The second round of Oxford University Museums Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships began in October 2017, in partnership with the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester, and Birkbeck University. The studentships were awarded to Abbey Ellis, Helen Goulston and Beth Hodgett, details of their research are provided below.
Archaeological Plaster Casts: In Search of Authenticity
Abbey Ellis (University of Leicester in partnership with the Ashmolean Museum)
Supervised by Dr Sandra Dudley (Leicester), Dr Milena Melfi and Professor Bert Smith (Oxford)
Abbey graduated from Merton College, Oxford in 2016 with a first class BA in Classical Archaeology and Ancient History. In 2017, Abbey achieved a distinction in her Masters degree in Classical Archaeology, also at Merton. Throughout her studies, Abbey was a regular volunteer at the Ashmolean Museum and a founding member of the Ashmolean’s Student Creative Board. Abbey also served as Oxford University Archaeological Society president, and was active in archaeological fieldwork, excavating at the Sangro Valley Project and at the site of Lefkandi, Euboea. In 2016, Abbey was awarded funding from the Roman Society for an internship at the Great North Museum, Newcastle.
Abbey’s CDP project is split between the University of Leicester, where she is supervised by Sandra Dudley, and the Ashmolean Museum, where she is supervised by Bert Smith and Milena Melfi. Her work is set in the Cast Gallery and focuses on the value, authenticity, and uses of archaeological plaster casts, namely the exact replicas of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures made from Plaster of Paris.
Abbey’s project seeks to redefine how the authenticity and value of plaster casts can be understood. She aims to achieve this through an investigation into the use and status of plaster and the technique of casting in the ancient world. In addition, as part of a visitor studies focused phase of her project, Abbey seeks to examine the perceptions that museum visitors currently have of casts. She will be exploring to what extent visitors to the Ashmolean Museum view casts as authentic and worthy of display in the museum. She will be investigating whether current museum displays are doing enough to present these casts as objects in their own right, as opposed to merely being stand-ins for ancient original sculptures.
Where Art and Science Meet: Art and Design at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Helen Goulston (University of Birmingham in partnership with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History)
Supervised by Dr Clare Jones (Birmingham) and Professor Paul Smith (Oxford)
Helen recently completed an MA in Decorative Arts and Historic Interiors at the University of Buckingham, achieving a Distinction and receiving the prize for the best performance by a postgraduate Art History student. The course allowed her to develop her knowledge of decorative arts from the late 17th century through to the 19th century, whilst placing them in their architectural and historical contexts. The MA culminated in a dissertation on the historic decorative arts display at The Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857. Prior to that Helen was an auctioneer and valuer for ten years; this provided her with invaluable hands-on experience of decorative arts across a wide range of eras and mediums. During this time she also qualified as a gemmologist, achieving FGA status.
For Helen’s doctoral project, in collaboration with the University of Birmingham and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, she is researching the interior decorative scheme of the Museum. The Museum was intended as a centre of scientific learning for Oxford University. Henry Acland and John Ruskin were leading figures in the early development of the project, with the Dublin-based architects, Deane and Woodward, winning the building design competition in 1855. By 1859 work had begun on the interior fittings and by 1860 the Museum was open.
The interior includes portrait statues and busts, decorative stonework and ironwork, as well as murals and bespoke furnishings. Helen will be examining and recording these objects and complementing this with research in the Museum’s archives.
Helen wishes to examine the function and effect of these decorative objects in a museum dedicated to scientific education. She is particularly interested in the role of a museum in university education. Helen is looking forward to this being an interdisciplinary project, assessing the art and design of the Museum in relation to institutional history, history of collections, museology and the development of different scientific disciplines.
Visual Archaeology: the photographic character of the archaeology of OGS Crawford
Beth Hodgett (University of London, Birkbeck in partnership with the Pitt Rivers Museum)
Supervised by Dr Lesley McFayden and Dr Jennifer Baird (Birkbeck) and Professor Chris Gosden and Dr Chris Morton (Oxford)
Beth Hodgett has a BA in Theology, and an MSc in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology from the University of Oxford. She has also dabbled in Fine Art, Photography and Art History. Beth has completed several voluntary placements at the Alexander Keiller Museum, Avebury and in the photographic collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum. In 2015 she completed a year-long internship at the Birkbeck Institutes of the Humanities and Social Research, during which she co-organized the Institute’s graduate conference. Her research on Francesco del Cairo’s “Martyrdom of St Agnes” has been published in the University of Leiden’s LUCAS Journal.
Beth’s research investigates the photographic archive of archaeologist OGS Crawford (1886-1957). Crawford was a prolific photographer and today approximately 9,600 of his photographs are housed in the Oxford Archaeological Institute. Previous studies have highlighted his pioneering role in the use of aerial photography in archaeology, and have demonstrated how his journal Antiquity was adopted by the neo-romantic movement during the inter-war years.
Due to the wide-ranging nature of Crawford’s subject matter, Beth’s research takes an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on photographic and material culture theory, as well as insights from archaeology and anthropology to investigate how knowledge of landscape and architecture is produced through photographic and archival practices. Beth is especially interested in the ‘seriality’ of photographs; exploring how photographs from the archive might relate to each other in time and space, and how this might be used to retrace Crawford’s own movements around the globe. The research also addresses the materiality of the archive itself, and considers its onoing life into the present day.