Tag: museums

A Tribute to My GA Staff

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(l-r) Colleen McCartney, Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza, Nur Abdalla, and Brooke Garcia in the Fall of 2014

From 2007 – 2016, during my tenure as Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, I regularly chose four University of Memphis graduate students to serve up to two years each as Graduate Assistants at the Museum. They work 20 hours per week during the academic year in exchange for a tuition waiver and a monthly stipend. Although the economic incentive is important, what they receive in education and experience at the Museum far exceeds the monetary compensation. When I welcome visitors to the Museum, I always note that whatever exhibit or program they encounter during their visit that is ‘shiny and new’ chances are it was completed by one of our Graduate Assistants, Volunteers, or Interns.

Nur-missing

Same folks today, less Nur who is determining if she has the measles or not, with R. Connolly. The last official day at the Museum for the GA staff.

In the Spring Semester of 2014, all four of our GA staff graduated. That meant that in the Fall Semester of 2014, four new Graduate Assistants came on board at the same time. That had never happened in my previous 7 years at the Museum. Perhaps starting at the same time is why they bonded so well as a team. Regardless the 2014 – 2016 Graduate Assistants were truly exceptional in all ways. Over the past two years I often reflected that I could not have asked for a better GA staff on which to end my career at Chucalissa as I retire later this summer.

So, what follows is my story of the stories of Nur Abdalla, Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza, Brooke Garcia, and Colleen McCartney and their time as Graduate Assistants at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. And it is a true story, for the most part.

Ashes and INur Abdalla – I first met Nur in about 2012 when she was an undergraduate in the Anthropology Department. She registered for an Internship and completed a Directed Research Project at Chucalissa. For her Applied Archaeology and Museums class project, she created an exhibit that explored the interpretive significance of surface collections from artifacts curated at Chucalissa.

As a graduate student, her research focused on working with students and staff from the Freedom Prep Charter School to develop an institutional relationship with the C.H. Nash Museum. For her GA projects she organized special events at the museum and worked on several collections projects.

First and foremost Nur always has a smile and a pro-active solution driven approach to every situation. I was also amazed that our auto-generated Netflix recommendations were quite similar.

eliI first met Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza in July of 2013 at the bus station in Caraz, Peru. We had previously corresponded about the possibility of her coming to the US to study for her Masters Degree in Archaeology at the University of Memphis. Since that first meeting we have worked together on a series of projects in Peru and I look forward to continuing that collaboration. Eli will enter the PhD program at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in the fall of 2016 with full funding. This summer she will launch a community based research project on the Peruvian North Coast in the village of Nivín.

While at Chucalissa Eli translated a good bit of our exhibit and visitor materials into Spanish and played a major role in the upgrade of the Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab. Prior to her first day at the Museum I was somewhat concerned about how well she would engage with our visitors in explaining an archaeological site of which she was not familiar in a language that was not her own. Eli excelled with both our Spanish-speaking and English-speaking visitors.   She was also quite adept at answering visitors questions, that yes, she was in fact a Native American, and then explain her Peruvian origins. Through Eli, I have come to have a second home in Peru and look forward to our continued collaboration.

brookeBrooke Garcia, an Egyptology student, began as a collections intern in the summer of 2014 and transitioned seamlessly into her GA role that fall. Under the able direction of Ron Brister, Brooke completed several of the collections projects that staff had worked on for several years at Chucalissa. These projects included the deaccessioning and transfer of collections that were not part of our museums research scope to other Midsouth institutions. Brooke also completed NAGPRA compliance on all University of Memphis collections excavated over the past 50 years. Brooke was very active in our volunteer program, training visitors to process artifacts on our Volunteer Saturdays, including many students from Freedom Prep Charter School.

Brooke excelled in her academic achievements while a GA. She was awarded a MUSE Fellowship in the summer of 2015 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2015 she also received a Fellowship to attend the American Alliance of Museums annual meeting.

Like the rest of our GA staff, Brooke shares an affinity to all that is Disney and in addition, ballroom dancing.

colleenColleen McCartney was the token Anglo GA for the past two years. From Canada via Texas, Colleen is a natural born leader and played that role very well in several projects while working at the Museum. In addition to completing the organization of our strategic plan, Colleen coordinated the upgrade of the Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab. For her studies in the Anthropology Department and Museum Studies she crafted a curriculum to include a solid exposure to public and nonprofit administration. For her practicum in the Anthropology Department Colleen created programs and policies for the inclusion of special needs visitors at Chucalissa.

Colleen appears to have been the ringleader of the GA staff over the past two years, fomenting dissent as appropriate, but always assuring that the job was done. Her skills in this area were recognized by her peers when she received the first ever Emerging Museum Professional of the Year Award from the Tennessee Association of Museums. Quite an accomplishment for someone from Texas!

