Tag: museum studies

Public Access to Artifacts: A Problem or Opportunity?

HD 08 lab2

Hands-On Lab in 2008

We are doing a major exhibit upgrade at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  Here is a story – in the Spring of 2008 we launched our “Hands-on Archaeology Lab” drawing on some of my experiences over the years in community outreach.  We used deaccessioned or never accessioned educational collections curated at the Chucalissa to provide visitors with a tactile/sensory experience with archaeological materials that are usually visible only behind glass.  Since 2008, we have made minor changes and additions to the lab.  The exhibit proved a big success based on teacher/visitor informal and formal evaluations.

In 2013 we conducted focus groups and surveyed visitors and staff on what worked and what didn’t work in the Lab to decide how to improve the experience.  Based on those responses we came up with a proposal to upgrade the Hands-on Archaeology Lab into the Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab (BADLab).

In the fall of 2014, the River 2 AmeriCorps NCCC Team began the upgrade process.  The six-person all women team gutted the lab, moved the map cases to a new location, tore out the sinks and cabinets, and laid a new floor.  (River Two Team member Chelsea Crinson (who was voted NCCC Team member of the year for the Southern District Go Chelsea!) designed and supervised the painting of one wall to approximate the covered excavation trench at the Chucalissa site.  For safety reasons, we no longer permit public visitation of the trench that was originally excavated in the 1950s.  Our idea was to mount actual size digital images of portions of the trench (e.g., buried living floors, evidence of basket loading, postmolds,) at the appropriate locations on the wall Chelsea designed in the BADLab.

lab-wall-trench

Transition to BADLab with AmeriCorps painted wall trench.

Then we stepped back and looked at the incredible work the AmeriCorps Team had done and began rethinking the project.  Ron Brister, who first worked at Chucalissa in 1966, and for whom the renovated BADLab is named, made a suggestion – what if instead of mounting digital photographs to the BADLab trench painting, we mounted sediment peels from the actual excavation trench.  In this way, we could bring the actual excavation trench into the BADLab exhibit.

Ron’s suggestion got everyone thinking more.  We wanted to highlight the contribution our museum could make to cultural heritage in the Memphis area that complemented but was not redundant with offerings at other venues.  Bringing the excavation trench inside was one such contribution.  A second opportunity was expanding the use of the thousands of unaccessioned and unprovenienced prehistoric and historic cultural artifacts we curate in our education collection.

I wondered – could we use a curated educational collection in the BADLab to tell the complete story of an artifact from the field to the museum.  Such a hands-on exhibit would allow us to explain the importance of provenience, the time period and function of the occupation, and so forth – and we could use a 20 foot section of wall and counter space to tell the story.  I considered the Fred Jobe collection of artifacts from Lincoln County, Tennessee, that I have posted about before and how they might fill this role.  Since their accessioning in 1982, these 3000 artifacts had remained in our repository unused.  But since 2012, the collection has been the subject of 3 student projects, volunteer day activities and a temporary exhibit at the C.H. Nash Museum.  I was particularly intrigued because the Jobe farm artifacts are reportedly collected from part of a Revolutionary War land grant.  As a minor league baseball player turned farmer, the recently deceased landowner, Fred Jobe, was a human interest story to go along with the 3000 unprovenienced cultural materials he donated to Chucalissa in the 1980s.

circa 1960s Residential Ridge Excavation Exhibit at Chucalissa

circa 1960s Residential Ridge Excavation Exhibit at Chucalissa

My thinking correctly raised the eyebrows of several of the graduate students at the Museum:

  • Brooke Garcia, our Graduate Assistant who works with collections noted that the Fred Jobe collection was in fact accessioned and our Collections Management Policy did not allow for accessioned collections to be used for hands-on educational exhibits.  Nor did the Policy allow for the deaccessioning of materials for such purposes.
  • Our Graduate Assistant Nur Abdalla, who worked with the Jobe artifacts and created the temporary exhibit expressed concern about the security of the collection in the BADLab.  She also noted that we had offered to install the revised exhibit in the Lincoln County Museum in Fayetteville, Tennessee, near the Fred Jobe farm.
100_7937

The Hands-On Lab at the C.H. Nash Museum in 2008

Nur and Brooke raise important questions:

  • The accession vs. deaccession point is important.  We all agree that today, given the same information about the Fred Jobe collection we might only accept and inventory the artifacts for use in educational projects.  Today, we would not accession the collection.  (Without the detail, we assume that the collections are from the Fred Jobe Farm, but we do not have any direct paperwork that support that case.  The filed site forms do not list the cultural materials noted on the accession forms.)  We do have provisions in our Collections Management Policy to deaccession materials that do not fit our Collection Plan criteria.  The Fred Jobe collection falls into this category.  In fact, we have other collections that were accessioned in the 1970s and 80s with absolutely no provenience information.  We could deaccession these materials as well.  Related, Robert Janes considers this issue from a perspective of museums lack of sustainability in part through unlimited collections growth.  Should we deaccession all such materials, including the accessioned prehistoric vessels curated in our museum with provenience information listed only as FOP (found on premises)?
  • Since 2008, we are aware of perhaps 5 projectile points that have gone “missing” from the hands-on-lab exhibit.  I suspect at least an equal number of ceramic sherds have been pocketed or lost.  This low number is attributed to our official policy that the visitors to the hands on lab must be accompanied by a museum staff.  None of the missing artifacts were accessioned or have any provenience information.  We have hundreds, if not thousands, depending on artifact type, of unaccessioned/unprovenienced artifacts from our educational collections to replace the missing pieces.  Is this loss a reasonable exchange for the thousands of visitors who have had a real-time tactile experience with the prehistoric materials?
  • I am attracted to the idea of using this particular collection from the Fred Jobe farm in our upgraded BADLab because there is a compelling and relatable story to tell along with the artifacts.  Alternatively, we could use other unprovenienced/unaccessioned collections to tell other stories.  Should we even be using these types of collections in creating hands-on, or any other type of exhibits?

I will appreciate your consideration, comments, and questions as we grapple with this issue in the coming months.  For the rest of this year, we will be working on the sediment peels!

The Experience of Museum Advocacy

PatriciaHarrisPatricia Harris is a recent graduate of the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Memphis (UM).  She also served for two years as a Graduate Assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  For her Graduate Thesis Project at the UM she assessed a three-year museum advocacy project in greater Memphis, Tennessee, US.  At the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Meetings this past month in Seattle, Patricia was featured in the session Effective Advocacy in Your Community: Learn How! where she spoke about her advocacy project.  Below is a summary of her presentation.

Measuring Advocacy Effectiveness in Memphis Museums

by Patricia Harris

My thesis project at the University of Memphis explored advocacy practices in Memphis area museums, as well as the broader concept of museum advocacy.  My personal advocacy experience began in 2012 in the Museum Practices seminar, one of the core courses in the University’s Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program. From 2011-2013, students in the Museums Practices seminar initiated the creation of Advocacy Inventories with eleven Memphis and mid-south museums. These inventories are taken from Speak Up For Museums: The AAM Guide to Advocacy. Based on the initial inventories, the Museum Practices students made advocacy recommendations for the institutions, conducted follow-up surveys on advocacy practices, and created educational/economic impact statements for each museum.

The advocacy projects carried out by the students with the museums are important for two reasons.  First, the process introduced the students as emerging museum professionals to advocacy. If the museum field desires to continue and sustain advocacy as a practice, new generations of museum professionals must be active participants in advocacy work from the beginning. Second, the projects also introduced museums to advocacy work. Many museums, especially smaller institutions, are unaware of how to do advocacy, and in some cases, unaware of the concept.

Of the eleven museums that completed initial advocacy reports with students from the class, only three institutions participated for all three of the years. So, while it is important to understand the advocacy done by these three institutions, perhaps more significant is why the other eight museums did not, or could not, take part in advocacy work.

The Museum Practices students were providing a variety of resources, and were quite literally willing to do free advocacy work for the institution. Why did some museums not take part? Did they feel advocacy wasn’t important? Did they simply not have the time? Or did they not have the interest? Were the resources being provided not relevant for the size and/or type of the institution?

When speaking about advocacy we are quick to share what went right.  Stories of success are extremely important, but perhaps acknowledging and understanding why things went wrong or why things never even got off the ground is vital to truly institutionalizing advocacy in the museum field.  In so doing, we learn and we can better fine-tune our advocacy resources to encompass more institutions.

The take-away from this project is that we still need to advocate for advocacy. Presumably, you’re all here because you believe in advocacy and what it can do for your institution and your community. In just one metropolis like Memphis, eight out of eleven museums aren’t there yet. Why aren’t they being reached?

It is up to the other three museums out of that eleven to show the hows and whys of advocacy. During graduate school I was a graduate assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. We fall into the small museum category with only three full-time museum staff and four part-time graduate assistants – which I know is still much more than many places have. Just in the past three years Chucalissa has sent a graduate student to Museum Advocacy Day each year, participated in “Invite your Legislator to Your Museum Day,” hosted four NCCC AmeriCorps teams (we received Sponsor of the Year award in 2013), and completed economic/educational impact statements now featured on the American Alliance of Museum’s website.  The results of these activities also helped leverage funding from the University of Memphis to support our Museum. I say all of this not to brag, even though I am proud of our work, but to emphasize the importance of grassroots advocacy. The AAM points out that advocacy is not just about making “asks” for money and resources from the federal government, but instead is more about building relationships. Though we often think of this “relationship” as the bond between a museum and it’s elected officials, perhaps museum advocacy needs to start with relationships between museums.

For example, as we’ve seen a small institution with limited staff and resources may not feel that advocacy is the right endeavor for them. Though, if a fellow small museum in their community or the next town over is successfully making strides for advocacy and touting its value, the museum may feel more comfortable and supported in beginning their own advocacy efforts. For smaller museums, it is hard to make that trip to Washington DC for Museum Advocacy Day, or to attend a national conference like this, or even feel that such a large organization’s resources like the AAM are right for them. Thus, sharing advocacy resources and knowledge with other museums in your community may be key to getting those other eight interested and participating. A great example of this is of course museum studies classes at the local university.

State or regional conferences are a great place to share these resources and build relationships. The information in advocacy sessions at state or regional conferences is locally sourced, and comes from museums or colleagues you probably already know.

Advocacy can be intimidating and will take effort by you and your staff to implement at your institution. But the reward is great. You’re not only advocating for your museum, but you are advocating for your community, your city, your field, and yourself. If you don’t think you’re important enough to advocate for, why would anyone else? Building advocacy locally and at the ground level through partnerships and relationships with other museums can be the key to your success.  Remember our voice is strongest together.

 

Contact Patricia at pcharris@memphis.edu

Applied Archaeology: Two More Student Projects

National Museum of the American Indian, Washington D.C., USA

National Museum of the American Indian, Washington D.C., USA

I recently posted about my course Applied Archaeology and Museums and some of the student projects from the class.  Below are two more student projects of a different type.

Rachel Clark created a Wikispace page for the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Memphis.  The purpose of the page is to serve as a place to post about internships, jobs, and general information related to the Program – all areas that students expressed a need for more information.  The Wikispace page will rely on student input for added information and maintenance.  This makes sense as the information is primarily intended to support student interests and needs.  Area museums seeking interns or job applicants can also post to the Wikispace.

The idea for the project floated around for a couple of years until a student took the responsibility to act.  Rachel conducted a series of interviews and surveys with her peers in the Program to decide appropriate content.  She also met with each faculty member in the Program to get their buy-in.  The page Rachael created is typical for Wikispace in being stylistically simple but with much data content.

The WikiSpace page will be promoted on the Museum Studies Program homepage as a student based project.  The WikiSpace page is also an experiment in user-generated content for the Program.  If the page is truly relevant to faculty, students, alumni, museum professionals, they will use, edit, and support the page.  If not, the page will go the way of the original Friendster.  Rachel has performed the first step in creating the framework based on peer and faculty survey and interview results.

Jordan Goss, a sophomore in History, conducted a survey and wrote a report on the public support and interest for a cultural heritage venue in her hometown of Marion, Arkansas.  Jordan did a particularly impressive job with the project.

She started the semester proposing to create an exhibit in the town high school on the cultural heritage of the area. Jordan was challenged with questions such as: Does anyone besides you want the exhibit?  Is the high school the best place for such an exhibit?  What will be the content of the exhibit?  She then decided to shift the focus of her project from creating an exhibit to determining the interest and feasibility for such an exhibit.

With guidance from Bernard’s Research Methods in Anthropology she created a survey.  She loaded the survey on Qualtrics (think Survey Monkey on steroids) for which she has free access as a University of Memphis student.  She promoted the survey through social media, mailed copies, and in person.  She also conducted semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders in Marion.  Finally she submitted and completed an Institutional Review Board proposal to conduct the surveys.

Jordan received over 200 responses that appear to reflect the demographics of Marion, Arkansas.  In her analysis of the survey data she determined:

  • that the majority of residents wanted a cultural heritage center of some sort
  • the demographics of those who support and do not support a center
  • the recommended site and type of exhibit/presentation.
  • the topics of greatest interest  to the respondents
  • how the respondents envision funding a center.

An impressive set of initial of data!  Jordan is currently administering the survey to a broader audience.  In the fall semester, Jordan will create a formal proposal based on her survey results.  Jordan’s survey work is a an excellent first step to determine the feasibility of a cultural heritage center in Marion, Arkansas.

Katie and Jordan’s projects provide important takeaway points:

  • As with all the other student projects from this semester, Katie and Jordan’s were able to make real-time contributions to area cultural heritage venues.  At this point 10 of the 12 projects are actively in place for use in area institutions.
  • Katie and Jordan’s projects each relied extensively on survey results from the intended users of their products.  We stress this point often in the class – the need for project relevance for the intended users.  In both cases, the feedback and buy-in of the anticipated users markedly changed the initial direction of the project.
  • As Katie and Jordan developed their projects, they were aware of the distinct possibility that their end products might not be used.  The WikiSpace page might be ignored by the intended audience.  Marion, Arkansas may never have a cultural heritage center or museum.  However, both students believe that they have taken the correct first steps toward creating a viable finished product.  I agree.

So ends another year of student projects that result in products with real-time applications in area museums!

 

Applied Archaeology and Museums: The Student Projects

I posted last week about the Applied Archaeology and Museums class I taught this past semester at the University of Memphis.    Forty percent of the course grade is from the final project that students propose and complete. I offer several possibilities and discuss projects from previous classes to help stimulate the students thinking. The criteria for the final project include that the product must be broadly based in archaeology or cultural heritage studies and must ultimately live in area museum.  Here is one example of a completed project:

Ballard-Johnson-Hall-3

Stone Tool Exhibit created by Garrett Ballard and Rachel Starks in Johnson Hall at the University of Memphis.

