We’re chuffed to share the work from our latest commission with The Scouts! In this post, we’ll share not only the brilliant collections we produced together but also talk a little about the steps involved in the commissioning process.
The project included running workshops integrating objects, stories, creative writing and art to help children explore the topic of refugees and displaced people. These workshops were run in schools and in collaboration with author Jane Ray and charity EmpathyLab and proved a great success.
Following the workshops, the Scouts’ Heritage Collections Officer, Caroline Hamson, approached us with the idea of commissioning collections that can be borrowed by Scout groups, allowing them to run a condensed version of the workshops. The Box could act as the perfect way to facilitate these outreach workshops, and we couldn’t wait to get started!
Following our initial communications, Caroline visited our Hoxton HQ to try out a Box, explore some existing collections and — with neither of us having any Scouting experience — tell us a little more about The Scout Association and its archive. We learned about all the different work Scouts did on the Home Front during the war as well as The Scout International Relief Service and discussed a little about the kinds of objects in the collection.
Following this meeting we kicked off the commission and arranged a visit for George and Charlie to visit the home of Scouting, the beautiful Gilwell Park.
Visit and Object Selection
It’s certainly one of our favourite aspects of a commission to visit the site of the commissioner and rummage about in the collection with the education or curatorial teams to figure out a good story for the collection.
We ultimately decided to create two collections: ‘On the Home Front‘ which tells of what life was like during wartime and how Scouts contributed to the war effort at home, and ‘Moving Connections: The Scout International Relief Service‘ which documents the work of Scouts in Europe after the war had ended.
Each collection we made includes one 3D print and eight or nine postcards. As with most collections, much of the Scouts’ archival materials are 2D: photos, documents. but along with Caroline we were able to pick out two really nice objects that we knew would digitise well. The first was an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) warden’s helmet: a great symbol of the roles played during the war and was no doubt a comforting sight to see during a wartime bombing raid.
The second 3D object from the The Scout International Relief Service collection was a Prisoner of War camp logbook. This is a particularly special object because it belonged to scouts who were interned at Miranda de Ebro, a Spanish concentration camp. The book is made up of three intricately carved wooden panels.
Replica ‘Point It Out’ Book
As well as the postcards and 3D prints we wanted to create a replica of the ‘Point It Out’ book. Scouts would have used this book a means of communicating as they worked throughout post-way Europe; it features pages and pages of beautifully illustrated images that the user could point at in order to overcome any language barriers they may come up against.
We worked with printmaker Takako Copeland (who made the beautiful container for our Bata box back in May) to create the replica of the book. Each page was scanned-in, cleaned up and printed out before being wrapped in a nice thick cover featuring all of the original artwork. The book also has one of our metal stickers on it so it can be booped along with the other items in the collections.
The finished article…
The collections have already been used at an event, the Gilwell Reunion at Gilwell Park, and we’ve already had a note from Simon, a Scout leader in London, who’s interested to help his charges attain their Digital Maker badge by making a Box! We’re excited about visiting with him, and hearing more about the recent Scouts & Raspberry Pi partnership, which we’d love to be involved with somehow.
We had a visit from Laura Gibson to our office in Bloomsbury back in May 2017. We’d been introduced by a mutual friend, Rosalind Parker, who was in the same PhD program as Laura, at King’s College London.
Laura was then working on her PhD, entitled Decolonising South African Museums in a Digital Age: Re-imagining the Iziko Museums’ Natal Nguni Catalogue and Collection. This was the culmination of many years of interest and work in the South African cultural sector, which began in 2009, when Laura was Assistant Curator at Iziko Museums in Cape Town. Since then, Laura has been back and forth and around KwaZulu-Natal building community, bringing together a team of Zulu community experts around the work of decolonising museum collections. She also recently submitted her thesis over the summer – Yay! – and Dr. Laura Gibson has already won a prestigious award for it, from Universities Antwerpen – double Yay!
Fast forward to this year, and we find that Laura and Hannah secured funding from the Wenner Gren Foundation, and the University of Leicester Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) to bring together a group of nineteen Zulu community experts, anthropologists, scholars, entrepreneurs and museum professionals for a three-day workshop at Iziko Museums in Cape Town, the oldest museum in sub-Saharan Africa.
