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Museum Archipelago

Museum Archipelago

Author: Ian Elsner

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A tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Museum Archipelago believes that no museum is an island and that museums are not neutral.
Taking a broad definition of museums, host Ian Elsner brings you to different museum spaces around the world, dives deep into institutional problems, and introduces you to the people working to fix them. Each episode is never longer than 15 minutes, so let’s get started.
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Vitosha Mountain, the southern border of Sofia, Bulgaria, is home to about 15 brown bears and one bear museum. According to Dr. Nikola Doykin, fauna expert at the Vitosha Nature Park Directorate, the bear population is stable—if humans stay away and protect their habitat. To Doykin and his team, teaching children about the bears is the best way forward, and the Vitosha Bear Museum does just that. Founded in 2002 by repurposing an abandoned mountain shelter for the Vitosha mountain rangers, the Vitosha Bear Museum provides “useful tips on how to meet a bear.” It’s also sparse: the entire gallery is a single room, and the gallery lighting is powered by a car battery. In this episode recorded at the museum, Dr. Nikola Doykin describes why the location is so useful for eco education, how groups of schoolchildren react to exhibits, and what the museum plans to do when it installs solar panels. Topics and Notes 00:00 Intro 00:15 Vitosha mountain (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitosha) 00:50 The Viosha Bear Museum (http://park-vitosha.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/spisanie-ENG_July-2012.pdf) 01:05 Dr. Nikola Doykin (https://www.nature-experience-bulgaria.com/nature-tour-guides/nikola-doykin-vitosha-nature-park-tour-guide/) 02:10 The Location of the Museum (https://www.google.com/maps/place/Музей+на+мечката/@42.636078,23.2115471,14z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0xa27af03db6067ea9!8m2!3d42.636078!4d23.2251191) 04:00 "Useful Tips On How To Meet A Bear" (https://www.novinite.com/articles/204909/Vitosha+Nature+Park%3A+The+Bear+Museum+and+The+Museum+of+Owls+Open+for+Visitors) 04:35 Bear Markings in the Museum 06:40 Ep. 6 Muzeiko (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/6) 06:50 Ep. 46 Vessela Gercheva Directs Playful Exhibits at Bulgaria’s First Children’s Museum (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/46) 08:30 Outro | Join Club Archipelago 🏖️ (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://museum.substack.com/) to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 87. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Towering over the Bulgarian capital of Sofia is Vitosha mountain. Connected to the city by several public buses, residents like me love hiking the numerous mountain trails to get away from the hustle and bustle. [Hiking Sounds] And it was on one of these solitary hikes that I first came across The Vitosha Bear Museum. At first I didn’t quite know what I was looking at: a cute little hut halfway up the mountain with a locked door and boarded up windows. But the sign said Bear Museum in Bulgarian, and also that the museum was closed because it was “hibernating” for the winter. So I sent some emails and that’s how, a few days later, I met Dr. Nikola Doykin at the museum. добър ден! (Good day!) Dr. Nikola Doykin: добър ден! (Good day!) Dr. Nikola Doykin is a Fauna expert at the Vitosha Nature Park Directorate, the organization that runs the museum. And he also had a key to open the museum door, which he wasn’t sure would work because it had been a month since he last used it. [Key Unlocking Sounds] Dr. Nikola Doykin: “And as you see, our museum is how to say, very simple.” The museum is as small on the inside as it looks on the outside. There’s no electric connection at the museum -- the LED lights that illuminate the gallery are powered by a car battery that Doykin switched on when we entered. The rustic appearance is a carryover from the building’s first purpose: a mountain shelter for the Vitosha mountain rangers. Dr. Nikola Doykin: And this was the place that they are staying during the night. And after that, it was abandoned, totally. And one guy had the idea to make this a place where we can show the bears, and where they can live, and the whole idea of the bears in the forest. The abandoned shelter was turned into the Vitosha Bear Museum in 2002. For Doykin, this is the perfect setting for the museum -- because what’s outside is just as important as what’s inside. Dr. Nikola Doykin: it will be easy for us if this kind of a museum was in a city. But we cut the line if we are in the city, but not in the forest because after that we can go out in the forest and show something else