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UCL events news and reviews


Archaeological ghost stories: M.R. James at the Petrie Museum

By Katherine Aitchison, on 30 July 2012

Petrie Museum events are fast becoming a firm fixture in my diary, not least because of the ghostly subject matter that they tend to cover. I’ve been to talks about psychics and curses, but for the latest event (on 19 July) we turned to some archaeological ghost stories.

The action centred on one man: M.R. James and the stories he was inspired to write during his career as an academic at Cambridge and Eton.

James is famous for bringing ghost stories out of their customary Gothic setting and into more contemporary, everyday locations and for being one of the first authors to use antiquarians as the main protagonists.

Dr Gabriel Moshenska of the UCL Institute of Archaeology took us on a journey through his research into the inspiration behind James’ stories and showed how elements of James’ extraordinary life were reflected in many of his works.

As the son of a rector, James spent much of his childhood in or around churches in Suffolk, which served as the settings for many of his stories.


Archaeology and Contemporary Society

By news editor, on 15 March 2012

With on-going national debates about cultural identity, funding for the arts, planning and the environment, there is no doubt that archaeology has a role to play in contemporary society.

On 12 March, the UCL Institute of Archaeology hosted a panel debate on this topic as part of a programme of events to mark its 75th anniversary.

The debate was chaired by cultural analyst and consultant Professor Sara Selwood and the panellists represented a very diverse set of viewpoints on archaeology and the human past.


Are museums failing us?

By news editor, on 9 March 2012

A distinguished panel of experts agreed that, in general, museums are failing the public they are intended to serve. That was the resounding opinion of four heritage professionals forming the panel for the UCL Institute of Archaeology’s debate entitled “Presenting the past” held on Monday 5 March.

David Clarke, former Keeper of Archaeology at the National Museum of Scotland, complained that museums all display things the same way, slavishly sticking to a chronological walk through their exhibits, when the majority of visitors to a museum care little whether an artefact is 200 or 2,000 years old.

Dominic Tweddle, Director General of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, described the majority of museum displays as “stultifyingly boring” and bemoaned the uniformity of approach. He highlighted the need for creativity in display in order to excite the public, in the same way that archaeologists and curators are excited by the past.


Archaeology and Politics

By news editor, on 5 March 2012

The economic crisis has brought into sharp focus the relationship between archaeology and public resources. It was within this context that, as part of the UCL Institute of Archaeology’s 75th Anniversary Series, a debate was convened on 27 February to tackle the issue of Archaeology and Politics.

A Question Time-style format brought forth the opinions of the panel which consisted of Bridget Fox (former Deputy Leader of Islington Council), Jenny Jones (ex-archaeologist and member of the London Assembly), Neal Ascherson (journalist and leading commentator on public archaeology) and Tim Schadla-Hall (Reader in Public Archaeology and the Institute’s resident politician-botherer). Wrestling control of the issues in the Chair was Mark D’Arcy, a BBC Parliamentary Correspondent.

The Chair kicked off the debate and hit the main concern head-on when he asked how the panel would campaign for archaeology in an age of austerity.

In response to this and later questions from the audience, archaeology’s clear contribution in relation to education, international relations and local community engagement was discussed.