And in the end . . . the consistent pleasure that I had during my nine years at the University of Memphis and the C.H. Nash Museum was my work with students – particularly the Graduate Assistants. I always pushed the GA staff toward taking risks and believing that they could and should make applied contributions now and not wait until they graduate. Certainly, all of their resumes are greatly enhanced by their time working at the C.H. Nash Museum. I know that they will remain in contact with each other as they graduate and go their separate ways.

All of the GA staff have been very generous in their compliments toward me and my role as their Supervisor and Museum Director. My standard response to them has always been to remember that 10 or 20 years from now when they are in my position, mentoring a young 20 something who is trying to find their way in the world and trying to exude a sense of self-confidence while being insecure and nervous about screwing up and somehow getting it wrong – to remember what it felt like to be in their shoes and treat them kindness and support.

In many ways, I learned all that I needed from my first mentor the late Dr. Patricia Essenpreis who in a 1986 field school said something like “If you cannot explain to the public why their tax dollars should go to support this field work and museum, you might as well go home.” I keep those words as guiding principles in what I strive to do professionally. I have enjoyed engaging with the public ever since. While working as the Poverty Point Station Archaeologist in Northeast Louisiana, I began to understand what Pat meant. At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, through both our visitors and our Graduate Assistants, I had the opportunity to continue that engagement. The last two years of my career with both our regular and GA staff have been a true delight. I would not change a thing.

A Truly Low-Tech and Innovative Archaeological Exhibit

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Excavation Trench representation in the Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab

On April 16, for our Spring Family Fun Day at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, we unveiled our new Brister Archaeology Discovery Laboratory (BADLab), an upgraded version of our 2008 innovation, the Hands-On Archaeology Lab.  The upgraded configuration honors the lifelong contribution of Ron Brister to the Chucalissa Archaeological site.  Ron was first employed in 1966 at Chucalissa by Charles Nash, for whom the current museum is named.  After a 37-year career as the Collections Manager at the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis, in his retirement, Ron is once again back at Chucalissa lending his considerable expertise to a wide range of our museum practices.

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Photograph of Excavation Trench profile by Katie Maish

One of the innovations in our upgraded BADLab is the representation of the Chucalissa House Mound Excavation Trench on one of the rooms walls.

In the late 1950s archaeologists excavated a trench through a prehistoric ridge or mound at the Chucalissa site. When built nearly 1,000 years ago, the long ridge or mound was a place where the Native Americans built a variety of structures, including houses. Beginning in 1962, the archaeological excavation through the house ridge served as an entrance into the Chucalissa mounds and plaza. However, the trench is now closed to the public because of erosion and safety concerns. The new BADLab wall exhibit provides a summary of what archaeologists discovered when excavating the trench in the 1950s.

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Sediment Peel (left) and Photograph (right) of the same postmold from the Excavation Trench.

Our recent NCCC AmeriCorps Team painted a representation of the trench stratigraphy on the BADLab wall (In addition, the NCCC Team painted the rest of the room and laid the tile floor.)  Former C.H. Nash Museum Administrative Associate and photographer extraordinaire Katie Maish photographed features from the actual excavation trench that were then printed, mounted on foam core, and installed in their approximate location on the wall painted by the NCCC.

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Sediment Peel and Photograph of a House Floor from the Excavation Trench.

The above tasks would have accomplished my initial plans for the exhibit.  However, Ron Brister suggested that we include “sediment peels” in the exhibit design.  When Ron first raised the idea, I was uncertain how the peels would work.  However, I have learned to stand back and let such initiatives unfold – and the result was outstanding.

A sediment peel is where you build a small frame, adhere it to an excavation profile, fill the frame with what I refer to as glop but Ron says is an expanding foam insulation.  You then let the insulation set and dry and then remove it from the excavation wall profile.  Adhering to the hardened insulation is a 2-3 mm “peel” of the profile “sediment” that can then be mounted and exhibited.  In this way, the excavation trench is literally brought into the exhibit, not as a replica, but as an actual archaeological feature.

R&R

(L-R) Robert Connolly and Ron Brister

Total price tag for materials – under $500.00.  All labor donated or Student/Graduate Assistant supplied.

Check back next week for a post on the entire BADLab upgrade process.

 

 

How You Can Help Curate Collections in Nivin, Peru

Nivin-Museum-entryI have posted before about the archaeological surprise that my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and I experienced last summer in Nivín, Peru.   Elizabeth and I presented a paper at the 2015 Meeting of the Society for Amazonian and Andean Studies in Baton Rouge that discussed this project.

Our work in Nivín is a textbook example of co-creation.  Elizabeth and I traveled to Nivín at the invitation of Gustavo Valencia, director of the small museum in that rural community.  We asked about the museum needs and Professor Valencia immediately responded that he needed books on best practices for collections management in Spanish.  In a few weeks we were able to secure two state-of-the-art volumes and created a digital archive of over 50 files on the subject.

museum-exhibitWe will return to Nivín this June to discuss a long-term collaborative project with the community museum and school.  Thus far, based on our conversations with Professor Valencia and his colleagues, their expressed interests and needs in which we can take part include:

  • Launch a scholarly and community based research project of the archaeological sites surrounding Nivín.
  • Provide resources for English as a Second Language instruction  to enable residents to engage with anticipated visitors to the area.
  • Assist in instituting best practices in both the analysis and curation of cultural materials in the current museum.
  • Provide both formal and informal instruction on these best  practices in both the school and community.

