Archive for October, 2010

What makes a good exhibition great? Monet at the Grand Palais

5 October 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

It’s something I’m sure most of us have in common. In our lives we’ve spent millions of slow footsteps dodging the digital camera-wielding bus tourists and the unenthusiastic schoolchildren led around by stressed-looking teachers and harassed tour guides. We remember some of them. Others fade quickly into a mist of ‘did I see that?’ But only sometimes do we stop to think more deeply about what captures our attention and what turns a collection of paintings and artefacts into a memorable exhibition.

Should we be guided along in a thematic or chronological sequence? Do we prefer to be left alone? Lots or little text? How much background do we need? And what about interactive touch screens? Audio guides? Introductory films?

It is, of course, predominantly a matter of personal taste. When I go to a museum, I’m searching for an elusive property: the space to engage with the subject matter physically, but also just the right amount of information to make up my own mind about the subject matter in front of me. Whether that makes me typical or not, I have no idea, but I know that sometimes a curator can get it so right that it leaves everyone – consciously or not – with the sense that they’ve been allowed to see something special.

The Claude Monet retrospective which opened at Paris’s Grand Palais on 22 September does just that. Read More

Pue’s recommendations for October

4 October 2010

Juliana Adelman This month I want to draw attention to a few new or newish digital resources, especially given Kevin’s post of last week. Trinity College Dublin’s library has a new electronic catalogue for archives and manuscripts, MARLOC, which is a very welcome change from the array of printed lists and guides. The National Library of Ireland has been digitizing photographs and other items from its collections and these are now searchable through the online catalogue.  I also came across a really clever use of the internet for group motivation on the History Compass blog.  One grad student challenged fellow twitterers to focused periods of writing in what she called a Saturday Sprint.  Comeraderie and mutual encouragement for a lonely task. Finally, I am reading a book that I keep touting to other people: On deep history and the brain by Daniel Lord Smail.  The basic argument is that there should be no division between what is called ‘prehistory’ and history and that historians should accept scientific data as historical traces.

Lisa Marie Griffith I have just finished J G Farrell’s wonderful novel Troubles which won the Lost Booker Prize. Farrell’s novel is set in a crumbling Victorian hotel in rural Ireland. An English Officer comes back from the Great War to claim his Irish fiancee but the Troubles in Ireland are escalating. We have been debating the historic novel at Pue’s and this has made it to the top of my list of favourites. The National Concert Hall has two very special performances for Halloween The RTE Symphony Orchestra are playing two performances to accompany Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho on Saturday 31 October.

Christina Morin There’s a lot going on this month in Dublin, with several festivals overlapping and offering the average punter a huge variety of cultural events from which to choose. Among these festivals are the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival, which runs from 30 September to 17 October, and Oktoberfest 2010, which returns to Dublin for a second year on 30 September to 10 October. So, after enjoying a performance at the theatre festival you can head down to the IFSC for some German food and beer. Fantastic! As I’m supposed to be finishing a book this month, I doubt I’ll have much of a chance to experience this myself, but when I’m in need of a break, I plan to dip into Colm Tóibín’s new short story collection, The Empty Family. In times of stress and looming deadlines, I find the short story the absolute perfect literary form – enough to take one’s mind off the task at hand, but not long enough to do it for more than a half hour or so. Brilliant!

Kevin O’Sullivan Like Lisa, Pue’s debate on historical fiction put me in mind of those books that capture the mood of an era. I’m making my way through Vikram Seth’s mammoth – and superb – 1993 novel A Suitable Boy at the moment, and enjoying being transported to a world of religious, class and familial tensions in post-partition India. I’ve also recently been introduced to a whole world of great history on the web via Twitter. Search for the #twitterstorians – you’ll find Pue’s among them too. Finally, when you’re out this month cursing typos (what historian doesn’t?), spare a thought for poor Leeds Building Society, which has recently employed a retired teacher to improve its staff’s grammar: ‘The executives could not understand the reports being sent to them.’