Responding to Discrimination? The Labour Party, Post-war Immigration and the politics of Race.

Today we have a guest post from Marc Collinson, a PhD researcher currently using the Labour History Archive and Study Centre at PHM

LHASC @ People's History Museum 003Originally from the Calder Valley, I am a self-funded PhD student from Bangor University, undertaking research with support from the Society for the Study of Labour History. My research is looking into the impact of immigration and racial tension on the Labour Party both organisationally, on policy formulation and on its electoral performance. This project is focused on the political dynamics of the Labour Party, and the degree to which policy development at the Party’s London Headquarters reflected the opinions of the party and voters in provincial constituencies. From the late 1950s, mass immigration had a major impact on British, predominantly urban, society. This caused problems for the Labour Party, not least because it claimed to represent a white working-class that often felt threatened and angered by immigration. Areas like the Manchester, Merseyside and declining northern mill towns like Blackburn, Batley and Oldham saw racist agitation from an early date. These regions were also a stronghold of the populist ‘right-wing’ of the Labour Party and insufficient attention has been given to the responses of these Labour members to immigration. The membership of the National Front was often suggested to have been formed from these traditional Labour ranks.

LHASC @ People's History Museum 004
This study will utilize archives based at Labour History Archive in Manchester. These include the papers of leading politicians, minutes and memoranda of party committees, policy documents and newspapers. I have previously utilised the archives during Master and Undergraduate research and am always impressed by the easy availability of material, and the knowledgeable help given by Julie, Darren and the Archive Team


The dialogue between visitors and the museum and the ethics of visitor generated content

surveillance bug

Spying on our visitors? This surveillance ‘bug’, discovered by builders in February 1975, was used by MI5 to spy on communist activity.

Throughout our Play Your Part project we’ve been experimenting with new and different ways to interact with our visitors, both online and onsite using methods such as this blog, post it notes, pop up exhibitions and events.  What we haven’t explored in great depth, however, is the existing ways we interact with our visitors – from the day to day conversations our gallery assistants have with our visitors, our use of social media and traditional methods such as our comments book.  I was keen to explore ways that we could capture this dialogue and develop methods for visitors to see their feedback and responses from the museum in relation to that feedback.  I therefore brought together colleagues from a number of departments to collate how, where and why we interact with our visitors, what they tell us and to brainstorm ideas of how we can capture these conversations and respond.

How and where do we interact with our visitors?

We discussed three main places we interact with our visitors – physically, both inside and outside the museum; remotely, for example on the telephone; and virtually.  There were a large number of ways in which we interact with our visitors.  These included:

  • Interactions with members of staff – both in person onsite (on the info desk, in the shop, on the galleries, in the archive, when we conduct visitor surveys), off site (conversations with people when we’re outside of work, outreach workshops, stalls and events, socially) and remotely (phone and email)
  • Written interactions on site – via our comments book, chalkboards, post it notes and video booth (not strictly written)
  • Digital interactions – facebook, twitter, blog, website and enewsletter
  • Through museum interpretation and programming – galley interpretation, objects, interactives, events, exhibitions, learning programme
  • Communication via our brand – visual identity, print
  • Our supporters scheme

Why do we interact with our visitors?

The reasons why we interact with our visitors are equally numerous and it became clear that interaction and communication with our visitors is at the heart of what we do:

  • Because it’s our mission – to raise our profile, our funders require it
  • To educate – to deliver a tour or learning session
  • To entertain
  • To inspire
  • To inform – to respond to an enquiry, give information, explain what they can do whilst they’re here
  • To provide a service – social, educational, wellbeing, information
  • To market the museum – to create a destination for visitors to come and to encourage them to come back
  • Practical reasons – to take a booking
  • Income generation – to sell products in the shop, to encourage donations
  • To gather information – to get feedback to make the museum better, to get information about objects, alternative histories and stories,
  • Because we enjoy it and we love our visitors! – because without them what are we?

