teaching classical studies

Photo of Acropolis at Athens

From the Archives #50 — January 2020

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Cathy Person, along with the work of conservators Suzanne Davis and Caroline Roberts and registrar Michelle Fontenot, the Kelsey Museum has kept rather busy over the last few years with class visits to the Museum. Every semester, hundreds of students come through to view our displays, speak with the staff, and learn about museum work. On top of that, the Kelsey Museum provides an added benefit to students: the opportunity to handle ancient artifacts associated with their classes. Students and instructors from Classics, History of Art, Middle East Studies, English, History, German, and a slew of other departments are routinely visiting and getting to work with our collections. This likely would have made Francis Kelsey happy, as he began collecting in order to give students the opportunity to see firsthand the items that they were reading about in their books.

The students who get to work with artifacts have the distinct pleasure of handling some rare artifacts, and some very old ones as well. The Kelsey brings out ceramics such as ancient Greek and Roman amphorae, fish plates, and kylikes, textiles, mold-made figurines and lamps, papyri, cartonnage mummy masks, stelae, Latin inscriptions, glass vessels, amulets, and many coins, among many other types of artifacts. The items are chosen for specific classes, so students can better grasp the lessons being taught.

More and more, the Kelsey is also making its archives available for these classes as well. For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a selection of archival photographs that were used for instruction during the past year. In this group, we see photographs from Egypt, Italy, and Greece. Created by three photographers — George R. Swain, Easton T. Kelsey, and an unidentified photographer — the images show various aspects of archaeology: artifact remains, architecture, landscape, as well as the human toll of disaster. 

Photos 5.1790 and 5.3342, both taken by Swain, give the viewer a glimpse of finds from Karanis, Egypt. These are often used to demonstrate how people in Karanis, as elsewhere in the world and through time, would hoard and hide their belongings. 5.1790 shows letters written on papyri hidden underneath a threshold. Image 5.3342 shows a pot that contained a hoard of coins. Perhaps the person who hid it intended to return and collect the coins for later use. 

ancient threshold
5.1790: “Rolls of papyrus as found in a hollow threshold of a door between rooms D and E of house 5026,” Karanis. Photo by George R. Swain.
pot being excavated from dirt
5.3342: Coin Hoard 12 from Karanis. Pot (29-F28H-a), inside which were coins (29-F28H-Ax50), as found. Photo by George R. Swain.

Photograph 2003.05.0014 was taken by a professional photographer, probably as part of a series that could be sold as a souvenir. These photo collections (Views of Italy, Views of Egypt, etc.) were common in the 1800s, when traveling was not as easy as it is today. This particular photograph demonstrates the destruction and devastation wrought by Mt. Vesuvius when it erupted in 79 AD and covered various cities in towns in southern Italy, including Pompeii, where this photograph was created.

Plaster cast of victim of Vesuvius.
2003.05.0014: Pompeii, “Cadavere di donna.” Unknown photographer.

KK267 and KS209.02 are views of Athens and the Acropolis. They were taken by Easton Kelsey, son of Francis Kelsey, and George Swain, respectively, in the 1920s.

Photo of Acropolis at Athens
KK267: “Acropolis. East end of the Parthenon.” Photo by Easton T. Kelsey, ca. 1920s.
photograph of Athens with Mount Lycabettus in distance
KS209.02: “Acropolis. Modern Athens and Lycabettus from the Acropolis.” Photo by George R. Swain, ca. 1920s.

 

The Kelsey Museum provides opportunities for students and other visitors to see not only artifacts, but also the papers, maps, and photographs we also care for. These materials are here for study, as research is not artifact-based only. We have hosted a number of classes that have looked at non-artifact collections, and we expect more to come in the future. Those students will have a deeper experience as a result.

News from the Conservation Lab — Class is in session!

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

 I love the start of the academic year, and much of my day-to-day work in the fall is focused on prepping objects for classes. As part of our mission as a teaching and research institution, we offer students a high level of access to the Kelsey collection, and a number of university classes visit the Kelsey each semester. Some of these classes opt in to an object handling session, where students can pick up and examine accessioned artifacts.

teaching-collection
Objects from the Kelsey’s teaching collection on deck for training.

Part of my job is to make sure objects are stable enough for students to handle, and to train new staff and graduate students in how to safely handle objects themselves. I take particular joy in demoing how NOT to do something — nonchalantly waving around a modern kylix from our teaching collection by his broken handle, for example. Another part of my job is to examine and, if needed, treat objects that have been selected for handling by a class. Right now I’m looking at coins for a class focused on visual culture from the ancient Middle East. They are fascinating. Some were minted locally in Syria and Parthia, while others are made from bronze alloys I haven’t encountered before, such as orichalcum. I learn something new each time I look at objects for a new class, and it’s fulfilling to know that the students will, too.

roman coin
Sestertius with laureate and cuirassed bust of Elagabalus (emperor of Rome from 218 to 222), minted in Rome, AD 220. Possibly orichalcum. KM 1991.2.683.

From the Archives

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

It is February, and Love is in the air. Though it is cold in Michigan, we can think about those warmer places around the world where they are enjoying more temperate weather and no snow. A location like southern Italy would be a nice place to get away just about now, where you can wear shorts and t-shirts and not worry about frostbite.

Unfortunately for many of us, our responsibilities keep us in Michigan, and we cannot fly off to Europe on a moment’s notice. Fortunately for us, Italy is now here in Michigan, for Kelsey visitors to enjoy. This month marks the opening of Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii, our latest exhibition, curated by Dr. Elaine Gazda. With this exhibition, over 225 objects from Oplontis have been brought to the United States for a special showing, including fresco fragments, coinage, glass, bronze, and ceramic vessels, as well as sculptures of marble. Among those marble sculptures are Venus, Diana, a male and female centaur, two Hercules herms, and the stunning Nike landing softly on the ground. The exhibition runs through May, so be sure to stop by for a view of this magnificent show.

Oplontis brings the vision of Francis Kelsey to Michigan. Kelsey was a strong advocate of teaching with collections, giving students the opportunity to see, firsthand, the materials which they read in their Latin and Greek books. It was this push that started the collections that would one day be the Kelsey Museum. Materials purchased in Italy, or in Tunisia, or Greece, were collected for education purposes, and eventually found a new home in Ann Arbor.

Kelsey could not bring everything back, however. Many of the artifacts art historians study have permanent homes in their places of origin, and due to size, finances, and other constraints, they cannot travel outside of their country. And in the early 1900s, there was no Kelsey Museum where such materials could be stored and displayed. Instead, Kelsey did as many art historians do, which is to photograph museum collections with the aid of George Swain. And before Swain worked for the University, Kelsey purchased postcards on sale in, say, Italy that depicted the same works of art students were learning about.

For this month’s From the Archives, we present a few of these postcards. Shown here are two sculptures in Naples, a Diana and a Venus. Kelsey would use these postcards to teach, demonstrating the art of sculpture in the Roman world, much like Dr. Gazda does with her students today. Images such as these would be routinely sold to tourists, as not everyone had a camera then (the original Kodak was introduced just a few years prior, but was still not something everyone carried with them). Kelsey returned with these and in 1906 the General Library took them, and perhaps later the Latin Department acquired the set. Eventually they made their way to the Kelsey Museum, where they now reside in the Archives.

 

Along with the postcards themselves, we also have the original dividers Kelsey used to organize them. Run through the stacks and you will find a section on portraits, Cupid, Cupid and Psyche, Psyche, Diana, Artemis (“see Diana”), Laocoon, and many others. The interesting aspect for the archivist and historian is that these cards’ titles are in Kelsey’s handwriting. Knowing this, we can begin identifying other cards and letters and journals in the archives as Kelsey’s. Kelsey was a meticulous man, taking much time out of his day to organize materials, jot them in a journal, write letters, have meetings, dine, see a show, and still write an entry in his daily diary.

The same organization manner Kelsey used has not been changed. Other than the container where the postcards are now stored, all remains as Kelsey left it. There is the archival philosophy of respect des fonds, that we should not change the organization method of the original material, but we also have no need to right Kelsey’s original work.
These postcards showing materials from Naples, near Oplontis, were collected for teaching, and now we are able to bring actual objects from the same region straight to Ann Arbor. Dr. Gazda will use these objects for her classes, but already there is interest from a number of other professors who want to use the exhibition in their own classes. In this way, Kelsey’s original mission has been fulfilled.

Teaching with the Help of Ancient Objects

mogetto
Left: fragment of marble entablature, attributed to the Templum Gentis Flaviae in Rome (KM 2424, photomodel by Ariel Regner). Right: fragment of composite capital from Pozzuoli (KM 3049, photomodel by Evan Timm).

BY MARCELLO MOGETTA, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan

As college teachers we are often encouraged to enhance pedagogy by engaging students in materially different ways. We are also reminded that University of Michigan museum collections represent an invaluable resource for teaching and learning. During my postdoc year based at the Kelsey Museum, I taught an undergraduate course on “Roman Imperial Architecture” for the Department of Classical Studies, so I had the unique opportunity to put these principles into practice. It worked!

At the beginning of the semester I decided to create a course assignment using Kelsey objects. Each student was asked to select an architectural ornament from the Kelsey collection (whether capital fragments, stone moldings, or stucco decorations), take pictures of it, produce a 3D model from photogrammetry (with the expert assistance of IPCAA’s Matt Naglak), and write a short catalog entry that should include an analytical description and interpretation of the piece. All the class participants signed up for this project, responding enthusiastically to the idea.

Perhaps what made the photomodeling assignment particularly exciting to the students was that they would be granted privileged access to areas of the museum that are otherwise restricted to normal visitors. Or that they had the chance to physically interact with archaeological materials from up close (by the way, thanks to Sebastián Encina and Michelle Fontenot for making this possible!), while at the same time experimenting with cutting-edge digital visualization methods. Whatever the reason, the results proved very rewarding. Using the Kelsey Museum database, the students extracted some basic information about provenance and dating, and in some cases were able to compare their objects with similar ones displayed in the galleries. Most importantly, they all tried to relate the artifacts to the lecture material seen in the conventional class.