Penn Museum launches online collections database for 125th anniversary


The database will provide students and scholars access to the museum's approximately one million artifacts


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Photo by Courtesy of Penn Museum


From mummies to ancient swords to pottery from the Iron Age, the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has offered visitors a look far back into the past for over a century and a quarter.

This year, the Penn Museum is kicking off its 125th anniversary with the launch of a new online collections database.

Through the database, anybody with access to a computer can search for information about “the extraordinary range of artifacts that the museum houses,” Williams Director of the Penn Museum Richard Hodges said. “It seems only fitting that we should time our public launch of the museum’s artifact database on this major anniversary year.”

Students and scholars can now look up the records for the approximately one million objects that the museum houses. Users of the database can search for an object in several ways — including by keyword, curatorial section and type of material.

Before the online collections database became available near the end of 2011, a catalog-card system was used to find information about the objects. This system was “tedious” and “time consuming” because the information had to be found manually and “sometimes it took quite a while to locate an object,” said Ashley Scott, a School of Arts and Sciences graduate student who currently works with the electronic museum collection.

The EMu database is a computer lab located in the museum that houses computers which are used for the online collections database project, explained Sarah MacIntosh, a 2011 College graduate who works in the lab.

“Our job at the EMu lab is to perform a data clean-up and entry for the database by making sure that the online record matches the one on the catalog card,” said 2011 College graduate Mike Slivjak, who also works at the Penn Museum.

The new initiatives that accompany the museum’s 125th anniversary will include additions of 5,000 photographs and 7,000 new records to its online database every six months.

“We’re constantly adding new information to the database. Whether it is a measurement or a more detailed description of the object, it definitely adds to what the museum has to offer,” Scott said. “The new engine is very useful because the public has more information available at their fingertips.”

With the launch of the new tool, “any interesting object that hasn’t been looked at for many years will be given the attention that it deserves,” Slivjak added.

Though Dr. James Mathieu, chief of staff and collections, said the online initiatives are the most significant way through which the Penn Museum will be celebrating its 125th anniversary, there will also be several other events, programs and exhibits to honor the institute’s evolution. From scholarly seminars to special exhibits — including one on the history of the Mayans — the museum plans to target its programs to the wide range of interests throughout the Penn community.

A special issue of the museum’s Expedition magazine is due out in December 2012, and will focus on 125 famous research expeditions. In addition, there will be a major event on Dec. 6 — the official founding day of the museum — to commemorate the milestone.

“There will be lots of events and major projects that will reflect how the museum has evolved over its 125 years, and what is important is for us to make it prominent by reaching out and keeping everyone in the loop,” Hodges said.

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