Commonwealth Lecture Program

The Commonwealth Lecture Program's mission is to make the resources of the Museum available throughout the public library system of the State of Pennsylvania. Below is a list of available topics. Please contact Prema Deshmukh at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (215) 898-4065
 to book a lecture.

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General Archaeology and Anthropology

 Beyond Keychains and Refrigerator Magnets: How to select the perfect travel souvenir
This illustrated lecture will help you understand what motivates us to buy a particular “souvenir” when we travel so you can actually make good choices, especially when visiting traditional markets in foreign countries.   Are you hoping to help preserve a traditional craft? Provide support for a local economy? We will also share lots of great tips on beginning life-long collections you will be proud to own, display and pass on to your kids.  Connie Kirker

To Market, To Market, To Buy?...How to Find What You Want at a Traditional Market
A lot can be learned from the experience of visiting a market and interacting with market venders, merchants and artisans. What is the best way to approach a traditional market where local goods are offered for sale with no price tags?  Americans are generally unfamiliar and even uncomfortable with this form of shopping common in many parts of the world. How do you know what products you should look for and what is a “fair” price? This lecture will reveal important hints and tips on how to get the most fun and value out of this special experience whether you are traveling to a distant country or a local flea market.  Connie Kirker

Trash Can Detective

The person who sat at a desk and used this trash can is missing.  Luckily, the trash can hasn't been emptied for a week.  Who is this person and what can we learn from the trash? To answer these question students excavate the trash can and in the process learn how archaeologists deal with similar problems. When archaeologists excavate a site they work back in time. The first level of artifacts is the most recent. The artifacts have to be carefully recorded and removed before the next level can be excavated.  As an excavation unfolds it is difficult to tell how levels and artifacts relate to each other. It is only when the earliest level is uncovered that the development of the site over time is revealed and its history can be written. Make sure to record all the objects otherwise you will miss the clues. Once the trash can is empty, the excavation is over and all that is left are the records. If the records are clear the mystery can be solved. Ann Guinan

Innovation and Forms of Ancient Glass
Tracing the origins of glass-making to the Near East and Egypt, this lecture examines the technological processes and mythological mysteries behind one of mankind’s most enduring innovations.  From Herodotus’s explanation of its invention, to the rise of Egyptian faience, to the spread of material trade across the Mediterranean, the causalities leading to changes in technology will be visited.  Why was most Egyptian faience blue?  How did glass-blowing come about and how did it almost spell disaster for the glass-making industry?  Has glass technology really progressed in the past 2000-years?  This lecture offers the ability to study one particular material across different cultures and time, connecting modern window glass to Phoenician sailors, drinking glasses of today to Roman symposiums, and the world we live in to a diverse, yet connected, cultural past.  (Suitable to children 10+ to adults) John Kuehne

Home Sweet Home: Houses Around the World
More than any other aspect of a culture, housing defines and embodies the cultural values and beliefs that define everyday life. What is it like to live in a Bedouin tent, a Venetian palazzo or an igloo? Join us on a journey through the communal centers, living rooms and bedrooms of dwellings throughout the world. We'll take you to the Amazon rainforest to look at the construction of grass houses, to the Middle East to look at houses made of mud brick, to Paros, an Aegean island where bedrooms can be on one side of the street and living rooms on the other. This illustrated talk will make use of the descriptions by anthropologists who have worked and lived in some of the world's most unusual houses. Ms. Ann Guinan

Libraries of the Ancient World
Libraries concentrate the knowledge and scholarship of a culture in one place. This talk will look at the libraries of ancient peoples such as the Assyrians and the Romans. How were ancient libraries used and what did they contain? It will also consider the politics and philosophy that inspired the construction of libraries and the acquisition of their documents. Ms. Ann Guinan

Masks, Make-Up & Mystery
On every continent and in every age, man has devised ways to cover his face. Masks of wood, feathers, shell and paint are often works of great beauty and power. This slide lecture looks at different functions of masks in many cultures and asks why these creations are made up and continue to haunt us. Mr. Steve Abrams

Someone Else's Shoes

Folk dance is part of our cultural heritage with roots in ancient rites. Costumes, footwear, geography, and politics all contribute to the unique form of each dance. Slides and music from all over Europe will be presented and demonstrations of gestures and steps are all combined in this program. Mr. Steve Abrams

Digging Up the Past
As detectives into the past, archaeologists uncover the lives, mysteries and achievements of people who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago. Archaeological method and professional archaeology are included in this discussion. (Suitable for ages 10 and up.) Ann Guinan