What you can do to help this project . . .

. . . and this is where you can help to analyze and curate the archaeological collections of Nivín, Peru.  The basic materials for laboratory analysis are in very short supply in this rural community on the north coast of Peru.  Below is a list of materials we have identified with Professor Valencia that are of immediate need to launch the curation project this summer:

  • pocket loupes
  • plastic bags of all sizes
  • digital scale or triple beam balance
  • calipers – including OD for measuring ceramic vessels.
  • Sharpies for labeling bags
  • rapidiographs (or similar writing instruments) for labeling artifacts
  • osteological board
  • Munsell soil book
  • microscope
  • nested geological sieves
  • laminate sheet for estimating vessel size
  • other items?
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Display cases to be purchased for the Nivin Museum.

Does your academic department or CRM firm have some new or gently used items of the above that are not being used that you can donate to Professor Valencia and his students in Nivín?  Or would you like to make a financial contribution, large or small, that will be used to purchase the above items?  In addition to the listed materials we plan to buy at least two locking display cabinets for the museum.  The cabinets are available in the nearby Peruvian city of Casma for $350.00 each.

We ask that you consider supporting this exciting opportunity to empower a rural Peruvian community to present and preserve their cultural heritage through museum studies and archaeology.

Please contact me directly at rcnnolly@memphis.edu for more information or to find out if the materials you have available are suitable for the Nivín project.  Elizabeth or I can also take delivery of any items at the SAA meeting in Orlando this April.  As well, you can make financial contributions to the PIARA website that will be used exclusively for the Nivín Project.  (Note “Nivín” in the description box on the contribution form.)

Elizabeth, Gustavo and I thank you for your consideration.

 

Distance Learning in Texas Archaeology

C.Crav1I first learned of Candice Cravins’ excellent work in Distance Learning at the Institute of Texan Cultures from a post on the Public Archaeology Interest Group’s Facebook Page.  A quick tour of their Distance Learning site shows that Candice and the Texas folks are doing some very impressive work.  She generously agreed to an interview to talk a bit more about her experience and perspective on Distance Learning.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your responsibilities at the Institute of Texan Cultures?

I received my M.S. degree in Archaeology and Cultural Resource Management from Utah State University in 2014, where my thesis research explored object- and STEM-based strategies for teaching archaeology to children in a museum setting. Prior to my arrival at the Institute of Texan Cultures in October 2014, I served as the Educational Programs Manager at Utah State University’s Museum of Anthropology.

As an Educational Specialist for the Institute, I wear many hats! I am primarily responsible for developing and leading distance learning programs for K-12 students, writing and coordinating online educator resources, developing and posting content for department web and social media pages, and planning and leading professional development workshops and family programs. I also assist with school group tours and community outreach events.

How do you see online education opportunities as a bridge between formal education curricula and museums?

Online education opportunities can serve to enhance the classroom learning experience by connecting the intangible with the tangible, providing real-world experiences that help bring textbook concepts to life. As funding for field trips dwindles and emphasis is placed more on developing math and reading skills than on social studies and the arts, museum professionals and K-12 educators alike are looking for new ways to bring the museum experience to the classroom. Virtual field trips, online exhibits, Google chats with experts, games, and other online learning opportunities provide the means for teachers to access museum resources without ever having to leave their classrooms. Museums are well-suited to provide these hands-on learning opportunities that teachers need while at the same time support classroom learning standards and objectives.
C.Crav2What do you consider your most successful recent efforts in public outreach and community engagement?

I consider one of my most successful recent efforts in public outreach to be the launch of our new TexEdventures distance learning programs – virtual tours designed to bring the museum experience to the classroom. When I arrived at the Institute in October 2014, I was tasked with producing and implementing a new distance learning plan designed to bring engaging learning experiences to K-12 students throughout the state of Texas. Prior to my arrival, the Institute had been delivering distance learning programs using IP H.323 protocol videoconferencing technology. Equipment and services were costly to maintain, and programs could only be booked and delivered with the service and support of a technology service provider housed out of a regional Education Service Center – rural, Title 1, or nontraditional students and their teachers often had limited to no access to these programs. In moving forward with new programs, I first wanted to be sure all students and their teachers would have better access to our programming. To me, this meant that programs would need to be free of charge, require minimal technology (i.e., a computer or tablet device with speakers and an Internet connection), and be easy to set up and maintain by a team of one here at the Institute. My main goal for the program was to take things that were already successful onsite and deliver them in a virtual way. I wanted distance learning sessions to be live, individualized, and interactive, giving students the chance to direct their own learning experiences.

We piloted our first new distance learning program, Can You Dig It? Adventures in Texas Archaeology last May using Adobe Connect web conferencing software and an iPad on our exhibit floor. It was a hit with teachers and students both near and far. We have since expanded our offerings and now feature programs on Native American lifeways and how to use primary and secondary sources in the classroom. We plan to further expand our offerings to feature one-time only webinars on special events and even take the technology outside to incorporate some of our outdoor living history exhibits! More information on our programs can be found at www.texancultures.com/distancelearning.

Any recommendations for the cultural heritage professional looking to begin online learning projects?

Think big, but start small! First take a look at what museums, cultural institutions, and other nonprofits are doing in your region and state. What appeals to you most about their online learning programs? Could you and would you want to do something similar for your organization, and how would new online learning projects help fulfill your organization’s mission and meet outreach goals? Have a clear plan in mind for your project from the very beginning – it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by all the technology out there, so narrowing in on exactly what you wish to accomplish is key. Do you want to build a website or start a blog? If you work in a museum, do you wish to recreate the field trip experience for K-12 students online? Do you want to build an online course for adults interested in archaeology? Once you decide what you’d like to do, determine whether or not you have the staff and funding to accomplish your project. Develop a plan and timeline for your project. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things, and don’t think that your project needs to be something completely new and groundbreaking – simple is often better to start, especially for those who have limited experience working with technology, work with small budgets, and often juggle multiple projects at the office. Much of what I know now about educational technology and online learning was learned on the job – Google really is your best friend!

One of the first “smaller” projects I tackled when I arrived at the Institute was developing a plan to manage our department’s social media pages. Spending a bit of time each day developing and sharing new educational content on Facebook or Pinterest does wonders for increasing community interest and engagement – if used correctly, social media platforms can be powerful tools for online learning. Take advantage of free online tools, such as Canva, to help you create eye-catching images for your social media posts, and don’t overlook the subtle power of an iPad in creating engaging video content! The possibilities for what you can do for free are endless.

 

For more information, contact Candice at Candice.Cravins(at)utsa.edu

Online Training as an Essential Tool for Small Museums

fenceAs the Director of a small museum and through my work with similarly small-sized nonprofits, I wear many hats and need to know a little bit about a lot of things.  This need is particularly true in the area of digital technology and social media where I have come to rely on resources such as Heather Mansfield’s Nonprofit Tech for Good website and her books that I have reviewed.

In addition to developing a social media strategy, I also need the skills necessary to implement the plan. I tend to get this type of technical support by Googling the need.  I am often frustrated to find instructions that assume starting skills beyond my level of expertise.  I value a step-by-step approach that assumes little substantive prior knowledge of the process.  This week, I found two resources that are excellent examples of that type of instruction. 

The Hour of Code

I know nothing about computer programming, but have always thought I should.  As blog creation and other digital processes become more drag and drop, that need is less pronounced, but I do find situations where knowing code or language is either necessary or at least very helpful.  For example, on another blog I write/manage, The Ancash Advocate, posts are bilingual and require inserting anchor points to jump between the Spanish and English translations.  This process requires entering the text editor and inserting html code.  A colleague performed this task initially.  For the past year, I simply copied the bit of code they created and inserted the different titles into my subsequent posts.  I did not know the meaning of what I copied but simply played around with it until I got it to work.

When I have Googled and looked for training, I found an html for Dummies book.  At over 1000 pages the book was a lot more than I wanted.  But last week I got an email from Khan Academy marketing their participation in the global Hour of Code project.  The idea is that if you invest one hour in the process you will learn something about coding.  On the Hour of Code webpage tab one could “Learn how to make webpages with HTML tags and CSS, finishing up by making your very own greeting card.” The age grade for the hour was listed as 8 and up, so I figured I would understand the presentation.  Through instructional video and real-time input, within one hour, the code I used for the bilingual anchors on the Ancash Advocate blog was explained.  I learned the meaning of the html coding I had done by rote.  Further, at the end of the one hour exercise I was linked to another Kahn Academy page for more training on html and related css coding, if I so desired.

Here is the bottom line on this experience.  For a cost of $0.00 (although donations to Kahn Academy are certainly accepted – which I recommend) and one hour of my time, I learned more about html coding than in my previous efforts over the years.  In a very straight forward approach, mysteries about coding were resolved.  The 8 year plus age-grade proved ideal for me.  This experience reminded me of the brick wall I hit when taking genetics in a Biology for Majors class during my undergraduate days.  I overcame that problem by reviewing the All About Book on Heredity that my mother bought me when I was in grade school.  Starting with the very basics proved essential then and now.

 

Photoshop Basics

A second example of implementing technical skills is a Photoshop tutorial I came across this week.  The 10-point tutorial covered many of the Photoshop skills that my students or staff who are often just getting their feet wet in the software typically need to know.  The tutorial also links to the Marketers Crash Course in Visual Content Creation download – a very useful introduction to best practices in the visuals of website and digital content creation.

The Good and the Bad of Quick Intros

The perspective offered by individuals such as Andrew Keen in his book The Cult of The Amateur likely think little of the types of resources I discuss above.  Their objection is that these simple resources provide folks with the basic tools to edit code, work with photos and so forth without a rigorous and complete training in the area, thus letting the amateurs run amok.  And fair enough, a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous, but also useful.  Part of the learning process is knowing the limitations that a bit knowledge brings.

Having taken the Kahn Hour of Code, I am anxious to complete the rest of the introductory course on html and css coding.  In addition to understanding the anchor points I create for bilingual posts, I also see how several formatting issues that have bedeviled me for years on this blog are readily resolved with some simple html code adjustments.  In this regard, I come back to my opening statement for this post – as the Director of a small museum, I wear many hats and need to perform a diversity of tasks that in larger institutions might be the responsibility of an IT or social media specialist.  I do not have that luxury or the funds to outsource the work.  Kahn Academy and other training discussed in this post form a valuable part of my small museum toolkit  that allows me to function efficiently and effectively with limited resources.

What online training helps you to do your job?

 

Do Micro-credentials Have Value?

stoneAt the University of Memphis, there is not a good course offering on writing skills for graduate students.  In my anecdotal and formal evaluation experiences, poor written and verbal communication skills are a serious deficit for our college graduates.  There are a half-dozen or so MOOC offerings that address written communication on various levels.  I came across one called High Impact Business Writing reviewed the overall content and thought  the offering was appropriate for one of my students in particular.  I then noted that the course was part of a Career Readiness specialization of offerings that seemed to address aspects of training the student would find useful based on their career interest in museum administration.

When I reviewed the suite of nine courses in the specialization, I realized that much of the content expands on what I now cover with all of my advisees in our biweekly workshop meetings.  I began meeting with my student advisees biweekly because:

  • I found that I was having to repeat discussions with each of the graduate students whose committee I now chair, so we started meeting as a group to better use my time and for the students to learn from each other.
  • I see my job as their advisor to not just guide them through the graduate program to get a degree but also prepare them for jobs when they graduate.  Most students are poorly prepared for this part of their career.  They know how to get an A in class but are less skilled at writing a cover letter for a job application.  (Anecdotally, our workshop cover letter discussions have resulted in students getting  paid internships at the Met in New York, solid full-time employment, scholarships, etc.)

I recommended to one student that they consider completing the Career Readiness specialization offering this past summer.  At $350.00, that is about the cost of one graduate course credit at the U of M.  We discussed what the specialization means on a resume.  I noted that if one were applying for a job in higher education, perhaps not much.  But if one were applying for a position, where the importance is less the degree and more what you can do the first day on the job, I am convinced that such micro-credentials are becoming increasingly meaningful.

In this way, I continue to consider MOOCs as a supplement but not replacement for current higher education models.  In fact, perhaps MOOCs allow traditional higher education institutions to stop trying to do things they are not doing well, have MOOCs take on that role, and allow higher education to focus on what they are currently good at.

I asked the student to give me a candid blurb about their experience with the Career Readiness specialization.  They responded:

The Coursera MOOC’s on the career specialization track have been very useful and enriching. Learning professional business strategies will assist me in my future career and these courses have offered a wonderful outline of the skills needed. I found the financial and leadership courses to be the most helpful.

The Career Readiness specialization seems an excellent example of how micro-credentials can work.

Prehistoric Earthworks of the Mississippi Valley

PEMA new website recently launched that promotes the Prehistoric Earthworks of the Mississippi Valley from Iowa to Louisiana.  I have been thinking about the need for such a website or piece of promotional material for several years.  As the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum in Memphis, I regularly meet visitors heading north or south along the Great River Road or  I-55 corridors.  When I ask, “Are you interested in other prehistoric sites along your route?” most often the response is affirmative.  In the past, there was no single piece of information I could provide to guide that visitor.  In fact, because the various prehistoric earthwork venues are scattered across several states, and typically, state agencies do not cross-promote, there was no single website devoted to these sites of American Indian cultural heritage either.

Although intuitive, survey data confirm that cultural heritage tourists overwhelmingly select their venues for visitation via mobile/web resources and/or word of mouth. Unfortunately, today the only mobile resource that truly synthesizes museum venues is Wikipedia but not in a manner conducive for planning travel.  Individual states such as Louisiana have developed, or in the case of Mississippi, are developing prehistoric mounds trail tours. However, these projects, without exception, are restricted to intra-state sites, again ignoring many cultural heritage venues that are nearby but in adjoining states.

A single regional, or even national resource to promote prehistoric venues is a first step in addressing the problem. An ideal organizational form is based not on geopolitical boundaries but on natural or cultural parameters. For example, recent Civil War and Civil Rights trails follow sets of historic events that cross state borders. Given the north/south travel along the I-55 corridor and proximity to the Great River Road, coupled with extant prehistoric earthwork sites, the Mississippi River drainage is a useful natural and cultural feature on which to organize an interstate prehistoric mounds trail.

To put the idea into practice I involved students in courses I teach at the University of Memphis in applied anthropology and museum studies. Students in my classes always create some product that will live real-time in an area museum or digital space.  For several years I suggested a student take up the task of creating a brochure that promoted the prehistoric earthworks along the Mississippi River.  In my Applied Archaeology and Museums class in the Spring of 2014, a student took up the challenge and created the brochure.  This past year, we applied for and received the Southeastern Archaeological Conference Public Outreach Grant to expand the brochure, print and distribute copies to the venues listed, and create a digital presence for the information.  The Prehistoric Earthworks of the Mississippi Valley website and linked brochure are a result of that process.  The hard copy of the brochure is an 11 x 17 front and back six-fold that will be available at all the listed venues within the next two weeks.  (If you are a venue or cultural heritage agency that would like copies of the brochure, please drop me a note.)

In the coming months we will evaluate the traffic on the website, visitor comments, and check-in with the museums and prehistoric sites included in the brochure to get their feedback.  We will then incorporate their recommendations into the website and a further revision of the brochure.

I will appreciate your comments on this project.  Note that the website is specifically designed for viewing on mobile devices.  What works?  What does not work?  What suggestions do you have to make the website or brochure a more effective resource for information about the prehistoric earthworks along the Mississippi River?

A Co-created Independence Day Celebration in Hualcayán, Peru

For a Spanish language version of this post, click here

July 28th is Independence Day in Peru – and the day we presented the community copies of La Historia de Hualcayán: Contada Por Sus Pobladores the volume written by Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza based on oral histories collected by Hualcayán high school students in late 2014. I have blogged before about the project origins. In preparation for the event, Elizabeth and I thoroughly cleaned the courtyard area of the archaeology research complex and set out a long row of tables and chairs. The night before we peeled 72 kilos of potatoes and Sheyla Nuñuvero and her assistants prepared 15 chickens, salad and quite a few gallons of chicha morado.

foodThe event was a success. Eli and I were particularly happy that Leodan Abanto Alejo Valerio, who was responsible for launching the project, was able to attend and preside over the celebration. Consistent with being an outstanding educator, Leodan spoke eloquently and passionately about why such projects are important. He particularly focused on the educational role for the student oral historians in developing a sense of identity and pride in their community in both the Spanish and Quechua languages.

Leodan2

Leodan Abanto Alejo Valerio (center) with Hualcayán students

I spoke about the co-creative process. I noted that although Elizabeth and I had performed the technical publishing tasks and secured donations to fund the project, the essence of the volume was locally produced. That is, without the history verbally passed down over the years from community members, and passing that along to the student interviewers, the book would not have been possible. I also noted the uniqueness of the project – there is no other book of which we were aware in the Ancash region that tells a community’s history “contada por sus poladores.” The Hualcayán project is already viewed as model in one U.S. and two other Peruvian communities.

Elizabeth discussed her experience writing the book and presented a copy to every family in attendance. She noted that most of the copies would be placed in the school library consistent with Leodan’s expressed need for a classroom educational resource for students on their community history.

interviewees

Elizabeth Cruzado and Robert Connolly with two of the oral history project interviewees

Several community residents spoke and expressed their thanks to the Hualcayán students who created the project and to Leodan for the original concept. Elizabeth and Rebecca Bria’s (Co-Directors of PIARA) friendship and long-term commitment to the community was also recognized by all of the residents who spoke. For example, even though pressed for time as she gathers data for her M.S. Thesis on a set of Hualcayán excavations, Elizabeth welcomes community children into the research complex every afternoon from 3:00 – 5:00 PM to watch videos on a laptop, draw, or other activities. She has spent many days, weeks and months over the past several years working in Hualcayán on archaeological and community based projects.

Here are some of my takeaways from the oral history book experience:

