Uncovering the Students Behind the New Exhibition

On June 11th a new exhibition titled “Objects Uncovered – Questioning Authenticity” curated by the students of the course ‘Curating An Exhibition’, in association with Museums and Special Collections staff will be opening. With objects exclusively from the University collections on display at Sir Duncan Rice Library, the students put together an exhibition around the topic of authenticity. This challenging them is represented by individual objects that each explain a different sphere and aim to challenge preconceptions.

What is real and what is fake? Under which circumstances is something labelled fake?

The exhibition will be on the Ground Floor of the Sir Duncan Rice Library

These were some of the questions the team of fifteen students had to face. Divided into four groups consisting of: interpretation team, object and layout team, marketing and design team and two coordinators. Every individual worked very hard to make this team-exhibition a success. Now, the final days are here and the last preparations are being made.

Did you know that creating an exhibition involved extensive text editing, exploring new skills in social media and spending hours on math calculations? All of the teams had to face new challenges and gain new professional skills that will further support their future professional role.  

This is the time to give ourselves a pat on the back for the process that has been done until now. Additionally, we would also like to thank our supervisors who acted as mentors on many occasions and who gave helpful support and creative inputs.

As a class we cannot wait to open our exhibit to the public, we hope you come and join us on June 11th 2019, at Sir Duncan Rice Library at the University of Aberdeen.

Object Uncovered – Questioning Authenticity will open on 11th June!

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Uncovering the Title

In this blog ‘Curating an Exhibition’ student, Pete, tells us about the process and difficulties of choosing an exhibition title!

‘Picking a title was problematic; before we started the task of naming our exhibition we were acutely aware of how long the process could take. Listed below are some of the problems we encountered.

  • Academic v Casual – There was debate over which direction we should go, specifically in relation to the type of language we should use. Some of the class preferring academic language, with others preferring a more casual approach.
  • Active v Passive – The next area of division was centered around if active phrases should be used. We agreed an active title would work better than that of a passive one. For example, a passive title such as ‘Chinese Pots’ could be made more appealing with an active phrase attached such as, ‘Chinese Pots – examining the intricate nature of ancient pottery’. We decided therefore we wanted a two-part title.
  • Avoiding the cliché – Along with book titles many museum exhibition titles can sound similar. Originally, we looked to avoid using cliché titles when brainstorming but through research we found that certain titles work for certain demographics. So, in the end we thought – if you can’t beat them, join them!  

Benefits of a good title

We knew having a good title would be a valuable asset and before we started the decision process we looked at the benefits of a good title. Below are some benefits we discovered:

  • Concise and informative – Potential visitors will easily be able to work out what an exhibition is about if the title is short and informative.
  • Meeting Expectation – If a visitor goes to an exhibition expecting to see one thing but sees another then they might leave disappointed, therefore we need to try to convey as much precise information about the exhibition, without giving false expectations!
  • Catching the eye of the target audience – We realised it would be tricky to strike the right balance between concise and informative. We knew we had to use key words to inform, but how many would be too many? A long title would put potential visitors off.
  • Marketing – As well as this we wanted a short title because it would work better on posters and marketing pieces.

How we selected our title  

The design and marketing team were responsible for coming up with a title and our original process was just a standard brainstorming session, playing around with the words ‘authentic’ and ‘world’ as our key words (we later decided to drop the word ‘world’). Once we had narrowed down to 4 title suggestions the class had agreed on we decided to use survey monkey to gather feedback on the titles.

 The 4 title suggestions were as follows.

  1. Objects Uncovered – Questioning Authenticity
  2. Hidden Meanings – Objects Uncovered
  3. Authentica – Putting Objects in Perspectives
  4. From Object to Story – Challenging Perceptions

From the results of the survey we put forward 2 title suggestions. Hidden meanings – Questioning Authenticity of Objects and the one we finally chose, Objects uncovered – Questioning Authenticity.

We feel we found the right balance between academic and casual, active and passive voices and managed to find a title that is catchy without being too cliche! What do you think? If you had to think of an exhibition title, what elements would you want to include?’

The exhibition opens on June 11th in the Sir Duncan Rice library.
Be sure to check it out!
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Is there an object missing?

In this blog, ‘Curating an Exhibition’ student, Melanie de Visser, uncovers a perspective about the display of sacred museum objects:

‘In this year’s exhibition created by the ‘curating an exhibition’ students of the University of Aberdeen, the visitors will encounter an empty stand in one of the cases. This might give the impression that we have forgotten to put an object in. The empty stand, however, is intentional. It displays acknowledgement, appreciation, responsibility and respect for sacred cultural objects in museum collections.

White round podium with empty glass showcase illuminated by floor spotlights.

During the creation of the exhibition, we have carefully selected objects from the Museums and Special Collections collection. One of the investigated objects was a putorino, named by the collectors as a ‘flute’. This wooden carved object is an instrument and originates from New Zealand where it has a sacred meaning to the indigenous Maori population. The putorino is a taonga puoro.

Taonga is a noun that means ‘treasure’ and puoro is the verb ‘to sing’.

There are certain cultural protocols attached to the flute and its sound, which embody the very essence of Maori identity. This can come in many forms: language, culture, values and sounds. The spiritual relevance in all of these forms is therefore treated with great respect.

As a museum object, the putorino cannot carry out its purpose; through its acquisition, it is not contextualized in the museum and does not interact with its natural surrounding, wherefore it loses parts of its original function. The sacred meaning and the connected value of the objects however, can remain.

Many museum collections hold objects in their store, that embody sacred values for the communities they originate from. It used to be the case that collected objects from other countries were often misinterpreted in a museum space. Museum practitioners used their authority to state what the object was, instead of asking the people to whom it belonged.

We felt that any display or interpretation would not do it justice. It is the reason we chose to leave the space empty; to indicate its value.

The research and display of sacred objects play an important role in museum practices today. The empty space has the aim to promote, encourage discussion and emphasize the responsibility museums have to face today when exhibiting sacred objects.

Instead of turning a blind eye to controversial elements in the museum’s collection, we decided to spotlight them.

  • For kids: learning about Maori instruments in New Zealand’
The opening of the exhibition: 
June, 11th in the Sir Duncan Rice Library

Please leave a comment below of what you think about the display of sacred objects.

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Uncovering Hidden Objects

In this blog, Zelia Bukhari of the ‘Curating an Exhibition’ course tells us about some of the objects that didn’t make it into the exhibition:

‘While creating this exhibition so far our team had some disagreements, as many teams do, but one unspoken understanding we all had as curators was our need and desire to believe in the collection we will display. The decision of what objects to display was at the heart of our exhibition operations. We had access to the collections and Marischal Museum Collections store which is vast and profound, making our jobs as curators much more challenging. So how do we choose which objects NOT to display?

Throughout this blog post I will briefly delve into four objects, and why we chose not to display them in our exhibition: Objects Uncovered – Questioning Authenticity,which will open on the 11th June in Sir Duncan Rice Library.

Controversies surrounding displaying certain objects have existed as long as museums have existed. For us as a young, educated, diverse group of curators, we wanted to ensure that we contemplate and consider each object not just from our own perspective, but from the experiences of our targeted audience. We reflected on what roles our objects could play in the special experience we hoped to develop for our visitors. We made sure the objects fitted in with our overarching theme, were accessible and appropriate to be put on display.

  1. Java Market (ABDUA: 9572)

Initially this item was chosen because it fit one of our initial sub-themes; “miniatures”, which described and questioned our comprehension of authenticity. We believed that this item would aid us in telling the story we were hoping to in our exhibit.

Sadly, we had to leave this item be as it was too delicate to move and we felt that the message the object would have conveyed could be conveyed with another less fragile object. While a very cute item that we would have loved to present to our audience, especially children who visited, we could not risk it.

2.     Brazilian Quivers (ABDUA: 9226)

This object was described as “authentic” quivers from Brazil. It was one of the original objects to be chosen back in November when we first started planning the exhibit as a class. As they are labelled as “authentic”, they definitely raised an interesting point in our exhibit, one that questions authenticity in general.

