GSHA (& MUSEUMVIEWS) were delighted to be invited to join in the celebrations of the first annual Silk Road Week (June 19-24, 2020) to mark the inscription of the Silk Road – from Chang’an to the Tianshan Corridor -, onto UNESCO’s World Heritage List, during a ceremony that took place in Doha, Qatar, in June 2014.
Q – How do you describe your work to people who don’t know anything about your field?
A Museum Director and CEO with over 30 years of experience. An academic in history, museum studies and cultural studies, who has published extensively. For 20 years I was the CEO of the National Football Museum for England, which attracted over 500,000 visitors each year. I am now dividing my time between university lecturing and museum consultancy. I am increasingly interested in Chinese history and culture. I am, for example, the Special Ambassador to the Linzi Football Museum, Zibo, China, and a Communication Ambassador for Cuju culture, Linzi, Zibo, China.
Q – What inspired you to become a curator?
I grew up in an historic market town in England and so history was all around me from my first memories. The town had roots in Roman times, had many 16th century buildings and played a significant role in in the English Civil War in the 1640s. Having been a university lecturer in history I decided to work in museums because of a desire to work in public history, to reach as wide an audience as possible, grounded in rigorous academic research.
Q – Why did you choose this particular field (of research)?
I am constantly inquisitive and research in a wide range of fields, including 19th century English history, Museum Studies , sports history and cultural studies. I am currently working on an academic paper on the ancient Chinese game of football, Cuju. My interest in China, and Chinese culture, came from the fact that in 2015 I had the very great honour of welcoming President Xi Jinping of China to the National Football Museum for England, and to show him some of the artefacts in our collection. When the President arrived the first thing I said to him was that the English had invented the modern game of football, Association football, or soccer, in 1863. However, I knew that the Chinese had invented the first game of football, Cuju, over 2,000 years ago! I was told afterwards that the President was very pleased to hear these words from me, as I was the first person during his State Visit to the UK to recognise this unique historic significance of football in China.
Q – What is the most memorable object you’ve researched, or worked with?
Too many to choose just one! Most recently I was fascinated by the extraordinary collections of the ancient Chinese game of Cuju, at the Linzi Football Museum, Linzi, Zibo. Within this, my choice is an illustration of women playing the ancient Chinese football game, Cuju, in the 11th century.
Q – Do you recall when was the first time you heard of the phrase “Silk Road”? What was your first impression of it?
I first read about the ‘Silk Road’ in a book I bought and read as a child aged about 7, which I still have. This is the life story of Marco Polo. It was extraordinary to read of his journey to China along the Silk Road, and that when he reached China he found a civilization far more complex and advanced than Europe at this time.
Q – What is your most memorable experience of travelling along the Silk Road?
The Great Wall of China! The most extraordinary experience.
Q – Which city or region along the Silk Road are you looking forward to visit, for the first time?
Q – What language(s) spoken along the Silk Road have you studied, or would wish to study?
I would very much like to study Mandarin.
Q – What is the hardest part of your work that people don’t realize?
Leading a team of people in a common purpose towards an exciting goal is the most exciting part of working in museum, but also the most difficult and the most challenging!
Q – What is your dream (or even fantasy) research project?
To study the sports and sports culture along the Silk Road, and the part that the Silk Road has played in the spread of sports along its route.
Q – If it were possible, what historic figure would you like to meet? Why?
Marco Polo – to go on his journey with him!
Q – What movie best depicts a historic or aesthetic aspect of the Silk Road?
I note with great interest that the Silk Road International Film Festival held in in January 2020, to coincide with the Chinese New Year, included one of my favourite films, The Colour of Pomegranates, because of its connection with the Silk Road. The film is set in 18th century Armenia.
Q – What music or soundtrack most embodies the sound of the Silk Road for you?
I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about this to comment, but would very much like to explore this and to hear from the experts about this!
Q – What fundamental change(s) in your work do you anticipate in the post-pandemic world?
As we become less reliant on face-to-face meetings I think it will broaden our horizons, so that we engage more with colleagues not just in our countries, but around the world. Online meetings and engagement can be just as productive. I see that changing working patterns is already having a very positive impact, by bringing countries and cultures together, to explore both our common history and also what makes us unique, through our extraordinarily rich cultural traditions. I am working with colleagues in China a great deal at present – from my home in the UK!
Q – What modern day cultural trend (sports, music, art, architecture) has its roots in the Silk Road – that majority do not know?
Given the historical importance of the Silk Road it surely touches upon almost all aspects of modern culture, and it is very important that this is explored. What is particularly of interest to me is the impact of the Silk Road on sport and its dissemination along the Silk Road.