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Digging up an Excavation: Archival Research as a Penn Museum Fellow

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Digging up an Excavation: Archival Research as a Penn Museum Fellow

By Kamillia Scott.
 

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.   
 

    • Penn Museum Archives
    • Objects for the archival exhibit, The Boys of Sumer: Discovery in Mesopotamia, at Penn Museum. Photo by Kamillia Scott.

    • archival photo
    • Workers cleaning the crown of the stone dome. Ca. 1928-1929.

    • archival photo 2
    • Left: Tomb PG 1237, lyres in situ, Ur. Right: M. Louise Baker, working on the bull-headed lyre, 1930.

    • archival drawing
    • Sketch of a piece of the Ur-Nammu Stele from Ur by Veronica Socha. 

    • tablet
    • Clay Tablet: CBS 50. Purchased: J. Shemtob, July 21, 1888. List of bread and beer distributed for the cult of goddess Annunitum, in the reign of King Abi-eshuh (ca. 1711–1684 BCE), the grandson of Hammurabi.

    • newspaper
    • Philadelphia Press, Nov. 4, 1990. Basket carrier during the fourth expedition (1898-1900) Nasir el Hussein, visited America with Dr. Clarence Fisher to see how “civilized” men lived. The press seemed to be fascinated with the distant “other” culture of the Bedouin people, but also emphasized the western learnedness of Hussein who was one of few of his people who could read and write Arabic.

    • illustration
    • Gold and lapis lazuli bull head from lyre from Ur. Water color by M. Louise Baker.

    • Archival materials
    • Objects for the archival exhibit, The Boys of Sumer: Discovery in Mesopotamia, at Penn Museum. 

    • Kamillia archive 2
    • Kamillia Scott arranges objects in display cases in preparation for the opening of the exhibit, The Boys of Sumer: Discovery in Mesopotamia, at Penn Museum.

    • Boys of Sumer
    • The Boys of Sumer: Discovery in Mesopotamia -- installation in progess.

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In addition to funding our research projects, the Penn Museum Fellows program has offered guidance and resources in finding supporting faculty, access to facilities and collections, a large amount of autonomy in creating research objectives, and recognition and support of innovative methods and results. It is impressive how only after six months of operation, I feel the fellows have created a unique and inclusive environment to discuss our research and gain criticism and inspiration from likeminded peers. The administrators of the Fellows, Museum Deputy-Director Dr. Steve Tinney and Research Liaison Sarah Linn, have taken a special interest in our work. Sarah in particular has been a jewel in my endeavors. Despite her own dissertation workload, she is readily available to work with us when we have questions or concerns. Having her face in the crowd was especially comforting during my presentation of Unearthed in the Archives on Mrs. Katherine Woolley, wife of Ur archaeologist Leonard Woolley. 
 

    • Unearthed in the Archives
    • Kamillia Scott presents on Mrs. Katherine Woolley during an Unearthed in the Archives event.

    • Sarah Linn and Kamillia Scott
    • Sarah Linn and Kamillia Scott.

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Thus far my work in the program has been a rewarding experience — I received honors in Classical Studies for my senior research paper, I was able to present my work at the CURF research symposium, and I plan to continue presenting my work in the coming months. The fellows were also given an opportunity to meet with the Penn Museum Director’s Council to discuss our involvement in the program in hopes of its continuance and expansion in the coming years.
 

    • CURF Research poster


The 2015–16 Penn Fellows Program was made possible through support from the Provost’s Interdisciplinary Arts Fund. 


Kamillia Scott is a senior majoring in Classical Studies and planning to go to law school next year. She has worked in Penn Museum Archives as a work-study student for several years and recently finished writing her senior thesis on the excavations at Ur which looks at instances of conflict and expressions of material value in the joint expeditions of the Penn Museum and the British Museum. As a Penn Fellow she is continuing her work on Penn excavations in Iraq by working with Alessandro Pezzatti in Archives on a small exhibit about the Nippur and Ur expeditions. Thus far, this has involved surveying the archival materials from these projects and deciphering what to include in the exhibit. She will also aid in the creation of exhibit texts and choosing objects for display.


Edited by Mariah Macias.