Browse Exhibits (7 total)

Object Biographies

During the 2013-14 academic year, a group of faculty and staff from the University of Pennsylvania recognized "Object-Based Learning" (OBL) as a promising area for curricular development.  The idea was to introduce students to Penn's extensive collections of books and manuscripts, works of art, cultural artifacts, and more, as a way of enriching their learning experiences while enabling them to draw more fruitfully upon the university's distinctive resources.  Classes that engaged students in using Penn’s collections while encouraging them to conduct and exhibit original research would be called “curatorial seminars”. 

In fact, learning through objects has had a long history at Penn, going back to the establishment of the Penn Museum in 1887 and continuing in the century and more that has followed.  In Fall 2014, the students enrolled in the curatorial seminar called "Here and Over There: Penn, Philadelphia, and the Middle East” (NELC 133) continued the tradition but did so while devising projects to exhibit on this Omeka website.  One of the first research tasks that they addressed was to consider the social lives and intellectual histories of individual Near and Middle Eastern objects at Penn.

Masjid Al-Jamia: Penn's Muslim Students Association and the Mosque in West Philadelphia

In West Philadelphia, at the intersection of Walnut and 43rd Streets, stands a magnificent mosque called the Masjid Al-Jamia. Red bricked and massive, this mosque is one of the oldest and best-known places of worship for Muslims in Philadelphia. In fact, Masjid Al-Jamia was founded in 1988 by a group of University of Pennsylvania students who belonged to the campus chapter of the Muslim Students Association (MSA). This essay seeks to explain the history of this mosque and to consider how its relationship with the Penn MSA evolved in the generation after its founding.

The Anonymous Column: A Piece of History at the University of Pennsylvania

This exhibit examines a seemingly nameless Jordanian column that now rests in the University of Pennsylvania's Engineering Quad. The column, crafted in what is now Amman, Jordan around 12 BCE, has a thrilling history—a history still being written today.

Katharine Woolley: A Female Archeological Pioneer

Katharine Woolley (1888-1945) is a highly controversial figure. She is often remembered as the wife of the famous Leonard Woolley, rather than for her own impressive achievements.[1] Together they worked on excavations at the Mesopotamian site of Ur (now in Iraq), which discovered the Royal Cemetery. Leonard was the Director (1922-1934) and Katharine was an integral field assistant (1925-1934) in this venture, which was a joint partnership between the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the British Museum in London.[2]  Her duties included drawing and reconstructing discoveries, producing press materials, and socializing with London’s elite to solicit donations for the excavation[3]. In one of Leonard Woolley’s letters from 1926, he wrote “Speaking quite officially I can say that I consider the Expedition to be very much indebted to Mrs. Keeling (referring to Katharine by the name of her deceased, first husband, which she bore until her marriage to Leonard Woolley in 1927).”[4] However, Katharine was often criticized for having a strong, tyrannical personality, which was described by H.V.F. Winstone, Leonard’s biographer, as “demanding,” “ruthless,” and “calculating”[5].

[1] Edward Luby, "The Ur- Archeologist." Biblical Archeology Review 23, no. 2 (1997).

[2] Lisa-Marie Shillito, "Katharine Woolley- Demanding, Dangerous, and Digging." Trowel Blazers, 1 November 2014. Accessed 28 Nov. 2014. (

[3] Luby, "The Ur- Archeologist." 

[4] Leonard Woolley, letter to George Bryon Gordon, 8 Aug. 1926, Correspondence- Exp. V Aug-Dec, 1926, General Correspondence of Expedition Records at Ur, University of Pennsylvania Museum Archives, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

[5] Luby, "The Ur- Archeologist." 

Honest Politics: The Penn Museum’s Middle Eastern Expeditions in the 19th and 20th Centuries and its Influence on Archaeology

The University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology led pathbreaking excavations into historic Middle Eastern sites including Nippur and Ur in the 1890’s. Museums and organizations that participated in archaeological excavations around this time tended to be not too concerned about the ethical consequences of their enterprises, nor were they particularly interested in property rights. The Penn Museum, by contrast, stood out in its history for excavating with integrity and for engaging in honest policies. 


Transposing History in Brushstrokes: The Art of Alfred Bendiner

In the effort to process and record remains at an excavation site, archeological illustrators have played an integral role in drawing the dimensions of specific artifacts – the details, for example, of a single potsherd. The Penn Museum’s extensive documentation from its earliest Nippur excavation in 1889 to today’s research provides a comprehensive outlook on how archeological illustrators have contributed to historical discoveries throughout time.   This study considers the role of archaeological illustrators by examining the career of a single artist named Alfred Bendiner.

The University of Pennsylvania, the Ancient Near East, and the Middle East: Connected Histories

by Heather J. Sharkey, Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations

In Fall 2014, I met with students in a weekly seminar to consider the historic engagement of the University of Pennsylvania and its faculty, research associates, students, and graduates in the Near and Middle East.  The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC) offered this course as NELC 133, “Here and Over There: Penn, Philadelphia, and the Middle East”, while the Provost’s Art & Culture Initiative supported the enterprise, too.  This website offers a sampling of our investigations into the evolving and ongoing connections between the “here” of Penn in Philadelphia, and the “over there” of the Near and Middle East, a region variously understood to include western Asia from the Mediterranean coast to Iran, as well as parts of North Africa and southeastern Europe.