Getting the ‘Researcher Experience’ at the Petrie Museum
By Anna E Garnett, on 21 May 2018
Over the last six months, the Petrie Museum has hosted Amanda Ford Spora, an MA Student in Egyptian Archaeology from the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, who has been using the collection for her Masters’ research. In this guest blog, Amanda discusses her project and some of the outcomes so far.
Archaeologists and museum professionals develop a depth of experience working with objects, right from the trowel edge to the handling desk. It is this experience that is being explored with visitors at the Petrie Museum. One Saturday and two Wednesdays a month, visitors including: families (7 years+), tourists, undergraduate students, ancient Egyptian enthusiasts and the odd archaeologist and professor or two, have the chance to experience a fifteen minute ‘object-based, research-style’ visit at the museum, complete with all the ‘trimmings’, such as gloves, lamp-light, trays, padding and object-supports, in a cordoned-off section of the pottery gallery.
Throughout the last six months, I have been conducting research for my MA Dissertation at the Petrie Museum, bringing together two great passions, education and Egyptian archaeology. I am committed to making collections as accessible as possible, and I mean to everyday folk, not only researchers and academics. Rest assured I don’t have a fanciful notion of striding into the museum, with a large bunch of keys in hand, unlocking display cases and letting folk run rampant, handling artefacts with nothing more than fifteen minutes experience!
Let’s be honest that’s not how it works for anyone, even with far greater experience. The Petrie Museum, because of the depth of the collection, attracts the top international professionals across many disciplines for research visits, as well as hosting UCL students from all levels of study. All of which is conducted under conditions that hold to a professional standard of respect and safety for objects and people.
Accordingly, the challenge was finding a way to respectfully and safely engage our visitors in a similar experience. To that end, all the equipment mentioned is engaged to support the research visit in much the same way as it does for professionals working with objects and sessions host two participants at a time, or up to four (for families), providing a manageable, yet personal and intense encounter. Each session begins with a short training regime about handling, Amanda is on hand to facilitate, and younger participants run through a ‘demo’, as well as having mum or dad for assistance.
Beyond that it is really the objects who call the shots! My focus is to build an experience for visitors to explore objects, and that includes all manner of museum objects, ‘authentic’ artefacts, excavated, collected, acquired and replicas too. Participants are encouraged to investigate the objects presented in each session considering their weight, texture, decoration, colour, wear marks, and condition, and there are resources on hand from the Museum catalogue, the new Petrie Museum App, timeline, floorplan and facilitator assistance. The aim is to assist visitors in using similar skills as professionals to engage with objects first-hand.
Visitors have been so appreciative to participate, expressing their surprise at being offered the opportunity, they commented that it was a privilege, unexpected, rare, unique, cool, once in a lifetime and very emotional. Many people expressed how the opportunity to touch history made it more real, brought it to life and was better than just seeing through glass.
“To give my children a chance to make a connection with the past, it might lead to them being more interested in it rather than just seeing it as a school topic, so they can see how real the past is”
“I could imagine myself in ancient Egypt using them”
“Really great to get thinking about the objects from the point of view of an archaeologist”
“I hope this could be widely practiced in the industry of museum exhibitions”
Anonymous participant comments from the MA dissertation research
It’s not all fun and ‘awe’, though, as there has also been work to be done with a survey and questionnaire that participants complete at the end of their session and which will form the bulk of consideration for the dissertation discussion.
We are so fortunate to be custodians of heritage from Egypt and Sudan, and part of that responsibility is in sharing narratives about heritage and giving people the opportunity to build their own stories with the objects in the Petrie Museum.
Amanda is an MA student in the Institute of Archaeology, UCL.