Meet our 2024 NMA-ANU Summer Scholars

Meet our 2024 NMA-ANU Summer Scholars
Thursday 1 February 2024

2024 marks the second year for the NMA-ANU Summer Scholars Program, organised in a partnership between the National Museum of Australia and the ANU Humanities Research Centre.

This year, two scholars have been busy working across the ANU and NMA with their supervisors on projects relating to the NMA collections. Alma Aylmore, from the University of Queensland and Pippa Herden from the University of Sydney are now past the halfway point of their 6 week stay in Canberra. We caught up with them to hear about their progress and experience so far.

Alma Aylmore

Alma is currently enrolled in the first year of a Masters of Museum Studies and a Graduate Diploma in Art History at the University of Queensland.

Alma has an undergraduate background in Anthropology and a special interest in communal and social heritage, embodiment, and critical theory. In 2020, Alma's Honours thesis, “I wonder if they want us to kill ourselves: Transgender Agency, and the power implications of do-it-yourself transition” received the University of Queensland’s Donald Tugby Anthropology Honours Prize for the highest overall Honours mark.

Alma's current research project is entitled, Metaphors of Queer Reinscription: Negotiated Boundaries and Narrative Disruption in the Museum Context. Initially proposing the broader objective of identifying queer narratives within the museum’s collections, Alma found this to be less simple than anticipated, "In lieu of objects directly tied to queer and LGBT+ narratives, my project has pivoted to discussing the practical implications of applying a queer interpretative lens to objects and ephemera that may not possess a readily apparent queer association. This approach has enabled me to engage with interesting items and problems relevant to the museum as a footstep to discourse surrounding Museum practices and responsibilities. Specifically, the instrumental role of Museum Institutions as institutes that construct social narrative and collective memory."

The Summer Scholars have been working with curators and the collections at the National Museum of Australia, giving them an 'inside' look at the workings of the museum. Alma says, "This program has melted my prior cynical assumptions of how museum institutions function, and demonstrated to me the heterogeneity and diversity of voices within the museum, and convinced me of the empathy, care, and consideration the individual people that operate the museum attempt to bring to their practices. Previously, I had thought of the Museum as an abstracted, homogenous, static or slow to move...but the NMA is more autonomous, more mobile, more self-directed, and if its senior curators are any indication, more transgressive than I expected."

As for the experience of being in Canberra for the first time, Alma has been determined to find the essence of the city. "What I’ve discovered is this: If such [an essence] exists, it isn’t in the built-up and urbanised areas of the city, it’s in the country the city has paved over. It’s in Mt Ainslie and in Galambary, black mountain, its in the country the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people. By recognising this before any other experience of Canberra and the campus at ANU, I have come to appreciate Canberra for its peacefulness, its clean air, and its gentle summer."

Pippa Herden

Pippa is currently studying at the University of Sydney undertaking a Master of Museum and Heritage Studies, to be completed in 2024. During her undergradute studies Pippa has been focusing on Indigenous curatorial practices in an Australian context and exploring creative and interrogative ways to exhibit and research Indigenous cultural collections. In 2023, Pippa was awarded the University of Sydney Commencing Scholarship in Art Curating or Museum and Heritage Studies for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Students.

Pippa's research project has evolved into creating an exhibition proposal that explores native plants, bush medicine in the local museum context on Ngunnawal and Ngambri land. This has revealed the complexities of exhibitions in a Museum context, "There are multiple areas of tensions at the Museum with different teams focusing on different aspects and challenges for an exhibition, these conversations have all informed my current research. After spending time in the Museum's own Indigenous garden, named the Christine and Trevor Kennedy Garden, I have started to interrogate how exhibitions and the Museum exhibits Indigenous plants and cultural knowledges with its own local community and how there is a constant push and pull between the national and local."

Pippa has also been learning from the experience of being nehind the scenes at a National Institution, "[It's been interesting to see] the realities of working as a curator in a National Institution; there are a number of tensions and challenges that are always at play to successfully deliver exhibition or collection project...there is the curatorial perspective, working with communities and other curators to deliver stories and an experience around a series of artefacts. There is the exhibition, design, object handling teams to ensure the visitor experience and the objects are handled with care. Then another major component is the business and marketing perspectives. There are so many moving parts."

Coming from the bustle of Sydney's inner west, Pippa has found space to think and connect whilst being based on campus, "There are more opportunities for reflection and relaxation [in Canberra], particularly in going for walks around the lake. It's been really nice feeling more connected to this place, through the native plants around the lake and on the walk from my accommodation to the Museum". For the final weeks of the program, Pippa plans to finalise her project and continue gaining experience, "This program has been an amazing opportunity to explore a museum in its own context and learn more from the incredible staff. I would like to continue to absorb wisdom from them and on how they have navigate working in the museum environment." 

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Updated:  15 February 2024/Responsible Officer:  Head, Centre/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications