A Sense of Place

George Lailey outside his hutThe Museum of English Rural Life (part of the University of Reading’s Museums and Special Collections Service) was recently awarded the largest grant in the first round of the Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund, via the Museums Association, for A Sense of Place.

The aim of the project was to turn the traditional museum catalogue into a more flexible and interactive resource, engaging and connecting audiences with our collections in terms of relevance to geographical, historical and cultural contexts. MERL, like almost every museum, faces the challenge of how to help visitors interpret their experience of historical artefacts removed from their original contexts. To achieve this we need to explore new forms of user-friendly Information and Communications Technology (ICT) that will help audiences access and make use of our collections data in new and more meaningful ways.

Bucklebury CommonThe project involved consultation with a range of organisations and individuals. These included We are What we Do, the owners and managers of HistoryPin. Here Google forms the main partner in a scheme that encourages communities to share images of their locality by ‘pinning’ them to virtual maps. In the course of the project the Museum has explored ways of making the MERL object collection deliverable through different resources based on this model.

George Lailey collection at MERLWe have also collaborated with iMuse, a local charity that works to support people with disabilities to make better use of ICT. This has provided a significant opportunity for MERL to trial the delivery of its collection data both to this specific set of users and to a wider set of handheld owners and operators.

A Sense of Place was delivered through a steering group, consisting of staff, specialist advisers and other stakeholders, including volunteers and museum visitors.

Esmee Fairbairn logo

The project director was the Curator of Collections & Engagement and the day to day activity was led by the Assistant Curator, line manager to the project officers employed in the course of this activity.


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To find out more about this and other projects, visit the MERL Projects Blog.

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