Alumni

Alumni profile - Harriet Reed

I have always been passionate about history, museums and the past lives of objects. Working at the V&A has been a privilege, not only in terms of its collection, but to collaborate with colleagues equally as passionate about history and public engagement.

(History BA, 2013)

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Why did you choose to study History at Queen Mary?

As the capital for culture, I knew I wanted to study in London and take advantage of all the museums, galleries and theatres on offer. But I chose Queen Mary in particular because of the breadth and diversity of its course modules, which allowed me to study everything from contemporary art to the French revolution.

What did you enjoy most about your degree and your time at Queen Mary in general?

There was so much on offer while studying at Queen Mary; living in a vibrant area of London, the access to London libraries, museums and historic buildings, and the opportunity to take work placements or get involved with huge cultural events. My time at Queen Mary coincided with the 2012 Olympics held nearby in Stratford, which meant I could volunteer with the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Alongside the depth and expertise within the History department, it was these additional opportunities which made my time special.

Whilst at Queen Mary, and afterwards, you volunteered at various museums, and following your undergraduate degree, you went on to do a master’s in Decorative Arts and Historic Interiors at the University of Buckingham. What were these experiences like and when did you decide that this was the career path you wanted to pursue?

I was always interested in a museum career, but it was my second year at Queen Mary when I started looking for work experience. It was hard work to balance internships on top of studies, but it provided vital insight into working practices and the culture of museum work. My MA was fantastic in developing further knowledge, meeting museum professionals and included an exhibition project which tested my curating skills!

My degree was essential for my current role. Not only in terms of research and critical skills, but also because of the encouragement to study cross-discipline modules. The V&A collection traverses five centuries and all continents; it was essential that I had a curiosity and interest in a variety of subject areas.

You now work as an Assistant Curator at the V&A museum. What does this role involve?

It is an incredibly varied role. I sit in the Theatre and Performance Department, which is the national collection for the performing arts, covering theatre, dance, music, opera, pantomime, circus, and musicals. My job is a mixture of cataloguing objects, research, public enquiries, talks and tours, developing exhibitions and processing acquisitions.

You’re currently working on an exhibition, ‘Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser’, which you’re working on in collaboration with Queen Mary Professor, Kiera Vaclavik. Can you tell us about this exhibition, yours and Professor Vaclavik’s involvement, and when it will be opening?

I am the Assistant Curator working with Senior Curator Kate Bailey on ‘Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser’ which will open on 22nd May 2021. It explores the genesis and legacy of Lewis Carroll’s books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. From film to fashion to food, the exhibition will be an immersive and mind-bending journey through our subterranean Sainsbury Gallery. Kiera has been a key academic advisor on the exhibition, feeding into the development of the concept and narrative – and also collaborating on some exciting upcoming events.

How did your History degree help prepare you for your career and are there any skills that you gained from your degree that you still use today?

My degree was essential for my current role. Not only in terms of research and critical skills, but also because of the encouragement to study cross-discipline modules. The V&A collection traverses five centuries and all continents; it was essential that I had a curiosity and interest in a variety of subject areas.

What do you love most about what you do and how does your job allow you to explore your passions?

I have always been passionate about history, museums and the past lives of objects. Working at the V&A has been a privilege, not only in terms of its collection, but to collaborate with colleagues equally as passionate about history and public engagement.

What are some of your career highlights so far?

I have worked on some amazing projects over the past few years. Working on ‘Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser’ has definitely been a highlight, from the realization of the physical install of objects to the publication of the exhibition catalogue.

What are your hopes and plans for your career going forwards?

I am looking forward to taking new opportunities as they come, whether it’s an exhibition, acquisition or publication. I hope to continue to explore and cultivate our amazing Theatre and Performance collection.

What would your advice be to students interested in pursuing a career in curation?

My advice would be to gain paid work experience where you can, especially at smaller museums where you may garner more varied experience and responsibility. You may also initially be interested in curation but find yourself drawn to education programmes or exhibition management. Find the aspects you enjoy the most and be flexible – you may end up taking a sideways route to your dream role!

'Alice: Curioser and Curioser' opens on Saturday 22nd May. Find out more and purchase tickets.

This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Nathalie Grey. If you would like to get in touch with Harriet or engage her in your work, please contact Nathalie at n.grey@qmul.ac.uk.