Choosing objects to display at Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall Abbey (c) Leeds Museums and Galleries

I’m Kat Baxter, Curator of Archaeology for Leeds Museums and Galleries. There is no typical day for me as this job is so varied, but the Day of Archaeology this year has fallen on a day when I’m documenting objects to display in the visitor centre at Kirkstall Abbey.

Kirkstall Abbey is a 12th century Cistercian monastery and one of nine sites run by Leeds Museums and Galleries.  The site has been excavated a number of times over the years, most recently in the 1970s and 80s when the guest house complex was excavated.  All of the material generated from these excavations is housed in our store at Leeds Discovery Centre.  The guest house archive has recently been the focus of PhD research by Richard Thomason, who just completed his AHRC collaborative doctoral award on hospitality at Kirkstall Abbey, and most of the small finds were catalogued by two interns who worked diligently on the material.  We are now looking at ways to tell these emerging stories of the different types of people staying at the Abbey in a new small display in the visitor centre.

But first, back to documentation! Before we can use objects in any way, we make sure that they are catalogued on our museum database called TMS.  This involves assigning accession numbers, logging all information about the objects and tracking their location.  I have recently had a number of objects from the archive professionally photographed, so I will be attaching the images to each object record.  A record is ‘curator approved’ when it reaches a minimum standard.  Records on TMS look like this:

TMS screen shot

One of the TMS object records (c) Leeds Museums and Galleries

All this work is really important, because without solid documentation none of the objects in the collection can be used or tracked. Although we are strict about documenting any new objects that come in, like all museums we have a backlog to work through.  Cataloguing objects can inspire us when thinking about which objects to display, how they can be displayed and what stories we can tell to excite visitors to Kirkstall Abbey!


So that will take up a lot of my day today. I often tweet about objects in the collection so please feel free to follow me on @CuratorBaxter.

Thank you! Enjoy the Day of Archaeology 2016.

Kat Baxter

Curator of Archaeology, Leeds Museums and Galleries