Our second curator for @wethehumanities is Danielle Thom. I’m especially excited for her week as my PhD research is in visual culture and I’ve got a particular interest in thinking about things that might not necessarily be considered as ‘art’. I’m also a big fan of a well-placed pun and I get the impression that she is too. Danielle is a recent PhD graduate and now Assistant Curator of Sculpture at the V&A museum in London and has her own blog, which you can find here.
When I was first asked to guest-curate the Twitter account for ‘We The Huge Manatees’, I was pleased but bemused. I didn’t realise that sea-cows had internet access but, nonetheless, I was determined to do them justice. When I subsequently found out that I was being asked to participate in ‘We The HUMANITIES’, I put on a brave face. Secretly, though, I was relieved, as my knowledge of manatees is limited.
My knowledge of the humanities, however, is sufficient to tweet about. At least, that’s the idea. I suppose, technically, you would call me an art historian, although I prefer to think of myself as a ‘historian of visual and material culture’. Long-winded, I know, but it helps me step around the notion of ‘art’, which in a historical context can be quite limiting. Not all that is visual has traditionally been considered as art, but I find that a comic print, a style of costume, or the motif on a dinner service can tell us as much (if not more) about cultures and customs as any academic painting or sculpture.
Now, that last point is a bit of professional sacrilege, because the job hat that I wear (at a jaunty angle) is Assistant Curator of Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. I’ve only been there for a few months, and my experience of learning on-the-job is something I hope to share with you during my guest-curator spot. Not only am I new in the job, I’m also new to sculpture as a field of study. I completed my PhD (last year) on 18th century English satirical prints, so this has been a bit of a transition for me. That said, I’m still teaching an undergraduate course at UCL on ‘the age of Hogarth’, so I haven’t stepped away from that field completely – and hopefully, as I go on, I’ll find ways to combine my previous work with the new opportunity that’s been given me. Prior to the PhD, I also worked for a while at the National Army Museum, as a curator in their archives department, and I’ve found ways to incorporate aspects of military history into subsequent work (primarily by looking at satirical and patriotic perceptions of the 18th century British army/navy). So, it can be done!
As guest curator of We The Humanities, ideally I’d like to use my week to accomplish world peas. Marrowfats and petit pois for all! But I recognise my limits, so I’ll stick to what I know: interdisciplinary research, moving from ‘pure’ academia to the museum world, the academic employment crisis facing new/recent PhDs, and general babble on early modern social/visual history. All delivered with a healthy dash of facetiousness, feminism and the occasional feline.
We are very excited to welcome our first curator, Louise Jackson, Head of Learning Enhancement at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Louise is curating for 7 days from 10:00am on Monday 24th February. Feel free to use the comments here to welcome her, or ask any questions you’d like her to answer during her week. Here’s what she has to say ahead of our launch:
As the inaugural curator for this wonderful idea that is @WetheHumanities, I feel a sense of excitement and a responsibility to be slightly more interesting than I am normally! Part of my job is attending a lot of meetings, but I try to ensure that the meetings are as productive as possible in developing whatever it is we are focusing on in that particular meeting. Aside from the meetings, during the course of the week (which is a normal working week for me) a particular highlight will be hosting from a Learning & Teaching seminar on Tuesday at 5pm. We have a guest speaker from Circus Space (Tim Roberts), discussing the relationship between Higher Education and setting up a degree in Circus Arts. Tim is an inspiring educationalist and has really shaken up the conservative approach to physical arts education. His discussion fits in well with current concerns that Arts & Humanities degrees are being sidelined as non-essential in political moves that have seen the rise of student as consumer rather than a collector and generator of knowledge. During the week I am also delivering a lecture on Gender and Jazz on Thursday at 3pm, which always generates interesting responses, as I play with gender stereotypes and jazz preconceptions. It is also likely that I will be commenting on my commute into London from the South Coast…
I like to share things that interest me on Twitter – my own Twitter feed is full of a wide variety of items that are not just Arts or Higher Education based. I often comment on things that I am curious about or intrigue me, but have absolutely no discernible relationship with my principle interests. I imagine that my time on @WetheHumanities will be filled with much the same.