What do our visitors tell us?

One of the reasons that we love our visitors is that they are not afraid to tell us their opinions.  Some of the things they tell us include:

  • Praise – they’ve enjoyed their visit, they’ll come back, they’ve learnt something new, they’ve been before
  • Criticism and complaints – we don’t have anything (or enough) on a particular movement or story, tell us when we’re wrong
  • Reminiscence – tell stories
  • Opinions – their interpretation of objects, disputed histories
  • Ask questions – family history questions, practical questions (eg, can we film here? Why are we so difficult to find?)
  • Offer donations – of money, material or time, tell us what collections they have and want to donate
  • That they’ve lived in Manchester all their lives and have never been; other places they’ve visited
  • The toilet paper’s run out!

How are visitor interactions recorded (or not)?

It is only really the written interactions with our visitors that are recorded and the vast majority of these interactions are only collected and analysed internally. For example, feedback forms for events, learning and venue hire are collected in order for us to improve our service, however we rarely disseminate any statistics publically and only usually share them with our funders.  We regularly review our comments book and occasionally we write responses directly in the book.  Verbal conversations with visitors are not recorded, however occasional comments that require a response or contain feedback to improve our service are passed on via email or notes from our gallery assistants. Social media such as twitter and facebook mirrors this verbal interaction in that we respond directly to our visitors.  However these interactions can be recorded and are collated and circulated internally as they are a useful source of feedback.   In addition, we also conduct visitor surveys, which again provide useful feedback.

How can we capture these conversations and respond?

There is clearly a massive amount of ephemeral dialogue that is never recorded.  Is there a way that we can capture this and respond publically in order to bring more voices into the conversation?  Ideas to develop our visitor dialogue included:

  • When we pose a question on the chalkboards we add our own voice to the debate
  • Be specific with questions. Be provocative and current.
  • Use the blog
  • Respond on labels to questions that get asked
  • Answer questions publically that a lot of visitors have asked
  • Have a list of FAQs on the info desk – things like funding, directions, practical stuff
  • Have a space for monthly questions – our visitors have asked us this month
  • Ask visitors questions that spark debate and are related to collections.
  • Let visitors know that we’re here to answer questions


But do we want to capture these conversations? Is it ethical?  

The day after our brainstorming meeting I attended an incredibly thought provoking workshop at Leicester University.  It’s My Content 2.0 explored the ethics of using visitor generated content and explored issues of ownership, copyright and privacy.  It really made me reflect on Play Your Part and how important it is to be transparent about our interactions with visitors.  To be clear about why we’re collecting information and what we are using it for.  Throughout the project I have been very open and reflective about our ‘experiments’, about what has worked and what hasn’t.  All of our questions and visitor responses have been out in public spaces – for example on chalkboards in the museum or on this blog.  However, whilst I believe that recording and analysing these publically written responses and sharing them openly is essential and valuable to the project, what about the verbal ephemeral dialogue? Would recording these conversations be tantamount to spying on our visitors?  Or as a public space do we assume that information is passed freely within our walls?  Personally, I would not be comfortable knowing that a conversation I have with someone (either a member or staff or another visitor) in a museum was being recorded unless I had granted my express permission.  So don’t worry, we’re not going to be bugging our visitors!  I do think, however, that it is important for us to record the bigger picture.  To be aware of, generally, what our visitors are interested in, in order for us to respond.  You often get told that there is no such thing as a stupid question because someone else probably wants to ask the same thing. I think therefore, that it is important to explore ways of displaying answers to visitor questions and to display other visitors’ responses alongside those of the museum.  As discussed above, there are a number of ways we can do this, so we’ll carry on experimenting.

What do you think?  Are you interested in what other visitors think?  Would you be happy to share your own opinions?  What burning questions have you always wanted the answers to?

PHM…Coming to a town near you

Play Your Part - resized for webCalling everyone in the Greater Manchester area, the People’s History Museum is going on tour!