We were in the group, thrilled beyond measure that Laura and Hannah had designed that a Museum in a Box would be one of their project outputs, ideally to be returned from London (where we made it) to KwaZulu-Natal, so Zulu kids could learn about objects held in colonial museums – not from the museum’s perspective, but the Zulu community experts who selected and described them.
We assembled from various cities in KwaZulu-Natal, London, Cape Town, and Leicester to descend on Iziko and other venues for a three-day workshop.
Ostensibly, Charlie and I were there to document everything, taking photographs constantly, and recording audio of the whole event. We were keen that it wasn’t too orchestrated, but that the free-flowing fun conversation and activities were captured live and unfettered. Here’s the outline of the workshop:
We met in the morning at the Iziko Social History Centre, and said our hellos and introduced ourselves to each other. I was paired with Mama Nini, who got my measure within about 10 seconds, as we worked through the preset getting-to-know-you questions. “George doesn’t like talking about intimate relationships,” she said. On point. Haha.
Then, the group was able to do one of my very favourite things, which was exploring the museums historical registers, catalogues, and storerooms. Assisted by Iziko staff, Dr. Gerald Klinghardt, Curator of Anthropology, and Lailah Hisham, Collections Manager, we were able to see all sorts of items, with a view to each of the experts selecting one to describe.
In the afternoon, we were able to demonstrate Museum in a Box to the group, and were excited that everyone agreed a Box would be a good thing to produce.
The morning began with a tour from Fatima February, Conservator, who explained for the group what happens when an object is acquired by the museum. She had also gathered the objects chosen by participants so we could begin photography.
Next, we visited Lailah’s lair in the Collections Department, surrounded by old card catalogues and accession registers. It was so illuminating at this point to really see first hand how objects collected in colonial times were described. Laura shared a story from her research about a “Zulu” sweat scraper that is sparsely documented on the official catalogue card; however exploring the South African Museum’s archives more thoroughly reveals its disturbing provenance—stolen from the body of a Zulu man killed by the collector’s friend—that is absent from the official record.
In the afternoon, the group worked with ceramicist, Gary Frier, to create visual responses to belongings found in the collection and elsewhere in their lives, and Gary fired the pieces to return to the group once they were ready. The conversation around the making noted that many of the skills needed to make the objects seen the day before in the collection were disappearing, and how great it would be to facilitate makers who still hold those skills to teach and share that knowledge.
Towards the end of the day, the whole group took a trip to Table Mountain, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. That title is not given lightly, and the mountain was truly shining for our visit.
We moved venues for the morning, to Rust en Vreugd. The group was facilitated by Mbongeni Nomkonwana and Antonia Porter, and after some fun warm-up exercises, got down to business describing the objects from Iziko the group had selected. Antonia also encouraged everyone to look inwards, and reflect on what the workshop had brought forward for them.
Here’s how Laura described it in her summary of the workshop: “Dr Skhumbuzo Miya shared his concerns about the many powerful belongings held in the Iziko collections, items so powerful they could burn down a house without fire and that are, he believes, stored and treated incorrectly. He asked what reparation process is the museum following to cleanse these items? Later that evening, he stated that he had seen spirits living in hell in the storerooms. Thuli Mtshali likewise expressed regret that many of the stories behind the objects had been lost because apartheid and colonialism allowed people to collect, or steal, things form people without knowing this information that has since been lost. Thulani Thusi and Wilfred Mchunu spoke about the possibilities for collaboration that arose for them during the workshop, a sentiment captured for them by a leaf and feather. Nini Xulu’s plant choice also allowed her to reiterate how important it is that we work together and how beautiful it can be when we do.”
Then it was back to Iziko to do final photography and audio recordings, and we were delighted when Dr Miya played some of his songs for us on guitar!
Bringing it together
We left Cape Town with smiles, three days of audio, and thousands of photographs. It was lovely to revisit the event through these materials. We wanted the collection we developed to represent three things:
The objects selected from the Iziko stores, their catalogue cards (if they existed), and the audio descriptions of each object, as given by one or more of the Zulu community experts
The event itself, because so often this “contextual colour” is completely missing or hard to find in the works and background of events, and the workshop, its participants and its design generated the information and content, and finally
The participants, through their portraits, their voices, and their own introductions (or songs!), since this is almost entirely absent from the official record of colonial museums.
We created three “types” of postcards to represent these three ideas, which were also all translated from English into isiZulu. Look and listen to their audio, too:
Last week, Charlie and I were sitting in our office in Hoxton, and photos started coming through on our project WhatsApp, showing the launch party that was going on at Luthuli Museum in Groutville, just north of Durban in KZN. The whole South African crew had gathered to celebrate, and Laura was there too, to hand-deliver the box. It was exciting and brilliant! We are very proud.
We were also thrilled to see two messages from Thulani and Nini…
I want to thank each one of you for another effort on Amagugu Ethu, our meeting after the launch was a productive one. The people were so amazed about the work of Amagugu and to see the Museum in a Box. The Prince Zulu express his heartfelt gratitude for the work toward conservation of the Zulu objects and he requested that Amagugu should also do awareness programs. All the best to all of us towards what we have discussed today. Dr Gibson and the team in UK indeed we thank you for all you hard work. – Thulani Thusi
Thanks so much for the Charlie/George Magical Museum in a Box. God bless you with more intellectual technological invocation to share with Africa. – Nini Xulu
Best wishes from Team KZN received via WhatsApp
If the box wasn’t involved at all in the project, the results would still have been amazing. Power would have moved, would have changed hands. But, we like to think that one thing the Box has helped do is contain it, and perhaps present it more easily.
Thank you to our new friends, Nini, Thandi, Thuli, Wilfred, Dr Miya, Thulani and Boyzie for being fabulous, and we hope to see you again!
It’s a sign of a crazy last few months that I haven’t been able to write properly about our biggest project yet. At the end of April, Charlie, Adrian and I went to Washington, DC, to hand-deliver 11 Boxes to Smithsonian Libraries.
It’s the first time we’ve been commissioned to deliver more than one Box.
It’s the first time we’ve been able to bring in folks from the creative industries to join the crew specifically, two writers, three actors, and a big fancy-lookin’ recording studio. This allows us to demonstrate our content creation capacity (so if a museum wants to commission this service from us, we can show them great work).
The deployment is being formally evaluated (and that’s already really interesting).
This is the first of a couple of posts I’d like to write about this commission, one other perhaps about how we’ve also been able to level up in our Making Boxes skillz.
Back in 2016, Martin Kalfatovic was in London to celebrate the 10th birthday of the magnificent Biodiversity Heritage Library project, and I asked if he’d like to pop by our office to say hi and see what we were up to with this weird little box thing. He came, he liked it, he paused for a second, and then said “What if…” It wasn’t long after that when he introduced us to Sara Cardello, the Education Specialist at Smithsonian Libraries, whose job it is to get Libraries’ content into the hands of kids.
It wasn’t long after that when Sara and Martin asked us to make a Box for them to show to their Board, to get the idea across and pique their interest. We made what remains one of my favourite Collections to date, Frogs in a Box. It’s a favourite because of the name, frankly, but also because it does a very simple thing well: it blends the collections of two different parts of the Smithsonian into one place. There are photographs of North American frogs from a book published in the early 20th Century combined with Sounds of North American Frogs, an incredibly detailed and rigorous audio commentary in Smithsonian Folkways by a American herpetologist called Charles who, as I understand it, basically spent the 1950s travelling across American recording frog songs.
We decided to go for it, and trial the idea on a smallish scale. Small scale for Smithsonian, large scale for us! Sara – who has proved to be Herculean and brilliant – spent the next 18 months looking for a way to fund developing more boxes to support the development and distribution of the SI Libraries UNSTACKED programme. And then, success! She secured support from two different funding bodies: the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, and the Youth Access Grant supported by the Gates Foundation. And then, wow! We were ready to go. Incredible.
Here are the project specs:
2 Collections for each Box
7 schools and 2 “discovery spaces” across the USA
40 postcards and 4x 3D prints in each Collection
We planned to create two new Collections for the project, and each one shared the same structure of four main themes + 40 postcards + four 3D prints, but the content was very different.
Stories of Migration from the Asia-Pacific to America
Following the stories of four characters in the form of letters to and from their families. Ben from China, Hong from Vietnam, Abraham from Bikini Atoll, and Rhea from New York (with family from Trinidad & Tobago and India). Sprinkled with facts about rules and regulations for migrants new to the USA, and hints of cultural expression from home countries, this set is an emotive and personal look at what it would have been like to make the big journey in search of something better.
