Caroline Hamilton, a University of Brighton / Royal Pavilion and Museums PhD student, outlines how themes of collecting and collections brought diverse student scholars to Brighton.
Collect verb – bring or gather together. Systematically seek and acquire (items of a particular kind) as a hobby
Collector noun – a person who collects things of a specified type, professionally or as a hobby
Collection noun – the action or process of collecting
In April 2019 the University of Brighton hosted Collectors / Collecting / Collections, an AHRC TECHNE-funded PhD Study Day. Initiated by Annebella Pollen, the event was then coordinated and delivered by myself and fellow PhD student Claudia Treacher.
Our focus was on collectors, collecting and collections as objects of study and as systems of knowledge that shape research practices. In thinking about and with collections, including their definitions and limits, this training day encouraged interdisciplinary dialogue and methodological reflection across arts and humanities. Over the day we saw all facets of collections and collecting covered from eccentric collectors and artists’ collections to personal wardrobes. How items are collected for exhibitions was discussed, as was how exhibition design itself can be or cannot be collected. We divided the day into four sessions: Collections and Acquisitions, Collections and Engagement, Collections and Ethics, and Collections and Exhibitions.
Eight speakers presented on the day from across TECHNE organisations including Brighton, Kingston, Roehampton, RCA/V&A, Royal Holloway and University of the Arts London. Four of the presenters were undertaking their PhD work directly with cultural organisations including Kingston Museum, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, the V&A and the British Museum. This institutional experience prompted an interesting discussion on collecting policies and how objects acquired as a collection are stored and catalogued.
The day was a great opportunity for participants from disparate fields, universities and cultural institutions to come together and discuss their research in a closed and positive environment. Each participant shared work in progress and contributed to stimulating discussions on acquisitions and omissions; collector biographies and curatorial historiographies; engagement, ethics and the politics of audience participation. This took place through case studies of nineteenth century aristocratic fashion collections and avant-garde ballet costume; collections-based programming at the British Museum and contested Austrian national history collections; interwar ceramics and the art of conscientious objectors; international art events in Brazil and post-war Italian design exhibitions.
In order to increase engagement on the day, participants shared draft writing in advance, and academic respondents contributed structured reflections to enhance open discussion. In the spirit of developing cross-consortium team-building and interdisciplinary exchange, students were involved in all stages of the organisation. This including the selection of papers and the organisation and chairing of panels. Claudia and I developed skills in academic events management and the peer-review of research, while participating students developed subject knowledge, research toolkits and researcher networks.
The study day followed three previous successful collaboratively-organised and cross-institutional AHRC TECHNE training days: ‘New Thinking in Design History’ (Brighton, 2016), ‘Unpacking the Archive: Methodologies and Challenges in Design History’ (RCA/V&A, 2017) and ‘The Printed and Digital Page: Reassessing Form, Content and Methodology’ (Kingston, 2018). The University of Brighton hope to continue the series into a fifth year in 2020.