MC1PP-Presenting the Past

Module Provider: The Museum of English Rural Life
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Autumn term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2020/1

Module Convenor: Dr Rhi Smith


Type of module:

Summary module description:

Museum display environments create representations of the past through a complex process of design, curatorship, and interpretation. This module uses museological theory and practice to interrogate the way that heritage organisations present the past to the public. It provides students with the analytical and research skills needed to independently critique heritage interpretation and its principal components (audio-visual content, text, graphics, display configurations etc).

Assessable learning outcomes:
By the end of the module it is expected that students will be able to:
- Demonstrate knowledge of the theory and practice informing heritage interpretation.
- Make clear and concise observations and analyses of museum displays.
- Present these observations and analyses in structured writing.
- Reflect on their learning during the course and on the processes of group work, time management and research skills development

Additional outcomes:
Through planning visits with other students to museums on and off campus students will develop their project management and networking skills. Oral and written communication skills will be enhanced through presenting work in progress, and seminar discussions. Students will also develop digital skills through examining web-based and digital forms of museum communication.

Outline content:
The module will explore how heritage interpretation creates representations of past life ways for, and with, different audiences. It will begin by briefly examining the theoretical, political and historical context which informs contemporary heritage interpretation. Ethical and practical issues will be explored by working through the different scales of interpretation used by museums and other heritage organisations. Firstly the module will discuss the role of heritage organisations in the negot iation of public memory and contemporary debates about 'the past'. Students will go on to apply these concepts through detailed analysis of museum displays which focus on the depiction of past life ways. The module works through different scales of analysis, beginning by examining the role of space, architecture, and three-dimensional design in communicating concepts. This will be followed by a detailed critique of the use of text and graphics in heritage interpretation. The module will also add ress the issue of interactive displays, audio-visual content, and digital interpretation, and will consider how interpretation is changing in the digital age. There will be opportunities to study exhibitions first-hand within the different campus museums and Reading Museum. National and international examples will be used to examine current and historical trends in museum interpretation. This will provide first-hand experience of the different, often contrasting, display styles that are used in museums. Current theory will be used to discuss what developments in co-curation can tell us about the changing role of museums in modern society.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:
This module will be taught in the Museum of English Rural Life. Lectures will give an introduction to the theoretical and historical background of material culture and museum studies. Lectures will be interactive and include contributions from MERL curatorial, public programming and archive staff, who will connect their areas of expertise to wider issues regarding museum communication. Seminars will provide the opportunity to explore ideas from lectures and will also be used to discuss and moni tor progress on coursework tasks.
As a 20 credit module Museum Communication and Interpretation should involve 200 hours of study time. You should expect the following sort of workload:
- 23 hours in formal teaching. This will include: 1 hour introduction to researching museum communication at Reading; 1 hour small group session on critical and reflexive writing; 1 exam preparation session.
- 8 hours planning and undertaking a field trip to a specific museum.
- 30 hours: Reading for, preparation of, and writing your essay.
- 13 hours: Writing your learning journal.
- 20 hours: Visiting and taking notes at local and other museums.
- 60 hours: General background reading and note-taking from key texts for each week's topic(s) - i.e. 6 hours per week.
- 45 hours: Revision including completion of practice papers (Summer Term).
- Exam (Summer Term)

Assignments require students to apply museum theory to museum displays and are designed to engage students in the process of research. Students will be responsible for the management of their own assignments. An enquiry-based learning structure will support students in seminars as they undertake research on assignments.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 10 1
Seminars 10
Practicals classes and workshops 2
Fieldwork 28
Guided independent study: 103 46
Total hours by term 153 47
Total hours for module 200

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written exam 50
Written assignment including essay 40
Report 10

Summative assessment- Examinations:
1.5 hours

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Formative assessment methods:
Students will be set a task, which will be presented via group presentation, and will be given verbal feedback.

Penalties for late submission:

The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day[1] (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.
The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at:
You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

Assessment requirements for a pass:
A mark of 40% overall

Reassessment arrangements:
Re-submission of coursework in August/September

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):
1) Required text books:
2) Specialist equipment or materials:
3) Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear:
4) Printing and binding:
5) Computers and devices with a particular specification:
6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence:

Last updated: 4 April 2020


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