In August 2020, I was awarded an ICS Public Engagement Award to implement a new public engagement initiative with the Egypt Centre, Egypt and Its Neighbours: object-centred approaches to articulating local identity and cultural diversity in antiquity. The project – to install a new display and develop a range of educational resources – grew out of a recognised need to engage our students and visitors with the museum’s classical artefacts. Feedback from students and the wider public confirmed that this was needed and the opportunity to create a display of this nature gave us a chance to engage audiences with a range of topical issues. Looking outwards from Egypt and thinking about its relationship with the surrounding regions (i.e. the Levant, Asia Minor, and the Mediterranean) also provided the ideal springboard to encourage discussion around connectivity, local identity formation, tolerance and inclusivity in the ancient world. More than this, artefacts that have not been on display for a very long time would be put back in the spotlight!
A little over six months have passed and, despite the ongoing challenges that COVID-19 has presented, a lot has been going on behind the scenes to develop this initiative.
So far, extensive discussions via email and Zoom have taken place with Ken Griffin and Hannah Sweetapple (the Egypt Centre’s Collections Access Manager and Education Officer respectively) about the practicalities of installing the display, the items that will be on show in the cabinet, and developing literature such as information panels, labels, and a range of educational resources for our visitors. Together we have confirmed the number and selection of objects that will go on display, considered their arrangement, and have made significant progress developing educational materials to accompany the display.
With the uncertainties of the past year (notably issues surrounding access because of the need to social distance) at the forefront of our attention, we have approached planning for launch of this display mindful that our resources can be accessible to our audiences whether the museum is open to the public or whether remote engagement and learning has to be maintained. For this reason, our priority has been drafting the accompanying booklet (based on the existing Egypt Centre Highlights booklet) as this can immediately be made available to visitors digitally. We have also focussed on creating educational resources that can be used remotely by schools and these will be tailored for Key Stage groups 1-5 in line with the Welsh Curriculum. For the start of the 2021/2022 school year we will have loan boxes inspired by the Egypt and its Neighbours display case ready-prepared. Loan boxes will include a replica of an artefact, information about the object and a guide of associated activities to engage students with understanding core topics and developing skills (such as, religion and art, and team working, communication, and problem solving). We are determined that our audiences who normally engage with the collection do not lose out on engaging all of their senses with the ancient world (a potential danger when exploring antiquity digitally) and so we are exploring the possibilities of including accompanying materials that evoke sounds and smells (all pleasant!) in the loan boxes. To find out more about the loan box scheme see here.
Ken has also made significant progress rehousing artefacts from the Amarna case (which will be re-named and house objects selected for the Egypt and its Neighbours display) in the House of Life gallery. Some items have been trickier than others to move because of their weight and size, but this re-organisation has facilitated a re-think of existing displays and new artefacts have been brought out of storage. For example, the larger storage jar (W193 – check it out on our catalogue!) on the far left is now on display having recently been conserved at Cardiff University as part of an AIM/Pilgrim Trust conservation grant. This is the first time that this large vessel has been displayed to the public at the Egypt Centre.
While great progress have been made, there is still much to do…
Over the coming months a number of tasks will be completed. For example, photographing the remaining artefacts (for the catalogue) before their installation in the display case is a priority, specialist stands for some of the objects will be designed and created, all objects destined for the display will be brought out of storage and arranged in the case, labels to accompany the artefacts will be written and printed…. Finally, the information panel for the case will be written, translated into Welsh (as it will be bilingual), printed, and installed.
As already mentioned, we are aiming to launch the display case and have its associated educational resources ready in time for the 2021/2022 academic year, whether visitors are able to see the objects in person or engaging with these new materials will have to be done remotely.