Gendered Interpretations at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Vasa Museum

Lead Research Organisation: University of Plymouth
Department Name: Sch of Humanities & Performing Arts


This project builds upon the success of a 2-year AHRC-funded research network project, 'Gender, Power and Materiality in Early Modern Europe', which raised awareness of gender in modern museological environments. The network generated a valuable dialogue between 4 university nodes (Plymouth, Lund, Leiden and Western Australia) and curators and research department at the V&A, and practice professionals at Skarhult Castle, Sweden, Museum of London, and Cultural Heritage Leiden, and previously has secured significant funding from the University of Lund and the Swedish Research Council. The follow-on funding would further enhance the existing partnership with the V&A, and allow us to work with a major new international partner, the Vasa Museum, Stockholm, which is reorganising the ways in which they think of gender in relation to their collections and museology practices. Both of the museums as well as Lund University have promised to provide match-funding for the proposed project, and see it as delivering significant wider impact in terms of knowledge exchange.

As a result of workshops over the past two years in collaboration with our non-HEI partners we developed an interpretative methodology for understanding objects, exhibitions and the past through the lens of gender, power and materiality that revealed the ways in which gendered power clusters influenced decision-making in the form and function of objects. A powerful outcome of the network has been a raising of the awareness of gender (which encompasses women and men, femininities and masculinities, sexualities and identities) as an important interpretive category within the museum environment, and the role this can play in generating diverse narratives that have wider societal impact disseminated through curatorial practice, and educational and public programming in its broadest sense, as a way of stimulating changes in behaviour. We are therefore seeking to work with two international beacon institutions in order to integrate gender better into narratives of the past and present.

The project the team (Daybell (PI), Norrhem (International CI), Susan Broomhall, Nadine Akkerman and Jacqueline Van Gent; at the Vasa Mirja Arnshav, Research Co-ordinator and Fred Hocker, Head of Research, and at the V&A, Joanna Norman, Head of Research, Elaine Tierney, Research Fellow, and Assistant Curators Dawn Hoskins and Zorian Clayton) would work with collaborating partners (including a network of Swedish heritage professionals led by Dr Pia Laskar, a Swedish gender historian/researcher) in order to coproduce with museum professionals gendered pathways and interpretation of the collections and permanent exhibitions at the V&A and Vasa.
The project activities will have several strands:
1) To develop gendered interpretative pathways through the permanent exhibitions and collections at the V&A and Vasa by identifying and researching 10-20 objects in each museum.
2) Co-production of public engagement dissemination activities and materials through a range of deliverables, including public talks, dialogue events, education packages, self-guided interpretative materials, podcasts and short film. A key aim of these activities is to reach out to new audiences defined by the partner institutions.
3) Two Knowledge Exchange events in London and Stockholm with the project team and museum practice professionals (curators, cataloguers, conservators, education and outreach and public programming) at the V&A and Vasa, and other non-HEI collaborating institutions. These events have two aims: to coproduce further the gendered pathways and interpretive materials in each institution; and to facilitate knowledge exchange of the conceptual implications of gendered interpretive pathways between international institutions.
4) Working with V&A, Vasa and a network of Swedish museums to produce of model of best practice to disseminate among Swedish museums and generate interntational knowledge exchange.

Planned Impact

We have identified a wide range of non-academic beneficiaries who will derive different kinds of impact generated by this follow-on funding project. These include:

i) Museums and heritage sites in the UK, Sweden and The Netherlands. Each of the three European HEI 'nodes' at Plymouth, Lund and Leiden has identified a series of local partner institutions as end-users for the research deriving from this follow-on funding project with the V&A and Vasa, with whom relationships are already established and which we would like to further develop. In the UK, this will include the Victoria and Albert Museum (Joanna Norman, Head of Research, and Elaine Tierney, Research Fellow, are both members of the project team); in Sweden, the Vasa Museet (Mirja Arnshav, Research Co-ordinator and Fred Hocker, Head of Research are both members of the project team) and Skarhults kulturminne, which hosts the Den Dolda Kvinnomakten ('The Hidden Power of Women') exhibition, and its owner Baroness Alexandra von Schwerin, as well as a network of Swedish State Museums co-ordinated by the Swedish Gender Consultant Dr Pia Laskar, who is a collaborating partner of the project; and in The Netherlands, the Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam.

ii) curators, cataloguers, conservators, education and public outreach practitioners and specialists working in the Heritage industries in the UK, Sweden and The Netherlands.

iii) visitors to museums, including the V&A and Vasa, and their target audiences (the Vasa had a record 1.3 million visitors last year, a large proportion of which were international; while the V&A had over 3 million).

iv) educators (teachers and lecturers) and school children and undergraduate students.

v) the Swedish government and Department of Education.

The ways in which these non-academic end-users will benefit from the impact of research produced by the follow-on funding project is wide-ranging and varied. Potential impacts include:

i) strengthening international relationships between museums, archives and academics in the UK, Sweden and The Netherlands.

ii) developing archival and museology practices as they relate to gender and the ways in which collections are approached, curated, displayed and studied through sharing practices between a range of international scholars working in different academic disciplines (History, Literature and Art History), and curators, archivists and specialists working in the Heritage and Public History industries. In bringing academics and museum experts closer together through collaboration is mutually beneficial, and makes academics more aware of the possibilities museums offer, as well as the constraints they work under.

iii) enhancing the visitor experience through new methods of display, and so developing cultural and social benefits for visitors.

iv) engaging the general public in the UK and Sweden in an aspect of their cultural heritage through various public engagement activities (lectures and public talks), thus contributing to their knowledge, skills and quality of life.

vi) enhancing schools' engagement with museum-based collections, via developing materials in the form of teaching packs repurposing research for use in the classroom, aligned with the National Curriculum.

vii) providing expert knowledge contributing to public policy debates in Sweden (in association with Skarhults kulturminne, and its owner Baroness Alexandra von Schwerin) relating to curriculum change in the teaching of History within Swedish classrooms in order to enhance the study of women in the past.

viii) understanding diversity of experiences contributes to a greater understanding of the world in which we live.

Other beneficiaries such as curators, archivists, conservationists, museum educators, cataloguers and other museum professionals bringing specialist sector knowledge and practices will benefit from as well as contribute to transdisciplinary dialogue and educational practice.


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