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Clare Rowan Project Blog 03052023

IATL Project Blog: The Making of Roman Mould Made Ceramics

In Term 1 of 2022, as part of a new module in Classics called the Roman Everyday, IATL provided financial support for a Roman ceramics workshop and associated student exhibition. The module explored how we uncover the experiences of the subaltern and tell the stories of daily life, and focused on everyday artefacts from the Roman world, which are often overlooked. The ceramics workshop offered the opportunity for students to learn how everyday items of pottery were made in antiquity, uncovering the experiences and skill of artisans. The exhibition allowed students to put their newfound understanding into action, and to explore how our new departmental antiquities room and exhibition space could be used for teaching and outreach into the future.

The workshop on mould made Roman ceramics was run by Graham Taylor (@pottedhistory), an experimental archaeologist and ancient pottery technology specialist. Graham discussed the importance of clay choice, the tools and skills needed to produce these everyday artefacts, the firing process, and issues surrounding volume of production. Students were given the opportunity to produce their own Roman lamps, statues or votive objects using the moulds Graham brought along. Understanding the process of production allowed students to ‘read’ these artefacts more deeply (e.g. interpreting particular lines and other markings, as well as design choice, as connected to the nature of the material and production process). We also learnt about the different skill levels that were involved in the production process.

The workshop took place on Friday in Week 6 (reading week for our students) due to timetabling pressures, and it did take me by surprise that the workshop had an additional benefit: student mental health. The process of working clay, and being ‘taken out of the norm’ for a day had an impact on student wellbeing and motivation (as reported to me by the students themselves) which was an unexpected but extremely welcome additional benefit!

The workshop was followed a few weeks later by a two hour workshop, in which the students worked in small groups (and as a large group) to design an exhibition on Roman mould made ceramics, utilising what they had learnt from the workshop and our teaching collection of antiquities. The result was the exhibition ‘Seize the Clay: Moulding Material CultureLink opens in a new window’, which was installed in our exhibition space in the FAB for the beginning of Term 2.

Reflecting upon the project, I think the workshop was excellent in achieving the aim of the module, to better understand the artefacts and experiences of the Roman everyday. I, and all those attending, learnt a lot. In terms of the exhibition, the students were very good at communicating what they had learnt in the workshop via exhibition information panels, but the direct application of that knowledge to our own teaching collection of antiquities might have been more explicit In future I will run an additional seminar on the particular artefacts we hold, in order to allow students more time to explore the features of these objects before utilising them in an exhibition. A template ‘information panel’ is now available for student exhibitions, and what I learnt in this process will also directly inform future exhibitions in the space. Although telling the students that the formatting, font size, etc needed to remain the same, students did alter each of these when creating their panels, so in future I will emphasise this more heavily or find a way to prevent such alterations taking place.

As I write this the exhibition is still up in the Antiquities Room display area (level 2 of the new FAB), so all are encouraged to come along to see the exhibition and learn more about one aspect of the Roman everyday!