The reason why we had to leave this item alone was because…it was poisonous! The poisonous part was the primary reason we did not give the quivers a second thought, but it also turned out that once we began to define our theme, this object did not fit into the exhibition theme.

3.     Ivory Palace (ABDUA: 5647)

The Ivory Palace is not only miniature, fitting into the subtheme I mentioned earlier on, but it is a STUNNING piece as well.

Again chosen in November, the pure beauty of this piece would have added a zest we were so far lacking aesthetically in our exhibit. Sadly, though, we were told we could not display the Ivory Palace as once again it was too fragile to be displayed in this particular exhibition. It was also an extremely large miniature, which would have changed the layout and dynamics of our exhibition!

4.     Bolivian Bowl: (ABDUA: 8862)

We chose the Bolivian Bowl as though it was called a “Bolivian bowl”, its object description used the word “Indian.” Which led us to question the authenticity of this object’s story, therefore being something that we thought would be extremely interesting for our exhibition audience.

We had to exclude the item as we found out upon further inspection that it was a grave good, which we as a class felt it was dishonorable to display.

We had many different objects chosen for our exhibition. Throughout the process we learned there were many we could not display due to various reasons from it not fitting our theme anymore, to lighting issues in our exhibition space being detrimental to the object, to us feeling it was unethical to display certain objects. After much thought and decision, I am proud to say I think our class has picked some amazing objects to display, that will certainly tell our visitors an amazing story of what authenticity really is, and its subjectivity as a whole. ‘

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Setting the Scene

Jihahuan of the ‘Curating an Exhibition’ course tells us about a new exhibition by Students in Sir Duncan Rice Library in this blog:

‘We are fifteen students taking the course Curating an Exhibition’. Our main task this semester is to create an exhibition that will engage not only students, but also the Aberdeen public. This year’s exhibition is called Objects Uncovered – Questioning Authenticity. Our aim is to challenge the visitors’ perceptions of authenticity and explore the stories behind the displayed objects. In the exhibition each object has its own detailed description that will help visitors to get an in-depth understanding of the authenticity theme.

On June 11th 2019, twenty class-selected objects will be on display at the back of Sir Duncan Rice Library (ground floor). The planning and organisation of this exhibition is a fully student-led project. The project started in November 2018 and the development of the exhibition was created in a few intensive months.

The class was divided into four groups: logistics coordinators, object selection and layout team, design and marketing team and the interpretation and editing team. Each group is responsible for a different part of the exhibition, and each group member has been indispensable, contributing something different to the overall project.

In order for this exhibition to take place, the class and the teachers have spent a lot of energy and time. In addition, the cooperation with the museum staff played a crucial role in making this exhibition a success. Their experience and invaluable curatorial knowledge and feedback was important at all project stages.

We as the design and marketing team would like to express our heartfelt thanks to the students for their efforts and the teachers for their active guidance. Look out for more updates via blogs and social media as we progress with the project!’

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Exhibition close-up: Wellbeing, Equity and Education

In response to the academic book ‘Wellbeing, Equity and Education: A critical analysis of policy discourses of wellbeing in schools’, the latest exhibition in MacRobert ArtSpace displays a series of lino cut prints inspired by the ideas emerging from the research.

The exhibition by author and academic, Jennifer Spratt and printmaker Roderick Scott examines discourses of wellbeing in relation to the aims of schooling. Jennifer Scott’s research explores different understandings of the concept of wellbeing and how these coalesce in education policy and discusses how the concept of wellbeing is invoked in support of different education purposes.

MacRobert exhibitions image

Inspired by this research, Roderick Scott created a series of lino cut prints using kite flying to symbolise wellbeing. The prints have been created on an assortment or materials, including newspaper and junk mail and varying kite designs environments in the images are used to represent the diversity of children and their experiences.


The exhibition is on display in the foyer of the MacRobert building from 25 April 2018 – 28 September 2018.

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An Ancient Egyptian North-American tour

In 2019 over 150 objects from the University of Aberdeen Museum’s Ancient Egyptian archaeology collections are going on tour across North America;

In February 2019, Egypt: The Time of the Pharaohs will open at the Cincinnati Museum Centre in Ohio, currently on display in the Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria BC. The exhibition has been attracting a lot of attention in BC already and their museum dog is particularly fond of one of the University’s collections, the bronze cat!



