Amgueddfa Blog

Queer Tours at St Fagans National Museum of History

Oska von Ruhland, 14 June 2022

Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales is home to a growing collection of objects exploring Wales’ LGBTQ+ history. Like the other collections, they’re all available to view online in the Collections & Research tab on the Museum’s website. The Collections Online features objects both in store and currently on display.

Though the collection is always available to freely view and people may read through the information about each object and learn in their own time, it is a shared view that it is important to celebrate and uplift the stories and lives of marginalised communities and bring forward hidden aspects of Welsh history. In doing this work we hope to normalise queer lives in Wales, and solidify the important role of diverse identities as part of Welsh culture.

To give an idea of the sort of objects we will be discussing in the Queer Tours projects, we would like to invite you to look through Collections Online, and consider not only contemporary queer icons who make our variety of Pride events so unique, or even famous historical figures who have secured a place in mainstream Welsh heritage, but the lives of the everyday person who may have had to live in secret, or whose activism was never properly recorded. Here we want to bring forward all of these lost stories, in the hopes that by sharing them we will continue to uncover more.

In an effort to bring attention to the LGBTQ+ Collection, we have developed the Queer Tours project to encourage the public to explore the variety of objects and better understand Wales’ queer heritage. This project has been developed by Amgueddfa Cymru Producers on behalf of the museum for the Pride season.

For the ever-growing variety of objects in the collection, and a want to reflect as many important aspects of this heritage as possible, several parts of this project have been developed or are in the process of being developed:

  • A series of social media posts highlighting a selection of objects in the collection and their role in queer Welsh heritage that will be available on the Bloedd AC Instagram account.
  • A digital tour video of St Fagans National Museum of History exploring objects currently on display and the way we can interpret the history of queer everyday life.
  • A self-guided tour for visitors of St Fagans National Museum of History to follow the route themselves and become immersed in history themselves.
  • A  special one-time-event in-person led tour is being developed so that attendees may enjoy hearing about the work at St Fagans National Museum of History and the continuing effort being put into the LGBTQ+ Collection.

It is our hope that this project be useful and educational to people not just during this Pride season, but will leave a lasting impact and change views of what queer heritage means in Wales.

All of this work is possible thanks to the Hands on Heritage support fund.

On Your Doorstep exhibition install to opening

Katherine Slade, Ben Rowson, Jody Deacon, Julian Carter and Alastair Willis, 24 May 2022

The On Your Doorstep exhibition is now open at Oriel y Parc in St. David’s, Pembrokeshire. This collaborative exhibition between the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and Amgueddfa Cymru highlights natural history and archeological discoveries made across Pembrokeshire. It also features local wildlife, and you can use our spotter’s sheets to spot them.

This exhibition emerged from an idea formed during the early Covid lockdown in 2020. As nobody could travel far from home, we all started to notice and appreciate what was right on our doorsteps.

Our response at the museum was to create resources inspired by the museum collections to encourage people to explore the nature and archaeology where they live. Spotter’s guides, archaeology factsheets, puzzles and nature bingo were released under the On Your Doorstep banner during the restrictions.

But how did we prepare and transport the museum objects used in the exhibition and what was involved from a curator’s point of view?

Like many people across the UK, we had to find new ways of working during the pandemic to help keep everyone safe. Our team, working from homes across Wales, met virtually and brainstormed ideas online.

Following the design and planning phases, museum curators and conservators made sure the chosen museum objects were ready for display. Some of the specimens needed additional conservation and preparation work. This included adding extra fixings to pressed botanical specimens so that they were securely attached to their backing and moving preserved fish to new preserving fluids. A beautiful Corn Marigold wax model made in the 1930s required extensive work to remove a wax bloom covering the model as well as some stabilisation repairs. Special slug models were created for the exhibition by shell curator Ben, as it is difficult to show the beauty of these animals from fluid preserved specimens in our collections.

We wanted to show the specimens in a natural context, so we gathered together dressing materials such as dried plants, twigs and leaves. Stripy coastal snails were stuck onto a dried and painted Sea Holly, and eggboxes were needed to stage the moths around a moth trap. We used pebbles to hint at the Scaly Cricket’s shingle shore home, and a hand lens by the lichens suggests a way to spot tiny characters in the field.

