What Are Handling Collections?

In our post on The Secret Life of Objects I wrote about why authentic experiences are more important to in the creative study of museum collections than the traditional guided museum tour. This type of learning is called idealism, and considers that knowledge already exists in the mind of learners. People construct knowledge by playing an active role in the learning process, characterised by hands-on learning.

The the standard museum practice of placing objects, which were originally designed to be used, behind glass is somewhat nonsensical. Many of objects in a museum collection were made to be touched and handled, coins, for example, are obviously meant to be passed from hand to hand. Of course preservation is key to how museums operate, and many of the objects in a museum’s collection are too valuable or delicate to be made available for visitors to touch.

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Handling collections are museum collections composed of objects that are durable enough to be repeatedly handled. Often these collections are curated, and relate to a theme, documenting a specific period of history such as World War One or Domestic Life in Roman Britain. A collection may consist of original historical objects, replicas of objects or a combination of the two.

Handling Collection

Handling collections offer an exciting opportunity for learners of all ages to engage with other cultures and periods of time through contact with historic objects. This enables learners to have a meaningful experience, interacting with objects directly, means they don’t need as much interpretation from a teacher or historian.

Handling Collection

This supports the experience, respond, create framework in the new Curriculum for Wales. The objects offering a real tactile experience of different periods of history or different cultures for learners to respond to in creating artwork. When schools and museums work in collaboration projects can be realised that support the four purposes of the curriculum and we encourage schools to bring the work they produce back into the museum to give learners the experience of a real-life production.

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We’ve recently help initiate two projects that involve handling collections. Our CPD course, Making the Most of Arts Culture and Heritage Organisations last November hosted and workshops by Head4Arts with their Exhibition in a Box, and year 6 at Blackwood Primary School used the same collection working in collaboration with Naseem Syed and Burst Publishing to produce the exhibition War and Peace at Blackwood Miners Institute in January.

Read our roundup of handling collections that are available to schools here.

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