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Enhancing the learning and teaching potential of samian ware: Recent work on Durham University


Enhancing the learning and teaching potential of samian ware: Recent work on Durham University s Oswald-Plicque collection Robin Skeates – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Enhancing the learning and teaching potential of samian ware: Recent work on Durham University

Enhancing the learning and teaching potential of
samian ware Recent work on Durham Universitys
Oswald-Plicque collection
  • Robin Skeates

The Oswald-Plicque collection
  • The Oswald-Plicque collection was the personal
    samian collection of Dr. Felix Oswald.
  • This collection was acquired by Professor Eric
    Birley for Durham University in 1950.
  • It is now housed in Durham Universitys Old
    Fulling Mill Museum of Archaeology.

The collection today artefacts
  • The main part of the collection comprises
  • 64 boxes containing nearly 5000 sherds of
    decorated figured samian from large bowls.
  • 10 is South Gaulish material, mostly acquired by
    Dr. Felix Oswald from Roman London and annotated
    by him in great detail.
  • The other 90 comprises Oswalds section of the
    Plicque Collection acquired sometime between 1931
    and 1936 from Mme. Plicque, the widow of Dr
    Alfred-Edward Plicque. This contains Central
    Gaulish samian of the 2nd century, from both the
    production site of Les Martres-de-Veyre on the
    Allier, and from Dr. Plicques late 19th century
    excavations at Lezoux.

Anchor Potter
The collection today archive
  • 8 boxes of unsorted pottery sherds, labelled by
    codes, but lacking index cards or other
  • 6 boxes of plaster casts of some of a lost
    collection of moulds, accompanied by original
  • 4646 samian drawings by Oswald, and photocopies
    of some of these, accompanied by detailed notes
    listing figure-types and quoting parallels
  • Letters exchanged between the collectors and
    other correspondence, sketchbooks, and photo
  • Museum documentation relating to the collection,
    including a card index with a paper rubbing of
    each sherd.

The collection today display
  • Currently, only a small proportion of this
    collection is on display in the Museum of
  • The majority remains in storage, in the Museum
    and in the Department of Archaeology.

The inaccessible collection
  • Before our project to enhance the accessibility
    of this collection
  • Informal and formal questions revealed that both
    staff and students regarded the collection as
  • The large size of the collection, and generally
    small size of the artefacts, were regarded as
  • The disorderly and cramped conditions of its
    storage made the collection physically
  • The limited, even chaotic, museum documentation
    system and database, which had been added to by
    many different people over the years, made
    information about the collection inaccessible
  • The lack of public information about the
    collection meant that none of the students had
    previously heard of the Oswald-Plicque

The Durham project
  • The Durham project comprised a pilot study for a
    broader HEFCE-funded project on Archive
  • The core aim of the Durham project was,
  • To enhance the accessibility of the
    Oswald-Plicque collection of Roman samian ware in
    the Universitys Old Fulling Mill Museum of
    Archaeology as a learning and teaching resource.

Specific project aims
  • Improving intellectual and physical access to
    this internationally significant museum archive
    of artefacts and associated records, central to
    Roman studies
  • which both Oswald and Birley were anxious
    should benefit samian studies and not lie idle
    in some museum
  • 2) Establishing new ways of learning and teaching
    with this collection of samian ware, using
    assignments that involve active learning
  • 3) Providing opportunities to improve the
    employability of students by engaging them in
    detailed studies of this ubiquitous pottery.

Proposed outcomes
  • From the perspective of the students, the hope
    was that the project would enable learners
  • 1) To gain a critical understanding of the
    theory and practice of samian studies
  • 2) To extend their knowledge of Samian ware by
    undertaking close examination of the physical
    features, construction, function, design and
    value of samian ware
  • 3) To gain and develop confidence and skills in
    handling, analysing, interpreting, recording and
    exhibiting samian ware.
  • But did we achieve these outcomes?

Enhancing the collection
  • We enhanced the value of the Oswald-Plicque
    collection as a learning, teaching and research
    resource in the following ways

1. Key museum-based practical tasks
  • 1. Dispersed elements of the collection were
    tracked down
  • 2. Lost elements of the collection were
    identified and investigated. In particular, it
    was discovered that 199 clay moulds had been
    missing since 1985.
  • 3. The boxes of samian sherds were
    cross-referenced with the card index.
  • 4. The collection of sherds was sorted, cleaned,
    repacked and renumbered.
  • 5. The casts of the moulds were sorted and
    cleaned, and some research was undertaken in
    order to identify them.
  • 6. The paper archive was sorted and repacked.
  • 7. The additional boxes of unsorted samian ware
    sherds, which had been absorbed into the
    collection over a number of years but are not
    necessarily attributed to Oswalds collection,
    were subject to preliminary research and
    identification, and were repacked.
  • 8. An ADLIB searchable collections documentation
    database and user manual, which was secure yet
    accessible to museum staff, students and
    researchers, was developed by the Museums
    Documentation Officer and by the University
    Librarys Database Administrator.
  • Students can now access this at the University
    Museums, with a special password.
  • The Museums Photographic and Documentation
    Officers digitally photographed each piece of the
    samian collection every sherd with a front view,
    and some also with rear, cross-section and detail
  • Collections data, including written information
    and the digital photographs, were then entered
    into the documentation system.

