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Interdisciplinary Interventions in the Brotherton Special Collections

Series Conveners:

Tom Jackson (School of Media and Communication)

Emma Cayley (School of Languages, Cultures and Societies)

Rhiannon Lawrence-Francis (Brotherton Special Collections)

Series Overview

Persuading the public to engage meaningfully with the items contained within museum and special library collections can present a significant challenge. The majority of items available to curators and librarians are locked away in often inaccessible archives.

Even if an item can be exhibited or consulted, the public encounter is commonly limited to the visual experience of peering into a glass cabinet. Such restricted interactions are obviously an essential aspect of the preservation of the items, but they can also result in a distancing from, and disconnection with, the cultural and historical significance of the items which constitute museum and special library collections.

We will select five items in the Brotherton Special Collections that have a currently untapped potential to engage the public. These items will all possess a rich cultural and historical significance which is challenging to communicate (due to issues of fragility, scale, complexity etc.) For each object, we will form a team that represents an intentionally unlikely and provocative set of disciplines, skills and experiences.

Those teams will develop and test methods for revealing and communicating the significance of their allocated item to the public. We will ask each team to trial at least one ‘interdisciplinary intervention’ which addresses the specific communication and engagement challenges their item represents.

Series Aims

  • Result in greater awareness of, and engagement with, the items contained within the Brotherton Special Collections
  • Facilitate the formation of new research partnerships between academics and commercial practitioners leading to considerable impact and public engagement
  • Encourage interdisciplinary thinking and cross-faculty research collaborations
  • Advocate for how research with practice can be engaged to make contributions to knowledge
  • Develop and evaluate a new model for the Sadler Seminar Series which others might like to revisit in the future

Events in the Series

Art and Animation: New Perspectives on Special Collections

Read all about our exhibition here:

Admission is free.

The exhibition is on until 16th December 2023

The Winchester Cabinet

The Winchester Cabinet is one of the most important parts of the Coin Collection held in Leeds University Library Special Collections and contains over 3000 coins, medals and tokens. It was compiled by William Eyre who was a barrister. He bequeathed the collection to Winchester Cathedral on his death in 1764 and it remained virtually untouched until it was purchased in 1954 by the University of Leeds. The collection is housed in an eighteenth century cabinet, whose fabric is deteriorating. A challenge facing the University is how to preserve both the cabinet and the collection, as well as enabling access to both for audiences locally and around the world. 

This short video, created as part of Interdisciplinary Interventions in the Brotherton Special Collections project, presents the Cabinet in a novel way, bringing the coins to life and allowing them to speak for themselves. It is intended to demonstrate the potential for a large scale project with a fully interactive output.

Bearing in mind the challenges of physically accessing the cabinet, the project team wanted to create a digital intervention to highlight the experience of examining coins from the Cabinet, as well as exploring ways of telling creative narratives from the coins’ points of view.  The objects chosen include a first-century BC stater, an eleventh-century penny, an English Civil War siege token and a Dutch non-conformist medal. They broadly fall under the theme of resistance and protest, exploring how coins and medals are political as well as monetary objects. 

The animations prototype an approach to interpreting numismatic objects in a way that enables the multi-vocality of the objects to be explicit. Indeed some coins give unique insight into the role of marginalised communities in the past - however these voices are silent. One of the coins that was initially chosen to animate was a silver denarius showing two naked and bound captives next to a trophy made of Gallic shields. Making these captives rise up was a powerful initial idea, but intensive of illustration-time - one that can hopefully be realised in the future. 

The interdisciplinary project team included Dan Cohen, Henry Clarke, Simon Glenn, Lorna Johnson and Lucy Moore. Dan Cohen is an animator and former University of Leeds student, Henry is a Lecturer in Classics at the University of Leeds, Simon is a Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Leeds and numismatic adviser to Special Collections, Lorna is an artist and researcher at the University of Leeds, and Lucy is a curator and postgraduate researcher at the University of York.