TAG Southampton 2016

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about object biography as a way to explore and communicate the history of the ancient Cypriot objects in the Leeds collection. I’ve been inspired by academics who have developed the concept, including Dr Jody Joy, and the classic article by Prof Chris Gosden and Dr Yvonne Marshall, ‘The Cultural Biography of Objects’. Above all, I’ve found the work of Prof Rosemary Joyce hugely helpful in developing my thinking, especially the multi-authored volume Things in Motion: Object Itineraries in Anthropological Practice. This argues for ‘object itinerary’ as a modification of the concept of object biography, removing the constraints of a linear model of ‘birth, life and death’, and placing emphasis on movement through time and space.

So, when I saw a session advertised at the Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference in Southampton on ‘Following Things in Motion: Object Itineraries in Archaeological Practice’, organised by Prof Joyce and  Dr Marta Díaz-Guardamino, I was very keen to present my own work and, more importantly, to hear about other approaches. The organisers kindly included my paper in the session, and I had a pre-Christmas jaunt to look forward to!

The vagaries of Eastern Airways delayed my journey, but I was still in time to hear some fascinating takes on the concept of object itinerary, and to give my paper. Several particularly struck me, including Dr Díaz-Guardamino’s paper ‘Stones in motion: following the itineraries of Bronze Age decorated stelae in Iberia’, which included, among much else, an interesting and useful critique of museum presentations of these stelae which group them by object type in a way which tends to elide their differences and their relations with other material culture of the same period. Prof Chris Gosden described kurgans – large burial mounds in Eurasia – as ‘like little folds in space-time’, vividly evoking how they bring together material distant in space and time. Finally, Prof Joyce brought together some themes from the session; in particular, thinking about dynamism and flows of material in and out of object forms; decentering the human perspective so that we recognise movement taking place over geological time or on the atomic level; and moving away from linear narratives in favour of complex, recursive, overlapping stories. I came away with a great deal to think about.

One aspect of object itinerary which I’ve found particularly fruitful is the concept of representations of objects forming part of their itineraries; so that while the object itself may come to rest, albeit temporarily, in a museum or store, its image continues to travel and to create new connections. This is an interesting way of thinking about Henry Crowther’s lantern slides, which by all accounts reached thousands through his lectures to school parties; it would be fascinating to know what impression his audiences formed of ancient Cyprus through the images presented for their consumption.

This is the first time I’ve been to TAG, and I must say I was impressed by the sheer breadth of the subjects under discussion, and by the quality of the conference pack! It was a friendly and welcoming conference, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on the programme in future years.


TAG bag

A brief update

There’s been so much going on lately that I thought it was time for a quick update here. I’ve been using every spare moment to write my Masters dissertation – not easy during the school holidays! It’s on the University of Leeds’ ancient Cypriot collection, and is due at the end of August. Work in progress has been posted on here from time to time, tagged ‘University of Leeds‘. I’ve really enjoyed pulling all my research together, and attempting to produce a catalogue has been very good experience.

I had a great morning a few weeks ago visiting the newly cleaned objects at the Leeds City Museum’s Discovery Centre, and taking their portraits for the dissertation.

Photographing pots at the Discovery Centre

Photographing pots at the Discovery Centre

A few additional glass objects from the collection have recently come to light, in fragments. I took some photos of those too, at the University – rigging up a photography studio on a coffee table!

Glass bowl in sherds

Glass bowl in sherds

Broken unguentarium

Broken unguentarium

I think the small glass bowl, in several large pieces and many tiny fragments, may be too far gone to rescue; but another of the ‘candlestick’ vessels, and a small unguentarium, are really not too badly damaged and could possibly be repaired. I’m having to talk sternly to myself about cost/benefit and available time, at least for the moment.

I’m also beginning to put arrangements in place for my PhD, starting this autumn, which will focus on local ancient Cypriot collections and their reception. I’m thrilled to be funded by the Arts and Humanities Council (AHRC) via the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH), which will enable me to study as part of a supportive cohort, with access to further training and funding opportunities. Much more to follow about this as plans develop.

I’ve been working with colleagues to put together a panel proposal for next year’s Classical Association Conference, on objects and materiality, which would allow me to spend some time thinking about object biographies and the ways in which archaeological objects can convey meaning without secure provenances. This is a fascinating subject, and I’ve only scratched the surface so far. I particularly like the idea of applying methodologies and approaches from other disciplines to the Cypriot objects, and seeing where it takes me.

There are a couple of one-day events on Cyprus coming up, just to add to the excitement!

  • The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge is hosting an event titled ‘Re-approaching Cyprus: A day devoted to recent research in Cypriot archaeology and Cypriot collections’, on 23rd October. There’s a great line-up of speakers, and it looks like a really valuable day.
  • The London Metropolitan Museum is also holding a ‘Cyprus Week’ in October, including a conference on the 30th, ‘Cyprus: Its Archaeology and Heritage – Effects on Politics, Identity, Tourism and Education’. I’m planning to attend, to give a very brief overview of my work and to meet people working on Cyprus from across the UK. It’ll be good to have a break from drafting at the laptop!