The exhibition was created in partnership with the Lokschuppen Exhibition Centre in Rosenheim, near Munich, the Roemer-und-Pelizaeus-Museum, Hildesheim, and the Austrian Logistics company Museums Partner and has already attracted over 170,000 visitors when it was displayed in Lokschuppen last year. The University collections are not the only items on display, the 150 on loan from Aberdeen are among 350 original items of which others are borrowed from specialist museum across Germany.

This is the largest loan of the museum’s items for an international exhibit in the University of Aberdeen Museum’s history and objects on loan include a statue of the scribe of Rahotep and a 4,000-year-old wooden coffin of a royal official, Nakht.

If you are in British Columbia or Cincinnati and get the chance to see either of these exhibitions, lets us know; we would love to hear what you think of them!

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Exhibition Close Up – ‘Growing Up: different journeys’

Everyone grows up, but what makes an individual a child, an adolescent, or an adult? If there is a common theme it is that everyone gets older and that everyone does it differently.

Abdn Uni 300dpi REVERSED

The latest exhibition in King’s Museum, curated by a group of 12 MLitt Museum Studies students, opened this month and has already received some great feedback. The exhibition gives an intercultural view on the process of aging to give visitors an insight on how different cultures embrace, celebrate and challenge the process of growth.

Although the exhibition discusses childhood, the students chose not to focus on nostalgia and toys but instead selected a range of objects from around the world, including the coffin of an Egyptian Mummy and an Angolan net suit used in initiation rites to tell the different stories of childhood and growing up in different cultures.

growing up interactiveThe students have been working hard for the past six months to create the exhibition from object selection and writing the interpretation to designing the overall exhibition and all marketing materials, as well as some interactives to remind us of our own childhoods. They’ve created an impressive exhibition and we can’t wait to see what other visitors think of it as well!

‘Growing Up: Different Journeys’ is open in King’s Museum from Tuesday – Friday 1pm-4.30pm until 30 November 2018.

If you have any questions about the exhibition the museum can be contacted at kingsmuseum@abdna.c.uk


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Tracing Lines (both Metaphorical and Actual) in Neolithic Aberdeenshire

Mike Copper from the University of Bradford tells us about a current project he is working on that made use of the University Museums’ collections.

During the Late Neolithic, roughly between 3000BC and 2450BC, communities across Britain and Ireland became increasingly interconnected, a process reflected in the sharing of distinctive types of monuments and artefacts. The former include timber and stone circles and new forms of funerary and domestic architecture, while the latter include stone maceheads, new forms of flint arrowhead and a novel type of pottery known as Grooved Ware. The Historic Environment Scotland-funded project ‘Tracing the Lines: Uncovering Grooved Ware Trajectories in Neolithic Scotland’ aims to improve our understanding of the changes that occurred at this time by investigating the nature and timing of the spread and subsequent development of Grooved Ware pottery following its appearance in Orkney in the last couple of centuries of the 4th millennium BC.

Photo 1As part of this project I was able to spend a couple of days in the Collections Centre in Marischal College to examine several important assemblages of Grooved Ware. This kind of pottery is characterised – unsurprisingly – by its incised decoration, although applied decoration is not uncommon. Unlike earlier types of pot, Grooved Ware has flat bases. These are not as well suited to cooking on open fires as pots with rounded bases as their shape means that they are more likely to crack when heated. This could suggest that the look of the pots was more important than their ability to stand up to prolonged use. If so, then it is possible they were associated with feasts or other similar events where display was significant. Perhaps they even provide our first good evidence for the use of tables!

