One of the important ways of keeping up to date with developments in the fields of study that Bodleian Libraries subject librarians support is through international conference attendance, where they have the opportunity of finding out about current as well as new research beyond the ‘Oxford bubble’.
The 25th General Conference of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), an NGO with 44,600 members representing over 20,000 museums in c. 140 countries, took place 1-7 September 2019 in Kyoto, Japan. With 4,000+ participants, this was the best attended General Conference in the history of ICOM.
Entitled “Museums as Cultural Hubs: the future of tradition”, the participants discussed the role of museums in the age of multiculturalism and disasters. In particular, four plenary sessions explored:
-How museums can support societies in their search for a sustainable future
-ICOM’s commission on a new definition of the word “Museum”
-Museum disaster management
-Asian art museums and collections
The main focus however was on the new museum definition which had sent ripples through the museum world prior to the conference for two reasons. Firstly it had been launched without consulting the organisation’s 119 National Committees; secondly its content and wording was deemed by members to be inappropriate or incorrect. The last day of the conference saw the decision of the General Assembly to postpone the vote on this new museum definition approved by 70.4% of the participants.
ICOM’s 30 International Committees, representing specialisations across the museum sector, held their Annual Meetings throughout the week at the Conference Center and at satellite venues. As Subject Librarian for Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies I am a member of the Comité International pour l’Égyptologie (CIPEG). The Committee was in for a treat as our Japanese colleagues had arranged an extraordinary symposium about their conservation project in the Grand Egyptian Museum (Cairo). During the following three days CIPEG members presented 37 papers on all aspects of Ancient Egyptian and Sudanese collections world-wide.
My paper focused on the history of the former private library of the first Professor of Egyptology in Oxford, Francis Llewellyn Griffith (1862-1934), in its time the world’s most comprehensive private library for Ancient Near Eastern Studies (including Egyptology). Francis Griffith and his wife Nora left this library to the University of Oxford, together with a very considerable fortune, to build and endow a permanent centre for the teaching of and research in Ancient Near Eastern Studies (including Egyptology). The Griffith Institute opened in January 1939 and, as intended by F.L. Griffith, it was situated adjacent to the Ashmolean Museum. The Griffith Library formed part of the Griffith Institute, a Department with independent status by Statute within the Ashmolean Museum. In 1966 the Museum’s staffing structure underwent a review, resulting in the Brunt Report (named after the Chairman of the review committee, Professor P.A. Brunt) which amongst others highlighted the top-class libraries integral to the various Museum Departments. The recommended amalgamation of these departmental libraries under a principal librarian took place in 1969, resulting in the separately governed Ashmolean Library. The Ashmolean Library, from then on, administered the Griffith Institute Library, the collection of which continued to be housed in the Griffith Institute. With the Ashmolean Library and the Griffith Library bursting at their seams, however, a new accommodation had to be sought but it was not until 30 years later that their collections were finally transferred to their new home, the Sackler Library, which opened in 2001. The holdings of this library derive from a number of separately housed collections and are the embodiment of Griffith’s vision of a research tool promoting interdisciplinary research.
Some contemporary “witnesses” are irreplaceable and therefore housed in the Sackler’s Rare Books Room. They include as Griffith’s personal copy of the 1st edition of the Egyptian Grammar (1927), authored by his famous pupil Alan H Gardiner (1879–1963). This copy contains Gardiner’s little-known hieroglyphic dedication to his teacher, a testimony of “the humble servant’s” huge veneration for Griffith. The Griffith Institute agreed to include a facsimile of the dedication in this year’s reprint of Gardiner’s Egyptian Grammar.
In between plenary sessions, lectures and workshops participants took the opportunity to explore the stalls of the c. 150 exhibitors which made up the Museums Fair and Expo Forum. Amongst others there was a “shaky van” in which one could experience an earthquake with and without seismic isolation; the virtual reality stall was always busy; producers of replicas and facsimiles displayed their work carried out for museums and temples alike; publishers of exquisite art books attracted visitors with their dazzling reproduction of colours; and the publisher Routledge/Taylor & Francis showcased its publishing partnership with ICOM.
Every evening delegates attended social events, ranging from a superb opening party which closed with a magnificent fireworks display, to a reception at Nijo Castle, the palace of which is a National Treasure from the early Edo period, and at the Kyoto National Museum. The organisation of this international conference ran like clockwork and the stakes are high indeed for the 26th General Conference, which will take place in 2022 in Prague.
As subject librarian for Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, part of my mandate is to support the curatorial research needs of Ashmolean Museum staff. This conference, therefore, enabled me to put my work into a wider context by providing information on current challenges in the museum world, on the latest trends such as the attempt to redefine what a museum should stand for in the 21st century, and on new technologies used to preserve or reproduce cultural heritage for future generations.
Attending the subject-specific CIPEG meeting was an opportunity to keep abreast with academic and publishing developments as well as to promote the Sackler Library (and the Bodleian Libraries) and its holdings to the international community. At the same time my presentation constituted a contribution to the international scholarly discourse of the history of collections within Egyptology.
I would like to thank the Bodleian Libraries for the generous support that enabled me to attend this hugely informative conference.
Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies Librarian (Griffith Librarian)