Dr. Matthew Philpotts (German Studies) Modern Dictatorships? Museums and Heritage at National Socialist Sites in Eastern Germany.

November 30, 2015 Leave a comment

I would like to present a summary of a lecture that I believe would be interesting for all AGMS students.

On the 18th of November I went to a lecture hosted by the University of Manchester welcoming Dr. Matthew Philpotts, to talk about an aspect of his research concerning National Socialist Sites in Eastern Germany and the way in which museums select and present German legacy of dictatorship in these three sites. Alt-Rehse, Peenemünde, and Prora in the  Meclkenburg-Vorpommern state of East Germany. His main themes were the counter-acting and commentary of history, the analysis and narration of the past and museums, modernity, and the duality of constant change and the preservation of Nazi sites.

Alt-Rehse, an apparently idyllic little village, little would a tourist know that on each house the name of a German city is inscribed as well as the year in which they were erected, for example “erected in the third year”. Third year of what calendar one might ask? That is, the third  year of the Reich. Clearly, there is no historical commentary on this throughout the town. Dr. Philpotts has shed light on the fact that it was a village established for training  the National Socialist medical elite in racial hygiene and eugenics. The small museum (Erinnerungs- Bildungs- und Begegnungsstätte) does not comment on this either in their collection. Furthermore, their website information is only accessible to native German speakers.

Peenemünde  was the rocket-testing site and labour camp where the V2 rocket was designed and where space travel first occurred by sending a rocket into space in 1942. And Prora was the now derelict ‘mass-holiday’ resort that was built in the 1930s by the National Socialist regime, in which “strength through joy” was the idea.

All these three sites have in common the duality of the original purpose of the National Socialist sites and the aspect of scientific modernity. The buildings at all three of these sites were re-used post-1945 in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). For example, the National Socialist Airforce Ministry building in Berlin which now houses the Finance Ministry. Today these sites have been preserved and commemorated as museum and heritage practice.

Looking at personal and public narratives of the German collective memory and the ideological narratives, Dr. Philpotts sheds light into how the legacy of German dictatorships has been dealt with until today.  Seeing that museums are active agents in constructing narratives of past German dictatorships,  Dr. Philpotts suggests that they are a narration tool or a piece of literature. In a museum apart from analysing objects, you also analyse text, interactive media, and the space. It is therefore museums and heritage that construct narratives. This resonates with Sian Jone’s Negotiating Authentic Objects and Authentic Selves in which she describes the materialistic and constructivist approach to object authenticity. The constructivist theory being the culturally constructed meaning of an object’s meaning as opposed to its inherent meaning.

For the sake of the AGMS course, the most relevant questions that rose from this lecture were I How can museums and heritage practices effectively comment on history in a way that counter-acts it? How do you museums and urban spaces comment on history in Germany and other countries who regimes have left a legacy? How do countries’ heritage and museum sectors deal with the legacy of a dictatorial regime?

Aerial view of old Prora. "Strength through joy" . Built from 1936-1939.

Aerial view of old Prora. “Strength through joy” . Built from 1936-1939.

Military Test Site. First rocket launch occurred in October 1942. In this photo  there is a V-2 Rocket exemplary.

Military Test Site. First rocket launch occurred in October 1942. In this photo there is a V-2 Rocket exemplary.

In this seemingly idyllic and peaceful village, each house has an inscription of a German town and the year in which it was erected. This particular house reads 'House Leipzig' erected in the third year of the reich. Town dedicated to instructing Nazi medical elite in racial hygiene and eugenics.

In this seemingly idyllic and peaceful village, each house has an inscription of a German town and the year in which it was erected. This particular house reads ‘House Leipzig’ erected in the third year of the reich. Town dedicated to instructing Nazi medical elite in racial hygiene and eugenics.

Maria Caruana – 20 summers of jazz


Maria with John Ellis and Antony Barkworth- Knight from the Irwin Mitchell mjf originals commission

Maria with John Ellis and Antony Barkworth- Knight from the Irwin Mitchell mjf originals commission


manchester jazz festival (mjf) is an annual 10-day festival in the heart of Manchester which will be celebrating its 20th festival this year! mjf is keen to promote the talent of young artists, especially in the North-West. It is run by a surprisingly small team of professionals who are committed and work hard to make the festival happen. I started my placement at manchester jazz festival in November 2014 and will be working there until the end of the festival in August 2015. My role at the festival is that of Festival Assistant where I work on a number of tasks with different members on the team and which are entrusted to me by the festival manager. Although my role was that of festival assistant, I did so much more than assisting! I worked on different areas of the festival including the mjf friend scheme, environmental sustainability and other administrative tasks. Moreover, I am currently project managing the Irwin Michell mjf originals commission and working on volunteer coordination.