Aberdeenshire seems to have been a significant place in the Neolithic, being associated in particular with a series of often beautifully decorated carved stone balls whose purpose remains a mystery to this day. For a long time it was believed that Grooved Ware was not made in this region, but over recent years an increasing number of sites in the northwest have started to produce assemblages of this type of pottery. Neolithic pottery is often found in shallow pits whose purpose is not entirely clear, and two significant multi-pit sites have recently been excavated close to each other near to Kintore. These produced Grooved Ware of contrasting styles and it will be interested to see if they are of different dates. The nearby site of Greenbogs, near Monymusk, produced just a couple of fragments of Grooved Ware, but these were found very close to two mysterious circular wooden structures containing square settings of posts. These closely resemble a number of other square-within-circle timber structures found across Britain and Ireland that have also been dated to the Late Neolithic. What was their purpose, and what role might Grooved Ware have played at such sites?

Photo 2Although current evidence indicates that Grooved Ware pottery originated in Orkney, the reasons why it was adopted elsewhere are hard to explain. It is possible that societies in certain regions were becoming less egalitarian and that emergent elite groups were increasingly interacting with each other. In such a situation new fashions, ideas and beliefs could spread over long distances much as foreign travel today has increased the popularity of once-exotic foods. However, potsherds had been carefully deposited in pits in Aberdeenshire long before Grooved Ware appeared, so not everything was new. Perhaps the novel ideas and artefacts existed alongside, or became mixed up with, existing practices?

Photo 3Recent analysis of ancient DNA from skeletons dating to the Early Bronze Age strongly suggests that there was a large-scale movement of people into Britain and Ireland from the continent at the end of the Neolithic. These people brought with them new artefacts and ideas including new pots known as Beakers. There does not appear to have been a long overlap in the use of Beakers and Grooved Ware and the latter soon disappears from the archaeological record. Dating the demise of Grooved Ware will therefore be a significant part of Tracing the Lines and may perhaps help us to better understand what happened to the pre-Beaker population of Britain and Ireland.

The Grooved Ware in the University collections constitutes an important archaeological resource and I am very grateful to have been allowed to examine it at first-hand. Funding permitting, we hope to have new dates for the Aberdeenshire Grooved Ware at some point next year so watch this space!

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World Wars Warrior

Hello! We are Amanda, Emily and Miranda of the 20th Century and World Wars team. We were given the task of looking at the last sub-topic of the exhibition. Similarly to other groups, we had to prioritise which portions of the time period we would look at. We decided to focus our attention on the First and Second World Wars because these conflicts show a clear picture of what it meant to be Scottish in the British Army. Within this time period, we have looked at three subthemes: the soldier, women & civilians.


From both the University’s collection and the objects we have been loaned from the Gordon Highlanders, we have discovered a number of interesting objects.

Amanda’s favourite is the piece of barbed wire from a trench during the First World War. Emily found the civil defence booklet and ARP wardens badge with certificate donated by J. Barclay to be very important in demonstrating the civilian contributions on the home front during the Second World War. Finally, Miranda’s favourite object is the kilt, which was worn during the Battle of the Somme by an Aberdeen alumnus.

2One object we felt deserved a special mention, which is not in our case but is still from the First World War, is the jacket, which forms part of the uniform that can be seen in the ‘Overseas Soldier’ case. This jacket belonged to ‘The Blind VC’, or Captain Sir Ernest Beachcroft Beckwith Towse.  Blinded in South Africa during the Boer War, Towse was awarded the Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria herself. Even though he was blinded, he insisted on serving during the First World War. This is the jacket Towse wore to reenlist for duty, despite his blindness, at the onset of the First World War. It shows the various medals he received from fighting in battles overseas. His set of the three ‘Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred’ medals (1914-15 Star, War Medal, and Victory Medal) are visible by his Victoria Cross. Towse set up field hospitals for the duration of the First World War, having a special interest in treating and working with soldiers who had been blinded in battle, a very common injury due to the gas used in WWI. He was known to personally assist those recovering soldiers with writing letters home to their families.

As well as learning about the objects, this experience taught us the importance of being flexible and able to come up with new solutions as problems arose during the exhibition process. Only a few weeks before installation was due to start, we discovered that our kilt could not be displayed in the way we had originally planned. This meant that a last-minute reshuffle of our layout had to happen. Luckily, we managed to come up with a new layout that everyone was happy with and that showed off the kilt well on its new mount.


This concludes our behind the scenes look at each of the five subtopics. Make sure to check them all out at the now open Scottish Warrior exhibition!



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