Photograph of Senior Curator Melanie Pitkin

Five questions with Senior Curator Melanie Pitkin

7 April 2022

Get to know our new Senior Curator of the Nicholson Collection

We sat down with Egyptologist Dr Melanie Pitkin to ask her some quick-fire questions.

Discover where her love for ancient history began and what she's excited to do at the Museum.

1. Where did your love for Egypt and all things ancient history begin?

Unfortunately, I don't remember any single defining moment that sparked my love of Egypt and the ancient world. Rather, it seems to have always been with me!

As a child, my parents regularly took me to museums, and I used to try to integrate ancient Egypt into my school assignments wherever possible. By the time I reached my senior years at high school, I had very supportive teachers who would take me along to talks and events at Macquarie University (Australia's centre for the study of Egyptology). This gave me the opportunity to meet key figures in the field, such as Professor Naguib Kanawati, who ended up being one of my PhD supervisors many years later!

Photograph of Senior Curator Melanie Pitkin

2. What has been your career highlight so far?

It would be wrong of me if I didn't start by mentioning this position! But, a few other career highlights includes my Postdoctoral position at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Between 2018 – early 2022, I worked with an incredible team of scholars on an interdisciplinary project looking at the production and decoration of coffins in ancient Egypt (this work is ongoing).

I was also involved in many very rewarding community outreach and training projects, both in the UK and Egypt, catering to audiences in culturally and socially underprivileged areas. I also have my first monograph expected to come out later this year, which I am rather nervously excited about!

3. What's your favourite thing about being an Egyptologist and curator?

I love research and I love sharing what I research with people from all walks of life.

The amazing thing about being a researcher working in a museum is that there are many creative ways to engage people – from academic publications to exhibitions, blogs, public talks and tours – and you get to work with both incredible objects and very talented people on a day-to-day basis. 

I also enjoy challenging people about what we think we know about the past, and casting new light on those less well-known time periods, people and events of ancient Egypt. 

4. What's your favourite collection item in the Chau Chak Wing Museum and why?

In any museum I've worked at, my favourite collection item tends to be whatever I'm working on at that given moment. I love getting completely immersed in my research and getting to know an object intimately.

So, my answer right now, is a portrait painting of a young woman from Egypt's Roman period which was acquired by the Museum at auction in 1979. It's very unusual in its shape and orientation and is unlike any other portrait belonging to this genre. 

Having spent a lot of time working on a 21st Dynasty coffin set in Cambridge, I also have a real soft spot for Meruah's coffin set on display in the Mummy Room at the Museum. 

Portrait of a young woman painted on a wooden panel

Portrait of a young woman painted on a wooden panel, Egypt, circa second or third century AD, Nicholson Collection, NM79.1

5. As the new Senior Curator of the Nicholson Collection, what are you excited to do over the next few years?

Obviously, I'm very excited about undertaking interdisciplinary research on the collection and sharing this research with diverse audiences in wide-ranging ways. But, something else I'm very passionate about is working closely with source communities.

For example, involving modern Egyptian, and other Arabic speaking communities, in the display and interpretation of their dispersed cultural heritage. I also want to help create a real sense of belonging and pride for these communities and to foster a deep interest among the younger generations. 

Header image: Dr Melanie Pitkin next to the coffin of Madja at the Louvre, Paris, France.