Nyla McNeil, BMC ’26

Ancient Artifacts and Contemporary Connections

Semester: Spring 2023

Praxis Course: HART 420 Museum Studies Fieldwork Seminar

Faculty Advisors: Matthew Feliz &  Monique Scott

Field Site: The Penn Museum

Field Supervisor: Katherine Blanchard

Praxis Poster:

Nyla McNeil PRAXIS Poster - Final


Further Context:

Participating in the PRAXIS: Museum Studies course gave me the incredible opportunity to work at the Penn Museum on a rehousing project in the Near East Department. Before beginning the project, I established multiple overarching goals to give me insight into my potential career possibilities and explored my ethical questions about museum work. My time at the Penn Museum satisfied these goals, gave me a stronger sense of purpose in the museum sector, and cemented my profound appreciation for the behind-the-scenes collections management in Museums.

Our rehousing project was relatively simple, but it became a space for constant hands-on learning and complicated my understanding of preservation practices within museum collections. At the Penn Museum, several large shelving units housed artifacts in rows of wooden boxes. Our jobs were to complete an inventory of each box’s artifacts, photograph them based on proper orientation sanctions, re-bag each item, and return it to a more compact plastic bin. This work was seemingly simple but posed several challenges throughout. Photography was particularly challenging as my coworker, Samantha, and I had to learn dynamic practices for two different photo orientations (shot down and shot on).

Moreover, we frequently handled delicate materials, some of which needed to be photographed as a collection of several sherds or broken pieces. This tedious procedure taught me to pay greater attention to detail and to view object photography through the lens of a researcher. For example, when taking a photo, I had to ask myself questions such as: What unique grooves or curvature do I need to capture, or How would this item be oriented upright if it were still fully intact?

Despite the significant takeaways from the project itself, much of my newfound insight came from the questions and conversations brought up with my supervisor and coworker regularly. My supervisor, Katy, was incredibly willing to answer our questions and share her expertise from many years of experience in archaeological excavations and at the Penn Museum. Furthermore, Katy gave my coworker and I uniquely insightful opportunities such as:

  • Letting us sit in on a meeting that discussed a new exhibit’s cultivation (from the ground up).
  • Setting us up with meetings with department faculty that met our interests.
  • Taking us on a private tour at another local Philadelphia Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Throughout the experience, Katy’s openness to questions, her relaying of archaeological insight, and her genuine appreciation for her profession made it memorable and valuable.