Café In the Crypt and The Roman Dead @ Museum of London: Docklands

IMG_20180904_133032_729From the British Museum, mom and I headed back to Trafalgar Square to finally visit the Café in the Crypt at St. Martin’s in the Field. I previously visited the café on my New Years trip to London and loved it. The café is located, as the name implies, in the old crypt of the church. The space and all of its associations truly deserve a blog all their own on death tourism and dark histories. Tables are located on top of grave stones and the crypt is surrounded by memento mori and memorial stones. Income from the café helps fund preservation and outreach programs at the church. When I told my students about this café, they were horrified at the thought of eating on graves and saw it as disrespectful, yet they were all about some ghost tours… as I said, lots more for another blog. All in all, the cafe made a mean scone and pot of tea, and the cakes looked to die for (lol see what I did there?).20180904_151621

We ubered on over to the East Side of London, which I was visiting for the first time, to the Museum of London: Docklands to see the Roman Dead exhibit that I had been looking forward to for months. The museum is located in the industrialized docks of the East End on Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs. The landscape is an interesting mix of industrial, commercial, and new sleek business buildings along the high-tech docks.  As a huge fan of Call the Midwife, set in this area of London, it was a bit shocking to see modern Poplar compared to 1950s and 1960s Poplar of the TV show.

DSC03390~2Our welcome at the museum was superb, and the FOH staff member we spoke with was a graduate of UNC, just a few hours from home; small world! We first went to see the Roman Dead exhibit before exploring the rest of this excellent museum. According to their website,  “Last year, a Roman sarcophagus was found near to Harper Road in Southwark. What does this unique find tells us about the ancient city that 8 million people now call home? We’ve displayed the sarcophagus alongside the skeletons and cremated remains of 28 Roman Londoners found during archaeological excavations of ancient cemeteries. The exhibition also features over 200 objects from burials in Roman London, exploring how people dealt with death in Londinium. Many items were brought here from across the Empire, showing the extent of London’s international connections, even at this early time in its history.”DSC03401~2

The exhibit also, “uses these grave goods and the results of scientific analysis of ancient Londoners’ skeletons to explore who Roman Londoners were, and show the surprising diversity of the ancient city.”One of the coolest aspects is an online interactive display available here: “Take a closer look at the exhibition’s most fascinating objects by exploring our interactive display.”

DSC03405~2I loved this exhibit. From the warning at the beginning about he display of human remains, to the treatment and interpretation of remains and funerary objects including cremated remains, full skeletons, childrens’ remains, and even animal and pet remains.

One of the best parts was the diversity (sex , age, and race/ethnicity) of these skeletons, all found in London from the Roman periods of history.   The museum did a great job of connecting the diverse history of London to its current status as one of the most diverse cities in Europe. Additionally, the connection between people 2000 years ago to modern people was presented with ease; people cared about their pets as family members, were sometimes buried with treasured belongings, and worried about the afterlife and what comes next, in many of the same ways that people do today.

DSC03393~2Soft lighting, quiet space, and layout of the exhibit seemed respectful and somber as was fitting for a room full of human remains. The interpretation of these people and their funerary objects, as well as the context of Roman Britain was explained well through text panels and multimedia displays. While I was in the exhibit, several families with children came through, and the children all seemed very engaged by the video, and also the remains themselves.

There were interactives, multimedia, opportunities to find more information, and all the things that make a modern museum exhibit great. I can’t say enough good things about it, and I’m only sad to report that it closed in October of 2018.

DSC03411After some time spent with the dead Romans, I had some time to visit the rest of the Docklands museum to learn the history of the area and people of the East End. This museum is awesome. Not only is it housed in a historic building that shows the connection of the location to industry and the local communities, but they have some very progressive interpretation (especially on colonialism and a surprisingly critical view of the UK’s role in the slave trade) and great interactive opportunities.