to the children. And mostly we have a little bit of a different education with the children and we start from here after that, we go out in the field and they can feel everything. Dr. Nikola Doykin: the idea is to put especially the children, the new generation, to put them in a real feelings to smell the forest, to feel the wind. The whole idea of the eco education, forestry education to take out the children from the cities and to show them real nature and how they can walk around and even to have fun in the forest, not only in the cities. The forests and mountains of Bulgaria represent a part of the national ethos, and so do the brown bears that live there. As the number of bears in the country declined, so too has the cultural pervasiveness of bears as fearsome carnivorous predators. Today, there’s an increased focus on conservation and even a sense of pride about Bulgaria’s remaining bears. Dr. Nikola Doykin: We can say something about 10 to 15 bears that are left in Vitosha mountain, but mostly on the south part of the mountain. According to Doykin, DNA testing has indicated that there’s enough genetic diversity in this population of bears to reproduce and ensure their continued survival on Vitosha mountain -- that is if humans stay away and protect their habitat. To Doykin and his team, teaching children about the bears is the best way forward. As a local news article about the museum put it, “useful tips on how to meet a bear are given at the Vitosha Bear Museum”. Dr. Nikola Doykin: And mostly what to do, not to meet the bear. And if we meet it, find it somehow, what to do. In the corner of the room, there’s a tree taken from the forest which has markings from a bear. Dr. Nikola Doykin: What they do to mark their territory, the different types of markings. And also, one tree that is for real marked, from a bear, here with his teeth and here with his claws.We can show to the children what, what to look for. The tree in the sparse interior makes it easy to connect visitors to what’s going on outside the four walls. Dr. Nikola Doykin: After we show them how the bears mark their territory, to start to look around, to see if some of the trees are marked, And then we present to the children that same information. Where it can live, where we can find it, to take care of the animals, not to kill them, we make some programs and speak to the childrens. On interpretive panels, visitors will also find information about the evolution and geographic distribution of different types of bears. These cover not just the brown bear -- the only type of bear found in Europe in Bulgaria, but also black bears in the Americas and in Asia, and polar bears. A glass case displays skulls from all of these bears. There’s even a bit of space in the basement where visitors can go inside a fake bear cave and see statues of a brown bear and her cub. Dr. Nikola Doykin: In here, the main idea was to be dark, because in a cave, there is no lights. We had no real bears, but only those. And the small bear in the cave, that's his mom take care of him. The cave is the perfect example of the museum working with what it has -- in this case a dark, low-ceilinged basement that doesn’t require electricity, and choosing the interpretive materials carefully -- in this case a simple statue is quite effective. In many ways, the museum stands apart from the Muzeiko Children’s museum in Sofia, which we’ve featured in episodes 6 and and 46 of this show. That museum: the first children’s museum in the Balkans, features a huge number of computerized interactives centered around the concept of playful learning, which was not encouraged -- to say the least -- when Bulgaria was a Communist country. But The Vitosha Bear Museum also breaks the mold of rote memorization and statistics overload that used to define Bulgaria’s education system and is still present at many of Bulgaria’s museums. But instead of computerized interactives, the museum finds playful learning in the feeling of a sparse ranger’s hut. And next season, the museum will add electricity with a solar panel system. Dr. Nikola Doykin: Next year, already we got contract with company to make a solar system with solar panels. We will have electricity and then we will have more things to do. With electricity installed, Doykin and his team hope to increase the number and interactivity of the exhibits. Dr. Nikola Doykin: For me, it's not bad to have this kind of nature of feeling of wood, really to touch the bear or to smell the leaves. And also you can have some interactive games. You can make some 3d, and mentioned to see how the bear walking around. But Doykin -- who would spend all his time in the mountains if he could -- still considers the real museum to be on the outside. Dr. Nikola Doykin: We have both museums: the biggest and the smallest. And it's good to have both. This has been Museum Archipelago.
