Queen Mary University of London’s ‘Living in Ice Age Hackney’
By Dr Claire Harris, postdoctoral research assistant at the School of Geography, Queen Mary University of London
Claire Harris, from Queen Mary University of London, explains how partnering with a local museum can bring research to life. She also lets us know how to put on events that enthral both adults and children as she did with her fantastic family-friendly ‘Living in Ice Age Hackney’.
Can you tell us a little bit about your event?
For Being Human 2018 we wanted to explore Hackney’s distant past. Our event ‘Living in Ice Age Hackney’ was aimed at the local community who might not be aware of the archaeology beneath their feet. We aimed to tell the story through the objects held in the Hackney Museum’s collection and interactive demonstrations. Our one day exhibition had three components: a handling table with objects from the museum’s collection; a flintknapping demonstration; and an art area.
Why was the venue so instrumental to your event?
Hackney Museum is a ‘family friendly community museum’ and its layout was ideal for our event. The table-top display provided the opportunity to handle the objects and talk to Queen Mary researchers about their significance for understanding Hackney’s Ice Age past. A self-contained workshop area was used for the knapping and art activities where visitors could try their hand at creating stone tools and Ice Age art.
Hackney Museum also has an excellent reputation for working with the local community and schools, it holds a good collection of Palaeolithic material and is ideally located in relation to both the areas where the artefacts were found and to Queen Mary, so it was a natural choice for a venue.
How did you engage with your audience at the event?
The complementary activities engaged visitors in different ways and could be adapted to suit the audience; adult or child, expert or somebody who had never heard of the Palaeolithic. Many people attended the event with their children and the feedback indicated that the hands-on activities worked well in engaging young minds. One young visitor wrote that ‘The best things about this is just not the flint, it is the facts that I have learnt’. Having Queen Mary staff on hand to chat about our research also meant that adults could ask questions and engage with the displays at another level. One visitor wrote that ‘There were things to entertain and inform all ages and the staff were brilliant!’
How did you foster a long-term relationship with the Hackney Museum?
Hackney Museum were enthusiastic and helpful in providing access to collections and space to hold the exhibition and so we wanted to make sure this collaboration continued beyond Being Human. Connecting with the museum has led to further collaboration through a Queen Mary Collaboration Fund project ‘Neanderthals in Hackney: exploring north London’s Stone Age Past’. This will contribute to the museum’s local history teaching at Key Stage 2 and establish connections with local groups to promote the significance of the area for understanding local prehistory.
Do you have any top tips or lessons learned for future Being Human event organisers?
1. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone.
2. Be realistic, more is not necessarily better.
3. Be flexible, especially if your event is un-ticketed, and make sure that you build in capacity for both small and large groups.