In 2021 over 100000 people visited the British Museum’s “Nero: the man behind the myth” exhibition. In 2019 nearly 120000 visited the “Rodin and the art of ancient Greece”, and over 300000 school pupils attended education programmes at the British Museum. Museums can be a key introduction to the classical world, whether that’s the sprawling collections of national museums displayed over many rooms and galleries and overflowing into storerooms, or smaller museums that nestle a few classical finds into an intriguing corner. If that is to over romanticise museums, then that is to overlook the responses that many of us have to the stories about the past that curators tell with these objects, and how these objects can then inspire us. Take Bernadine Evaristo’s 2001 verse novel The Emperor’s Babe, which grew from her exploration of Roman London as a writer in residence at the Museum of London in 1999 (you can read an interview here).
Fostering an environment where professional and public knowledge of the UK’s classical collections is at the core of the Classical Collections Networks’ aims, providing advice and guidance to museum staff and researchers on classical objects while promoting public engagement with classical collections.
The remit of ‘classical collections’ is quite broad: objects from the ancient Mediterranean world, including but not limited to Greek, Etruscan, Roman, and Cypriot material culture. Here, the CCN sits within a wider network of Subject Specialist Networks such as the Society for Museum Archaeology (SMA), the Association of Curators for Collections from Egypt and Sudan (ACCES), the Money and Medals Network, and the Queer Heritage and Collections Network (you can find more here).
Membership of the Classical Collections Network is free and open to anyone working with classical objects in UK museums, including museum staff, volunteers, academics and students of all levels. If you’d like to join, just email email@example.com.
One of the key outputs that the network is working towards is making an open access database and map of all publicly accessible UK classical collections. You can explore the first version of this map here. Eventually, it is hoped that the map will act as a tool for curators and researchers to find relevant collections and knowledge, and for schools and others to find nearby collections that they can visit.
Additionally, the CCN runs yearly events. These have primarily focused on offering a chance to hear about cutting-edge research and best practice, and an opportunity for networking, but we are also branching out to include training events too (in September 2021 we had an afternoon session on creating effective online videos with collections). The topic of our next event (October 7th 2022) is “Opening up the conversation: diversity and classical collections”. You can sign up by emailing us. The event programme is here: https://connectingclassicalcollections.wordpress.com/7-october-event/
Speakers will include Amara Thornton and Katherine Harloe talking about the 'Beyond Notability' project, which revaluates the role of women working in 19th and 20th century archaeology, history, and heritage. You can read about Amara’s work on Gertrude Rachel Levy (1883-1966), Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and Librarian of the Hellenic and Roman Societies here. We will also hear from Arlene Holmes-Henderson on Advocating Classics Education’s collaborations with the Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge on ‘Every Body is a Classical Body?’, and National Museums Liverpool to create Classical Civilisation Digital Sourcebooks.
Lastly, the Classical Collections Network runs a blog (https://connectingclassicalcollections.wordpress.com/). The blog contains information on past and future events, hosts our Collections Mapping resource, and features a semi-regular ‘Meet the Member’ series, providing members an opportunity to share what they are working on and to promote the collections that they work with to a wider audience.
In the UK, the classical world is a constant source of discourse, study, exploration and passion. If you'd like to become involved in our work to support this, we'd love to hear from you.