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.

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Pre-emptive Spring Clean

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been beavering away in the Living Cultures stores with support from The University of Manchester Art Gallery and Museum Studies students Josh and Shelly, our British Museum Future Curator Kiera, and most critically our Curatorial Assistant Susan. We’ve been rationalising each store i.e. making more space available, and making sure that each object is stored appropriately. This is all part of the collections team drive to increase accessibility to our four million objects exponentially. Increasing access allows for further exploration of collections and means objects can be used to a greater extent in research, exhibitions and public events.

Kathryn inspecting our Igbo masquerade costume. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2014.

Kathryn inspecting the Igbo masquerade costume. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2014.

This drive has also allowed us to identify objects in need of immediate treatment. Our conservation interns Kathryn and Erin are currently treating a Qashqa’i saddle, Kiribati armour and an Igbo masquerade costume . These objects are being cleaned and further information regarding extent of use and construction is also being gleaned. This is all critical information which will be added to each of the object’s records.

Erin treating the Qashqa’i saddle. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2014.

Erin treating the Qashqa’i saddle. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2014.

The maintenance of collections is an ongoing curatorial duty and very much a team effort. The support of volunteers and colleagues alike in this endeavour is invaluable. Throughout 2014 this work will continue and I’m very much looking forward to Kiera starting her year-long placement with us in April. This week, however, Shelly, who has been instrumental in the transformation of the storage of the Americas collection, leaves us to return to the USA. I wish Shelly all the best for the future and thank her for all her hard work and dedication, I’m sure she has a glittering curatorial career ahead of her!