Once everything was assembled, we started packing ready for transport from National Museum Cardiff to Oriel y Parc. With many delicate objects, this was no mean feat. Items were ticked off lists, object exit forms (to allow us to track where specimens are) were signed and we were ready to go!

Meanwhile the museum’s exhibitions and tech teams continued work to get cases, panels, labels in place, as well as commissioning construction of the central structure in the gallery, made in part to show off the impressive casts of early Christian monuments from Penally.

Once curators and conservators arrived at Oriel y Parc, and after a quick cuppa, we started to arrange cases into position with the Oriel y Parc team. We cleaned the insides of the cases thoroughly before placing objects.

Because of the wide variety of Amgueddfa Cymru’s collections, something we can do is combine very different objects and subjects. In this exhibition we mixed natural history and archaeology specimens. While Wales has many native plants and animals, some were brought to Wales by people, for example, for food, medicine or accidently. We placed a couple of non-native animals and plants into archaeology cases in the gallery. A poppy sits amongst prehistoric and Roman finds, as it was probably accidently introduced by farmers to Wales during the Iron Age.

A fun finishing touch was to hide Ghost Slug models around the gallery. Why? Ghost Slugs were first found in Wales in Cardiff in 2008. We want to track their spread and need everyone to look for them. Could you be the first to find one in Pembrokeshire? To get some practice you can search for them in the exhibition!

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The On Your Doorstep exhibition can be seen now at Oriel y Parc in St. David’s. There are accompanying digital resources, all accessible from the website. These include some new free spotter’s sheets created especially for the exhibition.

For more news around the exhibition take a look at @OrielyParc on Twitter and use the hashtags #OnYourDoorstep and #ArEichStepenDrws

For news on the archaeology, conservation and natural history teams at Amgueddfa Cymru follow @SF_Archaeology, @NatHistConserv and @CardiffCurator

Website discovery project

Amgueddfa Cymru & One Further, 23 May 2022

Hearing the voices of Amgueddfa Cymru’s digital users

We’re in the middle of an exciting series of projects that will reimagine how we serve our users digitally. We’re developing a fresh approach to our overall digital strategy, revisiting the systems that enable people to transact with us, and rethinking how we express ourselves online.

As part of this, we’re looking at the role our website plays. It’s served the museum for a long while and, although it has evolved over that time, we’ve reached a point where a more fundamental overhaul is required.

To kick off that process, we’re working with an agency called One Further. They’re helping us to develop a stronger understanding of how our website is serving our users and where there are opportunities to improve. Their outside perspective is useful because, working with it every day, our view of the website is likely to be somewhat distorted.

We’re also very aware that the new website must serve the people of Wales and provide a platform for engaging the communities that we work with (and those we want to work with more). For that, we need to hear directly from those people and communities.

That’s been a big part of the work that One Further has been doing for us. Here they explain some of the ways that we’re reaching out to hear the voices of our digital users.

The who and the why of a website visit

To capture responses at scale we’ve been using a variety of pop-up surveys across our website.

User intent surveys ask people about the context of their visit. Is it for personal or professional reasons? Is there a particular task they’re looking to complete?

Content engagement surveys ask people to rate the quality of a particular page and to suggest improvements.

Exit surveys appear when it looks like someone is about to leave the website. At this point we can ask them about the quality of their experience and what they might like to see improved.

Of course, these surveys can be obtrusive if not deployed sensitively. We make sure they only appear on the appropriate pages and don’t interrupt people who are in the middle of completing a transaction of some sort.

We make the majority of the questions multiple choice to keep completion rates high, and we don’t show people more than one survey during their session.

Website screenshot showing Welsh feedback pop-up

Optimising user journeys

We want to understand to what extent people are able to find information on the site quickly and easily. Is the layout intuitive? Are we using the right labels in the website navigation?

To test this, we use a tool called Treejack. It allows us to mock-up a website’s navigation and then set up tasks for people to attempt. These involve asking them to indicate where in the navigational structure they would expect to find certain information.

We then send a link out to people and wait for the results to roll in.

By asking people to complete typical user journeys on the site we can spot sticking points, dead ends, and obstacles.

If a significant percentage of people head off into the wrong section of the site then maybe we need to reconsider the ‘information architecture’. If people make it to the right section but then click on multiple options, maybe we’re not getting the labeling right. All of this is really useful feedback.

Treejack feedback example

Digging deeper with one-to-one usability testing

Those two methods allow us to get really useful feedback at scale. We then balance that with usability testing on a more personal scale.

