Author Archives: Michael@Ashgate

User Experience training for librarians

  • Do you really know your users?
  • Do you want to find out what they really need?
  • Do you want to find out what they are really doing?

For some time now interest has been growing in a set of research methods that are far more revealing and detailed than surveys. What is more they’re far more interesting and fun for our users to engage with too. Under the banner heading of UX (User Experience) these methods can help us gain a far greater understanding of how our users study and research in the 21st Century.

UXLibs-in-a-day is a highly practical and interactive workshop which explores User Experience (UX) research methods and applications which can be used to uncover what our users really need and do. Participants will have the opportunity to try out many ethnographic approaches for themselves, evaluate application in their own libraries and gain crucial insight into the kind of rich data they can derive. They will also be exposed to idea generation and design-thinking methods and consider the value of divergent as opposed to convergent thinking. After a very successful pilot day at CILIP HQ, Ashgate author Andy Priestner is now offering five more practical and intensive day-long UX  workshops at which you’ll learn these methods and their applications first-hand. If you’re interested then sign up for the first workshop in Cambridge on Saturday 28th November or register your interest in attending one of the other workshops taking place in Copenhagen, London, Maynooth (Ireland), Newcastle and Birmingham in the coming months


‘Engaging, innovative, inspiring. Makes me want to go back and do this!’

‘A very useful and practical session that focused on real-world methodologies rather than the purely theoretical and conceptual. Andy is a great presenter – very professional and effective.’

‘Really positive, worthwhile and usable. Inspired to try lots of techniques back at work. Thank you! One of the best training workshops I have attended.’

Failing that, pre-order the book, coming out in Spring 2016, User Experience in Libraries by Andy Priestner and Matt Borg

PRIESTNER JKT(240x159)pathAnd don’t forget to look at Andy’s last book:

Personalising Library Services in Higher Education  by Andy Priestner and Elizabeth Tilley

Triumph and Disaster: Medals of the Sun King at the British Museum.

Three hundred years ago the seventy-two year reign of the Louis XIV (1643-1715) came to an end at Versailles when he lost his battle with a gangrenous leg. Museums and galleries around the world are celebrating this important anniversary with exhibitions that showcase fine and decorative arts of every media commissioned, collected, and inspired by the Sun King. The British Museum’s modest offering Triumph and Disaster: Medals of the Sun King is, to my mind, the most important of them all.

9781472460332But why should we be looking at medals, when there so many wonderful Louis-Quatorze palaces, gardens, paintings, sculptures and tapestries to marvel at? For the majority of museumgoers commemorative medals, with their esoteric allegories and terse inscriptions, probably look like the oversized coins of an outmoded currency; they are the things you glance at quickly on the way to finding something more seductive. Yet in my book, Antiquarianism and the Visual Histories of Louis XIV: Artifacts for a Future Past published by Ashgate this September, I argue that medals provide the key to understanding the best-known images and objects that were produced to decorate the Sun King’s palaces.

Medals were at the center of a long-standing project sponsored by the king to document his reign for posterity. They were made in imitation of the ancient Greek and Roman coins from which early-modern antiquarians gleaned information about the past. Louis XIV’s image-makers designed medals to transmit historical information to a future audience, and so they are the ideal objects for us to reflect upon this anniversary year.

The project to document the history of Louis XIV visually aimed to control the future reception of the king’s legacy, to ensure that he would be remembered in a positive light. The exhibition at the British museum reveals a fundamental flaw with this strategy, however. Counter-propaganda medals made in Holland, included in this exhibition, use the same overblown imagery created to celebrate Louis XIV to vilify him. This ‘war of medals,’ as it has been called, shows us just how potent these diminutive sculptures were once deemed to be, with the Dutch working to set the record straight in the same medium designed to ensure the Sun King’s immortality.

Little did those working to construct these historical identities of Louis XIV realize that the fashion for medals would not last.

Today medals occupy an equivocal space in museums, placed in sculpture departments in some, but under numismatics in others. The latter is a distinguished but rarefied discipline – the province of collectors and connoisseurs – where the study of medals and coins has coalesced. Too rarely are these miniature masterpieces brought to the attention of the academy or the public. I hope that my study and Triumph and Disaster: Medals of the Sun King at the British Museum will help to rehabilitate these fascinating little objects, and encourage people to look at them again with fresh eyes.

Robert Wellington is a lecturer at the Centre for Art History and Art Theory, Australian National University. His book, Antiquarianism and the Visual Histories of Louis XIV: Artifacts for a Future Past is available now.

The exhibition Triumph and Disaster: Medals of the Sun King runs at The British Museum until November 15th. Entry is free.

Museums Association Annual Conference and Exhibition

The Museums Association Annual Conference & Exhibition is just around the corner and this year it is taking place at the ICC in Birmingham from 5th-6th November.

The Museums Association Annual Conference & Exhibition is the largest event of its kind for museum and heritage professionals in Europe with over 1,500 attendees from all over the world coming together to discuss the key issues affecting the sector.

9781472446152.PPC_PPC TemplateAshgate author Helen Chatterjee will be speaking about university partnerships and no doubt mentioning her new book Engaging the Senses: Object-Based Learning in Higher Education

Helen and co-editor Leonie Hannan discuss the use of museum collections as a path to learning and a new new pedagogy for higher education.

‘How can objects in museums and elsewhere be of value in higher education? This book is an invaluable, much needed extension of our understandings of object-centred learning into the tertiary level. Its thoughtful case studies demonstrate the role of objects – of myriad kinds – and multisensory, experiential engagements with them, in inspiring and enabling university students.’

Sandra Dudley, University of Leicester, UK

A small selection of Ashgate books will be on display at the Taylor and Francis exhibition stand. Delegates will also benefit from a 30% discount on selected highlights from our Museum Studies list. If you’re attending, look out for the flyer in your packs.

For anyone who can’t attend in person, you can still take advantage of the 30% conference discount when you order through our website and use the promotion code A15JVB30.

Browse our Museum Studies, Heritage and Cultural Management highlights and don’t forget to quote the discount code A15JVB30

Building the Modern Church

“… a powerful contribution to the field of architectural history and religious studies”

Robert Proctor’s book on Roman Catholic Church architecture spanning a critical twenty year period from the mid-1950’s, has been enthusiastically received by architectural historians since its publication in April 2014. Proctor has been praised for the depth and thoroughness of his archival research…

“The book is clearly written, avoiding professional jargon (whether ecclesiastical or architectural), and is well illustrated with black and white and (fewer) colour plates. There is also a useful series of plans. This is an indispensable guide for all those interested in a hitherto little-regarded but extraordinarily rich subject”.

To celebrate the book’s publication, the author took part in a tour organized by the Twentieth Century Society, which visited post-war Roman Catholic churches in West and North West London, all of which featured in the book. A copy of the tour notes is available to Click Here to download

Another important accolade for this book is news that it has been shortlisted for the prestigious Alice Davis Hitchcock Medallion, more information about this award and the other shortlisted books can be found on the SAHGB website

Read all the excellent reviews and information on this book, including sample pages by visiting: Building the Modern Church: Roman Catholic Church Architecture in Britain, 1955 to 1975

Robert Proctor is Senior Lecturer on Architectural History & Theory at the University of Bath, UK.

Guest Blog from Barbara Larson, editor of our new Series: Science and the Arts since 1750

It could be argued (and has been) that in the modern period science and “art,” whether this be dance, painting, or theater, have been culturally understood within the context of the many binaries that form a western perspective (as in active/passive, objective/subjective, etc.). In recent decades, whether we refer to C.P. Snow’s “The Two Cultures” (science and the humanities) or The Science Wars of the 1990s (scientists and the value of objectivity versus science as a social construction, with its reach into the arts) or the validity of the support of STEM versus STEAM (science, technology, engineering, ART, and math) in academe today we are engaging in a discussion regarding separation and difference.

Have science and the arts always been considered as opposing realms? Historians of science and art have pointed out that in the west well into the Victorian period science and art were, more or less, one intellectual culture and not until the natural sciences became specialized into specific fields at the end of the nineteenth century was there a division into two spheres. It has also been argued that in the early modern period art, then categorized as craft (whose practitioners were thought of as artisans), was itself responsible for the shift in bringing science into focus as practical, empirical observation by the seventeenth century. Recent publications have raised the possibility of some sort of resolution between “the two cultures” (E. O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge; Jay Labinger and Harry Collins, eds., The One Culture? A Conversation about Science, and Gillian Beer, Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter). And knowledge production from varying geographical areas beyond the west promises to add further complexity to the relationship between science and the arts.

Just what science has been understood to be has shifted the discussion of how we talk about science and the arts. For example, historians of art in past decades tended to think of science as it related to art in terms of perspective, color, and mathematics. But invaluable early work such as that of literary historian Sander Gilman on medicine and representation in the arts, both grounded in cultural and political history, has done much to transform what we need to be aware of in terms of science and visual culture. What one finds in greater number today are historians of the arts and science pursuing questions of meaning and representation specific to place, politics, and moments in time or transformations in knowledge that feed directions in the arts (as in wave theories of energy and early abstraction).

Occasional collaborative projects between science and humanities historians, such as Caroline Jones and Peter Galison’s Picturing Science and Producing Art (on broad systems of representation linking science and art) have borne fruit, and even the hard science of neurology suggests promising directions either through brain imaging (as in musical performance) or the historical perspective on the mind in light of brain work today (neurologist Eric Kandel’s The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present). There have also been periods in which the connections between technology, science, and the arts are less oblique as in the contemporary period in which many artists are pursuing work that clearly integrates technology and science such as in the digital arts. More speculative yet compelling, are discussions regarding the proposed epoch of the Anthropocene (by definition an interaction between humans and global natural systems) and ecoart.

The series Science and the Arts since 1750 wades into the many intersections between science and the arts. These include the cultural conditioning of visual perception and aesthetics where artists and scientists are concerned, sites of representation that effect visual culture as in images of the body, how objects may function in society as art or science, changing scientific perspectives that inform the arts, among others. Camilla Skovbjerg Paldam and Jacob Wamberg’s recently published edited volume Art, Technology, and Nature: Renaissance to Postmodernity initiates the series and argues that science, technology, and art are drawing more closely together in the post-modern period and the relationship of observer and object is disintegrating. This they contend is akin to ancient and medieval periods in which art and technology both produced cultural products dependent on the triad of their title; and makers of these objects were often engaged in imitating nature’s creative forces. The editors discuss the history of the project as follows:

9781472411723Art, Technology and Nature arose out of activities in the research group “Art, Nature and Technology”, which was established at Aarhus University in 2005 with Jacob Wamberg as coordinator. The group, gathering historians of literature, art and medicine, was triggered by a frustration that C.P. Snow’s “two cultures”, although diagnosed half a century ago, still govern most academic practice: the humanistic and techno-scientific domains thrive in their segregated worlds.

Our observation, however, was that in our postmodern age barriers between natural and cultural agencies have long been porous. Where should we insert the boundary between natural and technological agency in a ‘cultural’ domain like biotechnology? Or in a ‘natural’ one like climate change? Likewise, art has long broken with the distant contemplation of nature in picturesque form, founded on a simultaneous displacement of technology to the fringes of artworks. In avant-garde art practices nature and technology alike are activated and integrated to the point where they lose their status as foreign and segregate domains. If art and technology are still a long way from the fusion into the re-actualized neo-ancient techné that Heidegger hoped for, at least their boundaries have become much more negotiable.

In order to illuminate these and other related themes in the triad art/technology/nature, the research group arranged two public events, from which much, although not all, of the book’s material derives: a session at the Association of Art Historians’ annual meeting in Manchester in 2009, and, especially, an international conference at the National Gallery in Copenhagen in 2010 (The Artwork between Technology and Nature).

Isabelle Wünsche, whose volume The Organic School of the Russian Avant-Garde: Nature’s Creative Principles is the second book in the series, examines ways in which certain Russian modernists on the eve of the Russian Revolution modeled their approach on the creative forces of nature in order to produce biocentric work. Below she details how she came to write her book:

9781472432698It was a spring day in Berlin in 1989 – the momentous opening of the border was still six months in the future – I was browsing the stacks of the State Art Collections library on Museum Island and came across a small, but dense exhibition catalog from the West Berlin Academy of Fine Arts: Sieg über die Sonne. Victory over the Sun was a Cubo-futurist opera written by Aleksei Kruchenykh with music by Mikhail Matiushin and stage designs by Kazimir Malevich. The last name meant something to me, but I was unfamiliar with Matiushin. The catalog included his reminiscences on Cubo-futurist events in St. Petersburg, an essay on sound and color, and another one on quartertone music. My curiosity about Matiushin’s work led to a thesis, and then a dissertation, and finally, The Organic School.

The book is important to me because for too long the avant-garde in St. Petersburg has been overshadowed by the better-known Moscow avant-garde. Moscow always somehow seemed more Russian, more exotic, and then after the Revolution, of course, it became the capital and the center of Constructivism. The “Organic School” refers to a group of artists within the Russian avant-garde, largely based in St. Petersburg, whose approaches to artistic creation were more nature-centric and less technologically driven. Artists such as Nikolai Kulbin, Elena Guro, and Matiushin found inspiration as well as a model for artistic growth in the creative principles of nature. In the book, I focus on the artists’ holistic worldviews and organic approaches to art and analyze the artistic influences, intellectual foundations, and scientific publications that shaped the formation of their art works. (Isabelle Wünsche)

The series Science and the Arts since 1750 will include both edited volumes and monographs that explore the arts—painting and sculpture, drama, dance, architecture, design, photography, and popular culture materials–as they intersect with emergent scientific theories, agendas, and technologies, from any geographical area after 1750.

Barbara Larson Professor on Modern Art History, University of West Florida


“We are all migrants” – the psychological wellbeing of migrants

9781472450326Brendan Kelly, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at UCD and author of Dignity, Mental Health and Human Rights: Coercion and the Law wrote an impassioned piece for the Irish Times earlier this week – where he discusses some of the results of his research with UCD into the mental health needs of migrants seeking mental health services in Dublin.

The full text of his article can be found here.