On Sunday 15 May the Oriental Museum hosted Buddha’s Birthday celebrations. This event was particularly special after a two-year break owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was wonderful to welcome back our visitors and see the museum full of people.
Buddha’s Birthday, also known as Vesak or Wesak, is celebrated around the world and commemorates the birth of Buddha in around 563 BCE. Born a prince, Buddha went on to renounce his privileged royal life and become a holy man, ultimately reaching Enlightenment.
This February saw the launch of our new online exhibition Journeys: Reading the World, showcasing material relating to travel and tourism from our rare books, archives and manuscript collections. David Wright, Assistant Curator (Exhibitions), gives us a preview of the exhibition, which we would encourage you to visit for yourself.
There is a certain irony to us launching an exhibition about the pleasure, value and excitement of travel when are all mostly stuck indoors, unable to venture much further than the local supermarket, but so far visitors seem to be finding it a pleasant escape from the mundanity of lockdown.
As we approach the end of the year we thought it would be a good time to look back at a new service we launched back in February. Wow talking about February seems like a lifetime ago now doesn’t it? So much has happened in 10 months and although not everything has been what we would have liked there have been things to celebrate. Our ‘Liberate My Library’ scheme we think is one of them.
Charlotte Spink, a Learning Assistant in our Learning and Engagement Team, reflects on transitioning Little Dragons under 5s group from a multi-sensory museum-based programme to a digital session families access from home during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Lockdown brought with it many changes to ways of working in museums, especially when it comes to engaging with our very youngest visitors – preschool children and their families. Little Dragons, the Oriental Museum’s group for children under 5 has been running as a weekly gallery-based session for over 8 years, attracting an average of 15-20 children per session. Each session is themed around exploring an object the children can see on display, with craft activities, songs and sensory stories. All these activities were very much based on sensory engagement, communicating directly with each individual child and personalising the session for them.
In part 2 of this blog post, Ross reflects on colleagues from Jordan visting us here in Durham…
The second part of the training was the most difficult as we needed to bring some of the trainees to the UK to complete part two at Durham. By October 2019 the trainees arrived in Durham for an 8 day training programme. The Jordanians worked with the Learning and Engagement Team with a visiting school, family activities and meeting staff from all over Library and Collections. We ate at various colleges, explored all the venues of Durham Castle, Palace Green Library and focussed many of our training sessions at the Oriental Museum. Both the Jordanian delegation and the Learning and Engagement Team found this a truly valuable learning experience on both sides!
We then spent the second half looking at other museums. We explored the venues of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM) at Newcastle, went to Beamish Museum and sampled the fish and chips – I can assure you British food is not as tasty as Jordanian food, and I’m sorry, but British Levant-esq restaurants don’t even come close to road side Jordanian coffee and falafel! We even explored as far reaching as the Bowes Museum!
Murder mystery at Beamish!
Ross gives a tour of our very own Durham Castle
The aim was for the curators who have now completed both parts of the training at Jordan and the UK to now work in partnership between the private, public and museum sectors to develop a schools programme and deliver a school session.
By November, the 28th November in fact, perhaps one of the proudest days of my career. Sat in Programming Panel my phone buzzed. I naughtily checked it (sorry colleagues!) and there it was, the images of the first organised whole day, facilitated school trip to the Jordan Archaeological Museum on the Amman Citadel. The university students helping the curators to deliver a session on the archaeology of the citadel. The children made model Umayyad Palaces, based on our Castle building session on our own visit. Truly lovely to see and an amazing thought that the training had come true. As time went on, school visits started to happen.
By January 2020 word had reached UK Research and Innovation who contacted us to make a documentary highlighting the project as best practice for international example! Filming began in February and our filming in Amman was due to take place on the 19th March 2020. This has been postponed due to the COVID-19 situation. As has our final visit in October 2020 where we plan to hand over the reins to our newly trained curators to become the trainees and continue the legacy of learning and engagement in Jordanian Museums using the best practice of both UK and Jordanian museum and heritage sites.
Ultimately this project has been a huge learning curve. We have learnt practice on from our Jordanian colleagues and I hope the same goes the other way too. It has opened doors and I now have a huge network of culturally engaged, professional and amazing colleagues working across Jordan to deliver our passion for history, collections and understanding where we come from and to disseminate this knowledge with our future, the children we educate and learn with every day.
Coronavirus has paused the project, but together we have been sharing ideas on how we innovate digitally with some amazing projects happening with our Jordanian partners and with us. An amazing experience with amazing people in an amazing country.
Fingers crossed that Ross can write a part 3 when we are able to travel and collaborate again!
Durham University Library and Collections is a member of Research Libraries UK (RLUK), a consortium of the most significant research libraries in the UK and Ireland. As many members entered lockdown in March, Dr David Prosser (Executive Director of RLUK) took a virtual tour of RLUK member’s special collections via Twitter (#RLUKCollections), including those at Durham University, to highlight just a small selection of the extensive, diverse, and unique collections held within the member libraries and archives.
We have (with permission) highlighted here Durham’s brief entry, and provided links to each of the others, as an opportunity to quickly sample some of the many treasures held within the British Isles.
إشراك جيل الشباب الأردني في التعلم عن ماضي عمّان وتعدد ثقافاتها (ممول من المعهد البريطاني
Ross Wilkinson, Learning and Engagement Manager, reflects on an ongoing collaborative learning project which stretches from Durham to Jordan:
Back in the heady pre-lockdown days of August 2018, I received an email from a colleague in Archaeology, Dr.ArwaBadran. Arwa asked to meet as she was putting funding towards a project to help youth engagement in museums and needed the support of the Learning and Engagement Team. I had worked with Arwa previously on the Museum and Artefacts MA course, and at this point I assumed a simple engagement with local partner museums in the region or possibly wider, nationally…
Norman Cornish: The Sketchbooks was an exhibition held at Palace Green Library from 23 November 2019 – 1 March 2020, forming part of the programme to mark the centenary of the birth of the celebrated County Durham artist. Colleagues from the Museums, Galleries and Exhibitions team worked closely with the Cornish family to present a selection of around 60 of the artist’s little-seen sketchbooks, along with carefully chosen finished paintings to provide a rich insight into Cornish’s working practice and development as an artist. The exhibition was designed to offer an intimate look at Cornish’s life and work, touching on his career as a miner, how his family encouraged and inspired his art and the many subjects for drawing and painting provided by the community of his home town of Spennymoor.
In a pre-coronavirus world, we at the Learning and Engagement Team spent our days engaging school children; families; community groups and those with access requirements to enjoy and use the truly amazing collections of Durham University. We were able to work with all walks of life in amazing buildings –with equally amazing collections –Durham Castle, Palace Green Library and the Oriental Museum and hopefully, raise aspirations for young people in our region to go to university and have as much fun with researching collections as we do.
Gillian Ramsay is an Assistant Curator at the Oriental Museum, part of the University Library and Collections family. She kindly shared her recent blog post for the Islamic Art Subject Specialist Network about the work being done in partnership with them from our collections. Thank you so much to all of the staff at Museums for sharing the fascinating collections during lockdown; this is an especially well-timed post as it touches on Ramadan, which is currently being celebrated by Muslims all over the world.