Courtesy Brittany DeMone
June 21, 2021
Doctoral candidate shines a light on the past at Nickle Galleries
One might not expect to find a treasure trove of ancient Greek and Roman coins in the Canadian prairies. For those in the know, the coin collection held by the Nickle Galleries in the Taylor Family Digital Library helps make the University of Calgary a destination for classics scholars.
Classics PhD candidate Brittany DeMone recently completed a Transformative Talent Internship (TTI) as a numismatics collection intern with the Nickle Galleries. Numismatics is the study of currency and for DeMone, the opportunity to round out her research by getting hands-on practice with the coins was truly transformative.
“I have an academic interest in visual culture, and I had worked with Marina Fischer, a collection specialist at the Nickle,” explains DeMone. “I learned from Marina that there was an opportunity to pursue a TTI, and so I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about museum practices.”
Working with a world-class collection
The Nickle Galleries’ Numismatic Collection is the largest and most important academic coin collection in Canada, and a rich teaching and research resource for UCalgary’s students and faculty. The collection consists of 23,000 artifacts spanning from the beginning of coinage in the 7th century BCE to the modern period, including ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Medieval, Jewish, Islamic, ethnographic and modern currencies.
DeMone assisted with collection management, reorganizing and cataloguing coins as well as identifying coins that had not been catalogued. She also provided documentary services, taking photos of the collection for future digital exhibitions, the Nickle website and for the use of other scholars.
“Bronze coins in particular can be rusted or worn down from handling,” says DeMone. “It can be a challenge to see fine details or read inscriptions. High-resolution photos can enhance details that are hidden from the naked eye.”
DeMone, an experienced photographer with her own business, worked with a special lightbox to control the lighting conditions for the photography. While the internship has given DeMone an opportunity to apply existing skills and develop new ones, her work is also serving to make the collection more accessible to other researchers, in person and online.
Unique opportunities for grad students at UCalgary
“The experiential learning aspect of the internship has been invaluable,” says DeMone. “When studying material culture, it can be rare to have an opportunity to handle ancient artifacts. It gives me important experience relevant to the museum field.”
The internship is paying off in DeMone’s academic pursuits as well. “Before, I didn’t feel brave enough to tackle numismatic evidence in my research. Having hands-on experience learning how to handle and identify coins, I now feel a lot more confident bringing numismatics into my research and teaching as well.”
DeMone didn’t need to look much further than her own back yard to find the ideal place for her doctoral classics. Having travelled to the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom for her MA, DeMone returned to her hometown of Calgary to work with Dr. Lisa Hughes, PhD, in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies.
“I worked with Lisa as an undergraduate,” explains DeMone. “She introduced me to Greek and Roman art and architecture, and I fell in love with it. She sparked my interest in visual culture, and I knew I really wanted to work with her after my MA.”
Experiential learning helps students prepare for next steps
DeMone expects to defend her dissertation later this year and hopes to pursue work related to both her degree and internship.
“I’ve always been fascinated with teaching and sharing material I love and have a passion for, whether through academics or the museum field,” says DeMone. “I believe my experience with curating, museum handling, photography and even building exhibitions will translate into other opportunities.”
The Transformative Talent Internship program is offered by the Faculty of Graduate Studies. It gives students the opportunity to enhance internships with reflection, additional financial support and course credit. Students who complete a TTI will have it appear on their transcripts as well, which can be valuable when applying for next degrees or pursuing career opportunities.
“The TTI program has helped hundreds of graduate students create experiential learning opportunities that are recognized both inside and outside of the academy,” says Dr. Robin Yates, dean and vice-provost of graduate studies. “For many students, the internship is a key part of the UCalgary graduate studies experience.”
“Brittany’s contributions and the passion she has for her chosen discipline have been of tremendous benefit to Nickle Galleries,” says Christine Sowiak, chief curator. “The TTI program is ideal for students pursuing careers in museums, galleries and heritage work, as hands-on experience is as rare as it is essential. We are thrilled that the TTI program has opened such an opportunity for our students.”
Learn more about the Transformative Talent Internship program.