The V&A Oral History Project

Oral history in progress, Elzea Table, Photographer Linda Sandino

Oral history in progress, Elzea Table, Photographer Linda Sandino.

The V&A oral history project is a longitudinal research project on the history of curating at the V&A. The post war period covered by the research encompasses several major shifts in the Museum’s identity: the closure of the Circulation department (1976), the Museum’s transition from the Department of Education and Science to Trustee status (1983) to its current incarnation as an engine of cultural diplomacy. The principal research method combines oral history with narrative research methods with a particular focus on Ricoeurian narrative identity. The question ‘What is a curator?’ is explored by means of life histories that engage with the fundamental question ‘Who is a curator?’ Apart from institutional practices, curators’ narratives also reflect on issues of gender, class and other subject identity formations. As narrative constructions of identities-over- time (“learning to be a curator from scratch”), they demonstrate how stories function to create, foster and sustain communities, enabling researchers and users of the recordings to grasp the Museum, as conceived by Pierre Nora, as both ‘milieu [and] lieu de mémoire’ .

Intended Outcomes

Publication[s]; book, articles, conference papers:

  • Paper: “Art and design for all”: communist civil servants and museum service.’ ‘Power and Democracy’. International Oral History Association conference, University of Barcelona, 9 to 12 July, 2014.
  • Paper: ‘The chronicle: an everyday narrative form?’ Narrative Matters Narrative Knowing/Récit et Savoir, 23rd June to 27th June, 2014,University of Paris Diderot and The American University of Paris.
  • Chapter (title tbc) for Routledge International Handbook of Narrative; deadline Dec. 2014.
  • Keynote: ‘Ceramics and Politics’ conference. Bath Spa University/Holbourne Museum, Bath, Nov. 14, 2014.
  • Web extracts on the V&A website: 20 extracts prepared.
  • Recordings deposited in the V&A Archive
Achieved outcomes:
  • M.Pye & L. Sandino (Eds). Artists Work in Museums: Histories, Interventions, Subjectivities. Bath and London: Wunderkammer Press/V&A, 2013.
  • Keynote: ‘”And what were you wearing?” Clothing, Memory and Museums’. Fashion and Recollection symposium, LCF UAL, 29 January, 2013.
  • Paper: ‘Keeping and Sharing: the paradox of curatorial discourse’. Museums and Galleries Histories Group conference, Cultures of Curating: Curatorial Practices and the Production of Meaning c. 1650-2000, University of Lincoln, July 12-13, 2012.
  • Paper: ‘All human life is here: stories from and in the museum’. Life and Narrative conference, the American University of Paris/Paris-Diderot University, May 29-1 June.
  • Chapter: ‘A Curatocracy: Who and What Is a V&A Curator?’ in Museums and Biographies: Stories, Objects, Identities. K. Hill (Ed.), Brewer and Boydell, Woodbridge/Cambridge UP, 2012.
  • Siyanda Ndlovu Memorial Lecture: ‘Both sides of the story: curatorial identity and the narrative imagination.’ Centre for Narrative Research, University of East London, 2011.
  • Paper: ‘”But there’s another level only you see.” Curatorial narratives at the V&A’. UCL Centre for Museums, Heritage and Material Culture Studies, May, 25, 2011.
  • Article: ‘John Mallet; “This is the way life happened.”’ Keramos, , No 210. October, 2010.
  • Article: ‘Speaking of Memory…’, AA Files, 61, pp. 116-117, 2010.
  • Article: ‘News from the Past: Oral History at the V&A’, V&A Online Journal, No.2, Autumn, 2009.
  • Paper: ‘Museum Stories’, Museums Galleries and History Group conference, The National Gallery, 11-12 Sept, 2009.
  • Paper: ‘Curatocracies: an oral history of curatorial practice at the Victoria & Albert Museum’, American Oral History Association, Oct. 14-18.
  • Paper: ‘Listen to Yourself! Voice, Technology and the Self’, Oral History Society conference, University of Strathclyde, 3-4 July, and Keynote Chair.
  • Paper: ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change, Open University, 2 June,. ‘Research Cultural work and creative biographies’ data analysis workshop.
Project Lead:

Dr Linda Sandino, CCW/V&A Senior Research Fellow

The interviews are mainly conducted by Linda Sandino, but the project greatly benefits from the support and involvement of Anthony Burton, Charlotte Flint, Christopher Marsden, Dr Matthew Partington, Matilda Pye, Katrina Royall, Charlotte Webb and Helen Woodfield.

Related Links‘For the Record:

[un]official voices at the V&A’ Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies, Special Issue ‘Voices in (and around) the Museum’.

News from the past: Oral history at the V&A

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Event - Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s

Mon 16 February 2015–Sun 24 May 2015

DISPLAY: This display showcases a variety of photographic responses to black British experience from the 1950s to the 1990s. All of the photographs are from the V&A Collection and were acquired as part of the project Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s, a collaboration with Black Cultural Archives funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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