Mapping the Provenance of Museum Objects
Student Commentary by Elizabeth Dowdle
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1. Describe the sorts of work you did in developing your Google Earth presentation on this object. (You might consider both the unique forms of research involved and modes/methods of interpretation.)
My research focused on discovering the provenance of the Walters’ Capitoline Amazon, a Roman copy of a Greek bronze sculpture. Though the beautiful marble immediately caught my attention, I was surprised to find how little the museum actually knew about the object’s history. In order to unravel the mystery surrounding the sculpture, I looked for similar examples of sculpture in other museum collections and, consulting the records that came with them, began to piece together a tentative history of this ancient artwork.
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2. What did you learn from this project that distinguished it from other academic courses?
This project was unique in that I was provided with an ending point in the Walters gallery, but lacked a starting point for my research. This issue forced me to think outside the box and look for new ways to come up with the information I needed to draw out this object’s provenance. This called for more than an average trip to the library; I had to consult other institutions with similar sculptures in their collections and find possible answers to my questions based on the records they had on their pieces. It was a unique challenge, but this project truly taught me that where there is a will, there is a way.
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3. What was it like to create a final project that would be presented to the public?
It was both exciting and inspiring to create a project that would be presented to the public. Knowing that my work would be recognized outside the classroom inspired me to design a product that would make a difference not only for the Walters, but also for anyone looking for information about the Capitoline Amazon. I was driven to deliver a professional, museum-quality presentation that the Walters would be proud to add to their website.
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4. What did you learn from working in a professional museum and in conjunction with its staff?
It is always a privilege to work with professionals in the field you aspire to join, especially when you get to do so in the museum itself. Working with the staff at the Walters gave me insight into the everyday activities of registrars, curators, and collections managers as well as the challenges they face when caring for their collections and working to further their institutions’ missions. Especially in collections containing antiquities, it is not uncommon to come across objects with questionable histories. My time at the Walters taught me that it is of the utmost importance to authenticate the contents of your collection by making their unique histories known, despite the challenges this task might pose.
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5. What did this course/project and the opportunity to work with museum objects and their archival records mean to your education? your future plans? your general interests?
This course and the project I produced solidified my desire to pursue a career in museums. The opportunity to work with museum objects and their records has inspired me to continue my education so that I can also work in an institution dedicated to the preservation of culture for future generations. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University in May 2011 with a degree in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology and am now pursuing a master’s degree in Museum Studies at George Washington University, with a focus in museum administration and classical studies.