2. The student support officer
  • A key figure in the transformation of the
    Oswald-Plicque collection was the projects
    Student Support Officer, Mrs Christine
    Tallentire, who was appointed using the FDTL-5
    project funds to work with students on the
    development of the collection.
  • Chris worked with students, supervising their
    work in a variety of ways
  • Training and supervising them in the handling,
    sorting, cleaning, repacking and documentation of
    the collection
  • Helping them to choose artefacts to be exhibited
    in their exhibitions
  • Undertaking informal and questionnaire-based
    evaluations of their experiences of working with
    the collection.

3. Embedding the collection in learning and
  • We successfully embedded the use of the
    collection as a learning and teaching resource in
    a variety of assignments, modules and degree
    programmes, at both undergraduate and
    postgraduate level

e.g. Level 3 Museum Archaeology exhibition
  • The Museum Archaeology module was one of a group
    of undergraduate Level 3 modules designed to
    provide students with a sound knowledge of core
    professional techniques related to the recording
    and analysis of classes of primary archaeological
    materials, and thus to develop skills required
    for their analysis and interpretation.
  • The student assignment was to contribute to a
    group exhibition in the temporary exhibition
    gallery of the Old Fulling Mill Museum of
    Archaeology on an aspect of archaeology, using
    artefacts from the Oswald-Plicque collection,
    accompanied by a press-release and an information
  • The students undertook this project under the
    guidance of the Department of Archaeologys
    Lecturer in Museum Studies, the Deputy Curator of
    the University Museums, and the pilot projects
    Student Support Officer, as well as with the
    assistance of other members of the Archaeology
    Museums staff.

The Level 3 exhibition project
  • The students chose to draw upon the whole of the
    Oswald-Plicque collection and archive to explore
    themes such as
  • the history of the collection,
  • the manufacture and decoration of samian ware,
  • the distribution, uses and archaeological
    deposition of samian ware,
  • the values of samian ware to us today.
  • The culminating exhibition at the Museum was
    entitled, From Clay to Collection the Life and
    Times of a Roman Pot.

From Clay to Collection the Life and Times of a
Roman Pot
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Evaluation of the Level 3 exhibition project
  • Student portfolios and questionnaires found that
    around 75 percent of the students felt that that
    they had benefited from working with the
    collection during the course of the exhibition
    project, by gaining new, or enhancing existing,
    knowledge and skills.
  • In particular, they valued
  • Working as part of a team
  • Gaining hands-on experience with museum objects
  • Learning more about samian ware, particular
    through undertaking research on the collection.
    Indeed, the students initial, somewhat negative
    to neutral, attitude towards samian ware was
    transformed into a positive one
  • Learning about the interesting history of the
  • Learning more about museum work, by actually
    working in a museum.
  • Contributing something to the wider community in
    Durham through public exhibition.
  • Overall, it is fair to say that the students
    found the whole experience slightly stressful,
    but very rewarding.

e.g. Level 3 Dissertation
  • One of the students who undertook the exhibition
    project on the Museum Archaeology module also
    chose to write an 8,000-word Dissertation related
    to the samian collection.
  • The title of this Dissertation was, The Museum
    Display of Samian Ware in the North East and
  • The idea behind this Dissertation was to place
    the current permanent display, and the temporary
    student exhibition, of material from the
    Oswald-Plicque collection in the Museum of
    Archaeology in a broader context.
  • The Dissertation found that samian ware is a
    highly versatile artefact that is used in
    different museums for a range of purposes, to
  • Inform about many aspects of Roman life,
  • Explain archaeological practices,
  • Illustrate an individual collection.
  • It also found that, although in existing museum
    displays text plays the largest part in
    explaining samian ware, other exhibition media
    can communicate information about this pottery
    equally, if not more, effectively. These
  • Illustrations, especially when integrated with
    the text
  • Tactile interactive experiences, including
    contextual reconstructions.

e.g. Level 3 Archaeological Illustration project
  • The Archaeological Illustration module was
    another one of the group of undergraduate Level 3
    professional skills modules.
  • In this, one student chose to use some pieces
    from the samian collection in their illustration

e.g. Level 4 (Masters) Museum Principles and
Practice weekly museum work placement
  • As part of the Museum Principles and Practice
    module, the MA Museum and Artefact Studies
    students also undertook a weekly half-day work
    placement in one of the Durham University
    Museums, over a period of around six months.
  • This activity was intended to develop the
    practical and judgmental skills of students to
    professional standards, working alongside museum
  • As part of this, some of the students worked in
    the Museum of Archaeology alongside the Student
    Support Officer on the Oswald-Plicque collection
    of samian ware.
  • In particular, they learnt about and helped with
    the sorting, cleaning, repacking and
    documentation of the collection.

What the students gained from this placement work
  • Evaluations confirmed that there are real
    benefits to undertaking such placement work on
    museum collections.
  • From the perspective of the students, the work
  • Increased their interest in and knowledge of
    samian ware, potters and technology, including
    the variety of colours, decoration and potters
    marks found on the pottery sherds,
  • Increased their skills in the identification of
    samian decoration, which one of the students
    thought would be of possible help to them in
    their ambition to undertake postgraduate research
    (i.e. a PhD) in the future,
  • Gained a better understanding of museum
    collections management issues surrounding
    backlogs of undocumented and unpublished
  • Developed their professional museum skills and
    knowledge, through
  • receiving training in the correct handling of
    museum objects,
  • working on the packing and storage of the
  • working with a computerised museum documentation
  • using a digital camera.

e.g. Level 4 (Masters) Artefact Studies
artefact report
  • As part of the Artefact Studies module, the
    Masters students had to select, research,
    analyse, record (document and describe) and
    interpret a chosen inorganic artefact, and write
    it up in essay form, accompanied by photograph(s)
    and drawing(s), and by acknowledgements of all
    specialist assistance provided.
  • The report had to begin with a catalogue-style
    entry of around 300 words and an accompanying
    photograph of the complete object, and then be
    followed by an extended discussion of the object
    of around 2700 words and further illustrations,
    including a discussion of its manufacture
    (materials, processes and tools), decoration
    (materials and techniques), alteration, use,
    damage, discard, burial, and its existence in the
    museum collection.
  • A few students selected items from the
    Oswald-Plicque collection.

What the students gained from this assignment
  • This exercise helped those students to develop
    their knowledge and skills in a number of
    valuable directions
  • They gained a thorough and critical understanding
    of the material composition, technology of
    production, uses and cultural context of samian
  • They gained direct experience in, and a competent
    ability to, handle, examine, analyse, identify,
    classify, interpret, document, describe and
    report (in written and graphic form) samian ware,
    using appropriate methods carefully, safely and
    accurately, summarising critically their physical
    nature, structure and composition, key features,
    condition, use, history, significance, age,
    provenance, relationship to other relevant
    objects, in line with a research plan
  • In the process, they also gained direct
    experience in and a competent ability to
  • Use computer and information technology,
  • Access library, museum, archive and World Wide
    Web resources,
  • Undertake advanced independent study, research
    and problem solving,
  • Communicate information and arguments
    effectively, in written, visual and computerised
    form, to specialist audiences,
  • Take responsibility for personal, professional
    and ethical development within the museum and
    cultural heritage sector or within academia,
    responding actively to critical feedback,
  • Manage time effectively, working to time-tables
    and meeting deadlines.

e.g. Level 4 (Masters) Museum and Artefact
Studies exhibition project
  • The Museum Communication module of the MA in
    Museum and Artefact Studies was focussed on
    helping the student group put on an exhibition at
    the Museum of Archaeology.
  • The exhibition was undertaken in collaboration
    with the staff of the University Museums.
  • The teaching included a series of training
    seminars on general themes relating to museum
    communication, a series of field-trips examining
    relevant existing types of museum display, and a
    series of combined tutorials and group-work
    sessions on the student exhibition.
  • Self-directed learning was integral to this
    module, and involved a considerable number of
    hours of individual and group work and meetings
    undertaken outside of formal teaching sessions.
  • The exhibition was completed and opened to the
    public in mid-June, and finally dismantled in

The assignment
  • The 10 students were initially informed that the
    exhibition was to be based on the Oswald-Plicque
    collection of samian ware.
  • They were also informed that the following core
    elements had to be undertaken by the group
  • 1. Preparation and mounting of a temporary
    exhibition in the upstairs
  • gallery of the Old Fulling Mill Museum of
  • 2. Preparation of an exhibition catalogue
    (either printed or on-line),
  • 3. Preparation of a resource pack for use by
    school teachers,
  • 4. Organisation and running of one or more
    related educational activities
  • or events, with in-put from the staff of the
    University Museums,
  • 5. Formal evaluation of the exhibition and
    related activities
  • 6. Evaluation of the project as a whole and of
    each individual students experience.
  • The student group entitled their project and
  • Fire Your Imagination Stories from Roman

