First Week at the British Museum (Aprille Tijam, ITP 2019, Philippines)

Written by Aprille Tijam, Senior Manager, Exhibitions and Collections, Ayala Museum (ITP 2019, Philippines)

In 2018, I chanced upon the BBC-published book The Museum: Behind the Scenes at the British Museum (2007, Rupert Smith; Foreword by Neil MacGregor) in a second-hand bookstore in the Philippines. Books on museology rarely reach my country.  Without second thought, I purchased the book, read some chapters, and learned that the collection of almost anything from all over the world by one avid collector, Sir Hans Sloane, served as the foundation of the British Museum.  That was my introduction to the British Museum (BM), not knowing several months after that I will be one of the ITP 2019 participants.  

I am filled with gratitude. It is my first time in London—to enjoy the many exhibitions at the BM and other UK museums, and to be a part of a collaborative, international engagement with BM experts and other museum professionals from all over the world!  

It was a sunny first week, filled with excitement as well as uncertainty. It was a period of familiarisation and introductions—understanding in-depth the ITP programme and personally meeting for the first time the hardworking team behind it—headed by Claire Messenger. I settled in at Schafer House, learned how to get from Schafer House to the BM. I introduced myself to each ITP participant (it was quite a challenge to remember names and faces at first). It met other BM departmental staff and placement partners, had ‘reflection time’ with Nagwa Bakr (Egypt), toured some galleries and experienced first-hand how hundreds of visitors flock to see the exhibitions (I was most excited to see the Edward Munch exhibition. I cannot remember if I have ever seen one of his works in the past).

Meeting the British Museum Director, Hartwig Fischer, before his presentation
of Annual Review 2018/19 at BP Lecture Theatre.

I learned how not to get lost in the many corridors behind the exhibition walls in the museum and how to navigate The Underground. It was a delight to have one relaxing evening mid-week to enjoy red wine and canapes in a local pub, hosted by the ITP. By Friday, I finally “met” my object which will be the focus of my research, with my partner Diana Mohamed Ahmed Digna (Sudan), for the next 5 weeks.

What was noteworthy was the opportunity to hear the BM Director, Hartwig Fischer, talk twice! The first time around was an intimate introduction of the British Museum on the first day of the ITP 2019 programme. His presentation shared the history, behind-the-scenes stories about BM programmes, and ongoing exciting projects. The second time was the Annual Review 2018/19 to all BM staff at the BP Lecture Theatre. The week was capped with a day-tour by train to Brighton experiencing the community, sun, and sea in the company of new found friends.

Overall, the first week was welcomed with positivity, warmth, and friendliness from everyone. The BM staff were very pleasant and very helpful.  I look forward to the next 5 weeks!