You can read a little more about my academic self on my home institution website. I am a proud supporter of Arts Emergency, a charity helping to provide mentors and other platforms of support to young creatives.
In setting up an account that aims to encompass all that could be included under such an umbrella term as the humanities, the worry is that not that we won’t have anything to say to each other, but that some of what we say may be lost in translation.
Who has never stumbled into a conversation between two colleagues in a particular field (and academics are particularly guilty of this), only to realise that we only understand one word in three of what is being said? The rest is what, to an outsider, can only be considered as jargon, but to those on the inside is the life-blood of their most stimulating and useful conversations and debates. We have a choice, then: to bluff it out, nod along enthusiastically and hope that all becomes clear at some point, or to slink off defeated, mumbling under our breath and feeling like the kid that never gets picked for the team at school.
It is this mystique, this sense of being shut out by language rather than invited in, that We the Humanities hopes to dispel. After all, when curating our Twitter account or commenting on another’s post, there really is no opportunity to get too arcane and entangled by language with only 140 characters to play with.
We believe that the humanities should be united by language rather than separated, and we really hope that encouraging dialogue between what have historically been seen as different disciplines will serve to highlight our similarities instead. Even disagreement shows some level of understanding about the issue at stake, and We the Humanities, both on Twitter and the blog, hope that a healthy debate on the issues that affect us will lead to clarity and understanding – whether we always agree with each other or not.
I’ve been thinking a lot about curators in the last few days as I’ve sat glued to Twitter and my Google Drive, watching people retweet our call for curators and put themselves forward. Already the variety of what goes on under the umbrella term of the ‘humanities’ is coming through: we’ve got a music researcher/lecturer/composer living in the Arctic Circle, a Medieval specialist from Spain, a heritage project leader in Australia and a cultural studies and literature lecturer working in English and Welsh in the UK – to name only 4 of the current list of 12.
As I whiled away the time between nominations I started thinking about who my dream curators would be, living or dead – a little like composing your ideal dinner party.
Neil McGregor, the director of the British Museum comes pretty high up my list. I really enjoyed listening to and reading A History of the World in 100 Objects but I want to know what goes on behind the scenes of the British Museum: the wrangling to get certain exhibits, the overheard snippets from visitors’ conversations and what the staff talk about on their lunch break. Perhaps, for that reason, it would be better to pick someone slightly less high profile so I’ve got my fingers crossed there’s a museum curator reading this who ends up putting themselves forward.
With my scholarly hat on I’d also pick Jacques Derrida. This is partly because I’ve read a lot of his work for my PhD and I’d like to hear more from him, but mostly because I’d love to see what he makes of the 140 character limit. If you’ve ever navigated your way through one of his sentences you might be with me on this one.
Margaret Atwood is also on my list (although, as a fair disclaimer, I put her on pretty much every list going). I cannot get enough of her fiction, I admire the campaigning work that she does and I think her Twitter presence is remarkable. She’s witty, seems to get stuck in to everything she does and I think she’d kick off some great interdisciplinary debates.
Please feel free to use the comments below to discuss who you’d like to see talking about the humanities on Twitter. Even better, join our dream team yourself by signing up to be a curator here.
We are very excited to announce that are search for curators has officially begun!
If you’re interested in tweeting from the We The Humanities account for a week, sharing your interests and/or work and sparking discussions with followers, then you can find out more and sign up here.
We’re looking for as varied a bunch of guest editors as possible so please share this call as widely as you can. Anyone who identifies themselves as doing something that comes under the banner of the humanities is very welcome. Ideally we’d like to get three months’ of curators lined up before we launch so we’re not scrabbling around for contributors.
If you’ve got any questions that aren’t answered in the ‘For Curators’ section you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The account is currently being managed by two part-time PhD researchers with the usual litany of responsibilities; you might not get an immediate response but we will get back to you as soon as we can.