We are Colchester
My name’s Ben and I’m one of the Collections and Learning Curators based in Colchester. My background is in archaeology, so I’ve spent a lot of my career looking at objects and trying to draw out the stories they can tell us about the people that once used them.
In today’s world, we are surrounded by “stuff.” Objects play an important role, both in the way we express who we are and the way in which society puts people into different boxes, i.e. dresses are feminine and crucifixes are worn by Christians. However, in recent years objects have been used more and more to express an identity that contradicts expectations. It is this concept we hope to explore in the exhibition ‘We Are Colchester’, opening at Hollytrees Museum in 2018.
In the museums, we already tell the stories of people through the objects we have on display, with one example being the Fenwick Treasure. Although we do not know exactly who the owners were, we have been able to guess based on our understanding of the Roman world. However, there are still a lot of assumptions being made and its important to consider this when trying to understand the people behind the objects.
We started preparing for ‘We Are Colchester’ by meeting people that might be willing to share their stories and objects with us. This began with a focus group back in April, involving representatives from the University of Essex’s diversity and equality department, their Student Union and Outhouse East (an organisation based in Colchester, providing support and advice for LGBTQ people living in Essex).
Out of this meeting, it was agreed that the focus should be on how people do not just fit into one category, but are formed of multiple characteristics (sexuality, gender, ethnicity, religion etc.). As a museum, objects are an important part of all of our work. Therefore, it was decided that we would explore the ways in which these characteristics can be expressed through an object to reflect a person’s identity.
Since that day, Colchester held its first ever Colchester Pride in August. Myself and fellow Curator, Emma Reeve attended the event and had a stall where we spoke to hundreds of people. We spoke about ‘We Are Colchester’ and tried to find people who might be interested in taking part. We also flew the Pride flag at the Castle for the first time ever.
We are currently looking for people with objects and stories they are willing to share. We are hoping to start pulling together the list of objects and text for the exhibition in early 2018, so there’s still plenty of time for people to express an interest. If you would like to get involved, you can fill in this form to tell us more about yourself or about an object that you think reflects you.