Museums Journal: On my bookshelf: Published September 2011
Caroline Ellis, Head of Special Collections, London Metropolitan University.
Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria by George Dennis
I had completed my archaeology degree and begun working in museums when I first read George Dennis’s `Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria.’ Published in 1848, Dennis’s book describes his tours of central Italy from 1842 to 1847. But Dennis was no aristocratic grand tourist and his book is no polite collectors’ guide. A clerical officer who left school at fifteen, Dennis travelled alone through Etruria and mapped, described, explained and referenced every site. His was the breakthrough study that took Etruscan archaeology from tomb robbing to science.
`Cities and Cemeteries’ is a great read, has beautiful illustrations and is still the best guide to visiting the sites on the ground. It has always reminded me of the wonder of discovery that we try and communicate to museum visitors, the stimulus to learn more and the pure enjoyment of knowledge.
When I re-read the book now, I am most struck by the characters who populate it. As Dennis travelled through the malaria and bandit ridden Papal state, he tells us as much about the Italy of the 1840s as he does about its pre-Roman past. There were few visitors to this `wretched place’, yet he is met with hospitality and warmth. For all its forensic description of sites, tombs and objects, Dennis’s book is essentially about people and his quest to uncover and understand them.
Museums Journal Comment Piece: Published 2010
Should all museums be family-friendly?
Is `family-friendly’ a euphemism for noisy children? I don’t think so – I think `family-friendly’ means that a museum is welcoming to everyone, that it has interpretation that is clear and understandable for all and engages with all age groups in ways which are familiar to them. A museum needs to learn and develop through its interaction with its audiences. The Women’s Library at London Metropolitan University shares often challenging subjects, from the Women’s Liberation Movement to Women and Work. But the participation and feedback we get from our school and family visitors is essential to gaining perspective on these subjects. After all, museums and their collections are all about people and you therefore need to engage with the widest range of people to give those collections meaning.
Museums Journal Comment piece: Published June 2008
Flowing on from Margaret Hodge’s comments on the under-representation of women at board level: Should there be quotas to increase the number of woman on the boards of cultural institutions?
What is best for cultural institutions and the people who use or potentially use them? At this year’s Women’s Library Lecture Shirley Williams brilliantly demonstrated the dramatic difference that women in ministerial positions make in the global political world. Like governments, cultural institutions fail to maximise their potential when they sideline the contribution of women. They need to better reflect and answer the needs of the majority of their users, and ultimately a high proportion of the people who help to fund them. And the necessity to move forward at something other than the current glacial advance argues that quotas would be the best way to tackle this need.