Meet a Museum Blogger

Meet a Museum Blogger: Jack Shoulder

Jack Shoulder has adventures in museums and chronicles his exploits on his blog. He visits museums, galleries and other cultural places; the big ones, the small ones and all the ones in between.

When not exploring museums, Jack is usually working in them; he does lots of digital stuff in/with/about museums in his day jobs as an Activities Assistant at Brighton-based Culture24, doing fun things with cultural data, and as a Digital Events Facilitator at the British Museum,  facilitating family workshops in the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre.

That’s enough of an introduction; without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

Jack being 'eaten' by a T-Rex at the Oxford Natural History MuseumDo you work in a museum? If not, where do you work? Tell us about your job.

I’ve got a couple of jobs at the moment and yes, one of them is working in a museum. I’ve been at a few museums in the past -little ones that people seemed to stumble into by accident – but now I’m working at the British Museum. Moving from a small place like the Cartoon Museum into such a behemoth of a museum was a bit of a culture shock!

Once you get used to the sheer volume of visitors, everything becomes a lot easier. As part of my job sees me in the Great Court greeting families and helping them get the most out of the resources in the museum, such as the trails and backpack activity kits, I got used to the numbers pretty quickly. The other part of my job is a bit lot more fun; running and facilitating workshops in the museum’s Digital Discovery Centre. At the moment I’m working with the team to develop new workshops for the coming year. It’s all very exciting at the moment.

The British Museum role is, unfortunately, only a weekend gig; my week-day job is at an organization called Culture24 based in Brighton. We’re a charity that publishes a website to help connect audiences to cultural and heritage venues throughout the UK, we also share data about events and exhibitions with other organizations such as the BBC. Currently, it’s my job to share the events we have with the BBC but very soon I’ll be moving into a network support role, which will see me develop relationships with the museums we work with as well as providing support to the rest of the team.

What’s your educational background?

My background is in Classics, Ancient Greece and Rome. I have a degree in Classical Studies with English from King’s College, London. One of the reasons I chose a university in London was the easy access to museums with such amazing collections from ancient civilizations.

What was your ‘sticky’ moment?

I’ve had a couple of ‘sticky’ moments over the many years I’ve been wandering around museums, but one of my favourite memories comes from my first visit to the British Museum…

I was 16 or 17 and on a school trip with my A Level Classics class and we did the YMCA with this statue of Venus as the ‘C’. OK, I know it sounds like we we’re goofing around (probably because we were) but that little act of silliness really helped us to think about the statue; yes, this is a statue of a goddess but why is she posed the way she is? What’s going on here? Would she have made a good Village Person??

Luckily, our teacher picked up on our willingness to ‘get involved’ as it were, and turned our exuberance to more educational purposes by having us recreate scenes from the friezes and metopes of the Parthenon.

We really had to examine what was going on in the sculpted scenes in order to recreate them – I can remember some of the poses were really unnatural and uncomfortable to do in real life! Granted we all looked a bit silly pretending to be Lapiths and Centaurs in the middle of the museum, but it really helped us to connect with the piece, which came in very handy indeed come examination time!

What is the name of your blog? How long have you been blogging?

My blog is called Jack’s Adventures in Museum Land – is it obvious I had been reading some Lewis Carroll just prior to setting it up? I’ve been blogging since September 2011 and to date I have visited 50 very different museums. The oddest – and my favourite- so far is without a doubt the Marzipan Museum in Budapest. You want people to learn about historical figures? Build them out of marzipan! Delicious and educational!

What do you blog about? Why?

I blog about my adventures in museums. I love tracking down all the quirky, secret museums that can pass by unnoticed and uncovering unusual objects in more well-known collections.

Every now and then my hectic work schedule just won’t allow trips to tiny esoteric museums hidden away from the world so my readers have to settle for yet another post about something that happened at the British Museum.

I really enjoy the sense of discovery in finding and visiting a little-known museum, or, failing that, tracking down some of the bizarre things that often get overlooked in bigger collection. I hope the sense of discovery comes through in the writing and encourages others to go out and look beyond the obvious in whatever museum they visit next.

What’s the craziest comment you’ve ever received?

I haven’t had any crazy comments yet about my adventures, but it’s only a matter of time! I have been found through some very odd searches… “Teddy Bear mummification” was a recent one – I’ve written about teddy bears and about mummification but I can’t imagine who would want to mummify a teddy bear! Hilariously, someone managed to find me by searching for ‘Pierced Nipple Beach’ I hope they weren’t too disappointed with what they found!

