By Justyna Ladosz, Museum Education and Outreach Coordinator, Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge
Since March 2020, ‘Everybody is a Classical Body?’ has been a work-in-progress at the Museum of Classical Archaeology at the University of Cambridge. The idea for the project was born from a conversation between the museum curator, Susanne Turner, Arlene Holmes-Henderson, and myself. The museum holds a collection of over 500 plaster casts, most of which represent bodies in various degrees of nakedness. Clearly, it is a great resource for talking about bodies, body image, body aesthetics, and even wider topics such as gender, objectification and gaze.
Aims of the project
Our project uses classical casts to create spaces to explore a range of body-relevant themes for teenage audiences. We wanted to create workshops and resources that would engage young audiences with the museum collection through an issue important to those audiences. A broader goal of the museum and ACE is to increase young people’s engagement with the Classical World.
The first stage of the project was the most challenging. Body image is a huge subject area and we needed to zone in on ideas and concepts specific enough to create concise sessions. This could not be an eight-week long university course, but a two hour introduction, which would be accessible to all young people, while making an impact. From the beginning we knew that we could not do this alone and that we needed an expert. Alice is a Relationships and Sex Education expert with many years’ experience of developing resources for the Sex and History project so it was clear she would be a perfect fit. Throughout the project Alice and I learned a lot from each other, we exchanged experiences and ideas, while working out the final focus and design of the sessions.
What does it look like in practice?
Eventually, we settled on creating two sessions. One on the theme of ‘Posing Power’ about body shapes and sizes, focusing on five statues from the collection. This session also explores how we, as an audience, instinctively ‘read’ and assume certain things from the way the statues pose. The second theme ‘Body Parts’ focuses on specific parts of the body, such as abdominal muscles across the collection. These themes work together, but can also be delivered separately.
Secondary schools can book these as in-person or online workshops at the museum. Alongside these, we have also created resources for teachers who wish to deliver the session in their own classrooms. We use a range of old-fashioned paper worksheets, high resolution images, videos and fact files to deliver the sessions. A ground-breaking platform, which has made our online session fun and interactive, is Mentimeter, an online presentation making tool with built-in functions for quizzes, questions and more.
Key Learnings and Reactions
So far, we have delivered trial sessions for teenagers and teachers online. We have collected feedback using Mentimeter which has allowed us evaluate and reflect on the efficacy of the sessions, influencing future directions of the project.
The first trial workshop helped us define and draw the sessions on Posing Power and Body attributes more clearly.
Overall, our audiences were very receptive to the idea of using statues to talk about bodies, and were fascinated with how easy it was to use the sculptures to reflect on our own society. Here are some of the teachers’ responses:
“It was a great way to be educated about today’s (and past) society and how we view others.”
“A superb and innovative way to engage young people in conversations about bodies and body image.”
“Seeing how people have always strived for a perfect body helps to show that even sculptures portray an unrealistic and unattainable beauty standard.”
Our participants not only enjoyed the session, but had an opportunity to use their words creatively at the end: