Hide and Seek: Looking for Children in the Past

It has been 11 months of research, consultations, looking at hundreds of artefacts, site visits, editing text, and lots and lots of tea and now the day is almost here. Tomorrow our exhibition, Hide and Seek: Looking for Children in the Past, will open at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology!

As I write we are still working on some final tweaks – mostly a great deal of glass cleaning – in preparation for the opening, and our colleagues at MAA have been dropping in for a sneak peak. Seeing all of the artefacts on display and beautifully lit is a rewarding experience; it reminds me of the thought that went into the selection of each object, the enthusiasm of the lenders, and the hard work of the conservators. Hopefully by following this blog, you’ll be able to see glimpses of that too.

Our work doesn’t end with the opening on Saturday. Hide and Seek will run until 29 January 2017 and there is a great deal planned. Lorena Bushnell, the Outreach Assistant for the exhibition, will be working to deliver the exhibition to many different audiences. There will be activities and talks. And our exhibition website – hideandseekexhibition.org.uk – will provide object images, greater detail and resources.

We do hope you’ll visit the exhibition – and keep following this blog, we’ll keep you up-to-date with any events!

Opening times:
Tuesday to Saturday 10.30am – 4.30pm
Sunday 12pm – 4.30pm
Admission Free




Research in the Cambridgeshire Archives

Hi! I’m Ben, a PhD student and one of the volunteer researchers for the upcoming exhibit on childhood. As part of this research, I examined the Cambridgeshire Archives for evidence of children in any of the documents there, such as work contracts and jail records, to see what stories these might reveal. Unfortunately, whilst there were plentiful examples of children as visible figures in the landscape of historic Cambridgeshire, one of the places where they occurred most frequently was in Coroner’s reports.

Looking through these reports acted as a stark reminder that the childhood of today, in which we think of a time of leisure, play and innocence, is an all-too modern construction. I was taken aback by both the frequency of child deaths—we all know that high infant mortality was a fact of life in the past, but it was sobering to be confronted with it quite so consistently—but also their manner.

Among the causes listed, many were expected, such as consumption or malnourishment, but others were unusual and, occasionally, horrifying. I saw the story of a young boy crushed by a cart while playing in Trumpington street; more than one child was killed through household accidents involving boiling water or fires; but perhaps the saddest were the reports of nameless newborns found drowned or in boxes ‘with head injuries’, abandoned and possibly even killed by parents who could not afford or bear to look after them.

Whilst a very interesting experience, my time researching the county archives could not help but make me realise just how different an experience childhood was not even two centuries ago.

Ben Hinson, PhD Candidate, University of Cambridge

The Benefits of Walking in Each Other’s Shoes: Better Relationships, Better Exhibitions and Better Advocacy

As Chair of the Society for Museum Archaeology[1] I have the great pleasure of getting to know about the work of many organisations up and down the UK and never more so than at our annual conference. This year’s conference theme was “Working Together: a collective responsibility for archaeology” and details of this amazing partnership project in Cambridge were eagerly shared with, and received by, more than 50 attendees.

Whilst the focus of the project is ‘archaeology and children’ what really stands out for me is the collaboration between different types of archaeologists as well as the community. This is definitely an example of a step in the right direction for our profession but also for the many people who will benefit from the results, whether through direct and inclusive participation in its delivery or simply by visiting the exhibition when it opens.

But why is this so important and why more than ever right now?

The simple answer is that as archaeologists we tend to define ourselves by the specific roles we play, in museums, in units, for the local authority or as academics, but what we really should be doing is thinking of ourselves collectively as archaeologists – we are after all concerned with the same subject matter but just come at from different angles! Clearly we also all value the importance of being able to share what we have discovered and why this is important with members of the public and in turn we enable them to act as advocates on our behalf. It can’t have gone un-noticed that many public services will suffer as the result of austerity measures and these include those that cut across all aspects of the archaeological and historic environment. Engaging and successful projects like this one play a vital role in breaking down barriers not just between archaeologists but between individuals and organisations – if we don’t begin to find ways to understand better how each of us works then how can we ever hope to find ways we can work better together? If communities aren’t ever involved in what we do how will projects ever provide personal resonance and therefore be of importance to them?

From what I have read and heard about this particular project, the collaborative process has been extremely beneficial – building something better together for everyone concerning a subject matter that we can all easily relate to, without period, material or collection restraints. I for one can’t wait to see the results!!

Gail Boyle FSA
Chair of SMA & Senior Curator (Archaeology), Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

[1] The Society for Museum Archaeology (SMA), is recognised by Arts Council England as the Subject Specialist Network for British Archaeology and as such provides a focus for the expertise and collections knowledge of collections managers, keepers and curators throughout the UK. SMA has a number of objectives but significantly it is concerned with the role that museums play as guardians of a vital part of the nation’s heritage and as the appropriate location for the storage and interpretation of all archaeological material. www.socmusarch.org.uk