What’s your most read blog post? Tell us about it.

I’ve had two really popular blog posts, and they couldn’t be more different! So I’d like to share both:

One of the most popular posts was my visit to a former emergency nuclear bunker which is now a sort-of museum. It’s strange that it has been as popular as it is because it was one of the rare occasions where there was quite literally nothing positive about the visit.

Everything was just wrong. Utterly, utterly wrong.

The place was unwelcoming, bordering on threatening – I think the phrase ‘Orwellian nightmare’ was used in the write-up – half of the compulsory audio guides were out of order, cans of baked beans were stored in the displays and there was no staff around at all! None!

Worse still, in an interview the owner seemed proud there was no one for visitors to talk to, because it saved him £60 a day! The whole operation was an utter omnishambles.

The other astoundingly popular post is a lot more warm ‘n’ fuzzy and centres around a recipe for Bread Pudding. You might think that has nothing to do with museums, why on earth did I write about it?

Well, I have a reputation in the office for baking so when my colleague stumbled across a recipe from the Jane Austen’s House Museum, she challenged me to test it out. As the recipe came from a museum, I felt it had a place on the blog as a sort of out-of-museum-adventure. As recipes go, it wasn’t the clearest. It had been written in rhyme by Jane Austen’s mother, who seems to have gone for style over clarity. Once I’d deciphered the instructions I brought the pudding into the office, awaiting comment from those brave enough to sample it. You know what? It went down rather well! My readers seemed to enjoy the story too! I plan on following it up with a visit to Jane Austen’s House, so watch the blog.

It definitely seems that if you want people to learn about history, make it delicious!

[UPDATE: Jack has since visited Jane Austen’s House. To read his recent post, click here.]

What’s the last exhibit you saw?

The last exhibition I saw might come as a bit of a surprise. It had nothing to do with Ancient Greece or Rome, nor did it have anything to do with food. It was The History of Motoring in 10 Objects at the Cotswolds Motoring Museum, a charming little museum I visited whilst on holiday. The exhibition itself wasn’t the main draw; instead I was lured in by the celebrity object, a cherished character from a children’s television show called Brum. Nevertheless, History of Motoring was an interesting look at a subject I don’t usually think about. I really liked that the museum asked visitors what they would have included, such a nice touch don’t you think?

What’s the last thing you bought at a museum gift shop?

The last thing I bought in a museum gift shop was a small, pink badge with ‘ID’ on it. It came from the Freud Museum and cost about 60p. I could have gone with ‘EGO’ or ‘SUPEREGO’ but the ‘ID’ just seemed a bit more fun!

I always try and pick up a badge if a gift shop has one so it can go on the lanyard I wear at the British Museum. There are 15 badges on there at the moment, all of which have a connection to one of my museum adventures.

If you didn’t work in a museum what would you be doing?

If I wasn’t lucky enough to be working in and with museums, I think I would have pursued a career in journalism. I was really involved with student journalism back in my university days, I was a regular contributor to King’s’ main newspaper Roar (the university’s mascot was a lion, so pretty much everything had a leonine connection). Seeing a niche in the market, some friends and I set up a news sheet aimed at those with an interest in ancient history called Satyrica which is still going strong.

Wow. What great stuff! Thanks for participating in Meet a Museum Blogger, Jack!

In case you missed it, Jack blogs at Jack’s Adventures in Museum Land. Do you have any additional questions for Jack regarding his profile above? Feel free to start a conversation in the comments below or reach out to him directly on Twitter. His Twitter handle is @jackshoulderI highly encourage you to use the #MuseumBlogger hashtag. TY!

Are you interested in being profiled or know someone who would be? Send an email to MuseumMinute@gmail.com.

3 thoughts on “Meet a Museum Blogger: Jack Shoulder

  1. What a great interview. Thanks for sharing it!

    Jack, I don’t know you personally, but I am jealous of your exploits and inspired to start my own! Your blog connects those of us on the other side of the pond to cultural heritage institutions we may never see in person, in a very personal and meaningful way (and that bread pudding recipe sounds delicious!).

    These blogger profiles are great, by the way… Keep ’em coming, Jamie!

  2. I really enjoyed reading this interview. Obscure museums, baking recipes, museum souvenirs…sounds a lot like Museum Diary 🙂 I think we may be kindred spirits, Jack. Your blog is definitely going on my blog roll!

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