  • The process worked. In a rural agricultural community like Hualcayán, where everyone works 7 days per week to sustain their existence (including on Independence Day) the oral history project is a small, but important contribution. “Importante” was the word most commonly used by the residents who spoke at the Independence Day event. They followed that statement up with examples on why knowing a community history is of value.
  • We had a great discussion with Professor Abanto after the event and confirmed plans and responsibilities for completing another volume by next summer for the community where he is now assigned to teach – Huallanco. Leodan is one of several Ancash residents we encountered in the last year who collect oral histories – in some cases for many years. We view the Hualcayán volume not as a completed project, but as an example of the ongoing logistical support we can provide if a community has that expressed need. We have informally discussed with cultural heritage professionals and educators in the region the possibility of establishing something like an Ancash Region Oral History Program. That may happen one day, but the impetus for moving on the project will come from the Ancash communities.
  • Oral history is something we are prepared to support at the museums Elizabeth and I visited in both Nivín and Caraz this summer. However, an expressed need in both of these museums was for Spanish language documents on collections management – not part of our initial plan. Within 48 hours we were able to use our resources and networks to acquire an abundance of these materials.
  • As cultural heritage professionals, in this way we can create value in a co-created relationship. At the museum and site at Nivín, Professor Valencia’s interest is less in our organizing field crews to excavate the Nivín site and find cool stuff for the museum. Rather the need Professor Valencia clearly stated was to train the Nivín students in the proper methods for curating materials and preserving a site that is of little apparent interest to the professional archaeological community but is being impacted by both agricultural and looting activities.

The above lead me to my “go to” snippets for what I mean by co-creation and applied archaeology:

Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs. John Cotton Dana, The New Museum, 1917  

 . . . the act of engagement with others who are trying to make decisions related to particular heritage resources. Erve Chambers 2004:194

 Working together or diversifying audiences is not enough. What is needed are reciprocal, co-created relationships that connect the assets and purposes of organizations. Elizabeth Hirzy 2002

 To give voice and be responsive to the needs and interests of local community members; to provide a place for community engagement and dialogue; and to help participants develop skills that will support their own individual and community goals. – Nina Simon 2010:187

 

To this end, our field season this year in Peru is going quite well.

sheyla

 

An Archaeological Surprise at Nivin, Peru

Nivin-sign(For a Spanish language version of this post, click here.)

 

This past week, my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and I visited Nivín Arqueologia about 25 km from Casma, on the north central coast of Peru.  We were not really certain what to expect.  We had corresponded via the PIARA and Nivín Facebook pages with Gustavo Valencia Tello a professor in the Nivín k-12 school of 50 students.  We knew that Professor Valencia established a museum connected to the school.  We also knew that Nivín is located in an archaeologically rich part of Peru’s north coast.  We knew that over the past five years Professor Valencia had convinced many area residents to donate their “looted” collections to the school’s museum.  Finally, Professor Valencia had noted that there was little interest from the professional archaeological community in the sites at Nivín.  That is pretty much what we knew about Nivín when we arrived in Casma this past Sunday.

Nivin-Museum-entry

Nivín Archaeology: Searching for our identity

On Sunday evening Professor Valencia invited us to his home for dinner and conversation.  We agreed on a schedule of going to Nivín on Monday morning to tour the museum and school and returning on Tuesday to visit the nearby archaeological sites and meet with the other Nivín teachers.

On Monday morning we headed toward the outskirts of Casma and turned onto an unpaved road for the 25 km bouncing ride to Nivín.  I have to admit that I began to wonder what Eli and I had gotten ourselves into.  Except for the town of San Rafael about half-way in, the landscape was dotted with the occasional cane thatch house, agricultural fields, scattered grazing livestock and not much else.  I wondered what kind of museum could be at the end of this road?

museum-exhibit

Exhibits in the Nivín Museum

After a one hour ride, we came to a sign that read “NIVIN” with nothing else in sight.  We then continued around the bend in the road and came upon what I can best describe as an oasis in a dusty desert.  The Nivín school is a manicured space that stands out from the landscape.  Here is what we saw:

  • the museum that Professor Valencia painstakingly put together over a five-year period.  The materials are donated by area residents who looted/collected the materials over the years, often from their own agricultural lands.  Professor Valencia uses these materials in his classes to explain everything from ceramic production techniques, cultural identity, osteology, culture change and more.  Eli and I had gone to Nivín to discuss how we might assist Professor Valencia in his project.   We quickly realized that we were the students that learned much from him during our brief visit.  The school in Nivín better incorporates archaeological methods into teaching natural and social sciences than any k-12 school I have experienced in the U.S.
  • Mango

    Young mango tree in the school garden.

    a suite of gardens maintained by the students, teachers, and the community members.  The gardens grow subsistence crops of mangoes, corn, passion fruit, chilies, alfalfa sprouts and more and are completely organic.  There are also smaller vegetable and medicinal plant gardens.  Besides providing food for the Nivín community, the gardens are meant as an instructional tool for the students, the next generation of agriculturalists in the area.  Other schools in the region are studying the Nivín model.

  • sparsely supplied but impeccably clean and well-maintained classrooms and a basketball court/soccer field.  We also saw large banners that reported the awards the school had received from the Ministry of Education.
arch-site-at-Nivin

A small portion of the archaeological site at Nivín.

