Working with Archaeology Collections at Brighton & Hove Museums

As part of my project research into audiences for archaeological information, I am over the moon to be working with Brighton & Hove Museums and their archaeological collections over the next 2 years. Together, we will be exploring what works and what doesn’t in terms of creating, sustaining and entertaining online audiences with archaeological information from the Brighton area.

I moved to Sussex in 2014, so I am still new to the many wonders of the archaeological collections held by B&H Museums. The collection holds some nationally and internationally important artefacts, but to me, the exciting freedom of this project is the ability to work together to create digital stories and narratives from the most mundane of finds deposited in the archaeological archive.

Image copyright Brighton Museum & Art Gallery
Early Bronze Age Beaker. Image copyright Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

After a long discussion with the wonderful Gail Boyle from the Society for Museum Archaeology a few months ago, I started to wake up to the idea that public engagement with archaeology is almost always staccato, especially when archaeology is into post-excavation process or in an archive. We do not, as a rule, offer interested parties the opportunity to engage with the holistic archaeological process from the trowel’s edge to the final deposition in a museum, and we, as a profession, often envisage the moment of the arrival of an archaeological find at a museum as the object’s (or piece of paper, or dataset etc) move from ‘archaeology’ to ‘museum studies’. I should point you to the London Archaeological Archives and Research Centre for a fantastic example of how to engage with archaeology in an archive, and there are a handful of others, but this is in the minority.

'Brighton Loop'. Image copyright Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.
‘Brighton Loop’. Image copyright Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.

Yet at every point along the journey from ground to display, or storage, there are opportunities for public engagement with the archaeological process. As far as archaeological collections are concerned, there are many opportunities available to enhance and expand on museum exhibitions and displays with digital resources and narratives, which reflect on the specifically archaeological process that got them there. The method through which these finds were discovered in the ground, removed from the earth, cleaned, conserved and deposited… these are their object histories, as much as their date, their original use and their function in the past.

But who is actually interested in these archaeological collections, for what purpose, and are we missing opportunities to provide information and opportunities for engagement with audiences we just don’t know about? My work with B&H museums will begin to examine who uses the collections and why, and I will be updating this blog with some of the activities that we undertake, from social media use to digital story-telling. I will regularly write more on how I am using this data to undertake my research project with a digital sociology flavour, and let you know, dear reader, what we find out.

In 2013 I undertook a 6 month secondment at the University of Cambridge Museums, and fell deeply in love with being around museum collections. I am very grateful to Kevin Bacon, Andy Maxted, and Krystyna Pickering, for letting me have another opportunity to be behind the scenes at a museum, literally and figuratively.

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One comment on “Working with Archaeology Collections at Brighton & Hove Museums

  1. Your project sounds fascinating! I am an art museum educator at an institution that’s very much interested in exploring opportunities for teaching through digital engagement, so all of this is rather on my mind at the moment. My specialty is Pre-Columbian (Mesoamerican) art, and I always make an effort to encourage visiting students, school groups, etc to think about our collection’s provenance and past: emphasizing that the archaeological process is a key part in any object’s history! Digital resources could certainly enliven that part of teaching and bring it to a much larger, online audience. Anyway, looking forward to seeing more of your posts!

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