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Revealing the Characters behind the Petrie Museum Collection

Anna E Garnett28 September 2020

During Spring/Summer 2020, when UCL was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, UCL Culture’s curatorial team worked with students from the Institute of Archaeology’s MA Museum Studies on our first-ever virtual work placements. These projects, which included archive transcription, documentation and object label writing, provided opportunities for the students to gain practical curatorial skills to prepare them for their future careers while undertaking valuable work towards better understanding the collections.

This blog post was written by Giulia Marinos and Alexandra BakerUCL MA Museum Studies students. 

Margaret Murray when she received her honorary doctorate from UCL in 1927 (Petrie Museum Archive)

The Petrie Museum is named after the Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, but there are many other individuals whose work was also integral to the development of the Museum and its collection. As part of our summer placement project, we have designed object trails for each of these little-known ‘characters’, telling the story of their lives and work through objects that can be found in the Petrie. This project complements the recently redeveloped entrance gallery of the Petrie Museum that highlights several individuals that were involved in the collection and preservation of the museum.

Margaret Murray

 One of our object trails explores the fascinating life and work of the archaeologist, Egyptologist, feminist and centenarian Margaret Murray (1863–1963). One of Petrie’s first Egyptology students, Murray soon played a vital role in the development and running of UCL’s Department of Egyptology. Importantly, Murray took over Petrie’s teaching duties when he was away on excavation (which was for most of the year!). It is Murray who we should thank for training subsequent generations of successful UCL Egyptologists and archaeologists, including Gertrude Caton-Thompson, Veronica Seton-Williams and Robert Faulkner. Murray’s object trail sheds light on her important work, which has often been overshadowed by that of Petrie.

Ali Suefi

Ali Suefi (Petrie Museum Archive)

Another trail focuses on Ali Suefi, an Egyptian fisherman from Lahun who oversaw excavations in Egypt for over 30 years, and who Petrie called his ‘best lad’. The trail includes some of the objects that Ali Suefi is credited to have found. We are lucky to know as much as we do about Ali Suefi from the details documented in the Petrie Museum’s archives, but it is important to consider how many other people were involved and contributed to Petrie’s success and fame that do not get any recognition. This is due in part to the skewed biases of archives: what gets preserved and what is deemed important to record at the time. It is also likely due in part to the unequal power dynamics and systematic disenfranchisement of Egyptians in the fields of archaeology and Egyptology.

 Our research project—to recognize the many diverse voices and individuals involved in the Petrie Museum collection—reflects wider efforts within the fields of archaeology and Egyptology. Such disciplines historically focused on ‘heroic’ white-male figures at the exclusion and expense of the agencies of the many actors involved in the processes of excavation, collecting and museum work.

To learn more about the often-under-recognised individuals in the fields of Egyptology and Archaeology, we recommend Wendy Doyon’s 2017 chapter “The History of Archaeology through the Eyes of the Egyptians” and Alice Stevenson’s Scattered Finds, available as a free download from UCL Press.

Giulia Marinos and Alexandra Baker are MA Museum Studies students at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology. Their summer placement was designed and supported by Dr. Anna Garnett, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology.

Stories from the Visitor Book: Petrie Museum Visitors in the mid-Twentieth Century

Anna E Garnett28 September 2020

During Spring/Summer 2020, when UCL was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, UCL Culture’s curatorial team worked with students from the Institute of Archaeology’s MA Museum Studies on our first-ever virtual work placements. These projects, which included archive transcription, documentation and object label writing, provided opportunities for the students to gain practical curatorial skills to prepare them for their future careers while undertaking valuable work towards better understanding the collections.

This blog post was written by Alexandra Baker and Yanning ZhaoUCL MA Museum Studies students. 

Petrie Museum Visitor Book

When thinking about the Petrie Museum, the first thing that might come to mind is its vast collection: from ancient Egyptian artefacts to Flinders Petrie’s own personal belongings. As visitors, we can always discover interesting facts about those objects. However, did you know that museum visitor books also tell a story about the past? They are more than simply a list of names and addresses.

During summer 2020, our team transcribed 82 pages from the Museum’s visitor book and made fascinating findings about museum visitors between 1937 and 1959.

Three fun facts about our visitors:

Made by Visme

  1. We had more international visitors than you might think!

You might think the Petrie Museum attracts more UCL staff and students than people from other parts of the world, but our findings show that international scholars regularly visited the museum in the last century (the orange sections on the map indicate where visitors came from). Many historical events happened between the 1930s and 1950s, but that did not stop people from all over the world visiting the museum. These international visitors travelled to London from Spain, France, and from even further afield including Chile and Japan.

  1. Most international visitors were from the United States

It seems that the majority of international visitors were from the US. Most of them recorded the cities and regions they came from, including New York, Phoenix and Boston.

  1. English is not the only language used by visitors

We have faced some challenges to translate the language that some visitors use into English. For example, one Japanese scholar used Japanese to record the name of his university. Another visitor from Berlin, surprisingly, used hieroglyphs to record their name as ‘Neferneferuaten Nefertiti’!

Famous Egyptologists also visited the Petrie Museum:

L to R: Hilda Petrie (Petrie Museum Archive); Olga Tufnell (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olga_Tufnell); 
Sidney Smith (https://www.cambridge.org)

The visitor book also shows us that big names in Egyptology visited the Petrie Museum during this time, highlighting how the collection was, and still is, an important resource for the study of Egyptian Archaeology. Our famous visitors included:

A. F. Shore (Who was Who in Egyptology 5, p. 451)

  1. Hilda Petrie: Egyptologist and archaeologist
  2. Olga Tufnell: Archaeologist who worked on the excavation of the ancient city of Lachish in the 1930s
  3. Sidney Smith: Assyriologist who worked at the Iraq Museum, British Museum, UCL and King’s College London
  4. A. F. Shore: Scholar and Brunner Professor of Egyptology at the University of Liverpool

Many of our visitors were students!

The Petrie Museum’s visitor book also shows us how popular the museum was amongst students from UCL and beyond. Students visited the Museum from a range of disciplines, from archaeology to physics, and interestingly art students often visited it. Working closely with students and scholars from around the world is an important part of the museum’s work that continues today.

Alexandra Baker and Yanning Zhao are MA Museum Studies students at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology. Their summer placement was designed and supported by Dr. Anna Garnett, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology.

 

Soon turned out we had a heart of papier-mâché

Mark Carnall16 June 2015

Every year UCL Museum Studies students get to choose an object from each of UCL’s museums and collections to research for a term. This is a guest blog by Jennifer Esposti one of this year’s students looking at a mysterious model. 

LDUCZ-X118 Image of  crocodile heart model at Grant Museum of Zoology UCL

LDUCZ-X118 Auzoux model of crocodile heart

Greetings! My name is Jennifer and I am a postgraduate student in UCL’s Museum Studies program. As part of my MA, I took a course called Collections Curatorship. This course entailed working within a group of students to research a museum object. I was assigned to the natural history group, to investigate an object from the Grant Museum. My group and I were presented with three possible objects and we selected a crocodile heart model known as Object LDUCZ-X118.  Here’s what we found out.
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‘Second Person Looking Out’: The Sixth Annual Slade School of Fine Art / UCL Art Museum collaboration

ucwchrc29 May 2014

'Getting close but then again not close at all' by Olga Koroleva

‘Getting close but then again not close at all’ by Olga Koroleva

The themes, materials and presentations of the annual collaborations have varied immensely, and this year there is a great diversity within the exhibition itself. The range of media is particularly striking, as is the way digital technologies have been used and portrayed to give new experiences of space – particularly the spaces of the UCL Art Museum itself.

There are four time-based media works and one beautifully crafted light box installation, giving emphasis to technological media within the show. However, an array of oil paintings, intricate drawings, etchings and even a bronze cast are also part of this exhibition.

 

'Entombment' by Lara Smithson

‘Entombment’ by Lara Smithson

Glowing at the back of the UCL Art Museum, in between the cupboards storing prints, is one of the most enchanting works of all. This is the light box, which constitutes the installation entitled ‘Entombment’ by Lara Smithson. It cleverly depicts the somewhat hidden UCL Art Museum painting store, giving us a glimpse of the racks of paintings mostly by former Slade students. This image has been overlaid with a painting by the artist herself, which results in a merging of different types of artistic spaces and temporalities. ‘Entombment’ seems to reveal things behind the surface (most notably the UCL painting store), while also reflecting on the (literal) surface of painting and the material properties – or potentials – of glass.

Another work that interrogates the materiality of its medium alongside its processes of production is a bronze cast work called ‘Fonte’ by Maxima Smith. This artwork achieves this using the word ‘fonte’ as both the subject matter and form of the work. In this way, the work prompts investigation into the etymology of the word ‘fonte’. The meanings include ‘to spring’ and ‘to pour’, actions that can be linked to the process and discourse of bronze casting itself.

'Fonte' by Maxima Smith

‘Fonte’ by Maxima Smith

A play with words is also immediately apparent in Katja Larsson’s hand carved slate, entitled ‘Hullmandel 4:3’. Here the artist has decontextualised a phrase she has taken from Charles Joseph Hullmandel’s 1835 lithography manual. Using this lithographic manual as a source is both a subtle and pertinent reference to the main body of the UCL Art Museum’s collection of artworks, which are prints. The artist’s chosen words are beautifully carved onto the slate – a process that mirrors the processes of printmaking. Using slate as the medium also reminds us of the lithographic process, being a traditional tool and material in lithographic production. This emphasis on process and action reflects one of the dominant themes in the entire exhibition.

‘Second Person Looking Out’ is on show at the UCL Art Museum weekdays 1-5pm until 13 June. On Friday 13 June the exhibition will become part of the One Day Festival in the City with several of the artists from the exhibition extending ideas from their work to engage visitors in interactive installations and other creative activities. More information on this to follow, so check this blog again soon. 

 

Helen Cobby is a volunteer at UCL Art Museum and studying for an MA in the History of Art at UCL