The 2002 Conference

The UMAC 2002 Conference was held in Sydney and Canberra in Australia from Sunday 29 September - Friday 4 October 2002.

The title and theme of the conference was: Exposing and Exploiting the Distinct Character of University Museums and Collections.

New forms of cooperation to take shape between Helsinki University Museum and students

Kati Heinamies
Chief Curator, Helsinki University Museum

The Helsinki University Museum will open on its new premises in November 2003. In addition to the objects and documents pertaining to the history of the University, the new museum will house the collections of medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine. Furthermore, the Mineralogical Division of the Finnish Museum of Natural History, which is another major museum operating under the University of Helsinki, will return to the renovated museum building where, in fact, it has been located since the completion of the building in 1869. The museum will exhibit the history of Finnish scholarship and the history of the University of Helsinki, which went closely hand in hand for about three hundred years. So far, Finland has not had a museum specialising exclusively in the history of science and scholarship.

The museum will be appropriately staffed for keeping it open to the public on a regular basis. This will be a radical improvement on the present situation, where most of the collections are available to the public by appointment only and the number of annual visitors has not exceeded a couple of hundred. However, as the number of staff will continue to be restricted, new forms of cooperation with the expert staff and students of university departments will be in great demand.

The University of Helsinki is in the process of enhancing teaching in museum studies by establishing a lectureship in the field. Up until now, courses in museum studies have been held by a part-time department coordinator. The aim is that the lecturer in museum studies will work in close cooperation with the University Museum, and it is precisely these forms of cooperation that are being explored during this autumn.

The new museum premises will have a small space reserved for temporary exhibitions. This space could provide museum studies students with the opportunity to design and mount an exhibition under the supervision of the lecturer in museum studies at some point of their studies. While the students would be responsible for the content provision and mounting of the exhibition, as well for producing written exhibition materials and acting as guides, the museum would provide the necessary facilities and funds.

Naturally, the University Museum will also provide training placements for students of museum studies. The Finnish government supports the practical training of university students by subsidising their salaries, either fully or partly. In most cases the trainees are employed by the public sector, in jobs related to their studies, over a period of three months during the summer. The goals of the practical training are to familiarise students with the professional tasks related to their field of study and to enhance their ability to apply theoretical knowledge in these tasks. Apart from offering students an insider's view of working life, the training also provides them with work experience which will be a valuable asset when they seek employment after graduation. In addition to museum studies students, the museums of the University of Helsinki offer training placements to students of history, art history, ethnology and archaeology. The duties of museum trainees will involve the everyday running of a museum: in addition to collections management, they will conduct guided tours, with an emphasis on interacting with visitors.

Guided tours need not be limited to the confines of the museum: students could also lead guided walks on University premises and inform visitors of the University's history and its research activities. The University Museum is ideally located for this purpose: it is situated near the Senate Square, in the middle of the City Centre Campus, and thus in the very heart of Helsinki. Similar tours were organised already in 2000 when Helsinki was one of the European Cities of Culture. Over a period of one month, students arranged guided tours in the vicinity of the Senate Square. Visitors were allowed access to such buildings and sites of historical interest in the city centre which otherwise remain closed to the general public, including premises owned by the University, the City of Helsinki or the State (for instance the Council of State building). Interested visitors were also offered special theme tours led by experts. The geological tours, for example, which provided information on the different types and origins of stone used in the construction of the city, were especially popular.

It is important that students will regard the Helsinki University Museum as their own museum. By happy coincidence, the student nations, the oldest student societies in Finland, celebrate their 360th birthday in 2003, the same year the new University Museum will be opened. Students at the University of Helsinki have wanted to celebrate the occasion by organising an exhibition and various other related events. The first special exhibition of the new museum will thus feature student life and the activities of the student societies (nations). The planning of this exhibition has been left to the students, and it will offer a slightly less formal alternative to the perhaps somewhat dryly academic permanent exhibition of the Helsinki University Museum.

Copyright © 2002 Kati Heinamies. All rights reserved.

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