Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 November 2020
Foreword by Rhianedd Smith
THIS BOOK BEGAN with an exploration of how we might undertake a kind of museological research and practice where history, theory, and contemporary co-production intersect. A growing number of researchers are engaging in research which pushes across interdisciplinary boundaries and sees collections as more than repositories for facts. The rise of collaborative doctoral funding in the UK has provided a space in which professional practice and academic research may come together to explore new questions through research based in an archive or museum. This chapter explores the emotional experiences of an early career researcher navigating the boundaries between collector, collections care, collections-based research, and communicating significance.
Church's research was funded by the University of Reading as part of an initiative to facilitate a series of ambitious interdisciplinary doctoral research projects with university collections which had been under-researched. In this case the research focused on the collections of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (now the Campaign to Protect Rural England CPRE) (see below), which are held in the Archive of the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL). By bringing together human geography and history, Church explored wider questions about how enthusiasm is organized and communicated by enthusiasts. Within this book we have asked what enthusiast collecting looks like today, but this research also examines the accompanying archival practice of enthusiasts. Church's interdisciplinary research project brings together the history of rural politics and enthusiast theory to provide an insight into the role of enthusiasm in the history of activist organizations.
My own chapter has already outlined some of the history of the MERL and its ongoing work to demonstrate the contemporary relevance of collections that were originally formed with the purpose of facilitating research. I also explored the collection of an enthusiast organization kept in the museum's library in the form of the TATHS Library. Within the MERL's object, library, and archival collections there are numerous such holdings, which were created to provide an administrative and organizational memory for government, research, and activist or enthusiast organizations. This chapter explores the final category, the collections created by groups concerned with the preservation of aspects of English rural life. In this way the editors hope to highlight the potential of archival research to provide deep histories of activism and enthusiasm.