In the New Year, the Play Your Part project is heading out of the museum and coming to a town near you (well, within the ten metropolitan boroughs of Greater Manchester). We want to know what has been happening in your local area, events, campaigns, protests or petitions. Can you help? These can be from within living memory or something that took place today!

We believe there are always ideas worth fighting for and want to hear your stories of events you’ve been involved with from campaigns for change, rallies to raise awareness of injustices or petitions to save your local services.

Being on tour gives us the opportunity to get out into local communities and towns where these events and campaigns are taking place. Bring along an object that represents what you have fought for and are passionate about in your area and share your memories and experiences with others. And if you let us know what you love, we can see if there’s something we love in our collections that we can bring to you!

Get in touch and watch this space for dates!

Buildings with a Social Memory – PHM represented at international conference in Belgium

A guest post from our globetrotting Director, Katy Archer

Buildings with a Social Memory 1I’ve just got back from a Conference in Ghent, Belgium exploring the social memory of buildings across Europe as part of a Belgian project being run by the University of Ghent, the Public History Institute, Amsab-Institute of Social History and the Arts Centre Vooruit.

I was one of 6 international speakers representing organisations from France, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands… and the UK of course!

The workshop took place at the Vooruit Arts Centre which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The Socialist movement built the ‘Feestlokaal’ or Party Room of Vooruit in 1913, the same year that the world exhibition was organised in Ghent. It had to be an “opera for the working people”, offering blue-collar workers a café, a restaurant, entertainment and education. And it’s a fantastic building and organisation to visit today.

The range of speakers was great and provided a number of perspectives and examples of how historic buildings (and especially those associated with working people) have been repurposed and reinterpreted today.Buildings with a Social Memory 2

Talking about PHM’s connections to two important buildings – The Mechanics Institute and home of the TUC, and the Pumphouse as a working Engine House – went very well. There was lots of interest in the museum and it was great to share our history and journey with an international audience.

I then took part in a Q&A session with Louise Karlskov Skyggebjerg from the Arbejdermuseet in Copenhagen (a fellow member of Worklab) and there were some really interesting and challenging points from the audience:

  • How can museums be truly neutral spaces when they receive government funding?
  • How can we use derelict / empty historic buildings in our cities in creative ways?
  • How do you navigate the grey area of being a contemporary space where current campaigns and conflicts could have a home, with being a professional museum?

I found the discussion really invigorating and inspiring – it was great to have conversations about the role and purpose of museums – especially when we’re dealing with different points of view, political collections and conflict in history. Lots of ideas and thoughts to feed back into our work at the museum – especially as part of our current Play Your Part project which is all about the museum’s response to contemporary events and ideas – which are often challenging to represent and interpret.

Buildings with a Social Memory 3I also really enjoyed my first trip to Belgium and was very impressed by Ghent – it was a beautiful city and I’ll definitely be going back again when I’ve got more time to explore…

PHM presents POLLfest!

PW Partner logo web versionAs part of this year’s Parliament Week, the People’s History Museum are holding our very own politics festival- POLLfest- an exciting series of events all based around this year’s theme, women in democracy. Parliament Week is a government initiative which aims to inspire, engage and connect people with parliamentary democracy. Running from Friday 15 November to Thursday 21 November, PHM will hold discussions, debates, displays, comedy and much more!

Friday 15 will see visitors come and learn more about women’s contribution to democratic life in a specialised gallery tour and those who would like to stick around will be treated to some unique material from our Labour History and Archive Centre as well as the chance to go behind the scenes in an archive tour.  Booking is advised- call the museum on 01618389190 or email

We will be holding two events on Saturday 16 November, a debate in the afternoon, and a Pecha Kucha event in the evening. The debate will look at the legacy of Margaret Thatcher, as a whole, and more specifically her legacy to women in senior political roles. We are still in the process of confirming speakers for this debate, so stay tuned for more exciting announcements! Pecha Kucha will be held from 6pm in our Engine Hall, and will feature 6 speakers talking for 20 seconds on 20 slides. Themes for the speakers will be on a whole host of topics including politics, social revolts and art. Our cafe bar will also be open for drinks, what more reason do you need to book! Tickets are free and can be claimed via Eventbrite.

