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Professor Ceri Ashley's Inaugural Lecture

Navigating the Material World: archaeology, museums and makers

Ceri Ashley
Networking | Public lectures | Seminars

This Inaugural Lecture by Professor Ceri Ashley is an exploration and celebration of how and why we make our material worlds, and how they in turn, make us.

  • From: Wednesday 5 July 2023, 5.30 pm
  • To: Wednesday 5 July 2023, 7.30 pm
  • Registration: 5.30 pm
  • Location: Lecture Theatre 6, Newton building, Goldsmith Street, Nottingham, NG1 4BU
  • Booking deadline: Wednesday 5 July 2023, 3.30 pm
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Event details

This Inaugural Lecture by Professor Ceri Ashley is an exploration and celebration of how and why we make our material worlds, and how they in turn, make us. Drawing on examples from her research in African archaeology, museum studies and contemporary craft practice and making, this presentation asks two questions: what can we understand and learn from the material record about society, and, how can we put the maker back into our discussions of materiality?

In particular, this talk will focus on how our everyday worlds of objects, spaces and places are imbued with meaning and significance, unique to circumstance, community and context. To illustrate this, Professor Ashley will contrast material stories from a number of archaeological projects, showing how decisions about ceramics style during the Iron Ages of Uganda and South Africa helped create and maintain ideas of community across wide landscapes, even when people themselves did not meet, or how nineteenth century British missionaries used material culture and landscape to insidiously impose their ideas and worldview on communities in Botswana. Just as materials and objects can be active and have affective powers on the communities and worlds they occupy, the processes of making and creating the material world is equally imbued with significance. Technology is not just dictated by environmental limitations and physical properties, it is about the myriad of choices and decisions made by the makers and creators as well.

Building on this idea, Professor Ashley will report on new research around how we can understand and celebrate the heritage of making and makers, recognising the extraordinary skills and knowledge that are needed to create the made worlds we occupy. Ultimately, this presentation aims to shift discussion to see the material world as a complex entanglement between material and people, whether it be in the realm of making and creation, or in the maintenance and re-creation of our unique worlds through the impact of material agency as we use and share objects.


Ceri studied Archaeology at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology, gaining her PhD on the archaeology of Early Iron Age ceramics and the transition to farming around Lake Victoria in eastern Africa in 2006. Following this she took up a postdoctoral position at UCLA where she was the Cotsen Visiting Fellow in Archaeology for one year, before returning to UCL to start a three year British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship exploring the archaeology of migration, mobility and contact in eastern and southern Africa, leading excavation projects in Uganda and Botswana.

In 2011 Ceri took up the post of Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, where she served as Head of Archaeology twice, and was promoted to Associate Professor. During this time Ceri worked in northern South Africa in the Limpopo River Valley, exploring the archaeology of the political hinterland of southern Africa’s first state system. This involved excavation at a number of sites and examination of how material culture, including imported good from the Indian Ocean trade network as well as locally produced ceramics, helped create political structures and identities.

In 2018 Ceri joined the British Museum to lead the Endangered Material Knowledge Programme – a global initiative to document critically endangered material heritage and contemporary craft knowledge. Supporting research in all continents except Antarctica, Ceri’s role is to co-ordinate the programme and develop research, dissemination and training initiatives, including a recent conference hosted on ‘Mending and Making’.

She joined NTU in late 2021 one day a week as a Professor of Cultural Heritage in the Cultural Heritage Peak. At NTU she is developing a new research strand on this heritage of making and craft and how these have been collected and studied in the heritage sector.

Ceri is also a research partner and member of the steering committee of the AHRC funded GCRF Network+ grant ‘Imagining Futures through un/archived pasts’ which works to create a more egalitarian approach to the creation of and access to archives. Ceri has been a trustee of the British Institute in Eastern Africa since 2019, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, and has previously been a Visiting Fellow at the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge and UCL.


5.30 pm

Registration and welcome refreshments

6 pm

Welcome talk

6.05 pm

Lecture begins

6.50 pm

Close and thanks by Executive Dean

7 pm

Drinks reception

7.30 pm


Location details


Lecture Theatre 6, Newton building


Goldsmith Street


Take a look at our maps and directions page to find the best route for you to our City campus.

Travel Info:

Take a look at our maps and directions page to find the best route for you to our City campus.

Past event

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