20180904_155650One of my favorite parts was the hamster-wheel like recreation of a pulley system from ye olde dockland days (see the photo my mom captured here), and the recreation of a London dock street, “Sailortown” was way too much fun. There were also myriad opportunities for children to play and learn throughout the museum from dress-up corners, to a mining set-up, and interactive recreated living spaces from throughout the decades. I started to get museum fatigue towards the end of our visit, but I really plan to make it back here for another visit on my next trip to London (and the regular Museum of London, too!). From the museum, mom and I headed back to Covent Garden where we ended the night with the traditional cheeky Nandos chicken and British television.

Next: Platform 9 ¾, York, York’s Chocolate Story, and more!

AcWriMo2018 Results and Updates

DqTKz0pX0AIy4Q2.jpg-largeAt the end of October I set up (rather ambitious) goals to take part in AcWriMo2018 (Academic Writing Month). I was inspired by Katy Peplin, PhD who organized a bunch of us with the hashtag, slack channels, writing retreats, and more wonderful (FREE) resources. Check out her website at katiepeplin.com, or on twitter at @KatyPeplinCoach and @ThrivePhD for all kinds of great advice, coaching, support, and encouragement from grad school through to writing that manuscript. If it wasn’t for seeing her tweets and info about AcWriMo, I don’t think I would have done near as much as I did. That, combined with the support and checking in of friends and colleagues, digitally and through twitter, got me through the month with almost all of my goals completed!

Here are my goals, as stated November 1:

12 blogs- 6000 words
1 professional blog – 1000 words
Research notes – 250 words, 5 days a week (can roll over) – 5000 words
Book proposal – ? – submit by 30th
Statement for conference – 500 words
Co-authored article (maybe) – 5000 words – email with potential co-author on an outline/timeline for this
Total Words: Over 17,000

Here is what I completed:

10 blogs – 6433 words
1 professional blog – 806 words – Available here: https://www.mummystories.com/single-post/KatieStringerClary 
Research notes – 5321 words –  I am surprised I met this; and didn’t think I did until I just added them all up
Book proposal – 3493 – SUBMITTED TO SERIES EDITOR!!!!
Statement for conference: Instructions didn’t come through, but I did submit to 2 other conferences, and have another in the works!
Co-authored article – have some plans in the works, but no words to show for it really;
Bonuses: see details below – appx – 2500 words
Total: Over 18,533 words

Honestly, getting up to write this this morning I didn’t think I’d met all of my goals, and I still felt pretty good about myself. Now that I know I’ve done it (even if not in exactly the way I had planned) – how exciting!

601995_3f6bc50a97f74403b3104f3650174d54~mv2The big thing was the book proposal, and I’m so thankful to all of you who looked over it and made incredible comments and just let me bounce ideas off of you and think out-loud via text. More to come on that in the future.  I know blogs don’t really “count” for anything, but I made them a goal to get myself just writing words and typing things out and getting them out of my head; and it worked! They were also a great way to feel like I was accomplishing something when other projects were stalled. The submitted blog was originally going to be something completely different until I woke up one morning thinking about the incredible Mummy Stories project by Angela Stienne. It was so fun to research Neskhons, the mummy who started me down all these various paths, and I hope he manages to make his way into my book.  Research notes were the hardest part of the process, since I’m working through my outline and manuscript at the same time. I still read some great articles and got ideas out into a doc, so that is what is most important.

sourceThe Bonuses I got done worked out to be: 2 abstracts for presentations at a Death Conference, abstract for a chapter proposal submitted, proposal to museums conference submitted, kept caught up on grading, discussions and putting out feelers for an edited volume with an amazing group of women, making progress on a collective of death studies individuals working towards radicalized death studies, got Zotero all set up for the new project, posted all of my student blogs (check them out at www.ccupublichistory18.wordpress.com), and just generally keeping up with the holidays and end of the semester.

giphy-2So final thoughts on this: no way would I have gotten as much done as I did without community and support from friends and colleagues (shout out to Twitter, for real). Having people just text and say, “are you writing today? let’s do a pom,” or listening, or sharing stupid gifs made a word of distance. Second, actually writing out these goals  (and rewards, which I haven’t gotten around to yet – tragedy!) and making a planDUH. I tell my students this all the time, and finally got around to practicing it, and lo and behold it actually works. Third: keeping a chart and spreadsheet to calculate that these goals are happening, other things I did, reflecting on the practice. Like I said above, who knew I actually met these goals! My spreadsheet did, and now I do, too.