A prompt I gave for a possible project was a near empty exhibit case in the classroom building where many archaeology classes occur. I noted the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa curated an abundance of unprovenienced stone tools in our educational collections that could be used in creating an exhibit for the case.  Two students, Garrett Ballard and Rachael Starks, proposed and created a stone tool exhibit that explored function and stylistic changes through time. The exhibit has three shelves. One shelf of their exhibit contains projectile points ranging from Paleoindian through Mississippian. Individual artifact labels include the age of the artifact and a linked QR code contains interpretive information. One shelf contains a series of untyped but numbered bifaces with a single label that asks “Which of the artifacts are really arrowheads?” the popularly assigned term for any triangular-shaped stone tool. A QR code links to a resource that illustrates and explains the function of each tool and identifies the true arrowheads. The third shelf contains a set of ground stone tools and labels that contain functional and raw material information.

ballard-johnson-hall

Numbered bifaces in the arrowhead identification shelf of the exhibit.

The students pulled the stone tools from an unprovenienced surface collection curated at the Museum.  Robert Ford, a University of Memphis Alum, and the best lawyer in a one lawyer town in rural Arkansas donated the collection in 2000.  Ford donated the collection for use in educational projects. The several thousand diagnostic stone tools that range from Clovis to Mississippian points remained untouched in the repository for over 10 years. Mr. Ford was not pleased and called me one day asking about the artifacts. Having come to the museum seven years after the donation was made, I was unaware of the donation. When I located the materials in the repository, we made quick work of utilizing them in several of our educational programs.

Ballard-Johnson-Hall2

Projectile Point chronology and ground stone shelves of the exhibit case.

Besides physically creating the exhibit, there are a few key lessons the two students gained from the project. First, they took away a keen understanding of the value and potential of archaeological resources locked away in museum repositories. Second, as undergraduates they created an exhibit that is of interest to them and their peers.  Third, they created a meaningful product that will live on after the semester is over – an act in itself that is empowering.

Here are some of Garrett Ballard’s thoughts expressed in his process paper on the exhibit creation:

Ultimately, we all had common interests and decided to pursue a common goal that would satisfy all the parties involved; I would get to create an exhibit using authentic Native American projectile points, Rachel would get to incorporate website design, social media, and QR codes, you (Connolly) would get a Chucalissa exhibit installed at Johnson Hall, and lastly, Robert Ford’s artifacts would get plenty of educational use through our exhibit . . .

I was slightly overwhelmed by the number of artifacts in the collection, and was very concerned about how I would manage to convey a message to the viewers of the exhibit. Luckily, I believed you sensed my frustration and sent me the Serrell Reading to help. Serrell’s guide has been critical in our research design, and has helped me not only to make better interpretive labels and an overall comprehensive exhibit, but it also showed me the importance of having a “Big Idea”.

Armed with a “Big Idea” and a fresh delivered copy of Noel D. Justice’s Stone Age Spear and Arrow Points, the next few visits to the repository proved to be enjoyable and result driven as the project was coming together and pieces started to fall into place . . . While going through the collection I took care in the handling, photographing, and cataloguing of a range of different types of tools and projectile points, increasing my own knowledge on the subject matter in the process.

I consider this exhibit process a big success as an applied educational opportunity for Garrett and Rachel.  In the process:

  • A point reinforced to me is that in such projects, my role is to provide logistical expertise and guidance, but allow the students creativity to come to the fore.  In so doing, they arrived at concepts, such as the Which is an Arrowhead . . . shelf that likely would not have occurred had I dominated the process.  When given such latitude, I find students enjoy the freedom, but also experience an initial sense of frustration as Garrett notes.  However, with guidance, students work creatively to find solutions and directions.
  • I would not have chosen the colors or fonts that Garrett and Rachel used for the exhibit.  But then, their peer group are the primary audience for the exhibit, not me.

Other exhibits created by the students in this semester’s class include:

  • Teo-obsidian

    Stone tool portion of exhibit created by Michelle Faulk.

    Michelle Dallas Faulk organized and created didactic panels for an exhibit of ceramic sherds and obsidian tools from central Mexico.  The exhibit is located in the same hallway as the Stone Tool display created by Garrett and Rachel.

  • Carolyn Trimble created a small exhibit on stone tools supplemented with information through linked QR codes for the Morton Museum in Collierville, Tennessee a suburb just east of Memphis.  The Morton Museum Director contacted me about creating asmallexhibit on the prehistory of the area.  We were able to use
    morton-museum-exhibit

    Prehistory exhibit for Morton Museum created by Carolyn Trimble (does not include large back panel).

    artifacts in our repository from two prehistoric Collierville sites excavated through Cultural Resource Management projects.  A QR code link reports the sites and contextualizes the prehistory of the suburb for museum visitors.

 

In next week’s post I will report on other types of student projects created in the Applied Archaeology and Museum class from this past semester.

 

 

Applied Archaeology and Museums – The Course.

treetangle2aThis past semester I was the instructor for my favorite course – Applied Archaeology and Museums – a joint undergraduate and graduate class that usually enrolls 15-20 students. I developed the course a few years ago as pretty much an amalgam of what I enjoy and am most passionate about in archaeology – community engagement and empowerment through cultural heritage studies.

There are no in-class exams. Instead, students complete a series of essays, reading journals and projects where they directly apply the course content to real-time situations.

For example, students write a brief essay on repatriation, as applied to the Elgin Marbles. In the past I used a brief article by Jarrett Lobell from the 2006 edited volume Archaeological Ethics. Now as the lead resource I use the Wikipedia article on the Elgin Marbles, a 5000-word piece based on over 70 references. I am not aware of a more up-to-date and comprehensive starting point for the single class Elgin Marble repatriation discussion. Using the Wikipedia page also allows for students to assess the worth of user-generated content.  I emphasize that there is not a right or wrong position on repatriating the Elgin Marbles. I enjoy that depending on the class composition of Anthropology, History, and Art History majors, the discussion is quite varied. Occurring within the first two weeks of the course, I intend for this discussion to set a tone for the diversity of possibilities throughout the semester.

Forty percent of the course grade is from the final project that students complete for the class. I offer several possibilities and past projects to help stimulate the students thinking. The criteria for the final project includes that it must be broadly based in archaeology or cultural heritage studies and must ultimately live in area museum.  The projects were particularly successful this past semester.  I will post some of them here over the next few weeks.

For the final essay students respond to the following questions:

  • What is the social utility of archaeology?
  • Does Archaeology have a viable utility for people beyond other archaeologists?
  • What is the most significant insight you obtained from the course? Explain.

My reason for asking this line of questioning flows from my first field school experience nearly 30 years ago. The instructor, the late Dr. Patricia Essenpreis said something like “If you cannot explain to the public why their tax dollars should go to support keeping this site open to the public, you might as well go home.” I pondered that mandate for many years. Quite honestly, I don’t think I was ever able to adequately respond until I worked in applied archaeology contexts where community members were creating exhibits around their own cultural heritage. I believe that it is critically important that our students be able to show that archaeology is relevant, not just in the classroom, but when they leave as well.

Finally, the two wordles below are from spontaneous/unannounced two-minute trait list exercises for the term “applied archaeology” students completed on the first and the last day of class.  I am not completely comfortable with the shift over the course of the semester.  I appreciate that “excavation” is not the predominant associated term at the end of the semester as in the beginning.  On the other hand, I am surprised that the concept of fieldwork is nearly absent in the final list.  I am pleased that by the end of the semester students appreciate that applied archaeology is a discipline that is not performed for but rather with the community.

 

applied archaeology

 

 

 

 

Some Museum and Archaeology Career Resources

At the recent Society for American Archaeology Meeting in Austin Texas, I participated in a speed mentoring session sponsored by the Committee on the Status of Women in Archaeology.  My assigned focus was on Archaeology and Museums. I prepared a brief handout of resources for careers.  Below is a slightly expanded version of the handout.

Resources for Careers in Archaeology and Museums

 

Books on Career Development

  • The Anthropology Graduate’s Guide: From Student to a Careerby Carol J. Ellick, Joe E Watkins, 2011, Left Coast Press (Here is my review).  I routinely recommend this volume as the primary resource for developing a career in the social sciences.  I know of no better single resource.  If one follows the step-by-step guidance in this volume, they will maximize their potential for employment upon graduation.  
  •  A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Career edited by Greg Stevens and Wendy Luke, 2013, American Alliance of Museums.  This volume covers many of the same topics as Elick/Watkins volume but with a very specific focus on Museum Careers.

Museum Journals of Interest

There are a plethora of peer-reviewed journals in the field of Museum Studies.  Below is just a very small handful of those that include discussions at the intersection of museums and applied archaeology.

  • Museum Anthropology – American Anthropological Association
  • Museums and Social Issues – Maney Press
  • Journal of Museum Education – Maney Press
  • Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage – Maney Press

Major Publishers of Museum Studies and Archaeology

Though not exhaustive by any means, the three publishers below offer a good sampling of research  published at the intersection of applied archaeology and museums

Miscellaneous Resources

  • Society of Museum Archaeology – A worthwhile link from the UK
  • Chronicle of Higher Education – The Chronicle is definitely worth staying on top of for current trends and discussions in the social science and museum studies fields.  Many web links contain solid advice particularly for those seeking careers in academia.
  • Museum Studies Graduate Programs List – A reasonably exhaustive US list of graduate programs in Museum Studies including online and certificate offerings.

Career and Listserv Links

Listservs remain a solid place for finding out about job openings, internships, and current trends in Museum Studies.  If a student has done their homework to ask specific questions and not simply posts general queries like “Any advice for someone seeking a career in Museums?” they will find the membership of these lists quite helpful.  The below lists are rather general, and between the three, contain most job and internship listings that are not highly specialized.

  • Museum-L –  General Museum list of museum professionals
  • Museum-Ed – List of the Museum Education Roundtable
  • AAMG – List for the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries.  Particularly good for jobs and discussions related to university based institutions.

Some of My Stuff

My Contact Information

Robert P. Connolly, PhD, Director
C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa,
Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of Memphis
901-785-3160, ext. 15 (museum)
rcnnolly@memphis.edu – best way to get a hold of me
https://rcnnolly.wordpress.com/
 

Blogging Archaeology in the Future

monkey

The final question posed by Doug for the blog carnival leading up the Society for American Archaeology meetings in April is: “…where are you/we going with blogging or would you it like to go?

I will take up Doug’s question more broadly from the perspective of user-generated content and open(ing) authority and consider additional forms of user-generated content.  The question raises a few themes for me:

Information Sharing – When I began this blog a few years ago my desire was to share information about outreach in museums and archaeology with my colleagues and a broader audience.  I knew that collectively we were doing a lot of interesting stuff in cultural heritage outreach that could benefit others.  My interactions through this blog over the past several years supports that claim.  Counting hits, reblogs, comments are gauges of whether the information presented is considered of value.  But my primary motivation for continuing to blog comes from the side comments made in phone calls, emails, or visits with colleagues and students who note how a particular post was helpful to them.  These interactions confirm to me that there is a desire for sharing information, my basis for launching this blog in the first place.

Beyond formal blogging, I am pleased with other new means of sharing information.  As an example consider academia.edu.  A bunch of years ago when doing my dissertation research I transcribed the handwritten field records of archaeologists who had conducted excavations at the Fort Ancient site (33Wa2) in Warren County, Ohio.  As I now slowly edge toward retirement, coupled by working with a PhD student with an interest in those records, a few months ago, I loaded the transcribed notes to the academia.edu site.  There are not a huge number of views of the records, but certainly enough to warrant the 60 minutes or so it took to format and load the notes.  Similarly, I loaded course syllabi to academia.edu.  I appreciate that others have done the same.

Diversity – I appreciate that blogging provides me with a diversity of thinking on a topic.  For example, I enjoy the Bamburgh Research Projects approach to community outreach in Britain.  Blogs such as Paul Mullins’ Archaeology and Material Culture, Jamie Gordon’s Narcissistic Anthropologist, and Amy Santee’s Anthropologizing are resources that allow me to expand my box of thinking in consumerism.  The list of topics I learn about through blogs is extensive.  In my day-to-day existence, I simply do not have the time or resources to access this diversity of material through traditional print media, or even online journals.

I liken much of my blog reading to the three quarters of linguistics courses I took as an undergraduate.  I am not certain how those classes aid me directly in my career today but I know they provide me another angle to approach research and a good way to think.  The same is true with blogs I read.  I appreciate this level of diversity and my ability to be a part of that process.

Relevance – A growing buzzword in the cultural heritage industry today, particularly in the public sector, is relevance.  Today, a good bit of virtual ink is spilled that 10 years ago would be limited to peer-reviewed publications, conference papers with the obligatory “Do not cite without the written permission . . . ” or other scholarly publications.  Today, I am as likely to Google a term as opposed to searching in JSTOR, depending on the task at hand.  Peer review is in a state of transition and I do not mean to dismiss the process.  However, as I discussed and demonstrated in my Wikipedia as a Scholarly Research Tool undergraduate honors seminar this past fall, it’s not difficult to find Wikipedia entries that are more accurate than information found in scholarly publications on a particular subject.  That is, increasingly, the platform of delivery is less important than the scholarship behind the presentation.  I suspect this process will continue to evolve, and that blogs will be a part of that process.   Blogs and similar types of platforms will prove relevant to a range of public needs in informal and lifelong learning processes.

I suspect that 10 years from now blogs will be a thing of the past, replaced by a technology/mechanism that better suits the public needs.  For me, the ability to share and receive a diversity of relevant information will likely keep me blogging for the foreseeable future.

Museum Opportunities in Open Authority

Open Authority Spectrum

Open Authority Spectrum by Lori Byrd Phillips
(click image for digital resource file)

This week’s post is by my colleague Elizabeth Bollwerk.  In 2012, along with Natalye Tate, we edited a series of papers Open(ing) Authority Through Community Engagementpublished in the journal Museums and Social Issues.  Elizabeth and I are very excited to have organized a set of papers for the upcoming Society for American Archaeology meetings that further explores the Open Authority discussion in that discipline.  Below, Elizabeth considers her experiences in employing an Open Authority model at a small university-based museum. 

by Elizabeth Bollwerk

Two groups of 30 university students were scheduled to tour our museum, the Museum of Culture and Environment (MCE) at Central Washington University (CWU) in Ellensburg, WA.  A student tour is typical given that we are a university museum but this event was a bit different. The students visiting our gallery are part of the College Assistance Migrant Program, or CAMP. This special program offered at CWU provides financial and academic support services to freshman students from migrant and seasonal farm working backgrounds.  Prior to their visit to MCE only about six of the 60 CAMP students knew MCE existed and none had visited.  This is fairly typical for our small, university-based museum.  We have one 1400 sq. ft. gallery space that rotates exhibits about twice a year.  We do our best to advertise but with only one full-time and three part-time staff, we have many balls to juggle.  Nevertheless, one of our major goals this year is to raise our visibility on campus.  The CAMP students were visiting because a staff member had attended one of their monthly meetings, talked about the museum and encouraged the students to visit us as part of a class they were taking.  But it’s still your typical tour.  So — why blog about it?

Shared Authority, Open Authority, Letting Go of Authority – The idea is embodied in different phrases but all describe a similar process: shifting from the idea that subject experts and professionals are the sole voices of museum authority to having communities or individuals not on the museum staff or board share the decision making power.  It’s a scary prospect but one that museums have been slowly adopting for the last decade.

In this blog post I use the term Open Authority to describe this process. There are many forms of Open Authority.  As Lori Phillips recently noted in her explanation of this paradigm shift at the 2013 Museum Computer Network conference, Open Authority is a spectrum.  At one end are projects that provide contributory or participatory experiences.  Visitors to museums can engage with the material on exhibit by tagging, voting, identifying etc.  On the other end are co-creative initiatives, where community members are involved from the very beginning and hold equal authority with museum staff in decisions about exhibits and programming.  In the middle are collaborative initiatives that rely on community sourcing and dialogue, but not quite to the same degree as co-creative projects.  How Open Authority becomes embodied in an institution is different for every museum and every community.  At MCE, we are at the contributory end of the spectrum but are working towards co-creation.  As part of this process I have identified concepts that are taking shape as “best practices” based on the growing number of case studies and discussions taking place in the museum community.  Here is my preliminary list:

  1. Opening Authority includes inviting people to your museum but often means physically going outside of the museum to make meaningful connections.  In some cases, this means going to communities and talking with them before bringing them into the museum space.  This is especially true for communities that traditionally neither visit or find museums to be welcoming.   Museum staff members can go on the community’s turf before asking them to come to the museum.
  2. Open Authority also means paying careful attention to the language you use when connecting with communities.  As my colleague Porchia Moore has noted, museums need to work on the language of cultural competency to ensure that we are actually cultivating openness.
  3. During and after interactions with community members, museums must be open to suggestions and actually follow-up on them.  Outreach must be viewed as dialogue, not just conversation (see Sharon Wilken Conrad’s blog on the important difference between these two).
  4. Long-term goals are important.  Creating lasting, collaborative relationships takes time.  Additionally, some communities will not have the time, interest, or energy to engage with the museum in the ways you would like them to.  But initiating the conversation and demonstrating an interest in the community perspective as equal partners provides an opening for future collaboration.
  5. When community members choose to be involved in a museum, especially as equal partners, be prepared for some projects to take on a mind of their own.
  6. At the same time, remember that you can’t make everyone happy.  Communities are full of diverse individuals with different interests.  You have to determine whom you are trying to reach and keep that goal in mind.
  7. Remember that Open Authority doesn’t just apply to communities outside of the museum.  There are also ways to Open Authority within a Museum staff’s structure as well.  Regardless of what communities you are focusing on, be sure to keep communication open with your staff members so they are sharing their ideas and concerns as part of the process.
  8. Open Authority also includes volunteers who bring another perspective and set of experiences.  Don’t forget to ask them about ideas and suggestions for how to contact and work with groups.

The CAMP tour is part of our efforts to Open Authority at MCE.  We are now in the initial stages of working with CAMP.  Students visited the museum, we showed them around our current exhibit, and asked them what they would like to see future exhibits focus on.  They shared a number of ideas, including an exhibit on the history of migration and migrant families in our county, an exhibit on leaders of Latino communities, the impact of the internet on college students, and contemporary music.  Although we aren’t in the position to put these ideas into action immediately (our exhibit schedule runs a year in advance) the CAMP ideas are now on our radar for future plans.  In addition, we are hopeful that CAMP will participate in other MCE projects in development, including a mobile tour of the museum and campus.  We are at the starting point with this project but we hope it’s the beginning of a great relationship that one day will lead to co-creative projects between CAMP and MCE.  Follow us to stay informed on our process.
What Open Authority practices are you using at your institution?

Elizabeth is the Central Washington University Museum of Culture and Environment Grants and Publicity Specialist.  She can be contacted at ebollwerk(at)gmail.com

Resources for Open Authority (in chronological order)

Moore, Porchia

2014.  Shifting Paradigms: The Case for Co-Creation and New Discourses of Participation (blog). The Incluseum.  February 26 2014. 