The commission is a special performance which is part of the festival held in August. My role as project coordinator allows me to communicate with a number of talented artists and musicians as well as with other organisations. I am also regularly involved in meetings with the artists themselves where I am able to learn about and experience the artistic process with them in different ways.

Maria (on the left) with Steve Mead (Artistic Director) and Susan (Marketing Assistant), who is also on the ICP Placement.
Maria (on the left) with Steve Mead (Artistic Director) and Susan (Marketing Assistant), who is also on the ICP Placement.

Being present at staff meetings every month is really beneficial to me because each time I learn more and more about what it takes to organise a festival such as the manchester jazz festival. I was also able to attend a conference about environmental sustainability in Manchester as part of mjf and learnt a lot from that too. Moreover, I visited performance venues with the festival producer, visited potential discount partners for the mjf friend scheme and conducted meeting with the artists involved in the mjf originals commission. My role takes me to different places and helps me contact and meet so many different people. I am learning so much from this experience both on a personal and professional level. There are always some challenges along the way, but these challenges have helped me become more confident in what I do and what I could be capable of doing in the future.
I am also grateful that I had another friend and colleague from the MA course on the placement as we were able to discuss things together, go to events together and even work together occasionally. The mjf team are very welcoming and are always happy to help. I will never forgot receiving a wonderful bouquet of flowers and a card from them on my 21st birthday, only a couple of weeks into my placement, it was such a lovely gesture, I knew I was going to be happy there!

Website: http://www.manchesterjazz.com/

Julia Taylor – Greater Manchester Resilience Forum

I was really excited to see that the my Master’s programme at Manchester offered the chance to work on placement and have it count as a 15 or 30 credit course. Gaining work experience and getting school credit for it; I jumped at the chance. I am an American studying abroad at University of Manchester’s Humanitarianism and Conflict Response Institute (HCRI) an am getting my Master’s degree in Humanitarianism and Conflict Response. Being new to the city and country, I thought this placement course would be a terrific opportunity to get to know the city and British culture a bit better. I had already studied abroad for six months at the University of York during my Undergraduate Degree, so technically I am not brand new to the U.K. The placement course is offered by University of Manchester’s School of Arts, Language and Culture (SALC) the school that HCRI is a part of. I thought I would clarify, because at first I thought it was only people on my Master’s Degree doing the placement course. The fact that the SALC is in charge of the placement course gives the students a variety of options when it comes to choosing your placement, allowing you to experience new things you would not get from your other courses. There is no need to worry about getting a placement because SALC does the work for you. Depending on your major you get a list of placements, you choose the three you are most interested in. Then SALC works its magic and you get one of your three choices; that’s how easy the placement process is. Now comes the time for you to put in the work and make the most of your placement experience.

I was placed working with the Greater Manchester Resilience Forum, or GMRF. The title of my placement role was ‘Identification of vulnerable people’. To be honest, I had not heard of GMRF before this placement course, but that’s part of the adventure. I had done a little research on the organisation before I choose it has one of my top three picks. It made my top three because of the work GMRF does. I was very interested when I learned they help the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester coordinate and plan responses to emergencies. I had never worked at an organisation like that and knew I would experience something completely new while I worked there. My role was to update/create a new guidance that helped members of the GMRF identify vulnerable people during emergency situations. I mainly reviewed and read different documents, debrief reports and other cities’ guidance on identifying vulnerable people. I was a bit nervous my first day. It did not help that GMRF’s offices were located at the Greater Manchester Police Headquarters. I had to get signed in and escorted to their offices; something I got used to surprisingly quickly. Although I met there roughly once a week for a few months, the majority of work I did on my own in my flat. By the end of my placement I realised I had developed my research, communication and interpersonal skills, invaluable lessons and skills I will use throughout my lifetime. I highly recommend this unique opportunity SALC offers its Graduate students.

Thomas O’Hare – Retrak

In late January 2015 I began an internship with the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Retrak, based in the leafy suburbs of Cheadle-Hulme in the UK. Retrak’s primary objectives are based on working towards the transformation of ‘highly vulnerable children’s lives; empower communities, and to give each of them a voice’. Retrak pledges to place children at the very heart of everything they do, and be fearless and tenacious in defending and promoting their rights. In turn this can be achieved via adhering to their core values of boldness, excellence, innovation, and respect in order to deliver a positive and rights based approach to development. As an intern in the International Trusts and Foundations team I was at the core of presenting this message to prospective donors and securing funds so Retrak could continue delivering a high standard of service to their beneficiaries.

Fundraising in the ‘third’ sector consists of multiple tiers, or pillars, each targeting a different audience. The International Trusts and Foundations team target a lower volume of prospective donors which donate high value grants or loans on a commonly restrictive basis meaning the donor has a say in where and how funds are spent. Many donors have agenda’s, whether its promoting liberal, religious, or human rights values, and these can sometimes clash with the NGO’s values and objectives. This leads to the question, how can NGO’s like Retrak build a balanced power dynamic with their donors in order to achieve their core objectives through adhering to their values?

The common approach for an NGO seeking funds from large donors like the UK’s Department of International Development (DFID), the Rockefeller foundation, or the Samuel Rubin foundation, is through a series of applications. The application process is a stark contrast to fundraising on a public or corporate level as there is little to no contact with the donor during the submission phase and results of securing funds usually come in the form of an email or letter expressing thanks but basically ‘better luck next time’. It reminded me of a job application, where one sells themselves perfectly in a CV and their covering letter glistens with experience and knowledge, though 4 months later a non-descript rejection email arrives. One practitioner in the development sector commented ‘after hearing our proposal was rejected, I contacted the winning bid as they were personal friends. They kindly showed me their winning proposal and it was identical to ours save a small difference in cost versus benefits’. This begs the questions – how can Retrak in similar cases to these differentiate themselves from competitors and obtain large funds on a more regular basis?

One solution to the questions posed in the previous two paragraphs is to utilise an NGO’s values in creating a special personal approach via a letter of introduction to the prospectus donors who seem out of reach due to the strict and formal application rules currently in place. Following Retraks core values boldness, excellence, innovation, and respect, a special personal approach to this target audience can be achieved. Sarah Lister, an academic focused on developmental issues, found that successful partnerships between donors and NGO’s are often those in which strong personal relationships had developed and as a result higher levels of ‘social capital’ are present resulting in cohesive co-operation and a reduction in power dynamics. So an organisation like Retrak can firstly strengthen their partnership with a prospective donor through a personal approach and if successful in obtaining a grant they will be in a stronger position to negotiate restrictive funding in order to achieve mutual objectives.

For more information on Retrak please see: https://retrakblog.wordpress.com/

Xiaohui Zhao – Lady Lever Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool

As part of the MA course of Art Gallery Museum Studies, a 20-day work placement should be undertaken at a cultural organisation in the UK. The one in which I worked is the Lady Lever Art Gallery (LLAG) belonging to the National Museums Liverpool (NML). The LLAG is engaged in a restoration and conservation programme of the South End Galleries which will be reopened in 2016 with a lot of new exhibitions and interactives, by receiving a £1.2m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The LLAG was founded by William Hesketh Lever (1851-1929), a businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist, and was formally opened on 16 December 1922 by Princess Beatrice. The galleries in the redevelopment programme include South Vestibule, South Sculpture Gallery, two Wedgwood Rooms, Chinoiserie Room, 18th Century Room, two Chinese galleries, and Napoleon Room; of these, I worked with the two Chinese galleries.

My work placement was with Pauline Rushton, the curator of Costume and Textiles of the National Museums Liverpool, who mainly is in charge of the text writing of all the redisplaying rooms.  What I did could be divided into three aspects. Firstly, I joined the consultation programme by assisting a range of gallery events such as Chinese New Year gallery trail, Craft Workshop and Chinese Harp Performance, as well as interviewing the Wirral Chinese Association. Secondly, I attended a series of designing meetings with directors of all departments focused on the interactives of each South End gallery for different target audiences such as audio visual and multimedia, tactile and multisensory, lighting and mechanical interactives. Finally, I undertook much research work on interpretation of Chinese objects and Chinese culture; for example highlighting four objects of two Chinese galleries as well as providing Chinese characters with pinyin, English pronunciation and meaning in Chinese culture.

The work placement experience in LLAG with Pauline and other staff I met with was extremely valuable and unforgettable for me. I assisted the LLAG interpret Chinese objects with my Chinese culture context and the background knowledge of Chinese art history. In addition, I gained a clearer insight on the museum’s curating, interpretation and interactives and educational consultation through the collaboration of different departments. I am really looking forward to the reopening of the South End Galleries at Lady Lever Art Gallery.

lady lever

Sketch scheme of the new displays. © National Museums Liverpool

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Laura Bryer – Greater Manchester Police Museum

laura bryer

As part of my Art Gallery and Museum Studies MA at Manchester University I undertook a twenty day placement at the Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archives. The placement advertised was to:

‘The museum is due to receive MIMSY XG in the next month or so, this will allow us to electronically catalogue our objects in a much more efficient way. We would like students to help us build this catalogue from scratch and assist us with collections management and storage.’

I was interested in this particular placement as I had never worked on a major cataloguing project before or with the MIMSY XG software. Whilst the museum was waiting for the software to arrive I was given other tasks to perform.

All of these tasks where centred around museum ethics and GMPM’s Accreditation application. One of the tasks I carried out included helping develop a Learning and Access Policy to be handed in with the museum’s Accreditation application. This was a daunting task as I knew how important the document was for the museum. One of the problems I encountered with this particular task was that I could not find any official guides from museum bodies such as the Museums Association. However I overcame this by finding a number of example policies to study from other Accredited museums.

Another duty I carried out at GMPM was researching the possibility of object disposal. GMPM’s current collection falls into three groups: objects, archives and images. Their current collecting remit is items that relate to policing in Greater Manchester. However, the museum has in its collection nine hundred plus items associated with international policing from all over the world. Objects clearly outside of their collecting policy. As a result the museum was looking into disposing of these objects and it was my task to research the most ethical approach to this.

Both of these research tasks have equipped me with knowledge regarding the ethical operation of this museum and museums in general. As researching these two meant taking into account the ethical guidelines

My final and perhaps most important duty carried out at GMPM was the advertised task of helping transfer the museums catalogue to the electronic MIMSY database.

Before the cataloguing of the collection was to begin, myself and the museum staff where debriefed by the MIMSY company about how to use the system. After this the staff at GMPM went through the process again with me in order to minimise mistakes. The cataloguing of the objects began with the archival material. In documenting the items I had to include the objects provenance, condition and location. As I was new to the cataloguing process using MIMSY, I inevitably made a few mistakes. These mostly involved missing out various bits of information. Fortunately the staff where monitoring this and went through the mistakes with me. Once a sufficient amount of experience was gained I was able to catalogue the items much more quickly and effectively. This was due to the fact that I became much more comfortable using MIMSY, and so was able to use the system more efficiently and with no more mistakes. In addition I became more confident in my object descriptions. I also had the opportunity to formally accession an object into the museums collection, this was a twentieth-century police charge book. Overall these processes made me realise that although a museum practitioner may have the best intentions ethically speaking, they can cause problems for the institution they are operating through accidental unintentional mistakes similar to the ones I made at the beginning of this task, suggesting that museum staff have to work together to ensure the best practice is carried out within the museum.

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Courtney Hadley – The John Rylands Library meets the internet

The John Rylands Library

The John Rylands Library

One of the reasons I chose to attend the University of Manchester’s Art Gallery and Museum Studies Programme was based on the opportunities they make available to their students. The Work Placement was an ideal way for me to adapt my previous skills with the new knowledge I had gained from my course work and apply it in a practical way. I was exceptionally fortunate to have spent my time at the John Rylands Library in Manchester working as a Social Media Campaign Coordinator. I could have never been prepared for the learning outcomes I gained by working with these practicing professions who graciously fostered my enthusiasm and desire to learn something new about the museum sector.

 I chose to work with Social Media because, I figured my daily use and extensive understanding of these networking platforms was enough to give me a head start on the work they requested of me. I came to learn that the way you use your own personal Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts has little value when using these same channels in professional practice. These outreach mediums have become invaluable resources for cultural institutions to be able to include their communities virtually and physically, as well as opening up opportunities for collaboration between all different audiences. My role, that seemed at first glance to be of little importance to the large picture of the John Rylands Library, turned out to be an important responsibility that I feel fortunate to have contributed to.

 My time was spent developing a Social Media Policy for the library to review and consider implementing for exhibitions and daily library use. I was able to put these ideas into practice by utilising my research on an upcoming exhibit at the library, opening in July 2015. I prepared hundreds of Twitter and Instagram posts in advance with deliberate themes, reoccurring hashtags and even encouraging involvement and responses from those who follower their pages. The ultimate goal is to interest followers in what the museum is doing and break the assumed barrier that separates the high-cultured museums of the world from the public they serve. I made sure to not only include pieces of the library’s collection, but of the library’s staff, the daily work and audience involvement as well. By looking at other examples set by other museums with active and successful social media outlets, they made sure to include their audience with their work, showing that they play a major role in the work the museum does. The campaign will air around the same time the exhibition opens and I anticipate these posts on social media will encourage and support the use of John Rylands Library.

I would encourage those looking for a valuable education expereince they can put into practice during their time at University to consider the Art Gallery and Museums Programme. It is an invaluable experience if you take advantage of what is offered to you and utilise the university support you have during your time. I am proud of what I accomplished in this position and see my experience being of great value as I pursue my career in Museums and Libraries after I graduate from the programme.


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