Woodsworth College grad connects with people from the ancient world

June 8, 2020 by Michael McKinnon – A&S News

For Evelyn Ullyott-Hayes, earning her bachelor of arts in Near & Middle Eastern civilizations with minors in material culture and anthropology at U of T felt a little like home at times — she’d been exploring the campus since she was a baby. Her father completed his U of T degree when she was an infant, she attended U of T summer camps and later researched a high school International Baccalaureate essay at Robarts Library. She even shares her college — Woodsworth College — with her dad.

Tell me about your research?

Both were at the Royal Ontario Museum. The first was an original translation of an ancient Egyptian funerary statuette called a “shabti” that belongs to a hands-on gallery I volunteer at. It involved transcribing, transliterating and translating the hieroglyphic text and gathering contextual information about the object, which dates to the later period of pharaonic Egyptian history when Nubia ruled the country. That project won a U of T Libraries Undergraduate Research Award.

The second was an internship for material culture in the ROM's West Asian Collections. I worked on cataloging artifacts from a site in northern Jordan called Dhiban into the museum's new database, The Museum System.

I presented that project at Victoria College Research Day, where it received an honourable mention for a primary source research prize from E.J. Pratt Library , and at the Arts & Science Student Union Undergraduate Research Conference.

What surprised you most about learning about the past?

What surprised me most is how much we can learn about the people of the ancient world , and how much we can connect with them on a personal level, especially through material culture and their objects. It sounds so cliche to say, “'they were just like us!”' but people of the past can feel really distant. Studying them and looking at the spaces they lived in and the things they used really builds a connection and relationship to them.

For example, I took a course on a Bronze-Age tomb in Syria, where we investigated what the tomb and objects inside can tell us about ancient funerary practices and attitudes toward death. As someone who had recently lost a loved one, I realized these people who lived 4,500 years ago, halfway across the world, felt very similarly to how I did and wanted the same for their deceased.

What kept you busy at the U of T?

I volunteer at the Royal Ontario Museum in the hands-on Discovery Gallery and as a Gallery Interpreter. I was also a volunteer English tutor for the Arts & Science Students’ Union's Project: Universal Minds , and a volunteer note-taker and Registered Study Group leader twice. I volunteered for some special events too, like the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities conferences.

What would you tell a student arriving in September?

I would tell a new student not to be too stuck on their planned program. Experiencing different fields as an undergrad really enriches your education and experience , and it can lead to awesome opportunities like my internship.

I would also tell a new student that finding your own community is really important, especially because U of T is so massive. It's easy to feel swallowed up by the crowd. If you can get involved with your college or department or even a smaller circle of fellow students, it really helps you feel more at home and secure in your place. Also get to know the profs in your department!

Congratulations to U of T's Class of 2020!

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