A game of two halves? – the sports heritage symposium

I attended the Sports Heritage Network sports heritage symposium today, conscious of our holding the Rugby Football League governing body archive at the University and wanting to find out what’s currently afoot in sport heritage.

Following an introduction from the director of the National Football Museum, the venue for the event, the day began with Justine Reilly describing 2012 research in the form of a scoping study funded by Arts Council England.  The study gives a broad picture of collections, mostly outside the formal heritage environment, and with many collections at risk particular owing to poor storage and lack of identification beyond the holder/collector.  In more positive news,  ACE have extended funding for the People’s Record website to build on the Olympic legacy.  However, little evaluation has been undertaken of sports heritage (specifically) events and museums generaly, so it’s currently difficult to prove the value of sports heritage despite strong anecdotal evidence that sport can reach “non-traditional audiences in new ways”.  There was a strong feeling in the room throughout the day that there is prejudice against sport, that it’s not seen to be “part of culture” by those not involved in sport or sport heritage/history.  Yet sport is an important cultural phenomenon in its own right, worthy of study and of recording/”archiving”, presentation, interpretation and not least enjoyment.

A distinction seemed to be made during the day between “history” and “heritage” – a question asked specifically during the afternoon about the difference in terminology.  Various personal explanations were given; Prof Tony Collins contributed (apparently spontaneously) the pithy “history is the past, heritage is your past”.  I think this goes some way to expressing it.

Chris Mather of Mather & Co gave a brief overview of the National Football Museum project, and a number of other heritage/visitor experience-type projects his firm has been and is currently involved with.  Most encouraging from his talk was how even the most awkward of buildings (the ex-Urbis) can be made – largely – to work.  Some direct inspiration for me here for the University’s own plans for the Quayside/Café on 3rd space which our HLF project hopes to convert for archives use.   Chris also warned that in museum (and also in archives) design it is very easy to understate the time and energy needed “to get the best out of the collections”; content preparation for him being key BEFORE the design stage(s).  Interesting emphases there, I felt.  He also criticised the “gesture-tech” approach to interactives and to technology in museums and visitor attractions/experiences – technology for technology’s sake not generally being a good use of the budget, as well as requiring a heavy overhead in maintenance.

Chris questioned whether sport’s “remarkable moments in time – the shared emotions, the stadium atmospherics” could be captured.  And this was a theme to which delegates returned, and which is not restricted to sport: from my own performing and working life, music is an obvious other area where heritage, history and indeed “recording” are very particular issues.

Ansgar Molzberger then described the archives project of the Deutsche Sporthochschule Köln (German Sport University, Cologne).  An interesting cultural difference between Germany & the UK , picked up in the chair’s concluding remarks on the day, being the respective existence and absence of an HE institution devoted to sport.  The archive project aims to “centralise” the archival material – going beyond a catalogue to a ?browse or structured resource guide approach under 4 key areas (mixture of subject & archival fonds).  No time to get into the archival principles behind this, but an approach indicative of the Institute’s thoughts about how its users might approach the holdings – whether or not borne out in practice.

Following a great lunch, the afternoon was devoted to 3 panel sessions.  Each took a similar approach – under a broad theme, 3 or 4 people spoke for 5-10 minutes about their own or their organisation’s current work, followed by questions from the floor to the panel as a whole.   Case studies included the Sporting Memories Network, Our Sporting Life, the National Hockey Museum, the World Rugby [Union!!] Museum, Leicester City FC, National Museums Liverpool and West Yorkshire Archive Service.  Although the panel themes were intended to distinguish between the 3 sessions, in practice the afternoon was effectively a commentary and discussion on the current landscape in the loosely defined sport heritage “sector” (if such a thing exists).  Some enthusiastic speakers described fundamental work in areas such as reminiscence for dementia suffers, work with children and families, young people not in education employment or training (the so-called “NEETS”), the creation of museums and archives of individual clubs or of sports, gallery redevelopment, acquisition, and oral history/reminiscence.

Recurring themes during the afternoon included the need for evaluation and measurement/demonstration of impact and value – a discussion which is perhaps a little behind the general times in the wider heritage and cultural sector?  The Olympic legacy of volunteering was also raised, including how to increase participation in heritage activities including recording by those still active in sport (no answers, unfortunately). Finally, the timeliness of a focus on sport heritage, riding the crest of the wave following London 2012, was discussed at length, with frequent warnings to delegates to avoid being merely cheerleaders for sport.

Throughout the day the game of two halves played on my mind – contrasts and overlapping polarities were a theme of the day.  Football and Other Sports; working class and not working class (never explicitly stated); amateur or community and professional or elite– both on/off the pitch/river/field of play/track/arena, and the “enthusiast” (can’t think of a better word at the moment) and the “heritage sector professional”; participation and spectating/fans; and for the conference, aspiration for amplification/dissemination and the actuality (see postscript below).

Interesting, the vast majority of sports represented among the speakers and delegates were team sports (the related Football Museums event on the following day may have had a bearing on this) but I wondered what this says about heritage – particularly of sport – as being a communal actvitiy?

The day also made me think of the other “special interest groups” which combine both the organisation and the individual (the archives AND the archivists, however defined) such as those for religion, schools, historic houses, music and so on.  Is sport a special case because of the particular way in which it enforces or reinforces tribalism – class, gender, jocks and geeks, race/religion (the example was given of the perception that “Jewish people don’t do sport” which was counteracted by the “Playing the Game” exhibition as part of Our Sporting Life exhibitions)?

A postscript on dissemination & the potential for amplified events

I hugely appreciate following professional conferences and seminars on twitter – you can’t go to everything! – and try where I can to blog and tweet events I attend in case this is helpful to others.

Even if an event isn’t planning formally to use video, project a twitter backchannel or other means of disseminating beyond the conference hall (see Marieke Guy’s Ariadne article for a good summary), I’d suggest it’s always good to offer the option of tables for laptop users, free and easy-to-connect wifi, and sockets for charging phones/laptops for those who tweet or blog during a conference itself.

For the dissemination of papers I find the suggestion made today that “powerpoint is very difficult to circulate” incomprehensible with the availability of cloud services like slideshare!

Finally, I’d suggest a shorter and more inclusive hashtag for use by delegates: #sportinmuseums is a bit long, and a bit redolent of the organisers’ thinking about the event.  Heritage isn’t *just* in museums, or about what museums do/encourage…

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2 thoughts on “A game of two halves? – the sports heritage symposium

  1. Brilliant post, Sarah! Thanks for your comments too – happy to have any feedback for future events! Our first attempt at using twitter so any suggestions welcome.

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