Now: to keep up the momentum and keep setting and sticking to my goals. Get it!

 

British Museum 2.0

DSC03355~2I’ve often said since my first trip that I didn’t love the British Museum, much to the surprise of everyone who knows me and loves museums. I said in a previous post from 2014 that: “I’ve recently come to realize that I just don’t love huge museums.  I didn’t really like the Met, I really didn’t like the Tate, and the Natural History Museum in NYC was just ok for me.  Why is this?  I’m a museum person! I’m still thinking it all out, but I think it might have to do with the exhaustion of vacation, the sheer size of the places, my feeling that I NEED to see everything, and the amount of people there.  Also, they seem like spaces for rich, old, white people most of the time.  It’s kind of like that feeling I get sometimes at big parties, where I’d rather talk to the wait staff.  Maybe I’ve just built them up so big for so many years that they couldn’t possibly live up to the hype in my mind.”

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Me with my girl Sekhmet; best of the Egyptian pantheon

My second trip in September 2018 was much better. I went in this time with a goal to see the Egyptian and Greek sections, the Sutton Hoo, all the bodies I could, and enough to give my mom a good sense of the museum. My mom was an excellent sport, playing along every time I started in with, “Did you know…” as we traveled through ancient world history. We saw the Assyrian reliefs, including what we decided is probably the first recorded dog blep (good catch, mom!), Rosetta stone, a bevy of Sekhmets, a small bit of the Parthenon Marbles, one of the best papyri representing the Egyptian afterlife, and the Paulos/Saulos spoons of the Sutton Hoo. So many amazing things.

DSC03312~2My main goal in this visit was to examine the display of human remains in the museum. Throughout the Egyptian section, the human remains of mummies and Predynastic skeletal burials abound. One section explored diet and daily life through human remains from dentition to bone structure. The typical wrapped Egyptian mummies were on full display, mummified remains out of wrappings, and skeletal remains from children and adults serve to show changes over time and by class or age or diet or a myriad of other things. Since only about 1% of the British Museum’s collection is on display, I wonder about the variety of individuals not on display. Their catalog lists the various human remains on their website: from cremated remains to hair to mummies and skeletons the variety is endless.

DSC03332~2One of the most interesting interactives that was new to me on this visit was the “autopsy table” for 5,500 year old “Gebelein Man A.” This was an interesting look inside the mummy, and the exhibit gives visitors a chance to investigate the scientific information gleaned from research on the mummy over the past few years. Signage throughout the area explained the scientific value of researching this body, and new evidence shows that Gebelein Man A has some of the oldest tattoos ever found preserved on human skin.

DSC03342~2Moving on from the Egyptian section, I found other remains in the Neolithic Britain area of the museum. A recreation of a burial from Stonehenge was on full display in the room, and around a corner I found “Lindow Man”, one of the famous bog bodies found throughout Northwest Europe. The contrast between the display of local remains in the National Museum of Ireland and those of England offer an interesting contrast. In Ireland, the bodies are displayed in small, private, quiet, and softly lift areas for each body. In England, Lindow Man was tucked around a corner, not in full view, but seemingly stuck amongst the rest of the detritus of the Neolithic and early Bronze Age. I have more thoughts on this that I am still fully fleshing (lol) out.

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my “well actually” historian face

After a few hours of jetting through to see as much as possible, and buying all of the tea towels in the shop, my general thoughts on the British Museum remain, “…thrilling to see, and … a testament to colonial conquests,” but I am happy I got to revisit, and I hope to be back again soon!

Next up: more human remains at the Museum of London: Docklands Roman Dead exhibit and some death tourism at the Café in the Crypt in St. Martin’s-in-the-Field in Trafalgar.

Out & About London: The Tower, V&A, and Natural History

For our first full day in London, we mixed tourism and research, which is easy to do when you are working on museums, human remains, death studies, and memorialization of death.

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Room of the Princes in the Tower

Stop #1 was the Tower of London. I previously visited the tower and loved it; visit two was just as great! We saw the ravens, the Crown Jewels, beefeaters, and the Thames. It is always incredible to be in a near-millennia old structure, and knowing the people who have been on the site and the events that took place there takes away my breath! This time, through the lens of death studies, I was particularly struck by the memorialization of death, often state-sanctioned or mysterious. Most notable are the memorial to Anne Boleyn and the speculation about what happened to the two princes in the tower (I still maintain it was NOT Richard III).

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Execution Memorial

Less noticeable but perhaps even more subtly impactful are the bits of graffiti still visible on the walls of the towers where people were held before execution. The torture chamber is as tastefully done as possible while still catering to guests to expect to see the gruesome side of history, which at the tower at least, is a bit more subdued than most assume. Speaking of taste, across the street, the Hung, Drawn, and Quartered pub at the site of the tower hill public execution site is something for another post all together.

dsc031762.jpgAfter a good morning at the Tower we headed across town to the Victoria and Albert to visit a bit of unexpected human remain in a museum: Frida Kahlo’s prosthetic leg. Most unfortunately, the exhibit had sold out months early and remained sold out for the entirety of the show. This put a damper on things, and combined with a bit of hanger, I did not fully love the V&A. I did find some great medieval memento mori in the collections, and saw some good hands-on exhibits on medieval bedding, but I was happy to move on along to the Natural History Museum next door.

DSC03193The Natural History Museum was incredible! Beautiful architecture, vast collections, and wonderful old-school style displays immediately caught my eye. The display of human evolution and human ancestors was especially great. It brought to mind several questions about the display of reproduced human remains; I know in the US the display of Kennewick Man, even as a rendering, has evoked emotions and resistance in the descendent community. What about human ancestors; how “human” are they? Do they fall into the same category as other human remains?

On the way back we stopped by Trafalgar to see the lions and Buckingham Palace. We capped off the night with the national dish of curry and rested up for another day of museums and human remains the following day!

More photos below:

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England 2018: Trip 2 – September 2018

Prologue: If you follow my twitter or Instagram or this blog, you already know this has been a busy year. I’m fully taking advantage of #AcWriMo2018 this year, and with the support of colleagues and friends, I have a goal to write at least 12 blogs that have been sitting here in the draft list pile, along with many other goals for my Academic Writing this year. This is great news for my blog, but it means that my blogs are about to start a time wrap of slowly working their way back to the past. Therefore, you are first going to hear all about my SECOND trip to England this year, and then I will work towards my summer work and travel, then the Spring semester of 2018, etc. My dream goal is to get all caught up so I can begin again to post with some regularity and timeliness as an ongoing goal. Apology/not apology: My new work takes this Anglophile to England a lot, so be prepared for all things mushy peas and tea in the coming months. Ok, enough housekeeping: On to England!

Ok, so where were we…

You’ve already read my quick Fall 2018 update and that I was fortunate to present at the DaCNet II Conference at University of York last week. So what about the rest of the trip to England? I couldn’t very well fly all the way across the Atlantic JUST for a conference; I had to get in some research and planning there, as well.

IMG_20180901_050415_252Because of timing and a twist of good luck, my mom was able to join me on this trip as a research assistant extraordinaire and travel buddy! This was her first trip out of the country, and our first time traveling just the two of us, and turns out that we travel absolutely swimmingly together (unless one of us is slurping a hot drink or smacking gum and then things can get tense for a hot second). My mom was an absolute trooper on this trip; walking miles and miles across London, going to all of the museums and actually enjoying them, taking selfies without complaint, listening with actual interest every time I started off on a “DID YOU KNOW….“ tangent at a museum or historic place. So yeah, all of that to say, my mom is the best and I can’t wait to travel with her again.

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So mom and I headed out from the Myrt early on the first Saturday in September to head for The Big Smoke. After a few delays and a smooth flight, we landed at Heathrow and made our way towards Convent Garden. This trip we stated at the Hilton Double Tree West End, and I highly recommend it for location, but mostly because our room was ready at 11am when we got there to drop off bags.

We napped then made our way out to take a quick open top bus tour of the city before grabbing a pub dinner. I can’t recommend Golden Tours hop of and off bus at all because their routes and times were terrible and an absolute waste of money and time, but at least for our first day it was nice to sit back and see the sites with ease. Same goes for the London Pass: everything is free that we wanted to see anyway, so don’t waste your money.

20180902_155037That said, we got to see Trafalgar, Tower Bridge, the Thames, and St. Paul’s Cathedral while still in a jetlag fog. Then back to rest so we could have a full day of museums and sites the following day… coming up: death tourism in London, Tower of London, Victoria and Albert, Natural History Museum, British Museum (redux), and Museum of London: Docklands!

Side note: my friend Casey made all the arrangements for this trip through her business She’s All Booked, and I can’t recommend her enough!!

Death and Culture Network II: Fall 2018

DacNet UOY RHAlignIn September of this year I had the opportunity to present a paper on Bodies and Display for the Death and Culture II conference at the University of York in the United Kingdom. I have been researching bodies and museums for the past couple of years, and this was a fantastic opportunity to bring that research to an international audience. While in the UK, I also visited several London and York museums, met with other amazing #DeathStudies scholars, and did some good research for what will be my next book! More on that soon.

IMG_mh7wdbAccording to the DaCNet website, “The Death and Culture Network based at the University of York seeks to explore and understand cultural responses to mortality. It focuses on the impact of death and the dead on culture, and the way in which they have shaped human behaviour, evidenced through thought, action, production and expression. The network is committed to promoting and producing an inter-disciplinary study of mortality supported by evidence and framed by theoretical engagement.” This is a true interdisciplinary work of genius, and a fun group of people to meet and collaborate with for sure.

I can not emphasize enough how much I enjoyed this conference and the other presentations and discussions held formally and informally. I will explore those in my next blog in more detail.

IMG_20180907_102201_205In my presentation I explored the legacy of freakshows and cabinets of curiosities on the current guidelines and ethics of museums in regard to the display of human remains. Topics I am brought up included: ethics, public reactions, and responsibilities of public historians with regards to the display and exhibition of human remains. I also presented on the racial, ableist, and class implications of displaying human remains in natural history, history, and medical museums. I also mentioned cultural patrimony of objects, as well as human remains as museum objects. I posed many questions in my talk about how old do human remains have to be to be considered “objects” and no longer people? How do visitors react to various human remains on display, from mummies, to Victorian hair wreath memorials, to skeletons or cremated remains? Human remains have been a part of exhibitions since the first museums opened in various forms; from the case of Sarah Baartman and nineteenth century freak shows, to modern displays of mummies and medical specimens, the human body has often been a source of emotion, intrigue, and education. Have museums moved beyond the “freakshow,” or are current human remain displays merely an extension of the spectacle of the earliest museum?20180907_141938~2

I had a blast doing this presentation, and I even managed to finish my talk with 4 seconds to spare. The audience and other panel members were so accepting and helpful, and they brought so many insights to my talk. I can’t wait to be back in York in 2020 for DaCIII!