On Tuesday morning we were back in Nivín with Professor Valencia for our tour of the nearby archaeological site.  Over the next 3.5 hours we hiked, walked through agricultural fields, waded across a river (this gringo was not able to negotiate the single log bridge), and traversed a rocky landscape similar to what one might expect of a lunar surface.  Here is what we saw:

  • a multi-sector and massive archaeological site that spanned the Formative through the Late Intermediate periods.  The site is not registered as an official archaeological site.
  • The site is slowly being encroached on by agricultural expansion along with huaqueros or looters.  The cemetery areas of the site contain many looter pits with broken ceramic vessels and scattered human bone.
  •  The architectural forms include domestic rooms, cemeteries, 30 m high mounds, and my favorite a boulder some 3.5 m in diameter fashioned into a metate, with multiple grinding depressions and one mano laying nearby.  Christian, a Nivín high school student, whose house is on the archaeological site recalls as a youth that there were eight manos laying on/around the metate boulder.
Eli-examine-sherd

Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza examines broken ceramics and human bone from a looters pit.

After visiting the site we returned to the school and met with several of the teachers to discuss possible collaborations.  We gave the school a laptop computer (from Rhodes College in Memphis) and a flip camera (from the WriteMemphis literacy program) to help launch an oral history program in the village and school.  The program will complement other oral history projects we have worked on such as those carried out in both Hualcayán, Peru, and Memphis, Tennessee, US.

After discussing with the teachers possible collaborative/co-creative efforts and mutual needs, on Tuesday evening Eli and I met again with Professor Valencia and agreed to pursue the following projects over the next year:

  • Partnering the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in Memphis, TN and the Municipal Museum in Caraz, Peru, with the Nivín Museum around oral history projects.  The three institutions are at different stages in their oral history processes and can learn from each other.  We will seek additional funding to support this work.  (An Engaged Scholarship Research Grant from the University of Memphis funded a portion of our oral history work in Caraz and Hualcayán, Peru this summer.)
  • Gustavo

    Professor Gustavo Valencia Tello with some of his teaching materials.

    Elizabeth Cruzado and Gustavo Valencia will co-author a book chapter for a recently contracted volume on museum/community collaboration efforts to be published in the Summer of 2016 by Rowman and Littlefield Press.

  • We will discuss forming an expanded range for the type of collaborative projects now carried out by PIARA.  This will ideally allow for greater collaboration among Ancash cultural heritage projects and expand access to resources.
  • We will investigate returning to Nivín in July or August of 2016 to provide instruction to students in the best practice cataloguing and curation of the collections in the Nivín Museum. (Any museum studies students fluent in Spanish interested in an internship?)

Elizabeth and I have commented several times that we certainly covered a lot of ground and lined up several co-creative projects in just a couple of days!  We are excited both about learning from and working with Professor Valencia, his colleagues, students, and the Nivín community in this model program.

Why the AASLH Annual Meeting is My Favorite Museum Event

AASLHThis years annual meeting of the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) will take place from September 16 – 19 in Louisville, Kentucky. I attended my first AASLH Conference in 2010 in Oklahoma City when I received a Small Museum Scholarship. I have only missed one annual conference since then.  The AASLH meeting has become my favorite meeting related to my role as a museum professional.  Here is why:

  • In 2010 I was a reasonable newbie in the museum business.  In fact, when I was hired as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in 2007 I had never formally worked in a museum.  Instead I had operated on the periphery of museums in my career as an archaeologist and academic.  The 2010 AASLH meeting proved an ideal venue to get my feet wet in learning about available resources, best practices, and networking with other museum professionals.
  • Over the past 30 years I have attended many professional meetings ranging from city-wide to international in scope.  While not dismissing the importance of any association, as a small museum professional, I find that AASLH conference is a perfect fit for my needs.  Conferences such as the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), while certainly of value, tend to focus on the needs of the medium to large museums. City and state conferences, while wonderful networking and experience sharing opportunities, cannot marshal the resources of a national organization like the AASLH.  Although sessions often cover the same topics as both larger and smaller professional meetings, the AASLH application is more inclusive of small museum contexts.  Of critical importance is understanding that the AASLH application is not lesser than, but rather more inclusive and relevant to my needs as a small museum professional.
  • The program for the Louisville meeting is particularly relevant to my interests.  I am particularly looking forward to hearing Wendell Berry one of my favorite writers/philosophers speak.  Check out the preliminary program to see what sessions might suit your interests and needs.  In a quick review of the program, sessions such as Kids Count, Too! Writing History through Community Collaboration; The Courage to Co-Create: Practicing Engagement with Your Audience; Marketing Educational Programming in Tough Times; and The Power of Possibility: Developing Partnerships through Project-Based Learning immediately caught my attention.  I am pleased that multiple “pop-up” sessions will take place at this year’s conference to provide more spontaneous discussions on a range of issues.
  • I am intrigued by the theme of this year’s conference – The Power of Possibility.  In a time when many cultural institutions are just now recovering from the recent economic downturns, focusing on what is possible in our new realities is an exciting step in the right direction.

If you have not been to an AASLH conference before, I encourage you to check out the event.  If you have attended in the past, the program for this year’s meeting looks fantastic.  Hope to see you there!

 

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