Graduate Profile: Emily Tilley: Shedding new light on Roman artefacts

The day after I submitted my final Museum Studies MA assignment I applied for a job as Collections Facilitator for Roman Archaeology at York Museums Trust.  To my amazement I was offered the position and I have now been working at the Yorkshire Museum for two years.

The role of Collections Facilitator for Roman Archaeology was created as a temporary position to oversee an Arts Council England funded research project into the Yorkshire Museum’s Roman collections. York, the Roman legionary fortress of Eboracum, was founded by the Romans in AD 71Graduate Profile 3 and grew to become the regional capital of the north of Roman Britain.  

The purpose of the project, entitled the ‘Old Collections, New Questions’ Roman Research Project, was to investigate how modern research approaches and technologies can shed new light on the Yorkshire Museum’s collection of thousands of Roman artefacts, some of which have not been researched since they were excavated in the late nineteenth century.

Working at York Museums Trust has given me incredible opportunities and I learn something new every day. I have audited every Roman object in the museum’s collection, organised two events to bring together academics, museum professionals, and members of the public to discuss new research opportunities, and have worked with a network of experts to carry out research using techniques such as ground penetrating radar, X-Ray fluorescence, and micro-Raman spectroscopy to uncover new insights into our ancient past.  My personal highlight was giving an hour-long BBC Radio York interview about the collections and our research as part of this year’s BBC Civilisations Festival.

The Collections Facilitator role required a combination of subject specialist knowledge and curatorial skills.  My academic background before completing my Museum Studies MA was in Classics, the study of the culture and literature of the Greek and Roman world.  But this knowledge alone would not have been enough for the role. Instead, what allowed me to demonstrate my capabilities in my interview was the hands-on experience I had built by volunteering in museums and by studying Museum Studies at Leicester. My dissertation researched how museums promote community engagement with Roman collections and I did my placement module at the Corinium Museum in Cirencester, developing educational resources based on their Roman collections. My MA in Museum Studies allowed me to demonstrate that I had been given the training necessary for a curatorial role and that I could adopt an academic approach to museology.

I use skills I learnt at Leicester on a daily basis and the topics we discussed in lectures and seminars are often debated in meetings. Studying Museum Studies at Leicester gave me a solid foundation for the start of my career in the heritage sector, giving me the confidence and knowledge that allows me to contribute to my workplace in a practical way.

The ‘Old Collections, New Questions’ Roman Research Project officially came to an end in May 2018, but it laid the foundation for a long-term strategy to undertake new research into the Yorkshire Museum’s Roman collections. If you would like to find out more about the project a research document is publicly available at https://www.yorkshiremuseum.org.uk/old-collections-new-questions/ and I post regular collections highlights at @YMT_YorkRomans.

I am now the Curatorial Assistant at the Yorkshire Museum and am working with the Portable Antiquities Scheme as the Finds Liaison Assistant for North and East Yorkshire. If you would like to find out more about my work I post updates at @YMT_Emily.

Emily Tilley.

Curatorial Assistant, York Museums Trust.
MA Museum Studies, 2015-2016.