This involves talking to people one-on-one over Zoom. We ask them to share their screens while we give them a selection of common tasks to carry out on the site. Having the person there in front of us allows us to ask follow up questions to dig deeper into the choices and assumptions that we see playing out. Although when someone gets stuck on something it can be difficult to suppress the urge to lend a hand!

To make sure we were speaking to a representative sample of people, we used a recruitment pop-up on the website and sent people to a screening questionnaire. We then scheduled the session at a time convenient for them.

Pre-covid we would often do these tests in either a dedicated usability testing centre, or on-site at our clients’ premises. We’ve actually found that testing remotely comes with various benefits, in particular:

  • The person taking part is able to use their own equipment, in their own environment, which makes them feel more at ease,
  • Without no requirement to travel, we’re able to test with people who might not otherwise have been available, and
  • If people cancel at short notice (or don’t turn up) it’s not such a big deal.

Make use of what we learn

Getting direct feedback from the museum’s audiences early in the process is incredibly useful for grounding us in how people perceive the website. That’s allowed us to have more informed conversations with people in various departments.

That feedback is also going to drive improvements to the website. In some cases there are some quick fixes to apply. Beyond that, we will be incorporating what we’ve learned into our broader recommendations for the future direction of the website.

Pride 2022

Zoe Gealy, 6 May 2022

After remembering how to pull together such a big event after such a long break, National Waterfront Museum hosted PRIDE on the weekend 30th  April and Mini PRIDE on 1st May.  It was a huge team effort with staff from Community Engagement and Learning, Events and youth Engagement working in partnership with Swansea PRIDE, Swansea City Council and South Wales Police.  Not to mention our fabulous Front of House, Tech team, Cleaners (there was quite a bit of Glitter!!!), Marketing and Elior (sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone – we were all involved a bit).

PRIDE has been the largest ever event at the Waterfront in the past with well over 4000 people attending. We opted this year to focus on being the Community zone for PRIDE with a modest entertainment package, compared to the main stage out on Museum Green which also hosted food stands, merch stalls and drinks vans. 

Inside we had info stands, crafts and community sellers with partners ranging from YMCA Swansea to OXFAM Book swap, Swansea Vikings gay and inclusive rugby team (a popular stand!) Proud councils and Mid and West Wales Fire Service (also strangely popular!) Outside, the GRAFT garden saw a range of fun activities including Circus Skills with Circus Eruption, African drumming, an identity workshop and chalk drawing.  Inside hosted True colours inclusive choir, Mermaids walkabout, Zumba flashmob amongst other things. In the speakers corner we saw a packed out talk and demo lead by Welsh Ballroom, followed by Christopher Anstee’s book launch of his new memoir ‘Polish the Crown’ followed by a thought-provoking Q+A panel discussion, looking at growing up LGBTQ+ and the impact of section 28.

As always, we started the day showing our support as an organisation by joining the parade through town, fortunately the sun shone for us all and the crowds were supportive and very vocal.

The evening showcased The Welsh Ballroom do their thing with their fantastically choreographed, all inclusive, body positive catwalk, with the opportunity for the audience to join in at the end of the show. 

Sunday was all about the little people with another action-packed sparkly day of fun.  There were My Little Pony and Troll Walk Abouts, Crafts and Glitter galore, a packed out Drag Queen Story Hour, What is PRIDE? Q+A for Kids hosted by Good Vibes teens, and culminating in a very fun and very cute mini PRIDE parade through the main hall.

It was such a fantastic weekend, seeing so many familiar faces in REAL LIFE after SO long.  One community partner, on walking into the museum to set up and seeing all of the LGBTQ+ flags and umbrellas had a little cry and said ‘Thank you, I feel like I’ve come home, it’s so nice to feel like I can be me’.

Here’s to 2023…

Nature Finds a Way

Alyson Edwards, 3 May 2022

The Recolonisation of Invertebrates on Restored Grassland:

I’m Alyson, a Professional Training Year placement year student from Cardiff University (School of Biosciences), currently working within the Entomology department at National Museum Cardiff under the supervision of Dr Michael R Wilson (researchgate.net). My interest in ecology, conservation and zoology ultimately led me here, and with no prior specialist knowledge in entomology (the study of insects) I jumped in at the deep end. Within a few months I was sampling in the field and identifying leaf- and planthopper species from Ffos-y-Fran (an open cast colliery site near Merthyr Tydfil). This  is currently undergoing the process of restoration so that it is converted from a colliery site to reseeded grassland.

