Meet the Team: Dr Abbey Ellis

So far, our Meet the Team series has introduced you to our Project Manager Dr Aaron Hershkowitz and our Squeeze Digitization Assistant Maria O’Leary. Today, it’s the turn of Project Advisor Dr Abbey Ellis. If you follow our Krateros Project Instagram page, Abbey’s face will certainly be familiar, as she also serves as our Social Media Manager.

Abbey‘s background is in Classical Archaeology. She earned her first-class BA (2016) and MSt (2017) at Merton College, Oxford, before completing her PhD in Museum Studies at the University of Leicester (2021). Abbey has a long standing interest in historic reproductions. Her PhD thesis focused on a collection of plaster casts of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures held at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Thanks to a surprising discovery in the Institute’s epigraphic library, her skills with plaster casts have been put to very good use.

Shortly after Abbey’s arrival at the Institute for Advanced Study in late August 2021, around 100 plaster casts of ancient coins and a small group of casts of Athenian pinakia were unexpectedly uncovered in the epigraphic library. The casts had been packed inside an old squeeze box and covered with some rather nasty fiberglass, so Abbey’s first job was to clean and begin cataloguing them! Little documentation accompanied the casts, so the function that they fulfilled at IAS is unclear. Abbey has been conducting research into the collection to uncover what they can reveal about the long history of archaeological inquiry at the Institute. Let’s get to know her a little better!

What does an average day look like for you?

My role within the Krateros Project is incredibly varied! I split my time between creating content for the Krateros Instagram page and investigating the plaster casts. At the moment, I am conducting some archival research at the Shelby White and Leon Levy Archive Center, trying to find out whether any of our casts are mentioned in the correspondence of Benjamin Meritt or any of the Institute’s other former Faculty or Members. Hopefully this will enable me to trace their history.

When I’m not busy with all things Krateros, you’ll find me working on my own academic projects. I also serve as a Visiting Researcher within the Institute for Advanced Study’s School of Historical Studies. Currently, I’m editing a volume of conference proceedings that will be published by British Academy next year.

What is your favorite aspect of working on the Krateros Project?

Anything where I get to be creative! I really enjoy creating “reels” for the Krateros Project Instagram page. These are short, funny videos aimed at promoting both our historic squeeze collection and our digitization project to a wide audience. Some of the work that we do is complex and can be tricky to explain to non-specialists, but curiosity and interest can be driven so effectively through humor! I think it’s a great way to encourage people to want to learn more about the amazing work going on here, and the results speak for themselves. To date, my top performing “reel” has been watched by over 6,000 people!

Your research primarily concerns plaster reproductions. How do paper squeezes compare?

Many of the findings of my PhD research can be directly applied to the study of squeezes. My thesis emphasized the need to consider the power that reproductions hold as objects in their own right. Plaster casts of ancient sculptures are very useful tools for teaching students about Greek and Roman statue culture, but they are themselves impactful objects, capable of inspiring a great number of unique effects on museum audiences. Likewise, squeezes are so much more than portable copies of ancient inscriptions. The Institute’s collection dates all the way back to the 1930s, making the squeezes historic objects in their own right! They are documents that reflect the interests of Benjamin Meritt and the others who helped to build the collection. Squeezes have much to reveal about how archaeological scholarship developed at the Institute.

In a sense, squeezes might be considered even “closer” to the original monument than plaster casts, as they have come into direct contact with the surface of the original monument without the intermediary of a mold. Handling these highly textured and surprisingly robust pieces of paper, some of which still carry dirt and dust picked up from the surface of the ancient inscription, makes me feel like I am touching layers of time.

Make sure to stick around for our next installment of Meet the Team here on the Krateros Blog, and don’t forget to keep up to date with all of our work on Instagram!

Photo credit: Maria O’Leary Photography.

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