Fall 2016

Renata Holod and Holly Pittman

An innovative Digital Humanities Curatorial Seminar offered in Fall 2016 by Professors Holly Pittman and Renata Holod created a website to augment and extend the permanent Middle East Gallery of the Penn Museum (the galleries officially opened in Spring 2018). The new galleries present the rich collection of artifacts excavated by the museum at ancient and medieval sites in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and Iran, together with collections of Islamic period ceramics, works on paper, and ethnographic costumes.

The overarching theme of the gallery is "JOURNEY TO THE CITY: From Village to Megapolis." Through objects, the installation narrates the ever-increasing scale and complexity of societies, from small Neolithic villages to the early modern cosmopolitan centers of Baghdad and Esfahan. 

Augmenting information integrated into the display, the Penn Museum envisions a number of independent "digging deeper" resources that will be available online. One of the dominant themes that threads through the Middle East Gallery is that of trade and exchange, forces which brought (and continues to bring) ever more distant communities into contact.

Eleven students ranging from freshmen to graduate students from various backgrounds signed up for this challenge, and together they built a website which will serve as the basis for the final product, after it has been refined and reorganized by a professional team. The students were supported by the newly created Digital Scholarship staff in the Library and in particular by Sasha Renninger and Dr. Joanna Smith.

The website is organized around "focus objects" chosen to illustrate various aspects of trade and exchange. Metals, stones, and textiles are the most well-documented materials of exchange that remain in the archaeological record. The students were divided into teams who worked collaboratively on the various elements. Together the class studied their selected objects; developed content, images, and videos; and built interactive maps. They focused on the kinds of materials and objects that were traded, the modes of transportation that were used, and the methods of manufacture necessary to make the traded items. They also considered the organization of trade, which over time became highly specialized and innovative, developing many of the financial tools used today. 

The group used the commercial platform Weebly, which allowed students to create a complex website without knowing HTML or other coding. Weebly got the group working from the very first class on building object biographies. The website built by the students served as the basis for a more highly integrated presentation, which was launched together with the opening of the galleries.   

Visit its website at http://www.arth501-2016.com/ and make comments and suggestions on the questionnaire.