Front-end evaluation
  • One of their early activities was to undertake
    front-end evaluation on the general public in
    Durham City.
  • In total, 53 questionnaires were completed, which
    shed some light on peoples preconceptions about
    Roman pottery

Would you be interested in seeing an exhibition
on Roman pottery?
  • In response to this question,
  • 31 respondents answered Yes
  • 9 were unsure
  • 11 said No.
  • One of the No people said I find pottery
    quite dull to be honest!.
  • One challenge for the students, then, was to try
    to create an exhibition that might overcome the
    negative preconceptions of the Unsure and No

What would you expect to see in an exhibition
entitled Fire your Imagination Roman Stories
from Roman Pots?
  • The responses to this question revealed the
    wide-range of materials and themes that potential
    visitors expected to see in the exhibition, in
    addition to pottery.
  • Here is a small, but representative, selection of
    these responses
  • Pots, pots, pots, pots and pots.
  • Roman pots
  • Broken pots
  • Different types of pot
  • Domestic pottery, decorative pottery dishes and
    cups for wine drinking
  • Pottery used for peaceful and warlike purposes
    e.g. fire in the kitchen and boiling oil
    catapulted over the enemy
  • Big kilns
  • Demonstrations of how pottery is made - people
    working handling clay
  • Where the Roman pots originated
  • Scenes from life
  • Gladiators
  • Roman history and myths
  • Latin poetry

Exhibition project aims
  • Building upon this, and other information,
    gathered in the initial stages of the project,
    the students defined the following aims for their
  • 1) To generate an interest in the Roman way of
    life, and to raise awareness of Samian ware,
  • 2) To create a high quality, visually exciting,
    display that communicates information in a clear
    and easily understandable manner, and in an
    entertaining manner,
  • 3) To provide a range of opportunities for
    visitors of all ages and abilities to engage with
    and learn from the objects on their own level,
    through both staff- and visitor-led means,
  • 4) To introduce greater numbers of visitors to
    the Old Fulling Mill Museum of Archaeology.

Practical museum-related tasks
  • In practice, the exhibition project set out to
    meet these aims by
  • Using a narrative-based approach to engage
  • Focussing on manufacture, as well as on the
    images on the pottery,
  • Creating a marketing campaign focussed on
  • Following learning guidelines, such as the
    National Curriculum and Generic Learning
  • Consulting with professional designers,
  • Creating a strong programme of staff-led events
    targeting schools and families,
  • Creating a highly informative display,
  • Having layers of complexity in the exhibition
    text, which would allow visitors to access
    information appropriate to their comprehension

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Object handling
On-line catalogue
Education pack
Visitor feedback
  • Visitor comments on the exhibition, recorded in
    the visitors book and on feedback forms,
    demonstrated that the exhibition had been
    successful in achieving its original aims.

What visitors learnt
  • Here is a representative sample of some of the
    most interesting things that people learnt
  • That samian ware exists
  • How samian ware was made e.g. how a raised
    decoration was created on a pot
  • That Roman pottery tells a story, as well as
    having a functional use
  • That spectators could buy pots depicting their
    favourite gladiators
  • That the Britons were inspired by Roman pottery
  • That Roman remains have been found near to where
    I live
  • We forget that the Romans were just the same as
    we are today, with their wants and needs. They
    just had a different way of life.

What visitors enjoyed
  • Some of the things that people enjoyed most
  • The well chosen and interesting artefacts Love
    those pots!
  • The handling session
  • The locally found artefacts
  • The informative labels
  • The stories
  • The childrens activities
  • Seeing my daughters enthusiasm

What visitors didnt like
  • Some of the things that people enjoyed least
  • You cant see the images on the pottery very
    well, due to the small size of the objects and
    poor lighting.
  • The limited size of the exhibition they wanted
  • There wasnt any hot water for a cup of tea!

What the students gained from the experience
  • Learning about working as a team to achieve
    shared objectives
  • Communicating effectively as a team
  • Gaining understanding and practical experience of
    a range of museum principles and activities
    e.g. securing loans, text writing, evaluation
  • Gaining experience of working alongside museum
  • Gaining experience of curating a museum
    exhibition to professional standards
  • Overcoming exhibition problems.

Recommendations for best practice
  • The following recommendations are based upon the
    lessons learnt during this project
  • Archaeologists based in universities, museums and
    archives should co-operate, communicate
    effectively and work together to enable students
  • 1) Access information about the existence and
    contents of collections,
  • 2) Experience working within the museum/archive
  • 3) Work with collections by integrating
    collections into university curriculae,
  • 4) Enable students to learn actively, enjoyably
    and effectively through hands-on experience of
    multi-valent artefacts in collections
  • 5) Contribute to the process of improving the
    accessibility of collections and dealing with
    backlogs in their documentation,
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