“Science in the Classroom” shows the value of research in cultural heritage

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Last 24 January, a new session of “Science in the Classroom” was held in the Spanish School Vicente Cañada Blanch in London. In this occasion, the speaker was Ana Cabrera Lafuente, PhD in History of Medieval Arts, curator in the National Museum of Decorative Arts of Madrid, and Marie Skłodowska-Curie research fellow in the Victoria and Albert Museum of London. Her talk was entitled “Research in cultural heritage: beyond Indiana Jones”. 

Multidisciplinary endeavours in museums

Ana started her speech asking students about what they understood for “heritage”, which triggered an interactive debate with students fully engaging for the whole session. Ana used some examples of heritage such as outfits, vessels and other tools, to explain the comprehensive effort for a good preservation, from the very collection of items in the field to its exhibition and digitalization in museums. 

According to Ana, “I aimed to explain them that the profile of people working in heritage is quite broad, and it is a job opportunity to take into account if they are interested in this field, in which research has such a key role”. Indeed, some students were surprised when Ana told them how different professionals, from archaeologists and historians to computing engineers, physicists, chemists, and biologists, work altogether for preserving cultural heritage. Ana said that “while the border between Science and Humanities is less defined day by day, any endeavour now requires more than ever of a multidisciplinary approach”.

The curator also spoke about the importance of the layout and exhibition of all materials in museums, as well as the communication strategy for exhibitions. In her words, “a very important aspect of this effort is the focus on the general public. Even when you do basic research, you have to think in how to make it available to the general public”. And so, the archaeologist gave some examples of augmented virtual reality that have been applied in museums recently. 

Heritage as an intersection between culture and science

Taking into consideration the interest of students, Ana reckoned “I was surprised by the amount and range of different questions they made. It took time to engage with some students but, at the end of the day, all sessions were very participative”. 

According to Lorenzo Melchor, organiser of “Science in the Classroom” and FECYT Science Coordinator in the Spanish Embassy in London, “Ana knew how to bring the attention of the students without a doubt. She gave such a good talk with a clear multidisciplinary approach to show the intersection between Sciences and Humanities. More than a student approached me at the end of the sessions to let me know this had been the best session of their year”. 

We also had as a special guest Carmen Palomo, Teacher in Linguistics and Literature in the Spanish School Vicente Cañada Blanch in London. She praised Ana for “her communication skills, her enthusiasm and her knowledge”. Carmen celebrated that the curator used some practical examples to illustrate how “scientific and technological progress generates a revealing approach that shed lights over the shadows of Humanities, whereas the latter provides a critical approach to the former, by linking fields such as History, Biology, Arts, Physics, Teaching, Chemistry, Archaeology, Botany or Museology”. Carmen said that “Science in the Classroom” triggers “a teaching dynamics very productive and thought-provoking” and that Ana had delivered such an extraordinary perspective about our heritage, its ability to tell the history of humankind, and the crucial cultural and economic value of museums in our society. 

Ana concluded, “’Science in the Classroom’ has allowed me to get ready to any kind of questions from students. I think it is an experience to be recommended”. 

About Science in the Classroom

“Science in the Classroom” is a programme organised by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) and the Office for Cultural and Scientific Affairs of the Embassy of Spain in London, by which a scientist or an engineer per month visits 14-18 years-old students in the Spanish School Vicente Cañada Blanch in London until the end of the term. This programme began in the year 2015-2016 and continues with its second edition during 2016-2017. It is also supported by the Spanish Education Office in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, the Spanish School Vicente Cañada Blanch, and the Society of Spanish Researchers in the United Kingdom (SRUK/CERU). “Science in the Classroom” is embedded in the FECYT line of action related to the promotion of scientific culture and dissemination, and support for internationalization of Spanish science. 

About Ana Cabrera Lafuente

Ana has a Degree in Prehistory and Archaeology by the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in 1990 and a PhD in History of Medieval Arts by the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Her PhD was focused on collections of Egyptian textiles from Late Antiquity and Medieval Ages from the Muse Tèxtil i d’Índumentaria of Barcelona, it was finished in 2005 and supervised by Dr Laura Rodríguez Peinado. Since 2002, she is a museum curator in the National Museum of Decorative Arts of Madrid. Among other projects, she has been involved in the European project ARTSENSE about Augmented Reality applied to museums or in the virtual exhibition “Sharing History: Arab world-Europe 1815-1918”.  Since 2016, she works as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie research fellow in the Victoria and Albert Museum of London with the European Project #703711 ““Interwoven: Collecting, Displaying, and Understanding Textiles in Decorative Arts Museums: Comparative Approaches in London and Madrid”. Her professional and research expertise is focused mostly in collections management and museum databases, and textiles. She is author or collaborator on 4 monographs, 1 exhibition catalogue, 28 book chapters and articles in proceedings and 13 articles in reviews. She has written 79 catalogue entries.


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