Sampling in the field at Ffos-y-Fran in July 2021

Samples were then frozen and analysed along with samples taken in 2017-2019

Sorting invertebrate samples using a microscope and forceps into labelled tubes of ‘Hemiptera’, ‘Coleoptera’, ‘Diptera’ and ‘Assorted’ before storing specimens in 80% alcohol for preservation

Identifying and analysing over four years of invertebrate samples, involved looking at 195 samples.  This took a fair amount of time but allows the rate of recolonisation over a 5-year period, total species diversity, richness, and population dynamics within the fields across the years and seasons to be calculated. Leaf- and planthoppers (Hemiptera: Auchenorrhyncha) were chosen as models within this study as they are frequently common within grassland environments and can be used as an indicator of recolonisation progress on man-restored environments and ex-colliery spoil sites. Colliery sites are a common landscape visible across the UK, especially in the south Wales valleys. Their ecological importance and possible biodiversity are often overlooked, however work by Liam Olds (formerly Natural Talent apprentice at Amgueddfa Cymru), continues to highlight this through the Colliery Spoil Biodiversity Initiative (https://www.collieryspoil.com/about).

The 195 samples were sorted into tubes labelled as ‘Hemiptera’, ‘Coleoptera’, ‘Diptera’ and ‘Assorted’

Further sorting of the Hemiptera samples to species level in order to record population and gender numbers

I am currently in the process of analysing this huge data set and creating a report to show the findings. However, in summary, the data has shown a trend of increasing diversity of hopper species within the field since it was reseeded. In total, 33 species were identified from the site – highlighting the ecological importance these habitats hold. Interestingly, grassland species generally uncommon to the area such as the planthopper Xanthodelphax flaveola and the leafhopper Anoscopus histrionicus, were abundant across the site leading to interesting discussion points as to why this environment encourages their colonisation. Other observations and discussions have also arisen from different wing-morphologies (shapes) seen in specimens of the same species. For example, the discovery of long-winged females of Doratura impudica, which are commonly a brachypterous species (short or rudimentary wings) encourages thought on arrival and colonisation methods of certain species, which could potentially help analyse other environments under recolonisation and ‘rewilding’ programmes. 

Uncommon species of grasslands in the area, leafhopper Anoscopus histrionicus (male specimen) were observed frequently at Ffos-y-Fran.

Uncommon species of grasslands in the area, planthopper Xanthodelphax flaveola (male specimen) were observed frequently at Ffos-y-Fran.

Long-winged morphs of Doratura impudica, a brachypterous species (short or rudimentary wings), were observed infrequently across the site

Studying the recolonisation of hoppers at Ffos-y-Fran has allowed me to develop and gain numerous skills which I will take with me into my final year of university and beyond. Not only have I been able to improve on existing skills such as report writing and data analysis, but I’ve also had the opportunity to gain new skills such as invertebrate identification, mounting specimens and taxonomical drawing. I’ve also had the chance to use the Scanning Electron Microscopy and sputter coating, and I have also used the imaging equipment at National Museum Cardiff to create a ‘species guide’ of the 33 observed at Ffos-y-Fran to supplement the report and provide a visual aid. Within my first few months at the museum, I was also able to get involved in a data collection project run by Dr Alan Stewart (University of Sussex), analysing specimens within the Auchenorrhyncha collections to create spreadsheets for the eventual creation of species distribution maps as part of the UK Mapping scheme for this insect group. There are so many opportunities and experiences to be had within the museum!

Looking through the collections and understanding the role of a collections manager

Gaining experience in imaging by photographing Fijian spittlebugs in preparation of redescribing and describing new species

My time with Amgueddfa Cymru has been amazing, conducting research and joining the Natural Sciences team, and has solidified my desire to pursue a career in research. I believe my placement has given me a great start for a future career with the skills I’ve gained and developed through my work on Ffos-y-Fran and my secondary research project. The second project I am currently working on in collaboration with Dr Mike Wilson will provide an up-to-date redescription and description of new species of Fijian spittlebugs with the aim of publication of my first peer-reviewed scientific paper. Watch this space to find out more on the latter project ….