Rich and Poor: Everyday Life in the Ancient World

From the twisted alleyways of Babylon to the gracious houses of Pompeii, we will tour the streets, houses, courtyards and kitchens of the ancient world. What was it like to live in ancient cities? Museum exhibits of archeological treasures introduce us to the material goods of the wealthiest segment of society. As a result, it is easier to envision the lives of the "haves" and ignore lives of the "have-nots." In this visit to the ancient world, we will look at poverty as well as privilege. Ms. Ann Guinan

What Bones Tell and Archaeologist: Forensic Anthropology at an Excavation
Human Bones are one of the most common classes of artifacts found at an archaeological site. Excavators often find skeletons in formal burial sites as well as in a variety of other contexts. Even the skeletons in ancient cemeteries are come in a variety of types; each with needs to be decoded by conducting an anthropological study of the bones. Determining the age and the sex of the individual in a cemetery is the basic to interpreting how the living understood their own society, and how the passage to the afterlife is part of the life cycle itself.
Human bones also appear in many ritual contexts, either as intact specimens or as objects that have been fashioned from fresh bones. Bits and pieces of human skeletons can appear anywhere at an archaeological site. Their identification, and the evaluation of how these pieces got there, helps us to decode the archaeological record and reconstruct the ancient society. Dr. Becker's experience with skeletal analysis at over 100 excavations around the world is condensed into a brief, slide illustrated review of what a "bone man" does and what excavators should do until the doctor arrives. Dr. Marshall Becker


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The Magic of Jade -- East and West
Jade has been cherished and traded across long distances from prehistoric times to the present, not only in China, but also by the Maya in Central America and the aboriginal Maori people of New Zealand. Legends and lore connected with this beautiful stone will be presented, slides of archaeological and more recent jade artifacts will be shown, and a few examples will be available for handling--because part of the specialness of jade is in its feel as well as its visual beauty. Ms. Jean Adelman

How Does Your Garden Grow? Understanding Asian cultures Through the Art of the Garden
Viewed as the ultimate aesthetic form of “environmental manipulation”, the garden  serves as a three-dimensional metaphor for the “world view” of a culture, representing a symbolic “perfect universe.” Basic principles of Asian culture are clearly evidenced in the art and function of the garden. Garden design as a form of personal artistic expression is held in high esteem today, and has been throughout history, particularly in China and Japan.  This illustrated lecture presents several examples, including how the elements of Confucianism and Taoism direct the design of the Chinese garden, the importance of Shinto in the history of the Japanese garden and the common thread of Buddhism in both cultures. Similarities and differences between Chinese and Japanese culture can be clearly shown by examining the art of the garden.  Connie Kirker

Finding Traditional Arts and Crafts in the Markets of Southeast Asia
In this illustrated introduction, participants will learn about the major art and craft traditions that can still be found in the markets of Southeast Asia today.  We will talk about why we are interested in buying objects and what would be good ways to display and use then.
We will learn of the religious and cultural traditions behind the various objects, including textiles and jewelry.  Be able to identify the most common iconography in the arts of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, and various indigenous folk traditions and learn to evaluate particular qualities of craftsmanship in traditional arts and crafts commonly found in the marketplaces.  Connie Kirker

India: Past in Present
Learn how different people who ruled over India have influenced the present day society; from the Indus Valley Civilization to the present. Does the caste system still exist? Who introduced caste system in India and why? Learn about art and architecture left behind by the Muslim rulers. Visit this exotic country through the slide presentation and enjoy the diversity through a fashion show, folk dances, music, and festivals. Ms. Prema Deshmukh


Culture of India
Individual states of India have different food, clothing styles, language, and folkdances ... it is like travelling from one country to another. Experience this diversity through a fashion show, folk dances, music, festivals and more. (Presentation on art projects and stories for children available on request.) Ms. Prema Deshmukh

Asian Theater
A survey of traditional dance and drama of India, Indonesia and Japan is presented in light of the myths, origins, and practices of these colorful forms. An hour lecture program with slides of costumes; masks and make-up, and tapes of musical accompaniment provide a meaningful exploration of theater that is having a growing impact on Western drama Mr. Steve Abrams


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Central and South America

Portrait of the Ancient Maya
The ancient Maya, whose civilization flourished in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize over a thousand years ago, have long been wrapped in an air of mystery. Difficult terrain, a puzzling writing system, and a lack of historical record have all hampered our understanding of these rainforest dwellers. In the past four decades, however, archaeologists have made dramatic progress in understanding the nature of Maya religion and world view, the writing system of Mayan inscriptions, and Maya dynastic and military history. This illustrated lecture discusses the Maya in light of these key discoveries and the fresh understanding of ancient Maya life—both elite and ordinary—that they provide. Elin Danien

2012: End of the World, or Just a Blip in Time?

