Tullie House heads East…
Since 2013, we’ve been working with the Zhou family, owners and operators of the Imperial Decree Museum (IDM) in Xuzhou and the No. 1 Scholar Museum in Suzhou, both in Jiangsu Province in China.
In June of this year we were invited over to show museum staff how objects from collections can be used to engage and inspire. Andrew Mackay (Head of Collections & Programming) and Anna Smalley (Learning & Engagement Manager) made the 7,700 mile journey to Shanghai and this is what happened on their trip…
After a very long journey we arrived in Shanghai and hopped straight on the famous Chinese Bullet Train to Xuzhou, a relatively “small” city for China with a population of 10 million and rising! We spent the first few days of our trip getting to know the Guishan Hill Scenic District where the Imperial Decree Museum is located. Along with IDM, the area also has a beautiful garden sculpture museum and an amazing Han Dynasty tomb of national importance. The tomb dates back to 116BC and is the resting place of the Emperor Liu Zhu.
On our fifth day we ran our object handling workshop for 21 local primary school children (10-12 years old) who luckily for us were selected for their English abilities! We created a session based around three activities: firstly, the children took part in an object handling session using the Roman artefacts from our collection which were split into categories of Technology (pottery, glass), Jewellery (brooches and bracelets) and Coins. Secondly, the children explored Latin and Roman writing using real wooden writing tablets and metal styli, having a go at writing in Latin and comparing the results with English and Chinese characters. Thirdly, the children looked at Roman costume, handling real Roman footwear and dressing up in replica costume. The pupils then created their own role play about daily life in Roman Carlisle, using the objects they had handled during the session as inspiration.
The children found the experience of object handling incredibly inspiring: none of the pupils had ever handled real historical artefacts before, and the added factor of them being from a country thousands of miles away was even more exciting! We adopted the same object handling techniques as we would in our primary workshops in Carlisle, telling to the children not to worry about giving wrong answers: we wanted their ideas and to know how they felt about the objects. We encouraged them to use their senses, looking closely with magnifying glasses, feeling for different textures and even smelling the objects.
Next we travelled to Suzhou, known as ‘the Garden City’ and just half an hour by train from Shanghai. Our workshop here was for university students so we adapted our Romans workshop and added comparisons with Han Dynasty technology and costume. Once again the object handling was the most popular activity: the students loved wearing the gloves and handling the objects directly, and were particularly impressed by the jewellery. We also gave the students opportunities to try on the replica costume we brought, working with Han Dynasty re-enactors to compare the different types of male and female clothing. For the writing task the students wrote Latin and Chinese phrases on traditional fans.
As well as delivering workshops, presentations and meeting lots of new museum colleagues, we also worked on our plans for Chinese New Year 2016 – we hope to borrow items from the Imperial Decree Museum’s collection so keep an eye on the Tullie House website for more details!
Keep an eye on the blog for part 2 of our round up of the trip as Andrew continued to explore the culture and history of China, coming soon.