Student research at the Penn Museum can often be underrated, but the Penn Museum Fellows program is working to change that. I have been a part of the first generation of this program, and I can earnestly attest to its value and potential.
When I began the fellowship in August, one of my goals was to advance the archival research project I started in University Scholars that I have since turned into my senior research paper. My project examined the archaeological processes of the Joint Expedition at Ancient Ur by the Penn Museum and the British Museum from 1922–1924. I looked specifically at the collections of the Penn Museum Archives using documents, news clippings, board minutes, and seasonal reports to answer my questions. Using the Joint Expedition as my primary case study, I investigated how the partage-system of dividing archaeological finds affected the process of archaeology and museum administration. This included looking at the specific residues of partage that can be detected in archival sources. First, I looked at instances of institutional conflict, or conflicts between the participating museums in the excavation, which may concern dividing finds as well as other administrative concerns, like funding issues. Second, I sought to understand how different parties to the expedition (museum administrators, archaeologists, and the press) assigned value to archaeological materials. The results of this study have helped better our understanding of how museum collections of Ur materials came into existence in a bygone era. It has additionally added to our understanding of this transitory period in the professional field of archaeology when political, social, and academic frameworks were evolving.
My work as a Penn Museum Fellow has also included the curation of an archival exhibit on the archaeology of ancient Nippur and Ur, opening at the beginning of March. Working with Senior Archivist Alessandro Pezzati, I have compiled a collection of materials that vividly display the spirit of these projects from the point of view of those pioneering archaeologists so long ago. This exhibit looks at the archaeology of Sumer in a holistic manner that includes many as yet under-emphasized features of early twentieth-century archaeology, including the tremendous impact of local efforts. The process of creating this exhibit has taken many months and has included: reading contemporary and modern scholarship on the excavations; finding important themes, events, and processes to portray; deciding which archival materials best tell these stories; and finally the design, text writing, and installlation. It is a great feeling being in the final stages of this work, and I look forward to unveiling it soon.