Hannah Agass, Learning and Access Officer, and Abi Turner, Curator
Over the last 12 months the Museum has welcomed school and university groups, inviting students to study first hand some of the objects documented and interpreted by the Bearers of the Cross project.
Alongside tours of our historic buildings, the oldest of which dates to the twelfth century, students have also enjoyed taught sessions, activities, and object handling. The introduction in 2014 of the crusades as a suggested focus in the Key Stage 3 history curriculum (under ‘the development of Church, state and society in Medieval Britain 1066–1509’), quickly increased demand for related school sessions at the Museum. A complex and nuanced topic, this has presented challenges and provoked much thought and debate, but staff were confident that the Museum’s crusades related workshops could be further developed and better supported by the collections. Reconsidering the topic with a greater emphasis on objects has given an accessible route in to the subject, and proved popular with schools. With much improved documentation and interpretive essays available on the Bearers of the Cross website, the wider Museum team now has the resources, and the confidence, to put objects such as crusader coins, stone fragments and a model of the Holy Sepulchre centre stage, with students from Key Stage 3 all the way up to undergraduates.
In January 2017 the Museum delivered its first offsite school sessions, complete with objects, at the Ark Academy in Wembley. A veritable conveyor belt of engaged and curious year 7 students came through the classroom over the course of two days to discuss and learn about the first and second crusades and the fledgling Crusader Kingdom. As word of the objects got around the school, students would peer through the door eager to get a glimpse of the seventeenth-century model of the Holy Sepulchre and crusader coins. Of the 181 participating students, 32 opted to follow up the hour-long workshop with an after school visit to the Museum to delve a little deeper into the history of the Knights Hospitaller.
Later in the same month, we also welcomed to the Museum a small group of A-Level students from the West London Free School. This time, the students were introduced to the Knights Hospitaller by way of a tour of the Church and Crypt, before being presented with a variety of related objects which they were encouraged to examine and comment on within the context of the religious iconography used. The start of 2017 was therefore an intensive introduction to our new object focused sessions, but was also a learning curve that will continue to influence our developing offer.
The research and resources generated by the Bearers of the Cross project have also had a positive impact on our existing relationships with schools and universities. Since 2015, students from the University of Reading Archaeology Department have visited the Museum to see the Norman crypt, stone store, and archaeological records from digs in 1900 and the 1980s and 1990s. In 2016, this was extended to include a session looking at relevant archaeological finds included within the Bearers of the Cross project. This year we once again welcomed the students, and have enjoyed speaking of the progress made over the last 12 months – in particular, the numerous relevant records on the Bearers of the Cross open access database.
Bearers of the Cross has increased awareness of the Museum and collections amongst academics enabling us to establish new working relationships through introductions made as part of the project. This includes Queen Mary University London, who have twice visited the Museum for tours and handling sessions for their ‘Middle Ages in 20 Objects’ undergraduate module. These sessions have been both enjoyable and informative for students and Museum staff alike. We have discovered how we can look at familiar objects differently, having supported seminars, as well as listening to the student’s questions and discussion.
The Museum’s learning programmes are continually being improved and developed as new information about the collections is uncovered. The huge amount of research carried out as part of the Bearers of the Cross project has led to the rapid development and expansion of workshops relating to the crusades for both schools and universities; research which would not have been possible within the existing Museum team. As non-experts in the subject, the database created and related essays on the Bearers of the Cross website have improved the confidence of staff producing and delivering the workshops, as well as inspiring further research and investigation within the Museum team.