For the past few years there has been a growing belief that the Maya calendar predicts the world will come to an end in the year 2012. Mayanist Elin Danien will illustrate how this belief spread and what the Maya calendar actually says. Time will be allowed for questions from the audience.  Dr. Elin Danien

The Aztecs on the Eve of Conquest
In less than 200 years, the Aztecs rose from impoverished nomads to wealthy rulers who controlled all Mexico and drew tribute from the far reaches of Mesoamerica. Well known for their bloody rituals and skill at war, the Aztecs had other qualities that have fascinated people for almost five hundred years.  This illustrated talk includes some of the legends and the history of the Aztecs, their philosophy, religion, and the way they saw the world.  Translations of Aztec poetry and prose are used to reveal these ancient, complex people-in their own words. Elin Danien

Read more: Central and South America


Near East

Sex, Lies and Omens
From ancient times to the present, Babylon has been associated with wanton sexuality. In the 19th century the very name Babylon was associated with "unnatural vice of every sort" and "sexual excess." Today the name of this ancient city can be found gracing lurid paperbacks, escort services, and adult book stores. The talk will trace the
history of this long standing belief and will use newly recovered sources to examine its merit. Ms. Ann Guinan

Read more: Near East



The History and Mystery of Belly Dance
This general style of female solo interpretive dance is known and appreciated all over the Arab world including Northern Africa. There is no formal choreography but instead a variety of characteristic movements with which to interpret the music and show mastery of the rhythm. In the villages of northern Africa, most women dance as a social activity, at weddings for example, in all-female groups. The character of this sensual dance style is different in the big cities; particularly in Egypt where the dance has reached its most highly developed form. Top dancers achieve the status of movie stars because of the prominence of the entertainment industry. Through discussion, slides and demonstration, Ms. Siegel, as "Habiba" will trace the long history of this dance. Attend this fascinating lecture and find out for yourself the skills needed for authentic belly dance. Ms. Barbara Siegel

Read more: Africa


Children's Programs

Blue Deer Storytelling: Magical Tales From Around the World
Folktales and legends reach into the heart of the matter -- sometimes in humorous ways, sometimes more seriously. Entertaining and educational programs for children and adults built around themes of self-confidence and respect for others, respect for the earth and its creatures, as well as porquoi stories from many cultures and traditions. Michele also incorporates background information and cultural objects into the tellings so as to help the audience become more comfortable with cultures not their own. Michele  Belluomini

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CSI: Ancient Egypt, Forensic Anthropology 101
In an effort to learn more about the physical aspects of humankind, both past and present, anthropologists developed methods and techniques to evaluate human skeletal remains, techniques that apply in modern forensic (criminal) investigations.  Using cases from my own research, this lecture introduces the audience to those scientific methods and techniques through digital images of actual human bones from ancient Egypt, some as old as the pyramids themselves. Participants will learn basic steps in determining a female from a male, younger from older, and what the bones can tell us about the person. A highlight of the lecture is a re-examination of a possible 3,300 year-old murder case. Appropriate for older middle school students and above, and for all adults. Dr. Stephen Phillips

Read more: Egypt


The Classical World

Greek Athletics and the Olympic Games
Athletics played an important role in the life of every Greek male. Each city-state had a gymnasium and stadium, and every boy dreamed of one day participating in the Panhellenic games. To win at the games was one of the highest honors attainable, reflecting glory not only on the winner, but on his family and city as well. This illustrated lecture takes a look at Greek Athletic Games, focusing on the stadiums, athletic facilities and artifacts from Olympia and the other three Panhellenic sanctuaries. Mr. John Kuhne

Read more: The Classical World


Native Americans

Indian Art: Ancient Markers and Modern Markets
Long before Europeans ever came into our world, the Original People made wonderful tools with elaborate decorations to please the eye and to give life to the objects they used every day. These decorations also served as markers for group identity. Ancient trade between the many cultures allowed material and finished goods to travel enormous distances long before the White people crossed the sea. The changes in the materials traded and the native economies after 1500 are the subject of this slide illustrated lecture. Dr. Marshall Becker


Read more: Native Americans


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