On Sunday 17 November, we will be hosting our very own comedy spectacular from 4pm in the museum. We will have performances from Do Not Adjust Your Stage who will provide us with improvised fun based on scenes and stories in the People’s History Museum. Stand-up comedian Grainne Maguire will headline the evening with her ‘One Hour All Night Election Special’ show. Both acts have received rave reviews from past performances, and we are very much looking forward to welcoming them to PHM! Tickets are free but donations would be gratefully received- book them via Eventbrite.

Check back for more POLLfest announcements, and get booking your tickets- it’s set to be an amazing few days!

From Ancient Worlds to New Technology: Catherine and Harriet’s trip around Manchester

The ‘chandelier’

The ‘chandelier’

This week we’ve had a meander around Manchester and visited a couple of our favourite museums. First on the list, was the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) where we met with our lovely former colleague Kate Chatfield, who is now Exhibitions Interpretation Manager at MOSI. We wanted to investigate how the hi-tech interpretation methods worked in the Revolution Manchester gallery and what we could learn from these approaches.

The Revolution Manchester gallery opened in January 2011 so we were interested in how the technology used in the gallery has dated over time and wanted to find out more about how visitors interacted with it. As you first walk in you are faced with a large installation – basically a massive ‘chandelier’ made up of video screens, merged with photographs of famous Manchester innovators (it’s difficult to describe, so look at the picture!!). Visitors can add their faces to the chandelier by scanning a barcode at one of the20130902_142338 introductory digital stations, entering some information, and having their photo taken. You are asked your name, email address and asked to select your areas of interest from a list presented to you. We assumed this would then signpost us to a selection of displays which came within our interest bracket, but unfortunately this was not the case. Excitingly however, your face then became part of the giant digital sculpture. Visitors really seemed to love this, and spent a considerable amount of time getting the perfect picture! This had the effect of making you feel you were really part of MOSI, and secured your investment in the museum from the start.

20130902_142347The barcode could then be used at a number of the interactives throughout the Revolution Manchester gallery. However, we did have a few problems getting these to work. A number either refused to scan the card, or were out of order which made the barcode quite redundant. 20130902_152225We were able to use it on one interactive game however, and it was really exciting to see your name come up on the screen before you started to play. Later, at home, you could then input the barcode number along with your name into MOSI’s website. This enabled you to find out more information related to the interests you had stated at the outset. We liked the way MOSI have promoted other museums in this way; however it would be interesting to know how many people actually took the time to look at the website after their visit. Also, it would have been nice to see further links to MOSI’s collection using this method.

It was great to speak to Kate about the gallery as she was able to give us a real insight into how the gallery is used, and how visitors respond to it. We discussed the merits and drawbacks of using state of the art technology in a museum setting with relation to our Play Your Part project. We do not want anything that won’t last in the future and will appear out of date (or out of order!) in a few years time. This got us thinking about the use of mobile technology in the gallery space, and how this would provide an immersive interactive experience – without the massive price tag!

With this information in mind, we went off to Manchester Museum to explore how they utilise technology and especially mobiles in their new Ancient Worlds gallery. As you walk into the gallery you are treated to fusion of traditional museum cases enclosing objects and labels and new technology in the form of videos and directions to the gallery’s own mobile site. This design is very inclusive and therefore people who do not own mobiles or have access to the internet are still able to find out a wealth of information about the objects on show.

Screenshot_2013-09-05-17-16-16Screenshot_2013-09-05-17-16-41The mobile site is very well designed. Visitors can input a combination of symbols in order to find out information about the object the symbols relate to. For some objects this is just basic information and a photograph, whereas for others you are able to listen to audio and browse through a selection of photographs. You are also able to share the page on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, something which we feel is very important when using technology today. In theory, you can access this information at home, however you would need the code of symbols to access specific objects, so realistically you would have to randomly select items to look at, therefore the site is very much designed to complement the museum experience, and not so much as a standalone site.

Whilst we enjoyed using the mobile site, we didn’t observe many other visitors using it. We also visited the Living Worlds gallery in which you are required to download an app to access interactive content. We felt the use of a mobile site instead of a downloadable app was quicker to access and therefore presented fewer barriers to use.

These visits were really useful and inspiring. The next stage for us is to investigate how we can use mobile technology at the PHM. Watch this space!

PHM Podcast Workshop

This week, the PHM hosted D2 Digital and DigiEnable in our Coal Store for a workshop introducing podcasting to fellow arts and culture bods from Manchester and the surrounding areas. I’m not a tech genius by nature, but I am really interested in how new technologies can be used by museums to engage visitors with our story, and point them in the way of our collections. Podcasting isn’t a particularly ‘new technology’ in relation to how fast the digital world moves today, but as a digital phenomenon, podcasting isn’t as widely used by museums as other social media outlets. Therefore, I came to the session eager to be convinced why podcasting would be a great way to engage new and existing audiences with the PHM, for example; what sort of content do people want from a podcast? How long is too long when it comes to podcasting? And most importantly, how do you make a podcast?!Podcast workshop (2)

After introducing ourselves and the obligatory and very welcome morning cookies, we began the workshop with a presentation looking at the stages involved in making a podcast, the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ when making a recording, and tips when interviewing people for features. With this information fresh in our minds, we were dispatched in groups to go and make our own 3 minute podcast, in half an hour. We had to decide on a theme for discussion, interview questions, and full yet to the point answers. At first, we were quite hesitant and more than once our recordings were interrupted or had to be abandoned due to extended ‘ummm’s’ or ‘errr’s’ and ‘deer caught in headlights’ style silences. However, once we got over the fact that a microphone was going to be pushed towards you and the requirement of having to come up with some intelligent yet witty remarks, conversation flowed and we record over five minutes of data easily!

Podcast workshop (1)As a group, we decided to base our podcast around digital technology, and whether the use of such things as podcasts, QR codes, social media and smart devices in museums and galleries was inclusive or exclusive to our visitors. It is my personal opinion that such technologies can be extremely inclusive in the right context, and will act in bringing about a wider resonance and therefore response from our audiences. The use of technology is going to happen both inside and outside of the museum whether we like it or not, and therefore I believe it makes sense for museums to point these people towards our collections by utilising these technologies as an accompaniment to our traditional roles, but not ahead of them so as to be exclusive. One group member from the Museum of Wigan Life pointed out that these technologies can be exclusive in that people who have no access to these devices are left out, which served as creating a debate on which to frame our recording.

Once the raw data had been collected, we gathered around a laptop and used the programme Audacity to cut and edit our recordings into a 3 minute piece. The programme was really easy to use and in no time we had a podcast which was ready to go! We then got the chance to listen to each other’s podcasts which provided much entertainment (no one likes the sound of their own voice, do they?) One group chose to talk about their Manchester heroes, while the other used their time to talk about their roles in the cultural sector.

Overall, I found the course extremely useful; it offered practical information, hints and tips on how to produce a podcast. While this was great and very much needed, I was still left to wonder; why should museums and galleries produce podcasts?  When asked, the group leader stated that podcasts are a great way to engage a new audience in a completely new way, and can be linked to our existing website easily. I have to agree, the workshop certainly proved to me that podcasts have a place in our museum, especially our Play Your Part project. They will be a great addition to our gallery tours, and give us the chance to broadcast many of the interesting people who visit the museum in both a professional and personal capacity. So, watch this space- the first PHM podcast, coming soon!