Updates, News, and Fun, Fall 2018 Edition

What a year this has already turned out to be! I haven’t been as active here on the blog, but always check out @DrMaryClary on Twitter for lots of updates, and @KatieClaryPhD on Insta for current news, musings, and updates. As I am currently waiting impatiently for Hurricane Florence to hit, I’m hoping to get caught up on a lot of writing and blogging.

Here is a quick run-down of 2018 so far:

20180310_213200I accepted a new position as Assistant Professor of History, Public History at Coastal Carolina University in the spring! I’m thrilled to get to continue my work here in South Carolina with Public history, access, human remains, and cultural heritage.

NCPH 2018 was a blast as usual. I presented my new work on bodies and museums with a fantastic group of women and chaired a panel titled, “Death and Display, Bodies and Boundaries.” I hope to expound upon our panel at that work very soon.

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I took a vacation to England! I also did some incredible anecdotal research on remains in museums and saw artifacts I’ve been reading about for years at the Ashmolean Museum and others. I also managed to hike about 40 miles of the Cotswolds Way in the bizarre heat and sunshine of England in May.

I had an article come out based on my conference paper at the EXARC 2017 conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. The paper, “Public Access to (Pre-)History Through Archaeology” is available through the EXARC Open Access Journal at this link

20180907_180349Most recently, I traveled to the UK to do some research on human remains in several museums in London, and then I traveled up to York to present at the Death and Culture Network conference at the University of York. What an amazing conference and group of people to be a part of. I can’t wait to share more with you about the conference, potential projects coming out of it, and the rad people I met. In the meantime, check out the Hashtag #DC2 on twitter for highlights from myself and some other dedicated live-tweeters. As for the paper I presented, it should be coming out soon in the American Association for State and Local History quarterly, History News. I’ll share it when it is!

DSC03332~2This semester I’m working with a research fellow from my college to develop a full-scale Reacting to the Past game based on a mini-game I created last fall about the development of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. What an incredible melding of all of my interests – pedagogy, game play, human remains, cultural heritage, and public history – all in one! Happily, my workshop on this topic with the incomparable Dr. Abby Gautreau and Dan Ott has been accepted for NCPH 2019; see you all soon in Hartford!

I’m also updating my interactive CV tab here to include my most recent work.

So busy, all the time, but loving every minute of it. Catch you soon, but see you on Twitter in the meantime!

Fall 2017 Student Blog: Oral History

This is the fifteenth in a series of Tuesday re-blogs of my student work from our HIST395 course. Please enjoy these blogs written by Coastal Carolina University students.

This is the second blog by student Morissa Robinson about the importance of oral history. 

By Morissa J Robinson I recently worked on a project in one of my history classes that required us to dig up any information we could find on a person assigned to us and write up a biography entry. Easy, right? Well it wasn’t that simple. Some of us had first and last names to […]

via Why Oral History is Important — Journey into Public History

 

Fall 2017 Student Blog: Motor City Mayhem

This is the fourteenth in a series of Tuesday re-blogs of my student work from our HIST395 course. Please enjoy these blogs written by Coastal Carolina University students.

This is the second blog by student Dylan Livingston about museums in Detroit. 

By Dylan Livingston During this past summer, I traveled to Detroit, Michigan to visit my father and take a look into what he was working on for his job. Over the past year, my father was hired as the CEO of the Michigan State science center. One of my dad’s main objectives was to educate […]

via Motor City Mayhem — Journey into Public History

Fall 2017 Student Blog: National History Day

This is the thirteenth in a series of Tuesday re-blogs of my student work from our HIST395 course. Please enjoy these blogs written by Coastal Carolina University students.

This is the second blog by student Tori Peck about National History Day. 

By Tori Peck What is National History Day? It is an event that is independently sponsored by organizations that will hold local and state competitions where elementary, middle school and secondary school students present historical research done on a predetermined topic. Around 3,000 students attend the final competition and they come from all around the […]

via National History Day — Journey into Public History