amelia-2On the last day of August, we marked the end of a six month project to photograph, catalogue and re-curate the Amelia Edwards Pots Collection with a visit by our benefactor Dr John Wells and a pop-up exhibition of the collection in its new boxing.

The collection comprises around 80 ancient Greek and Roman artefacts collected by Amelia Edwards (1831-1892) and given to Somerville after her death. The story is taken up by Amanda Sharp, doctoral candidate from Lincoln College Oxford, who has carried out the work on the catalogue and curated the collection.

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From left: Dr John Wells, Principal Dr Alice Prochaska and Amanda Sharp

‘A successful English writer, Edwards became a self-taught Egyptologist after an enthusiasm for ancient Egypt was sparked by a trip through the Nile Valley in autumn 1873. Her account of this journey, A Thousand Miles Up the Nile (London: 1877), which Edwards proclaimed “my best book, by far”, was not merely a travel diary. A Thousand Miles expressed sincere concern for the ongoing destruction and theft of Egyptian antiquities. Subsequently, the promotion of scientific archaeological excavation in Egypt and the preservation of that country’s ancient monuments became Amelia Edwards’ life work, earning her the sobriquet ‘godmother of Egyptology’.

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Assisted by Reginald Stuart Poole, then Keeper of Coins and Medals at the British Museum, Edwards co-founded the Egyptian Exploration Fund (now Society) in 1882 to raise awareness and funds for Egyptological research. She also created by bequest the first chair of Egyptology in England, the Edwards Professorship at University College London. This post was first held by Edward’s protégé, William Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), a pioneer of systematic methods in archaeology.

Amelia Edwards’ attitude to women’s education explains in part why Somerville College, one of the first women’s colleges in Oxford, received such a substantial bequest from her estate. Her friendship through the Egyptian Exploration Society with Madeleine Shaw Lefevre (1835-1914) and Agnes Catherine Maitland (1850-1906), the first two principals of Somerville College, encouraged her to become a benefactor of the Somerville Library.”

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The 2016 study of the Amelia Edwards Collection was generously funded by Dr John Wells, who first came across the collection in the early 80s when he was a Physics lecturer at the college. The present, updated catalogue aims to make the Collection more accessible to students and fellows of Somerville College, as well as the wider Oxford community. In doing so, it is hoped that future generations will remain better able to engage with what is part of Somerville’s great legacy of women’s education and Classical scholarship.

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