Culture, History, Museums

Hello all,

It appears that I have gotten a little behind! The past few weeks have been quite full, as you’ll figure out. When I last wrote, classes were about to start again, and we’ve covered all kinds of very practical things about taking care of objects in museums. We even visited an off-site museum storage facility in Birmingham, where the curators led us around and said ‘don’t touch the spears, they still have poison on them’, and ‘don’t touch the stuffed animals, they still have arsenic on them’! I just turned in my essay last week on how to borrow an object from an overseas museum. How exciting!

"Look at all these stuffed birds covered with arsenic!"

As classes were winding down prior to the essay deadline, I took the opportunity to travel to Madrid, Spain, to visit a college friend. Jackie has been teaching in a Spanish school for about 2 years now and is ready to return to Chicago in a few months, so I saw an opportunity to visit her that I couldn’t pass up! She showed me the best Madrid has to offer, including visiting the famous Prado Museum, hot chocolate and churros, sitting out on a rooftop terrace, relaxing in beautiful Retiro Park, and an amazing Flamenco dance show! That’s a lot for one weekend! Two days later I turned my essay in early, and then was ready to head off on another adventure.

Flamenco show in Madrid! Amazing!

I left for Berlin on February 1st and had plans to stay with a CouchSurfer my first 2 nights. Andre was an enjoyable host, and the type of person that wants to be a student forever (it helps that German students do not pay for university). He showed me his neighbourhood and university, but the strangest thing was probably going to see an American movie at the cinema, Brad Pitt’s baseball movie Moneyball! Andre knows more about American film than I do, but I know more about baseball. We parted ways on Friday and I went to meet up with Jackie, who was coming for the weekend to travel with me. Now we could get to the really tourist-y stuff!

My CouchSurfing host Andre, with me at the Pergamon Museum

First off, the temperatures in Berlin were awful, sometimes single digits (Fahrenheit). It was painfully cold! Regardless, we visited the palace city of Potsdam, took a walking tour around central Berlin, toured the forced labour concentration camp Sachsenhausen, and saw a slew of museums, memorials and historic sites during our visit. This is a city just reeling with history! Among my top moments, I mentioned that visiting the concentration camp in sub-zero temperatures made me appreciate what working outside in flimsy prison garments might feel like. And seeing Nazi architecture still in use, and Communist monuments impressed upon me how much has happened in the last 50 years alone.

The Brandenburg Gate at night, gateway between east and west

Then and now

Alas, the cold was too much for me, and I came back to Leicester on the 6th. I’m still processing everything I’ve seen and learned, but I’m ready for the remainder of the semester as well, and having the opportunity to create our own exhibit, give a dissertation proposal, and select a UK museum for our 8-week work placement this summer. There’s a lot still to do.

We’re 2 months in!

Hello everyone,

It’s been 2 weeks so I thought it was time to update again. I’ve had a few more travels since we last talked, and we’re just getting into our 2nd  ‘module’, this one being more the practical running of a museum. I’ll try to give a brief rundown.

While I may not have had much class in the last few weeks, reading has been my main activity, exciting titles like ‘The Return of Cultural Treasures’, and ‘Museums and Source Communities’. We had the Director of Research at the British Museum come talk to us, and he was actually very charismatic and entertaining! We’ve also been given some teaser information on our internship placements next summer… who knows, I could be working at the Roman Baths Museum in the city of Bath!

That just happens to be where I visited last weekend! We went to Bath for the day, and the Roman baths were top on my list. The water is still steaming 2000 years later, but they wouldn’t let us jump in. The most intriguing part of the museum was the Roman metal prayer cards on display; they asked Minerva to severely punish whoever had stolen their bathing suit! Some of the other girls (also Museum Studies) were interested in the city for Jane Austen history as well, although truthfully Jane never liked Bath.

I also took a daytrip (again with Museum Studies girls) to Birmingham. We visited the art gallery, the Christmas markets, and the Cadbury World factory and museum. Cadbury World was the worst excuse for a Disney-fied museum, but made up for it by handing out chocolate samples at various points on the tour. I am now addicted to Cadbury chocolate. In an attempt to not eat it all myself, I shared it when I hosted a small Thanksgiving dinner in my flat! It was also nice to skype with family and our couchsurfing friends on Thanksgiving, in Chicago, and my cousin in Korea.

Lastly, I just got back from a weekend trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. The weather was relatively mild but windy, and I spent a whirlwind 24 hours enjoying the accent, seeing the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, a “ghost tour” in underground vaults, and trying haggis and Scottish whisky. Haggis is a mix of mutton (lamb) and oatmeal, and generally has a bad reputation, but I actually enjoyed it. I also tried Macallan whisky based off a recommendation, and tried my best to enjoy that. While we spent a third of the weekend just driving, it was still fun…