Here’s one of the stories from Ben:
Curation & Writing: Louise To
Actor: Suni La
Sound Recording: Offset Audio
Sound Post-Production: Charlie Cattel-Killick
Director: George Oates
History of STEM from the Dibner Collection
Four sets of cards aligned with the STEM categories: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths, this set tells various stories of the history of STEM through imagery in some important scientific texts from The Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology mixed with first-person accounts and other dramatisations of scientific subjects.
What might it be like to actually be a Black Hole?
I’ll plan to write a bit more about the design, production, delivery and evaluation of this commission – it was a big step for us in terms of our production capacity. In the meantime, here’s a quote from one of the kids we met in DC:
This is just a short post to let you know that we’re absolutely thrilled to be a part of the Spring 2018 cohort of the Young Foundation’s accelerator programme, the Young Academy! It’s a short post because we’re learning all kinds of useful things about working on our business plan, moulding our mission towards educational equity, and getting ready for the pitch day at the end of the program.
After a very busy and productive first six months of this year building and delivering our recent commissions with The British Museum, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, it’s a great time to step back and zoom out a little to refactor and realign our goals. The Young Foundation could not be a better fit, in terms of their mission to tackle major social challenges through research and social innovation.
It’s also be great to meet and hear from the other founders in the cohort. There’s nothing like realising that you’re not alone in your own set of challenges, and that lots of entrepreneurs out there are facing lots of the same things (and succeeding in spite of them!). It’s exciting to start to believe that what we’re doing has real potential and that we might even be able to attract investment.
I’ll likely post a few more updates as our realignment and thinking coalesce into a stronger story…
Four museum staffers from Baghdad have just completed eight weeks in London in a top-to-bottom digitisation training program at the British Museum. The program was designed to develop skills in the digitisation of heritage collections, especially archives, and to make best use of digital resources to engage audiences in Iraq and beyond. We were thrilled when the BM team reached out to commission a Museum in a Box to encapsulate and represent the training.
We were excited to meet Samah (Educator), Safa (Photographer), Mustafa (Curator) and Thamir (Conservator) from the Iraqi Museum. Charlie and I visited the British Museum a couple of times, to help with object selection for the collection, and digitisation tips. We also helped gather and edit the audio scripts the team had written and recorded themselves, as part of the box production process. With the support of Jennifer Wexler at the BM, who helped prepare the 3D models for us, we also arranged to print four objects in 3D, and getting another 20 or so postcards printed and set up with their shiny yellow acrylic box. The resulting collection was a blend of objects from both institutions – we’re wondering how often that’s happened to date…
The training program was celebrated at a morning event in the wondrous Arched Room at the British Museum on April 13th. Each of the trainees gave a short talk about what they learned, and Thamir and Mustafah gave a live demo of the new Box! Apparently there were gasps in the audience, and we now have an (un)official endorsement from rockstar curator, Irving Finkel 🙂
Special outcomes for us
Our first deployment into another country, Iraq. (We were certain to offer to perform any technical follow-up in person!)
The first collection we’ve made that draws together objects from more than one institution
Our first commission in another language, Arabic (unless you count Frog as another language?)
We also have our first translation of the “starter kit” greeting scripts used in every box, translated by Safa and Mary (who was on the BM project team)!
Here’s the finished Arabic intro that plays when you first fire up the Box:
We spent the end of the day yesterday watching all of Sir Ken’s TED talks. I’m slightly embarrassed to be the 46 millionth human to see his first one from 2006, but there you go.
He speaks about how fostering creativity in kids has been squashed by education systems that are oriented towards testing and standards and entry into university, and not respectful of diverse types of intelligence and different human capacities.
Here are the three talks in case you’d like to watch them:
I was taking notes as we watched them, and here are some highlights that stood out for me:
“Creativity is as important as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
“Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go.”
“We don’t grow into creativity. We grow out of it. Or rather, we’re educated out of it.”
“Suddenly, degrees aren’t worth anything.”
Intelligence is diverse, dynamic, and distinct.
“Education dislocates people from their natural talents.
“Human communities depend upon a diversity of talents, not a singular conception of ability.” How can we reconstitute our sense of ability and intelligence?
Lots of education doesn’t feed passion. “Teaching properly conceived is not a delivery mechanism.”
