Category Archives: Museum

She blinded me with Library Science

When I was in my teens the film “The Mummy” with Brendan Fraser came out. In it Rachel Weisz’s character whilst drunkenly assessing the turns her life has recently taken declares: “I am proud of what I am. […] I am….. a librarian”
This quickly became a kind of de facto motto for my small group of friends, our way of declaring that we might not be sporty, or the party-animals and cool kids and that we were ok with being thought of as the swots (this was way back before being a geek was cool). We even all took the chance to be school librarians when prefect allocation came up.
Later we went our separate ways to university and beyond; one of our group went to Aberystwyth to study Librarianship (although under which branch of information science I no longer remember) and I took the long slow road towards a doctorate. Being a librarian was something we  did at school and I thought no more about it.
But…

I have always been interested in a career in heritage. Mostly that has always been about working behind the scenes at museums and sites but more recently I have been thinking about archives.
Until quite recently I had never really thought about the difference between libraries and archives except that libraries have books (which sometimes you can take them away) and archives have original documents (which generally you can’t). I have only ever accessed letters and similar through libraries with archival holdings but when a job opportunity at a library came up at the same time as the possibility for volunteering at an archive I began to think about these things more carefully.

I didn’t get the job at the library in London – although I did enjoy the tour and the discussion of alternative cataloguing classification systems – but I have started volunteering at an Archive dedicated to Mills.
So far I have learnt the difference between smock mills and post mills, the usefulness of volunteer labour in donation record-keeping and the importance of context. It turns out that the really important distinction between archives and libraries is the notion of the preservation and curation of the context of the collection. I’m a long way from understanding the nuances yet but I am looking forward to seeing how getting into the depths of a collection changes my approaches to research.

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Sirens

Post written for the Ure Discovery Blog: (and currently published on their facebook page)

38.8.48 – The Siren
(Kendrick School)

Black Figure Lekythos (dating from c. 550-525 BCE) depicting a Siren between two male figures, one of which is holding a spear

38.8.48

What Sort of Pot?

A lekythos (Greek: λήκυθος – Plural: Lekythoi) is a type of Greek pottery used for storing oil and perfume. It has a narrow neck and one handle. Many lekythoi are found in tombs and the images on the sides were often depictions of daily activities or rituals and especially those connected with death. Giant Lekythoi sometimes formed tomb markers.
This one was identified as being made in around 520 BC by Annie Ure.

What are Sirens?

In classical mythology the Sirens lured sailors to their deaths with their songs. They appear most famously in Homer’s Odyssey [Bk. XII] but also feature in Appollonius Rhodes’ Argonautica [4.891-919] and Ovid’s Metamorphoses [5.551 and following.]. Although modern artists often show Sirens in the shape of beautiful women the ancient Greeks painted them as half-human and half-bird with wings and talons or webbed feet and their distinctive shape makes them a recognisable type of decoration.
The Sirens were associated with music and death and are sometimes said to help make travelling to the underworld easier with their music. They are perhaps related to the Egyptian Ba [See Here].

One of the most famous images is from a vase in the British Museum which shows Odysseus tied to the mast so he can listen to their beautiful song without going crazy. The Sirens have feathers and neat hair that makes them more obviously feminine than the ones on this Lekythos.

Odysseus & the Sirens – British Museum

As time went by the images of Sirens made them more and more human.
Statue in National Museum of Archaeology, Athens
137-Sirene-vers--330

H.J. Draper (1909) Ulysses and the Sirens
Ulysses and the Sirens by H.J. Draper

Modern writers often use Sirens and Siren song to symbolise something almost irresistible but dangerous and female singers who are especially alluring are also described as Sirens. …All a bit different to the dark winged figure on this pot who is singing the warrior into his afterlife.

Other Sirens

In the Ure Museum there are several other items with Sirens on that you can look up on the database or go take a look at:
2005.3.24 – Aryballos on display in “History Grave”
37.7.1 – Aryballos in “Myth & Religion”
37.7.2 – Aryballos in “Greece”
51.1.4 – Plate in “Myth & Religion”
See also this decoration in Tampa Museum of Art;  this Lekythos in the British Museum and this one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Further Academic Reading

Continue reading

Pompeii, Herculaneum & Reading Latin Poetry

A Review

I read a lot of reviews before I took this Mrs up to London to see the British Museum exhibition; most of the reviews were by classicists and most said “I enjoyed it, but..”.I went to both Pompeii and Herculaneum during a gloriously influential (and emotional) period of my life and during a slightly different “regime” of conservation (Gods help me – I’m talking about 20 years ago) and I went back to the Naples museum about 5 years ago.  I knew what I expected from the exhibition…

