From Growing Pains to Growing Importance at the Egyptian Museum Find us
When I attended the International Registrars Conference in Chicago in 2007, along with Dr. Janice Kamrin, Egyptian Museum Registrar Training Project (EMRTP) Director; Rachel Mauldin, EMRPT Principal Consultant; and the other newly selected registrars from the Egyptian Museum, it was my first international conference. Little did I imagine that just five years later, I would in turn represent the Registration, Collections Management & Documentation (RCMDD) department at the 7th European Registrars Conference (ERC) in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Since 2007, the RCMDD has gone from strength to strength under some of the most unique and challenging circumstances. During this time we have progressed from struggling to be understood and accepted by our curatorial colleagues to providing invaluable support after the break in and looting of the Egyptian Museum on January 28, 2011 at the height of the Egyptian uprising.
My presentation focused on the work that the RCMDD conducts at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The RCMDD holds the responsibility for overseeing a centralized system for the care, maintenance and documentation of the collection of the museum, in both paper and digital format. In order to do this, our team conducts gallery visits where objects are catalogued and photographed. The most important tool in our department is our centralized database system (KE EMu), providing information that helps the curators and scholars by generating lists and reports of all objects from each section. This database has proven invaluable in documenting events such as in house exhibitions, outgoing loans, and incidents such as the looting that occurred in January 2011.
As of mid-October 2012, the database held approximately 163,000 individual object records, 8,500 fully cross-checked object records (merged information belonging to a single object that can be found in any number of different museum register books) and 1,600 approved object records, which includes a single object’s detailed museum location, high quality images, and up-to-date bibliography references.
The greatest challenge our department has faced over the years was encouraging and motivating curators to collaborate. The system we introduced was completely alien to the way the museum had worked for more than 100 years and therefore viewed with suspicion. This situation changed due to the worst of circumstances, after the 28th of January 2011 when the Military Armed Forces had to secure the museum after the break-in and looting that had occurred. In the days after this blow to the museum, all the staff pitched in together by rapidly forming committees consisting of curators, conservers and registrars; we all had to work together under great pressure to assess damage and identify missing objects.
The RCMDD played an essential role by providing curators and conservators with information from the database in the form of lists and reports on all intact, broken or stolen objects from each section to be distributed to all relevant parties. The database has been an invaluable tool in documenting the damage sustained by each object specifically and to the museum in general.
As a result of the efficiency with which we were able to help in this emergency, the curators were better able to understand the value of the RCMDD. We were asked by museum management to design a training course for our curatorial colleagues, so that the methods used by the registrars could be applied to the entire museum in order to create a unified system. The RCMDD were also asked to train the curators on how to use the museum database, so that they could enter the data themselves and be more closely involved in the process of entering data on objects in their own sections, speeding up the process. So far the training courses have been very successful. The curator-trainees now understand and appreciate the department’s system of work and are eager to apply it to their own sections. But more importantly for us, they see the value of cooperating with the RCMDD. We are greatly heartened that the number of curators expressing interest in receiving our training course is growing. As an exciting second phase, the RCMDD will show our colleagues in the Conservation Department how to enter condition reports on objects that will merge with our database. This will apply to previously conserved objects as well as ongoing conservation needs as they arise.
Our department proved to be such a success and positive example that we have now been asked to train staff from other national museums in Egypt, such as the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC). NMEC is planning to establish a registration department similar to ours and has purchased the same database as the one we use at the Egyptian Museum. We hope that both museums will be able to merge their separate databases into one centralized database for the collections of both museums, which in turn, will encourage other national museums to do likewise. In the future we hope to have a centralized database for all museum collections throughout the country.
In a further sign of the success of the RCMDD, our Head of Documentation, Dr. Yasmin El Shazly, was invited to give a course on Registration, Collections Management & Documentation Methods and Techniques at the Faculty of Archaeology, Cairo University and Amideast. Both prestigious institutions want to use our department as a model for registrars’ training in their own study plan.
Ms. Doha Fathy is Deputy Head of Registrars at the Egyptian Museum.
INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL OF MUSEUMS
The International Council of Museums, in an effort to fight against illicit traffic in cultural goods, compiles the Emergency Red List of Egyptian Cultural Objects at Risk. This list aims to help art and heritage professionals and law enforcement officials identify Egyptian objects that are protected by national and international legislations. View the Red List for Egypt.