After lunch, we came back together to explore the difficulty of defining emotions through a series of activities. We used Tiffany Watt Smith’s The Book of Human Emotionsinviting attendees to guess what less familiar emotions words might mean. Teachers felt such word games would translate well to the classroom, with children able to enhance their vocabularies and learn synonyms, etymologies, and root words. Participants were then asked to pick from Jenny’s wonderfully rich collection of artistic postcards to find an image that reflected how they were feeling. In pairs, we then decoded our partner’s mood, based on the image they were displaying.

After this, we road-tested our new ‘What Are They Feeling?’ game with the workshop participants. Available through our public-facing website, The Emotions Lab, this game asks players to look at historical images of emotional expressions and designate what they think the subject might be feeling. There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers – although we reveal the original historical designations, the purpose is to show how difficult it can be to ‘read’ emotions, particularly outside of any context. The game also reveals how other players have interpreted the emotions, to convey how varied such responses might be. If you haven’t played already, you can have a go here.

We closed the workshops by discussing ‘next steps’, asking participants to draw up a wishlist of what resources, materials, and support they would like from the Living with Feeling team. There was a huge appetite for further involvement, from us producing tailored lessons plans to deliver whole school assemblies, and even the idea of us running an ‘emotionally healthy school’ accreditation scheme, to recognise best practice. Some teachers reflected on the challenges of ensuring buy-in and engagement across the school, particularly in the face of other pressures such as exams and Ofsted. Some schools offered to test-run or trial our resources, gauging their suitability for use in the classroom setting and with different age groups. We also explored how we might evaluate the success of the Developing Emotions programme, whether that be through measuring children’s emotional intelligence or tracking their behaviour and attendance over the course of their involvement.

At the end of the day, we asked all participants for their feedback on the workshops. We received an overwhelmingly positive response. Many teachers indicated that they felt a historical approach to the subject was particularly powerful because it presented a ‘safe’ and ‘non-threatening’ way for pupils to discuss emotions at one remove from their own feelings. Another teacher added that history ‘helps pupils to identify that they are not alone’. Asked what they would take away, one headteacher remarked, ‘I now feel that with the correct staff training it can be taught successfully throughout the school. It will make a HUGE difference to the children’. A secondary school teacher said the workshop had ‘motivated and inspired’ her, while an assistant head suggested it had provided ‘creative and practical ideas’ for teaching, as well as ‘more confidence in delivering sessions’ that will gain staff ‘buy-in’.

This is just the beginning. We’re now setting up a network of interested teachers (and related professionals), who would like to work with us to take forward the ‘Developing Emotions’ programme. If you’d be interested in finding out more, please get in touch with us Thomas Dixon at or follow us on Twitter @DevelopingEmo.

Resort(ing) to a seaside retreat

I have come away to be beside the sea. This weekend I am staying in a family home Airbnb in a room with a desk and WiFi in St Leonard’s on Sea with the express purpose of getting some serious writing done on my PhD research. I’m having a lovely time so far. It’s a beautiful room with lots of light and a lovely view of the garden. I’ve written all morning and I’ve just walked down to the beach for a fish lunch. Hastings and St Leonard’s is a fascinating place. I’ve strolled around the old town and loved seeing the medieval and Tudor houses and small alleyways as well as the 18th-century customs house, pubs and assembly rooms and the 21st-century fishing boats. A really interesting mix of an ancient town still functioning as a place for people to work, shop, eat, drink and catch fish.

I’m trying to pin down my PhD research topic this weekend, which might sound crazy as I’m coming up to a year in on my doctorate. However, things are starting to clarify the more and more reading I do and I now think I’m interested less in sites of ‘lost heritage’ but rather about how we, in the heritage sector, narrate the emotional history of places and spaces. I mean, how we nudge, indicate and manipulate visitors to sense a connection with the emotional history of a space. Whether that’s through directly recounting the story of ghosts from the past or over-exaggerated tales of pain, suffering, love, lust, passion – we facilitate access to the secondary narratives we do have about emotional experience happening in a place. I want to explore further how this is done in sites such as battlefields, historic houses, sites of exception, haunted houses and museums explore what we really mean by a place ‘holding’ or ‘retaining’ the emotions of the people who have inhabited it.

