The methodological potency of ‘happening upon things’

Professor Susan Lambert, Head of Museum of Design in Plastics

‘If the world of research embraces a bewildering range of methods, there is nevertheless something peculiar (I mean both distinctive and odd) about that of the museum, which begins less with discourse or theory, with a problem inherited or framed, than simply with stuff – with works, artefacts or specimens of whatever kind.’  Nicholas Thomas, The Return of Curiosity, What Museums are good for in the 21st Century, 2016.

The purpose of this workshop was to investigate research methods used when the starting point is ‘the stuff’ that makes up a museum collection and to highlight what Thomas calls the methodological potency of ‘happening upon things’. It explored what is special about close scrutiny of objects within a collection, different ways of categorising objects and how the specific context (museum or exhibition foci) influences how an object is classified and interpreted. It also focused on the significant role of selection within museum practice and the different meanings created by particular juxtapositions, arrangements and associations.

Participants were invited to put into practice different methods of telling stories and creating meaning through the juxtaposition of MoDiP objects and, so far as they deem appropriate, objects imported to the event from their own imaginations, lives and/or creative practice. The aim of this part of the workshop was to explore the role museums can have not simply as sources of inspiration but as enablers in the creation of new thoughts and things, or, in Thomas’s words ‘as creative technology’.