Student Engagement with the Living Cultures Collection

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Students from the East Asian Studies programme explore highlight objects from the Museum’s Chinese collections led by Stephen Welsh, Curator of Living Cultures and Dr Pierre Fuller, Lecturer in East Asian History

Students are introduced to the Museum’s collections as part of formal teaching programmes in several different departments across the university. Our curators and conservators deliver teaching on many courses, both in the classroom and in the museum itself. In recent visits to the Living Cultures stores from students on the Archaeology, Social Anthropology and East Asian Studies courses, we have aimed to inspire students to carry out research using the collections. There are many objects in the collections which would make fascinating topics for original research, as we only know a very small amount about their histories.

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Christian Pollard, (pictured, left), visited the Anthropology Collection stores as part of a seminar for the East Asian Studies programme in December 2014:

“We got to see some really interesting artefacts enhanced by having the curator there to guide us through the objects. It was certainly a worthwhile trip for anyone who is simply interested in finding out more about history or for someone thinking about a dissertation topic in need of an interesting, and maybe even unstudied, artefact.

Thank you very much for having us, I really enjoyed being able to get a look at something physical as opposed to documents.”

Students also engage with the museum collections through work placements, volunteering or as part of extra-curricular societies. Recently, I was asked to run a workshop for ArchSoc, the University of Manchester’s Archaeology Society, to introduce cataloguing and collections management to a small group of undergraduate students from across three year groups. As well as showing the group a small section of our stores ‘behind the scenes’, I also gave them the chance to have a go at writing a simple catalogue record for an object. This allowed us to discuss the importance of recording context and provenance, and of effective collections management in the museum setting.

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Students from the University of Mancheser’s Archaeology Society have a go at cataloguing using objects in the collection

There are many ways in which the work of the Museum overlaps and collaborates with its academic colleagues in other departments in the University; from showcasing research through the temporary exhibition programme, to hosting talks, conferences and events. Our collections include field collections from Manchester’s academics and students, and are informed by their research. We aim to engage and inspire students wherever possible, showing that there are many different ways to use the collections, and many relevant contemporary conversations to be had around our historic objects.

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Getting a Grip: Students at Manchester Museum

Last week 100 University of Manchester first year archaeology students visited Manchester Museum for a series of world archaeology seminars. The students were invited into the Living Cultures storerooms where they handled a wide variety of objects ranging from Nazca ceramics to Mursi lip-plates. The objects spanned several millennia in age and originated from across Africa, Asia and the Americas. The seminars allowed students to develop the necessary skills to interrogate material culture and consider pursuing further object based research.

University of Manchester world archaeology seminar at Manchester Museum, 2014.

University of Manchester world archaeology seminar at Manchester Museum, 2014.

The seminars were organised with university colleague and long-time Manchester Museum collaborator Professor Tim Insoll. Tim regularly uses the African collection in his teaching and has also co-curated exhibitions including Fragmentary Ancestors: Figurines from Koma Land, Ghana http://bit.ly/1Dsqddo. Tim’s recently graduated PhD student Dr Bryn James also used the African collection, specifically the West African medical and ritual objects, in his doctoral research. The exhibition Exploring African Medicine which documents this research and his accompanying contemporary fieldwork in Accra, Ghana, is currently on display in the reception area.

Exploring African Medicine exhibition, Manchester Museum, 2014.

Exploring African Medicine exhibition, Manchester Museum, 2014.

As a university museum Manchester Museum is dedicated to providing access to our collections for student teaching and research. When the newly refurbished third floor of the museum opens in summer 2015 there’ll be a brand new state-of-the-art space dedicated to just that.

A Truly Amaizing Culture

Over the past several decades anthropologists active in the field of ancient Peruvian civilisation have scrutinised the role played by the grain maize. This may seem like a rather odd thing to be scrutinising but how a civilisation feeds itself has a remarkable impact on how it develops. Ancient civilisations that became dependant on farming, such as Egypt and China, established permanent settlements.  The consequence of this was the development of traits that we attribute to a civilisation, such as monumental architecture and organised religion. Recently a consortium of north and south American higher education institutions, including the Field Museum, Chicago, USA,  published a paper confirming that the rise of ancient Peruvian civilisation was linked to the extensive farming of maize during the Late Archaic period (3000–1800 BCE). You can read the full paper at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/02/19/1219425110

Ancient maize excavated from a tomb. Peru, South America. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

Ancient maize excavated from a tomb. Peru, South America. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

Manchester Museum has a wealth of ancient Peruvian artefacts including textiles, ceramics and tools, some of which are on display in the World Cultures gallery. Amongst these manufactured objects are several pieces of ancient maize excavated from Peruvian tombs. The fact maize was buried with the deceased person highlights its social and cultural significance.

Ancient maize excavated from a tomb. Peru, South America. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

Ancient maize excavated from a tomb. Peru, South America. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.