“If you sit kids down hour after hour doing low grade clerical work it’s not surprising they’ll fidget.”
Feedback from Teachers
Boxes we’ve made to date have been about creating complete sets of objects around a theme like Ancient Egypt: Daily Lives, or Frogs of North America, and, while we definitely think there’s a lot of utility in being able to create a replete set to deliver (perhaps to younger kids), we’ve been exploring ideas around more serialised delivery of box contents, so object-based enquiry builds themes and knowledge over time, prompting students to do independent research as the collection builds.
We’ve also heard over and again from teachers that they see great potential for a type of Museum in a Box that kids could construct themselves. We’d deliver the core elements (Brain/Stickers/Software), and the kids would invent their own sets of objects and content, and make a museum they’re into.
We love this idea — and I think it plays into Robinson’s thread of “learning that’s customised to local circumstances” — so we’d like to let you know we have started R&D on a product line called Make Your Own box as a result.
We’ll need some time, but, we’ve heard clearly that this sort of exploratory, self-directed, cross-curricular exercise would be great for teachers and their students, so we plan to try to meet that demand.
Stay tuned as we pilot this idea – we’ll let you know how we’re getting along! And if you’re a teacher who’s interested to help us during the pilot, please get in touch.
A little while back, Alex Bate from the Raspberry Pi Foundation discovered us through The Planets box Tom made over a weekend to experiment with a new object form factor, and public domain content, Holst’s The Planets.
It was lovely to get a note from Alex wanting to find out more, and even better to host her at our office to meet and talk about everything, and write an article for MagPi, the magazine published by the Foundation.
But, what was absolutely the best and a thrill for this little crew, was to walk across the street to the local newsagent and buy as many copies of MagPi #54, and turn to the amazing four-page spread Alex wrote about us!!
Putting boxes in front of people in the big wide world is very important because it allows us to find out exactly what does and doesn’t work. We make regular efforts to reach out to both teachers and pupils to figure out how best we can evolve and design the product to fit the needs of the classroom.
Back in November I (Charlie) joined a group of teachers, part of the East Sussex History Network at Heathfield Community College in East Sussex, to introduce them to Museum in a Box, learn about their own teaching methods and hear how they envisage the product benefiting their classroom activities. I had visited the school previously to demo a box during a history class which resulted in a lot of excited year seven pupils so it was an intriguing prospect to see whether the teachers would respond with equal enthusiasm!
In short I was overwhelmed by the positive reaction to the box and it was great to see the teachers coming up with imaginative ways they would use a box and its content as part of a wider community of History teachers. Here’s a short list of the takeaways from the meeting:
Age range – the teachers strongly believed that a box could easily sit across any year group and would be particularly effective for those doing their GCSEs in Key Stage 4 and even 5. This was particularly in view of the box being used for revision to revisit teaching material without having to search through a text book. One teacher said in response “my sixth formers would love this”.
Path to purchase – how the schools would get hold of a box and content came up several times particularly considering different budgeting options available to them to acquire teaching materials. The teachers who were from different schools suggested the idea of sharing ‘boopable’ content amongst themselves given they already have a channel of communication established between the network and commonality of teaching topics.
Home-made material – responses to where they currently source their physical teaching material and prompts included: museum shops, car boot sales and ebay with ‘a desperate need for [supplementary resources] for GCSE’. This was furthered by a discussion about teachers using a customisable box to record their own descriptions to objects and maybe even add tags to objects they have collected themselves.
Record-ability – is a primary interest for teachers to design classroom activities with a box on every table.
Class activities – How boxes could be positioned around the classroom was raised several times providing a means for pupils to explore the content for themselves, moving around the tables to hear a different topic or account of an event of period in history.
Sourcing objects – There are currently only a limited number of services to acquire physical objects for the classroom, however the ability to loan sets of objects for a whole term from some provides greater flexibility to when topics can be taught.
Basic lessons plans – as a starting point it would be useful to have simple lesson plans, teachers would adapt to their classrooms as and when they see fit.
Different levels of access – “Having mutli-versions of the same materials at different levels of depth would be very helpful, so there is the same material pitched easily… but they use language and an insight that’s more sophisticated or broad or much more simplified and basic.”
It was a great session and I’m great to all the teachers of the East Sussex History Network. That’s all for now!