My next step, therefore, is to look in the archives of heritage organisations such as the National Trust and English Heritage and track the different interpretation strategies used over time in guidebooks and text panels to explain to visitors the emotional history of their sites. Wish me luck!

Sensory social club

Last week I went to visit one of our Culture& trainees, Chloe, at London South East College Bexley to observe her delivering workshop for the college’s transition day. Chloe is completing her traineeship at the Prince Philip Maritime Collections Centre, Royal Museums Greenwich in the collections care and conservation team.

Chloe and her colleague Helen were at the college to deliver a pop up sensory learning stall and workshop to advertise their soon to be launch sensory social club for young people 16+ to come to at the Collections Centre, starting in September. Chloe prepared information about all the pests and bugs that can eat away at items in a museum collection and also ran a gold leaf gilding activity. She’s doing a fantastic job.

Magical Margate

Yesterday we had our Culture& team away day in Margate. It was a wonderful and magical day. It was great to spend time with my Culture& colleagues and share updates, ideas and ambitions for how we can help make the museum and cultural sector more diverse. The sun was shining and sea breeze cool and we enjoyed paddling in the sea, eating fish and chips, visiting the Turner Contemporary Gallery and Dreamland.

Podcast launch

Our New Museum School trainees have all written, recorded and produced their own podcasts about issues, objects, collections and narratives inspired by their placements at their host museums. I’m so proud of them! You can listen to them here:


The Isolated Baronet

How can we plan and design ethical interpretations of difficult histories and personal experiences?

Today I went to Calke Abbey for a conference run by the National Trust and Leicester University Museum Studies on their new collaboration and exhibition ‘HumanKind‘. To mark the 200th anniversary of the death of Henry Harpur, ‘The Isolated Baronet’, this year at Calke Abbey they’re exploring stories of loneliness and isolation, kindness and compassion, past and present.

Henry Harpur (1763-1819) was gossiped about by his contemporaries for his shyness and was described as suffering from a disease of the mind by diarist Joseph Farrington. The traditional narrative presented in the interpretation at Calke is that Henry shunned social contact and treated his family and others with a lack of care.

It was fascinating to hear about the methodology about how the creative team, researchers, curators and volunteers from the house had gone through primary sources relating to Henry and five other former residents and woven a new tale of loneliness through time. Can a house itself inspire feelings of loneliness through its architecture and spirit of place? Or was this idea of loneliness something that was handed down in the family through generations?

The research that the team did on the stories of Henry Harpur and his ancestors uncovered a more nuances interpretation of their characters and experiences. For example, the real stories of Henry’s life have been overshadowed by the myth and stigma built up around him. This happens frequently when we, in trying to convey a compelling narrative to our audiences about someone’s character, end up caricaturing them into fairy tale stereotypes; the recluse, the villain, the victim, the innocent.

At the same time as raising contemporary issues around loneliness in our society today, this exhibition asks us to think about how we might challenge the emotional history of the individuals we encounter in historic houses.

The exhibition itself is located in the family apartments at Calke, a set of ground floor rooms last lived in by the final member of the family to own the house, and occupied well into the 1960’s. The creative team from the HumanKind project have created a set of six installations in six different spaces in these rooms representing the emotional stories of the former residents. There are also external sculptures placed in the gardens of metal work structures which echo the exact dimensions of the rooms themselves and offer glimpses of the lives of the six residents through symbolism, quotes and imagery, combined with a more social role as somewhere for visitors to sit, meet and talk to one another.

The house itself it quite extraordinary. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The interior of the house, originally built in 1704, is in a state of disrepair and dilapidation and has not been repaired or restored since the 1920’s. The National Trust describes is as an ‘Un-stately’ home.

The Harpur family were a family of incorrigible hoarders and the house is filled with objects; taxidermy, trays of shells, old furniture, books, a crocodile skull, ceramics, swords and bric-a-brac.