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Using Archives In Your Research: Museums Explained

Can I study museum objects?

A 2008 report noted that there are 200 million items in English and Welsh museums – and only a tiny fraction of these are on display. The rest are usually kept in storage. Most museums accept that the public have a right to access the items which are kept in store and many encourage people to visit, for example arranging behind the scenes tours and study days.

Visiting a museum store and examining objects up close can make a great difference to your study. Artists will find getting up close to the work of an artist they admire to be stimulating and exciting. Designers might find inspiration from examining the patterns on a butterfly or a bird’s feathers. Fashion students can see items of clothing and accessories up close and understand the way they were made. A creative writing student might gain inspiration from handling everyday objects and considering the stories they can tell. Looking among the artifacts might give history students support and proof of their conclusions.

Chemists’ bottles and jars at the Leicestershire County Council Museum Service Collections Resources Centre‚Äč

Arranging a Visit

Begin by consulting the museum’s website. Some of the larger museums and galleries have online catalogues of their collections which will allow you to identify objects you would like to view. If there is no catalogue then email the curator for the relevant area – for example, if you would like to look at 1950s swimwear then contact the fashion curator. If there isn’t an email contact for the curator then try the general email and mention that you are looking to get in touch with a specific person.

Visiting a store will be by appointment only. The curator will meet you and show you the objects you have requested. There will be specific guidelines for handling the objects in order to ensure they are not damaged and you must be very careful to follow these. It will be worth taking along a camera although there may be restrictions on what you can photograph.

Museums Gallery

Black corset with yellow flosswork from the Symington Collection, 1890s

Iridescent Beetle at the Leicestershire County Council Museum Service Collections Resources Centre

Part of the shoe collection at the Leicestershire County Council Museum Service Collections Resources Centre

Eighteenth century dresses from Leicestershire County Council Museum Service Collections Resources Centre

Focus on Leicestershire County Council Museum Service

The County Council Museum Service looks after over 1 million objects gathered together over the past 150 years. Their collections include:

  • Natural Life - the landscape, plants and animals of Leicestershire
  • Home and Family Life - domestic and personal objects, including an important collection of toys and games
  • Working Life - objects and information from many changing or disappearing occupations, trades and industries
  • Cultural Life - creative talents, interests and aspirations of Leicestershire people, including works of art and a nationally important fashion collection
  • Archaeological Collections – the products of archaeological surveys in the county

You can see a selection of items from the collection in the Leicestershire Revealed online exhibition.

The Collections Care team encourage research visits and have welcomed DMU students in the past.

Objects at DMU

It is possible to study artifacts from the DMU collections. The Archive includes many items which have been donated as part of collections, including clothing, medical instruments, and photography ephemera. Artifacts are listed as part of the catalogue of a collection.

DMU also has an Art Collection which contains over 500 artworks and reflects a variety of practices and passions of DMU staff and students both past and present. Ranging from oil abstracts to black and white photographs, stand alone sculptures to lithograph prints, the Collections include works from the likes of Bridget Riley, Patrick Heron, Alison Knowles, Jasper Johns, Henri Chopin, Peter Blake and Andy Gott to name but a few. The artworks are displayed in all departments and buildings on campus and are also included in internal and external exhibitions. 

Shop window model from the Baker collection at DMU Archives