Museum and Exhibition Design Student Seminar

Last week Special Collections held a seminar for MA students taking a module in Museum and Exhibition Design. The purpose of the seminar was to examine the preservation requirements of historic objects and how these requirements might affect exhibition design.

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Preservation refers to preventative measures taken to halt the deterioration of historical objects and extend their life, slowing down natural decay. Each artefact or document has unique needs so the measures taken to protect a glass vase would be different to those needed for a vellum manuscript.

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Major threats to historical items are:

  • Poor handling and storage
  • Vandalism or theft
  • Fire and flood
  • Pests (insects, rodents, birds)
  • Environment (pollution, light, temperature, humidity)

After discussing the threats and seeing some examples of damage caused by pests, mishandling or poor storage, the students were invited to examine eight items chosen from DMU’s Special Collections. For each object the students were asked to consider what preservation requirements the item had and what special measures they might take when using the item in a display.

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There was a great deal of lively discussion and the opportunity to practice handling fragile items. After everyone had the opportunity to look at all the items we reconvened and discussed the needs of each one, with suggestions as to how they could be displayed. Particularly challenging were items with an element of interaction, such as this ‘slipping slide’ which needs to be moved to be appreciated. Ideas included making a video, replicating the item itself, or constructing a display case with protruding levers that visitors could use to manipulate the item.

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The Special Collections team is responsible for two display cabinets in the Library and are happy to work with any student who would like to gain some exhibition design experience. Please contact us on

About Katharine Short

When I was 13 every careers questionnaire I did at school suggested I become an archivist. In rebellion I studied History of Art at Cambridge and the Courtauld Institute before giving in to the inevitable and undertaking a qualification in Archives Administration at Aberystwyth University. I worked at King’s College London Archives and the London Metropolitan Archives before becoming the Archivist here at DMU in January 2013. My role is hugely varied: answering enquiries and assisting researchers, sorting, cataloguing, cleaning and packaging archival material, managing our environmentally controlled storage areas, giving seminars, talks and tours, researching aspects of University history, liaising with potential donors and advocating for the importance of archives within the organisation. I am one of those incredibly fortunate people who can say ‘I love my job’ and really mean it.
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