Art of the First Cities, Turmoil of the Present

On Friday, July 18, a group of 25 people from the Berkshires, Dutchess, Orange, and Westchester counties, and New York, spent a day at the Metropolitan Museum seeing and hearing about the wonders of distant Mesopotamian past along with the tragedy and turmoil of the Iraqi present. The group including teachers, museum educators, and the interested general public, toured the Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern galleries and saw the exciting and soon-to-close Art of the First Cities exhibit in a program arranged by the Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education.

For the teachers, the journey began a week earlier at the Mid-Hudson Teacher Center, New Paltz, NY, with Dr. Peter Feinman, in a five hour program to introduce the ancient civilizations to them and to prepare them for the visit the following week. Lynn Sarda, director of the Teacher Center said,

The Ancient Civilizations sessions provided educators with an opportunity to enhance their professional development by connecting the material from the past with the culture and events of the present. This will help them to make the ancient cultures meaningful to the students today as these lands continue to be in the news.

The program at the Metropolitan Museum was led by Barbara Porter, the Museum curator who helped create the permanent exhibit of both the Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern galleries. She is the author of the Museum guide of the Ancient Near East gallery and has just returned from a worldwide conference in London on Assyriology previously planned there as part of the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the British Museum. That museum houses many of the treasures from ancient Mesopotamia especially from the area of Mosul, which as been in the news of late for other reasons. These two previously scheduled events, the opening of the Art of the First Cities at the Metropolitan Museum in May and the Assyriology conference at the British Museum in July provided an opportunity for scholars to get together to discuss the situation at the Baghdad Museum and plan their response. Porter was able to share this experience with the participants in this program.

Berkshire Art Museum director Ann Mintz was thrilled to have the opportunity to come to New York for this first hand experience as she said:

The Ancient Civilization programs at the Berkshire Museum are among the most popular with our school visitors, so it was very helpful to have a survey of the field presented in such a powerful setting. The program was interesting to people with a range of subject matter expertise. I haunted the Metropolitan Museum’s Egyptian galleries as a child, and enjoyed the tour of the re-installed exhibitions, which are quite wonderful.

Mintz looks forward to reviewing the collection at the Berkshire Museum along with the Museum education curators who made the trip to New York with her to see how the presentation in their museum can be enhanced to make the visits by Berkshire students more meaningful. The teachers, too, shared in this appreciation. For example, they had the opportunity to see a game board from the city of Ur [attached photo]. Students will be challenged to right the rules for the game was played. And when the archaeologists of the future find the gym floor of the schools today, will they be able to figure out what games were played in the 21st century?

As Rye Brook resident Marianne Schorer concluded after a full day of immersion in the first civilizations , “Programs like the one today are so important. In the troubled times in which we live, more and more people are seeking a greater understanding and awareness of themselves, others, and the human experience. Our visit today is a reminder that 5000 years from now, people will be looking back on us just as we did today at the magnificent achievements of our predecessors.