The ‘Norfolk Archaeological Trust: Past, Present, and Future‘ exhibition opened on Tuesday 6th February 2024. Made possible with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, it is the culmination of five months of my time as project curator, but it’s been a real team effort. This blog will examine how the project team went about putting it together.

There was a lot going on behind the scenes! As curator my first task was to identify what the important themes of the exhibition would be, which I did in conjunction with the NAT project team. Between us we agreed that it should focus on the story of the first hundred years of NAT’s existence, and should highlight the key people, places and events that shaped what NAT does.

I pored through the NAT archive to find interesting stories about NAT’s acquisition and management of its sites, and drew up a longlist of records that would be good to display or to get information from. I then used the Norfolk Record Office’s catalogue to select relevant records from other archives held here, to add colour and variety to the exhibition. Finally, the project team worked in partnership with the Norfolk Museums Service and the Norfolk Historic Environment Record. We loaned objects from the NMS to showcase the wonderful archaeological finds excavated at various NAT sites, and sourced some informative aerial photographs from the NHER to show the sites within the context of the wider landscape. NAT also kindly loaned us some finds from the various digs at Caistor Roman Town.

The next step was writing the interpretation. I had made lots of notes from the NAT archive and other sources, and now had to present this information so that I got the key points across in a concise and accessible way. The interpretation text went through many drafts with comments and changes from all the project team.

Next was the design element. Our project designer is very experienced in creating attractive and colourful interpretation boards. After we had given him a selection of digitised images from the NRO collections, Picture Norfolk and the George Plunkett collection, he was able to turn them into the fantastic panels you can see in the exhibition.

NRO conservation staff installing archive item

Next I had to work out where each item was going to sit in the display. Would some areas be too crowded, and others too empty? Would the objects fit in with the interpretation panels? Were some too big, or too fragile to put on display, and if so, what would we do about it?

The big stars in putting everything all together were the members of NRO’s conservation team. They mounted the interpretation panels, created stands and mounts for the documents and objects on display, and repaired and prepared fragile and damaged records to make them suitable for display. They also helped me to digitise some of the items so we could use copies, rather than the real things which may have been too fragile.

So as you can see, a lot of work goes into developing an exhibition, and that’s before we get to writing up the captions, with all the correct reference numbers, descriptions and credits!

I do hope you enjoy the results. If you haven’t had a chance to visit yet, don’t worry! The exhibition is on at The Archive Centre in County Hall, Norwich, until May 31st 2024. There are also associated events going on which you can find on the NAT and NRO websites. One of these will be a curator talk I’m running once a month until the end of May, where                                                                  you can find out more about the stories told in the exhibition.

Robin Sampson – Project Archivist