I want to tell you I was wrong, that the other reviewers were wrong – but I can’t.
I grant you there were pieces exhibited that I hadn’t seen and I thought that the mix of related items from different places beside each other had some merits. The Wife was delighted just to see the variety of objects, to get up close enough to investigate the details and intricacies and to capture a feel for the time and place but I found it frustrating.
I was expecting it to be crowded and had anticipated the difficulty getting to the cabinets [a common problem in the Reading Room exhibitions – and distinctly easier this time when we weren’t trying to get a wheelchair around (annoyingly few exhibitions address that PoV)] – I had even allowed extra time to compensate for this.
What I found most jarring was the “tone” of the presentation of the objects – it seemed that the curators hadn’t quite decided whether to offer them as familiar or alien. The slight squeamishness about sex and death was out of place and despite frequent references to them I didn’t really get a sense of the wider family network or indeed of the town as whole. I wasn’t sure how much we were supposed to be trying to glimpse “daily life” vs contemplating our own fragile mortality and the possibility of everything to become an artefact through circumstance. If we were looking at living there should have been a little more focus on activity and diversity and if we were acknowledging our own morbid curiosity in the mundane perhaps a little more opportunity for intepretation would have been helpful.
If I am honest and ruthless with myself I suspect that my feelings about the exhibition stem from over-thinking and being too bookish in my personal tastes. The exhibition as a whole was also guilty of my personal pet hate- a failure to suggest places to go and look for more information or alternative viewpoints. Its not uncommon in museums especially when they are short of space but as an academic I find it infuriating. I want references and arguments as well as a sense that I need to do some of the interpreting for myself. I often think its the kind of value-added extra that catalogues and hand-held guides should be offering. I want to be challenged by a display, to see things in a new light and that is hard to achieve. Its especially tricky when its related to my ‘specialist’ subject and the curators have so many expectations to meet.

However, before I start sounding too negative I want to encourage you to go..
The concept of a exhibition dedicated to the domestic space was always worthwhile and (although almost cliché in terms of fashionable academia) in dire need of applying to objects not already sorted into that category by a provincial label – for example, exhibitions about Roman Britain often have more of a daily-life feel but galleries often focus on ‘big’ works of art.  The sense of how items could be placed next to each other and ‘read’ together was also an interesting concept but perhaps impossible to do without a full household space to use (although imagined how crowded that would feel and how dark!). Pompeii & Herculaneum really do offer a unique chance to see a pair of communities at a particular time – a chance to see objects and situations normally erased and that chance shouldn’t be missed.
Furthermore the light and attention lavished on the objects remind you that there aren’t many times you will get to see anything like this so clearly and so close to home. Special exhibitions at the BM aren’t cheap (but they aren’t ridiculous) and travelling to and around London isn’t cheap but it is cheaper than a holiday to Italy.
Go.. it is beautiful and its disturbing. Its fascinating and infuriating. Go and make your own mind up.
[Other Reviews Here, here, here, here and here]

After the hour and some wandering around we went to a special event linked to the exhibition (one of many) – in this case a lecture on the benefits of reading poetry in its original Latin.  A bit of a cheeky refresher for me and a new look at half-familiar poetry for the mrs. Its difficult for me to judge how good it was as a public lecture for the same reason its hard as a semi-pro to examine the overall impact of the exhibition that is because this was material I covered at GCSE/A-level it was familiar and unexciting on a personal level. I also always cringe inwardly at every blunt attempt to “prove” the worth of classics- like somehow the fact that we are debating it betrays our insecurity and uncertainty about the role we play and gets in the way of showing our worth (which is a whole other post) But. I can say that I liked the roundtable multi-speaker format and it was smoothly done. Furthermore, I thought the ideas that were the underlying point of the lecture – that the language of the poetry helps us see the inherent beauty of the piece, raises deeper linguistic and cultural questions and that it reminds about the differences between our readings and earlier ones (and indeed talks to us about the process of translation- an idea less considered in the lecture) -were important and worth making. Engaging with Latin can be hard to do but it is worthwhile and it is interesting! From that point of view the lecture was worthwhile and productive – I think I can convince the wife to learn a bit more latin and re-learn my rather rusty skills at the same time.

All round Good Day then.

Waiting

I really want to post the piece that I wrote for the museum but since it has not gone live on that blog yet I must be patient. Shame that because I don’t have a university email address I can’t get admin permission through the university blog hosting.
Must think about writing that article instead..
Re-editing one’s thesis into a journal style is an odd experience. Working hard to cut some of my waffle and make sure all of the internal references are coherent. I also have to concentrate on thinking of it as one point that I am making rather than as the broader series of insights that I was trying to relay in my thesis.

Works-in-Progress

I think I am busy trying to write too many things at once..

I have two main projects:
1. Research and organisation for a paper on Time-Travel and Roman Britain to be delivered at the end of June and hopefully to turn into a journal article…
2. Editing and splicing parts of my Thesis to make an acceptable publication.

I am also currently working on some informational blog posts for the Ure Museum which touch on Greek Archaeology and Art History and I should be writing research proposal/job applications to get me into regular paid employment.

My key problem is dividing my time and practicising focusing on one task at a time. So I want to use the process of putting ideas online to help me pin down specific tasks.
Right now I need to spend at least 2hours a day working on the thesis based article and to read one or two journal articles/chapters for the Time-travel paper.
This weekend I am also going to write a beautifully optimistic research proposal.