MCMHH-Hidden Heritage: investigating and interpreting historic buildings and landscapes

Module Provider: The Museum of English Rural Life
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2018/9

Module Convenor: Dr Nicola Pickering


Type of module:

Summary module description:

This module aims to provide students with comprehensive experience of researching, analysing and interpreting historic buildings and landscapes for a public audience. The module is based on work with historic sites and buildings in the area local to the University of Reading and London. You will work on collaborative and individual practical projects to explore why and how historic buildings and landscapes are researched, presented and opened to the public in the UK. Through the application of theory to practical exercises you will benefit from both academic and vocational learning. The module aims to develop a wide range of interpersonal, organisational, research analytical and presentation skills readily transferable to a career in heritage management.


This module explores the methods used by heritage professionals to investigate and interpret historic buildings and landscapes. Students will develop a critical understanding of how to assess, research and present historic buildings and landscapes to the public, and will gain practical experience of these areas by completing the assessment tasks for the module.

Assessable learning outcomes:

By the end of this module it is expected that you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an ability to undertake self-directed research into historic buildings, landscapes and objects; locate, collate and critically analyse a broad range of primary and secondary sources. Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the historiography relating to the study of historic buildings and landscapes in the UK.

  • Discuss and analyse different ways to assess the significance of historic buildings and landscapes. Plan and create a statement of significance for a nominated example using appropriate resources.

  • Identify, critically analyse ways through which historic buildings, landscapes and objects can be presented and interpreted for a public audience. Devise, present and discuss ideas for ways to do this in an engaging, accessible and innovative manner.

  • Critically consider and devise solutions to competing challenges within the heritage conservation, management and interpretation sector.

  • Demonstrate your oral and written communication skills by presenting findings and ideas in a clear and logical way to the module convenor and peers.

Additional outcomes:

This module aims to develop your

  • interpersonal, organisational, research analytical and presentation skills.

  • observational and recording skills through in-depth analysis of specific buildings, objects and landscapes.

  • communication skills as they learn how to write for specific audiences.

  • experience in using archival and specialist library resources in research projects.

  • time management, networking, information literacy and problem-solving skills through the planning of assessed tasks.

Outline content:

Thousands of historic buildings and landscapes are preserved, managed and opened to visitors in the UK. Why do we take such an interest in these buildings and sites, what is their value, and for whom? How can we best approach the study and presentation of these intriguing survivals of past times and the stories that surround them? This module aims to provide students with an understanding of the UK heritage sector, and a comprehensive experience of researching, analysing and interpreting historic buildings and landscapes for a public audience.

Lectures will introduce the relevant theories surrounding these activities, taking a cross-disciplinary approach drawing on methodological approaches from the fields of museum studies, heritage management, history, archaeology, art and architectural history. Using case studies from a range of buildings and sites, this module will examine the theoretical, practical and ethical issues connected with researching, assessing the significance of, and interpreting historic objects, buildings and landscapes.

You will be taught how to critically approach the investigation of different types of historic buildings, objects and landscapes using observational skills, archival resources and material culture theory. You will be encouraged to explore the potential of buildings, objects and landscapes to unlock stories from the past and appeal to a public audience in engaging, accessible and innovative ways. 

The module will also investigate and enable you to critically consider how practical concerns, such as conservation, funding and legislation, may impact on interpretation and public access.

Assignments closely reflect the type of task undertaken by heritage professionals; assignments 1 and 3 in particular have direct links to professional practice in the heritage sector.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

Lectures will introduce theory and practice while seminars will involve practical analysis and research of historic buildings, landscapes, objects and archives.

Lectures will be interactive and will include occasional contributions from archive, curatorial, visitor experience, education and conservation staff, who will connect their areas of expertise to wider issues of heritage management and interpretation. Two lectures will take place away from the University of Reading – one at Compton Verney and one at either Basildon Park or Cliveden House.

Seminars will provide the opportunity to clarify and interrogate elements of lectures and will also be used to discuss and check progress on module tasks. Group activities in seminars will develop your interpersonal, research and communication skills. Assignments ask you to apply theory to practice and are designed to engage you in research and practical application of theories to aspects such as statements of significance, heritage interpretation and public engagement.

Examples of topics related to the investigation and interpretation of historic buildings and landscapes that will be covered in this module include:

  • How to research historic buildings and landscapes: sources, methods and approaches.

  • The origins of heritage conservation and management in the UK.

  • An introduction to heritage law in the UK.

  • Constructing and using statements of significance.

  • Staffing, funding and management concerns in the field of heritage management.

  • Balancing conservation concerns with access and commercial requirements.

  • Historic and contemporary approaches to presenting and interpreting buildings and sites for the public.

  • Exhibitions and other temporary interpretation or engagement projects.

  • Employing academic research and partnerships in presentation and interpretation projects.

  • Appropriate and effective use of digital technology in research and interpretation projects.

  • Widening access and participation in public heritage.

This is a 20 credit module, which means that it will require 200 hours of work: seminar preparation, background reading, and reading for coursework, coursework writing, and preparation for presentations. With that in mind the kind of workload they should expect might be as follows:

  • - 20 hours Contact hours in formal teaching sessions

  • - 20 hours Visiting heritage sites and buildings, and taking notes on interpretation strategies and labelling. Staff will provide guidance on planning visits.

  • - 30 hours Researching written and oral assignments.

  • - 40 hours Reading for, preparing and writing/practicing assignments.

  • - 90 hours Background reading for lectures and seminars.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 8
Seminars 10
Practicals classes and workshops 2
External visits 20
Guided independent study 160
Total hours by term 200.00
Total hours for module 200.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 90
Oral assessment and presentation 10

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

  1. 40% - written assignment, 2,000 words: statement of significance on chosen building or site, to include critical discussion of possibilities for future use or development.

  2. 10% - overall seminar presentation and a specific 10 minute oral presentation with 2-side handout: innovative approaches to interpretation and engagement as illustrated by one case study chosen by the student.

  3. 50% - written assignment, 2,500 words plus appendix: new interpretation proposal for building or landscape chosen by the student, to include justification, critical discussion of possible competing challenges (conservation, access, logistics, management, marketing) and feasible solutions, and ideas for potential funding.

Formative assessment methods:

Weeks 3-6 will focus on how to approach the research of historic buildings, landscapes, objects and archives. This will be supported by specialist staff. Staff will assist students in person to navigate catalogues and access original materials and to develop their data retrieval and analysis skills.

Weeks 7-10 will focus on the buildings, landscapes, objects and archives themselves, through weekly site visits and group discussions. Staff will provide formative feedback in person to assist students in recognising how theoretical approaches to research, presentation, interpretation and engagement can be applied in practice. Guest speakers will also assist students in exploring and critiquing specific case studies during site visits.

Penalties for late submission:
Penalties for late submission on this module are in accordance with the University policy. Please refer to page 5 of the Postgraduate Guide to Assessment for further information:

Assessment requirements for a pass:

A mark of 50%

Reassessment arrangements:

Re-submission of coursework in Spring term

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence: two lectures will take place away from the University – one at Compton Verney, Warwickshire, one at either Basildon Park, Berkshire or Cliveden House, Buckinghamshire. Students may be asked to cover some of the costs of travel to these locations.

Last updated: 23 July 2018


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