The OI is watching you

Unbeknownst to them, visitors to the Oriental Institute exhibition Empires of the Fertile Crescent: Ancient Assyria, Anatolia, and Israel, which opened in the museum’s east wing this past January, were being followed—and carefully watched. That’s because the OI hired an exhibit evaluator to trail visitors and make note of where they stopped to give displays a closer look. “The single thing that everybody seemed to see and stop and notice,” said OI Museum Director Geoff Emberling during yesterday’s lecture- and tour-filled Day of Discovery, was a text panel discussing the Israelites’ true origins. Because the controversial topic drew such interest, Emberling said, “we have been thinking that we want to, whenever possible, present areas of active debate within the field.” The evaluator also encouraged the museum to make the labels, which often include scholarly references, more general-reader friendly.

The evaluation is just one part of the museum’s initiative to critique its attempts at public accessibility. Since James Henry Breasted founded the Oriental Institute in 1919, “the museum has had an evolving role with the institute,” Emberling said, originating as “a tool for scholars.” Though the museum was open to the public in those early days, it was far from welcoming, lacking docents or helpful labels to explain the artifacts’ context. Now the museum hands out surveys and holds focus groups. “We’re really very interested in your comments,” Emberling told the Breasted Hall audience.

Yesterday’s Day of Discovery, planned in conjunction with the Boston-based, educational and travel-oriented nonprofit Elderhostel, also included a tour of the gallery, lunch at the Quadrangle Club, and a lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls by Norman Golb, the University’s Ludwig Rosenberger professor of Jewish history. Another Day of Discovery is planned for Friday. Because of space constraints at the Quad Club, both events were limited to 90 people, and both days “filled up very quickly,” said Museum Education Program Director Carole Krucoff. “There was a waiting list, in fact.”

Hana Yoo, ’07

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Photos (left to right): The controversial panel, Emberling, and Krucoff.

September 14, 2005