The PEF – a Student Volunteer Perspective

By Jon Wylie

After far too many minutes struggling to find the entrance to the PEF, I was on the beginning of what seemed like it was going to be a long summer of class and work. Now as I am sitting here on my last few days, I feel as though I have much more to learn and much more to contribute to the PEF. Being from a small school and town, I was worried about getting overwhelmed in huge archives and vast paperwork that a big city museum would require of an intern. While the PEF does boast a large collection, I was relieved to see that it can (sort of) be contained in a few rooms. I was afraid of getting lost in a workforce of hundreds, given busy work, and forgotten about until I messed something up.

My work in the PEF this summer has been the opposite of everything I was afraid of coming here. I got to work as if I was an actual employee, and got to see everything there was to see. I got to attend the Annual General Meeting and look over the finances and hear discussions about the future of the PEF and its goals. I had the opportunity to see some of the back rooms at the British Museum and help prepare for the 150th Anniversary. While I talk to the other kids in my program, some say they have never met their boss. I see mine everyday and she’ll talk to me for hours about any question I have about history. One day I had to write a paper for my class and Felicity spent about an hour explaining the “Right to Buy” Policy and how it would affect housing. I got an A.

My time here has been a great learning experience for me not only from the content I learned while working, but the insight I got into what job I wanted to do. I’ve gone though shifts of wanting to pursue medicine, to wanting to be a history teacher, cross country coach, or even politician. While I still haven’t decided on anything for sure, working in history is definitely still on my radar.

Photograph from John Garstang's 1928 excavation at Et-Tell (biblical Ai). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Photograph from John Garstang’s 1928 excavation at Et-Tell (biblical Ai). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

This is one of my favorite pictures that I came across while scanning some of John Garstang’s work. I just get the sense from this picture that the work done in this region was like an exploration that really captured the sense of adventure in everyone. These archeologists and historians were discovering things that had not been seen in centuries. The group of men in this picture were making discoveries that would be written about in history books and remembered for years to come.

To me, that is the most fascinating part about history. You never know what you will uncover. I really enjoyed my time at the PEF and in London in general. I enjoyed the ability to study something I knew little about and work with people who enjoy what they do and what they study. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my summer and I hope eventually I will make it back to London and the PEF.

Introducing… Our Committee

Our second featured profile is of PEF Committee member Penny Butler.

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Although she claims to be the least academically qualified member of the Committee, Penny gained a BA Hons at Cambridge in Archaeology and Anthropology and Medieval History, and then pursued a lifelong career in publishing as an editor, now working freelance.

On retiring she returned to the study of archaeology, doing courses at Birkbeck and attending lectures. She met Felicity Cobbing in 1996 when the BM Travellers Company organised an archaeology study trip to Jonathan Tubb’s dig at Tell es Saidiyeh in Jordan. They kept up with each other from time to time and Penny joined the force about five years ago when Felicity advertised for volunteers in the PEQ.  At present she is compiling the database archive of Olga Tufnell’s photos taken between the 1930s and around 1980.

Introducing… Our Committee

Since its foundation in 1865, the PEF has had an active Executive Committee who are committed to ensuring the PEF continues to support research in the Levant.  In this running series, we will feature profiles of our Committee members and volunteers. Their broad range of expertise and experience help make the PEF what it is today!

Our first profile is of PEF Committee member John MacDermot.


John MacDermot is a retired Professor of Medicine and Therapeutics from Imperial College London and has worked as a volunteer at the PEF for the last few years. When he first arrived, he was given the task of sorting the documentary archive of Miss Olga Tufnell (1905-1985), who made many important contributions to archaeological research and was a firm supporter of the PEF. He was invited to join the PEF Committee in the summer of 2014, and he has contributed to the organisation of the Fund’s 150th anniversary celebrations and assisted with applications for external funding to support the activity of the PEF. Most recently, John has been working on the PEF’s photographic archive of the late 19th century.