Phillips, Lori Byrd

http://hstryqt.tumblr.com/OpenAuthority

2013. The Temple & the Bazaar: Wikipedia as a Platform for Open Authority in Museums. Curator: The Museum Journal. 56:2.

2013.  Defining Open Authority in the Museum. Panel.  Museum Computer Network 2013 (Montreal, Canada)

Duclos-Orsello, Elizabeth A.  2013.

Shared Authority: The Key to Museum Education as Social ChangeJournal of Museum Education 38:2.

Inscho, Jeffrey  2013.  Oh Snap!  Experimenting with Open Authority in the Gallery (blog)Museum 2.0.  March 13 2013.

Connolly, Robert  2013.

Co-Production and Co-Creation with Volunteers (blog)Archaeology, Museums, and Outreach.   February 18, 2013.

Bollwerk, Elizabeth, Natalye Tate, and Robert Connolly (eds)  2012.

Open(ing) Authority Through Community Engagement.   Museums and Social Issues. 7:2.

Adair, Bill, Benjamin Filene, and Laura Koloski (ed).  2011.

Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World. Philadelphia: Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.

Moving Past a 1992 Model for Community Engagement

Morton museum

Flowing from last week’s post, I thought a good bit about engagement and the questions posed by Jordan and Allison in their reading journals for my Applied Archaeology and Museums class.  They asked about what if the public does not respond to a museum’s attempts at engagement.  I had a bit of an “aha” moment in my response when listening to a MOOC lecture from The History and Future of (mostly) Higher Education given by Cathy Davidson who teaches at Duke University and co-directs the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge.  In a lecture titled Teaching Like it’s 1992 Dr. Davidson noted that on April 22, 1993, the Internet went pubic and became commercially available, yet teaching in higher education largely remains locked in a pre-Internet mode of operation.   The top down model where a student sits in a lecture room of 50 – 300 and listens and takes notes as a professor delivers Powerpoint lectures and administers scantron tests is simply an inefficient use of everyone’s time and money.  That same information is very likely available on-line through a MOOC or other resource.

More importantly, drawing on a constructivist theory, Davidson wrote:

I like to joke that in 1992 if I hurt my elbow, I would go to my doctor and find out why my elbow was hurting so much. Now I go to ihurtmyelbow.com, and find out what everybody else who’s hurt themselves says about the best way to treat it, what I might do, and if I’m going to go to my doctor, I now go armed with lots of information.  In fact, last year, the AMA did a study and found out that 75% of American doctors say that they now ask their patients what they’ve learned online before they begin their treatment.

This approach to engagement and knowledge is important to archaeology, museums, and community outreach.  For example, one week ago I visited the Morton Museum of Collierville for the first time.   My purpose was to discuss a student project to install a small exhibit on the prehistory of Collierville.  Housed in the 1873 building of the former Collierville Christian Church, the two-year old museum has a very impressive on-line collection available for viewing.  Visitors who walk through the doors of the Morton Museum for the first time may have a good feel for what they are going to see, and know quite a bit more about Collierville from visiting the website first.  When I spoke to Museum Director, Ashley Carver, she made clear the Museum’s decision to invest in a digital and on-site future.

There is a core issue that ties the Morton Museum back to Dr. Davidson’s Teaching Like It’s 1992 example.  The issue is not the technology but the paradigm of operation.  I liken this to a model of teaching engagement from Parker Palmer’s book The Courage To Teach.  He illustrates two models: a linear hierarchical model where the point of engagement is focused on the teacher and an interactive model where the engagement is focused on the great thing under consideration.

Now the curmudgeon might respond that what the Morton Museum is doing is nothing new.  Public libraries have been around in the U.S. since Benjamin Franklin donated his books to a facility in 1778.  The Morton Museum is doing nothing more than putting their collection online.  The curmudgeon’s observation is key.  I often quote, from Clay Shirky’s book Cognitive Surplus, where he (2010:98) writes:

Interpretations that focus on technology miss the point: technology enables those behaviors, but it doesn’t cause them . . . no one wants e-mail for itself, any more than anyone wants electricity for itself; rather, we want the things electricity enables.

Today, the Morton Museum of Collierville has not chosen to digitize a large portion of their collection simply because they can, rather, leaving preservation issues aside, they are betting that the folks of Collierville and beyond, already interested in the history of that town, have a desire to access their curated information through an online search.  The virtual visitor will also find out about the beautiful space of this cultural heritage venue occupies, along with the exhibits, programs, and resources they offer on-site.  In so doing, the Museum becomes more relevant to the public who pay the taxes to fund the institution.

As a small county/town institution, I don’t think the Morton Museum is unique but part of a growing trend.  I am quite intrigued that from small institutions like the Muscatine History and Industry Center in Muscatine Iowa to monster-sized places like the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis with their Open Field, cultural heritage institutions such as the Morton Museum are leading the way in engaging and being relevant to the communities that they serve.  These institutions seem the best shot at having cultural heritage venues also function as third places.

Museums like the Morton Museum in Collierville provide an excellent and direct response to the questions of engagement that Jordan and Allison posed.

%d bloggers like this: