Student Engagement with the Living Cultures Collection


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.


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.


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.

Travel the World Big Saturday: Guest Blog by Sajia Sultana

Travel the World Big Saturday was held on Saturday 2nd of August between 11am and 4pm. The day involved families travelling back in time and across the globe. Families enjoyed world music performances, met curators and saw objects from the museum’s collections and created musical shakers.

Here are the various music performances which were held during the day. Upon arrival families enjoyed Chinese music performances on traditional instruments, the Erhu and the Guzheng. This was performed by Henry Fung and Mei Mei Wu.

1Families then enjoyed African Storytelling with Chanje Kunda from Zambia. The stories included fables which illustrated to the children how to stay safe. The children also played with African toys and fabrics.


Our journey continued to Northern India with Kanchan Maradan who performed the Kathak dance. The word Kathak is derived from ‘Katha’ meaning the ‘the art of storytelling’.


In the afternoon families travelled to Iran with Arian Sadr to enjoy Iranian Frame Drumming.


At the end of the journey families had a chance to participate in the traditional Chinese Fan Dance (which resembles a field of butterflies) with Mei-Mei Wu.



You can see some of the performances in the film below:

Children and adults were asked to describe their day at Manchester Museum in one word. Here are their comments:

‘Splendid’ ‘Amazing’ ’Interactive’ ‘Interesting’ ‘Educational’ ’Extraordinary’ Excellent’ ’Brilliant’ ‘Illuminating’ ’Exciting’ ‘Fascinating’ ‘Inspiring’ ’Great’

Visit the following link to find out more about Big Saturday:

Visit our page on Facebook Global Explorer:

Sajia Sultana is a Summer Public Programmes Intern at Manchester Museum and a University of Manchester student.

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

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.

Meme See, Meme Do

Over the past several months no-one, not even United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, escaped the infectious K-pop sensation that was Gangam Style. What seemed equally as infectious was the desire by thousands, if not millions, of people across the globe to produce their own, increasingly outlandish, versions of the associated music video. Even Chinese artist Ai Weiwei utilised it to great subversive affect.

This seemingly absurd and comical behaviour is actually quite a crucial exercise in human behaviour and the spread of culture. A meme is a form of expression or way of thinking that is passed from one person to another within a particular culture or society. In the past this used to occur on a local, regional or national level, but with the advent of worldwide mass telecommunications this can now happen on a global scale. The spread of such memes via the internet is often described as viral and continues to prove both popular and irresistible, particularly within the field of amateur music videos. The latest craze is Harlem Shake as illustrated by our very own University of Manchester students…

A Royal Love Affair

Today Buckingham Palace sadly announced the death of Monty, one of the Queen’s beloved corgis. It’s well known that the Queen has a particular affection for the Welsh corgi but her predecessors had a fondness for much more exotic breeds.

Both the Pekingese and borzoi are two of the focus breeds featured in our forthcoming exhibition Breed: The British and their Dogs, and their patronisation by the royal family is well documented. Queen Victoria’s Pekingese Looty was presented to her by Lieutenant Dunne in the late 19th century. Dunne, along with other British and French troops, had captured the dog following the defeat of China in the Second Opium War in 1860. Prior to this the Pekingese had belonged exclusively to the Chinese imperial household.

Pekingese figure made by Carl Fabergé. UK, 1907, precious stone. The Royal Collection © 2012, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The borzoi had equally impressive imperial connections. This breed, originally used for hunting wolves, was a favourite of the Russian imperial family, and the Tsar’s kennels were globally renowned. This imperial proximity and luxurious association made it the target of Russian revolutionaries in 1917. The Tsar’s kennels were closed and the dogs destroyed. In Britain breeders mobilised to prevent the borzoi’s extinction, this action was dominated by aristocratic women including Queen Alexandra.

Borzoi figure made by Carl Fabergé. UK, 1907, precious stone. The Royal Collection © 2012, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The Royal Collection have very kindly loaned us several objects which illustrate this royal love affair, two of which you can see above.

Over the next several weeks I will reveal the remaining three focus breeds and more of the wonderful objects we’ll have on display.

Gateway to Asia

The Manchester Museum recently became an official member of Virtual Collection of Masterpieces, an ASEMUS – The Asia Europe Museum Network project. The sheer quality and international significance of the Living Cultures Asia collection secured our inclusion.

