Curator of Early History, Leisure and Culture Dundee

150th Birthday Research

Our museum, The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum, will be 150 years old in September. Originally known as the Albert Institute and later as Dundee Museum, the museum has been through a lot of changes over the years. One of the tasks we curators are undertaking is research into the archives to uncover stories about the museum and its objects. We are also finding out more about our predecessors and how our jobs have changed over the years. My current job title is ‘Curator of Early History’. I have also been known as ‘Heritage Officer’ in exactly the same post. Past staff have been known as keepers, assistant keepers and field archaeology officers. The museum used to have its own field archaeology unit and it looks like they had some interesting times, undertaking rescue excavations and getting called out to determine if some recently discovered bones were anything to worry about. Sadly, the field unit is no more and it is my job to look after the things they excavated, as well as the museum’s World Cultures and numismatics collections and also the collection of phrenology heads, the re-discovery of which in 1983 earned a mention in several newspapers.

Though our job titles have changed and sometimes there have been more of us or fewer of us (but never enough of us), our aims remain the same – to preserve the collections and to share them with as many people as possible. Let’s hope the museum has many more anniversaries to come.

Archaeology in the Museum Stores

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Measuring a case from the inside, with colleague Mike

Measuring a case from the inside, with colleague Mike

 

A lamp?

 

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On the actual Day of Archaeology last Friday I was with my colleagues from Leisure and Culture Dundee at one of the museum’s industrial out stores. Regardless of our curatorial specialisms – archaeology, art, social or natural history we donned our steel-toed boots and worked together with the Museum’s Registrar and Conservator to undertake a week-long audit of the storage facility. We worked across the collections, a coal –powered fish fryer a stuffed walrus, marble sculpture, a log boat and everything in between.

We unwrapped each object, checked its condition and measured it, then recorded each object’s unique accession number and location before attaching a yellow tag and photographing the object before protecting it again. This information will be added to the museum’s digital records management system. Sometimes the information will confirm what is already on the digital record, sometimes the information will enhance the existing record and sometimes an entirely new record will need to be created.

Though auditing collections is core work for any curator, is a day spent in this manner a ‘Day of Archaeology’? I was as dirty and dusty as I’d even been on a dig

Recording, measuring and data entry may not be glamorous, but documentation is vitally important to both archaeology and museum work. Those accession numbers are the object’s context – they link to the object’s biography – what it is, where it came from, who used it and how. It is as important in archaeology as in a museum that the context of the object is retained. As visually arresting as an object may be, it loses something of its intrinsic value if it no longer has context. This is the information that is shared with the public and held on to for future generations.