Perfecting Panels & Labels: ITP+ Aswan

Written by Jessica Juckes, ITP Assistant

It’s Day 3 of ITP+ Museum interpretation here at the Nubian Museum in Aswan, Egypt, and the participants’ morning was spent examining, challenging and reworking their own museums’ label and panel texts.


Participants were asked in advance to prepare and bring with them to Aswan an example of a text from their museum that they felt happy with and another that they felt could benefit from some changes.


The workshop delegates, who comprise ITP fellows from Egypt and Sudan, ITP fellow International Facilitators from India and Uganda, and delegates from museums across Egypt, were split into two groups to work with either Stuart Frost (Head of Interpretation and Volunteers, British Museum) or Jane Batty (Interpretation Manager, British Museum).


UK Facilitators Anna Garnett (Curator, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology) and Campbell Price (Curator of Egypt and Sudan, Manchester Museum) joined in too, and Campbell shared with Jane and his group a text he wrote a few years ago about a cat coffin that he feels he would approach differently now.

The participants thought about what the general principles should be to be able to write good museum texts, and then were provided with a list of principles that the British Museum uses.

Some good (and sometimes difficult!) questions came up during the group discussions: should we always put the name of any associated collector on the object label? Should we put the object number? What size font should the text be? If we are presenting texts in multiple languages, how do we deal with any perceived hierarchy in placing one above the other?

It seems that Arabic offers a unique solution to this particular problem: as the script is read right to left, it means that a text in Arabic and one in another script can be placed side by side and neither could be seen as in a preferential position – instead they read outwards and mirror each other.

The texts brought by the fellows  – and the objects they belong to – were so varied and everyone was enjoying learning about these artefacts while examining their labels. Jane’s group were taken by surprise with the example brought by Mohammed Mokhtar (ITP 2015, Egypt, Abdeen Palace Museum) – an 18th century French jewellery box that would shoot anyone who tried its complicated lock combination and got it wrong! They were calling this Mohamed’s James Bond object!

Participants worked the texts they brought individually, then peer reviewed them with a partner, with Stuart or Jane also cross-checking. As Jackline Besigye (ITP 2013, Uganda National Museum) explained to me, her milk pot text had been seen by her partner, Anna Garnett and Stuart Frost, and as Stuart had told her that all British Museum texts are looked over by three-to-four people, this would mean hers is now good to go!

It was great to see the results of everybody’s hard work by the end of the session. It was agreed by all that this was a really beneficial experience that could only really be improved by lasting longer!