The Oriental Gallery, The Manchester Museum, 1980s.

We’re in good company, as other fellow members include such esteemed institutions as:

  •  The British Museum
  • The Museum of World Cultures, Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  • National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan
  • National Museum of Korea, Seoul, Republic of Korea 


The aim of the project is to showcase and share information about the very many wonderful Asian collections which reside in European and Asian museums. We currently have 10 records online which you can view by following the link below:


Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures

From Manchester to Sheffield and Liverpool

On the 26th June 2011 our most recent and celebrated temporary exhibition China: Journey to the East closed to the public. The exhibition has been with us for 9 months and was supposed to be heading home to the British Museum but instead will open in Weston Park, Sheffield later in the year. This new addition to the tour schedule proves just how popular the topic of China is with museum visitors and users alike. The exhibition has allowed the Manchester Museum to affirm its relationship with Manchester’s Chinese community and it will hopefully develop as we explore future opportunities for collaboration.

This Chinese porcelain tea-pot is currently on display in the Manchester Gallery with other fascinating objects from China. It dates to the early 20th century and was donated by Robert Dukinfield Darbishire. Hopefully, we'll be able to exhibit much more of our Chinese collection in the Manchester Gallery in the not too distant future.

In other news we’ve finally completed the transfer of an object from the Living Cultures collection to the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool. The object in question is a punishment collar from a 19th century plantation in the USA. It would have been placed around the necks of enslaved Africans who had attempted to escape. It had been on loan to the International Slavery Museum for several years so it made perfect sense to make the transfer. The process of transferring objects from one museum collection to another is often called rationalisation, and it has been occurring since museums began. The punishment collar is better placed in the International Slavery Museum as  it is an institution dedicated to exploring the very many experiences, histories and legacies of the transatlantic slave trade.

Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures

Go West

As a young child in the 1980s I have vague memories of watching a Japanese television show called Monkey.  The show was an explosion of martial arts, monsters and magic. The electro-psychedelic theme tune by Godiego was particularly catchy. It wasn’t until the early 2000s as a student when I rediscovered this cult Japanese show, it was a welcome distraction from late night study.

The show was of course a 1970s interpretation of the 16th century Ming dynasty novel Journey to the West by author Wu Cheng’en. The novel details the adventures of the Buddhist monk Tripitaka and his 14 year and 108,000 mile odyssey, with his 3 supernatural companions Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy, to retrieve Buddhist scriptures from the Thunderclap Monastery in India.

Having realised that this piece of Japanese pop culture was actually based on a Chinese epic novel I began reading Wu Cheng’en’s text. Whilst reading volume 3 on a train a young Chinese woman was rather tickled as in her opinion I was reading a children’s story. In China the story is very popular amongst the younger generation and many animations have been based on the novel. The story has not only been a stimulus for animators but graphic novelists, computer game designers, and television, film and theatre directors too. The characters were even used by the BBC to advertise their coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

This Saturday the Manchester Museum will be celebrating all things Journey to the West including the screening of a contemporary animation. Other events will including handling Buddhist Chinese objects from the Living Cultures collection and a chance to discover more about this captivating Chinese epic. Our exhibition China: Journey to the East full of wonderful Chinese objects will be open throughout the day.

See you there,

Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures

Understanding Between Cultures

On Wednesday and  Thursday of this week I will be lucky enough to attend the very first Federation of International Human Rights Museums conference. The Federation is coordinated by the International Slavery Museum who will also host the conference. Delegates will be attending from all over the world to discuss and debate the ways in which museums can become catalysts for social change and challenge cultural iniquity.

Black Achievers Wall, International Slavery Museum. © Lee Garland.

The Manchester Museum uses it collections and exhibitions to help achieve understanding  between cultures. This mission is especially important in a globalised  world where very different cultures are coming into contact, and occasionally into conflict, on an increasingly frequent basis.

On Saturday 25th September 2010 the exhibition China: Journey to the East will open here at the Manchester Museum. The exhibition which is full of fantastic Chinese objects from the British Museum covering a period of almost 4000 years will allow visitors to gain a greater appreciation of Chinese history and culture. Such exhibitions help us in our mission to promote understanding between cultures.

Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Culture