Digital Diwali – November 2020

Another impact of Covid-19 has been on how museums engage with their communities. In previous years, the Oriental Museum has hosted large-scale Diwali celebrations on site, attracting over 400 students, staff and people from the local community. In 2020 the celebrations moved online, and museum staff found new ways to get people involved. We invited people to create videos showcasing how they celebrate Diwali, what this time of year means to them, their favourite food and recipes and reflections on how things will be different this year.

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#Hist2020: History Day 2020, celebrating our collections

Every year University College London organises a day for academic, cultural and heritage institutions to come together to showcase the enormous range of historic collections in archives, libraries and museums. In pre-Covid times, the day would be held at Senate House and would be attended by anyone in London with a serious interest in historical research.

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Multicultural Amman: Engaging Jordan’s Youth (Part 2)

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!  

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.  

Blog post 2i
Ross, centre, with his Jordanian colleagues before the corona-virus digital shift

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!

Multicultural Amman: Engaging Jordan’s Youth (Part 1)

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. Arwa Badran 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…  

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A Virtual Tour of Norman Cornish: The Sketchbooks #CultureinQuarantineMW

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.

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Learning Online #MuseumFromHome

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. 

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Shining a light on community engagement

As the days shorten and the cold winter nights are drawing in, Hindus over the world celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Light.  For several years we have worked closely with the local Indian community to host celebrations at the Oriental Museum.

In 2019 around 350 people, including local families, international and home students, and members of staff came together to mark the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. People enjoyed delicious Indian food prepared by local chef, a shadow puppet performance of the story of Prince Rama and Princess Sita, and art activities.

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Pens, pencils, worms and dragons

Encouraging new students to visit the library during induction week can be a tricky business. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in a week where they are not only having the academic aspect of their next 3 or 4 years mapped out to them, are being invited to join team, clubs and societies and indulge in half price pizzas and 2-for-1 “quaddy voddies”, new students might find that ‘pop into the library to have a look around and to pick a pencil and a book-shaped eraser’ slips quite far down their agenda.

Although we’re not strictly competing for attention with University Cheese Society or “slammer’s night” at the local champagne bar, it is important to get students into the library early on in their university lives so that we can:

  • Remove any worry, fear or trepidation about the library – after all, it will likely be on a scale much greater than students have experienced to that point
  • Highlight what we have to offer
  • Put a ‘human face’ on the service

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