History professor Dr. James Eaton taught his students with the mantra: “African American History is the History of America.” As chair of the history department at FAMU, a historically Black University in Tallahassee, Florida, he was used to teaching students how to use interlibrary loan systems and how to access rare book collections for their research. But in the early 1970s, as his students' research questions got more in depth and dove deeper into Black history, he realized that there simply weren't enough documents. So he started collecting himself, driving a bus around South Georgia, South Alabama, and North Florida to gather artifacts. That collection grew to become the Meek-Eaton Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum on FAMU’s campus. Today, museum director Dr. Nashid Madyun presides over one of the largest repositories of African American history and culture in the Southeast. In this episode, Madyun describes how the structure of the gallery fights the compression of Black history, how the archive handles dehumanizing records and artifacts, and how a smaller museum can tell a major story. Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:15 Dr. James Eaton (http://www.famu.edu/index.cfm?MEBA&THEFOUNDERS) 00:50 Starting The Collection 01:35 Dr. Nashid Madyun (http://www.famunews.com/2015/10/famu-names-nashid-madyun-director-of-the-meek-eaton-black-archives-and-research-center/) 02:44 Carnegie Library 03:20 13 Galleries at the Meek-Eaton Black Archives 04:56 The Compression of African American History 05:20 Jim Crow and the KKK Exhibit 06:02 Presenting Derogatory Material at the Museum 07:00 How a Smaller Museum Can Tell a Major Story 08:20 Manumission Exhibit and Reading Cursive Handwriting 09:24 No Visitors During the Pandemic 10:40 Museum Archipelago Episode 85 (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/85) 11:00 The First Steps to Telling Hidden Stories 11:50 SPONSOR: SuperHelpful (http://superhelpful.com/arc) 12:45 Outro | Join Club Archipelago (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://museum.substack.com/) to never miss an episode. Sponsor: SuperHelpful This episode of Museum Archipelago is brought to you by SuperHelpful, an audience research and development firm dedicated to helping museum leaders create more equitable and innovative organizations through problem-space research. Kyle Bowen, the founder of SuperHelpful, has brought together a team of designers and researchers to build a new community for museum folks who want to support one another as they reimagine what museums will be in the future. To join—and bypass the current waiting list—use this special link just for Museum Archipelago listeners! Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 86. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] History professor Dr. James Eton taught his students with the mantra: “African American History is the History of America.” As chair of the history department at FAMU, a historically Black university in Tallahassee, Florida, he was used to teaching students how to use interlibrary loan systems and how to access rare book collections for their research. But in the early 1970s, as his students' research questions got more in depth and dove deeper into Black history, he realized that there simply weren't enough documents. Nashid Madyun: And that helped him to realize that the understanding of Abraham Lincoln, the KKK , the rise of the Black middle class, Jim Crow, all of the stories where will forever untapped properly if there is no repository. And he found that as people die, they had material in their attics. But in this region: South Georgia, South Alabama, Northern Florida, there was no place to present these wares. So he started to try to enhance his classroom with these artifacts. He took advantage of an available bus and went around the region, asking people for material and they were happy to share and donate. Nashid Madyun: And there was no formal museum practice or archive at the time. It was a professor of history trying to find a way to help the students see that there are two sides to a story. That collection grew to become the Meek-Eaton Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum on FAMU’s campus, one of the largest repositories of African-American history and culture in the Southeast. This is Nashid Madyun, director of the museum. Nashid Madyun: Hello, my name is Nashid Madyun. I'm director of the Southeastern, regional Black archives research center and museum at FAMU, that’s Florida A&M University. Nashid Madyun: So this institution was founded in 1971. It opened its doors officially to the public in 1976. Professor James Eaton was able to collect artifacts to enhance the classes he was teaching in history, in African American history. And he was able to utilize this building in the mid seventies to present the rare memorabilia and artifacts that he found to interpret African American history as he saw it and present public programs. The collection and museum are housed in the Carnegie Library on FAMU's campus. Dr. James Eton died in 2004, during the construction of a four story expansion building that was erected right behind the library to keep up with the growing size of the collections. Because the archive was started from artifacts and documents gathered by bus, there is some geographic focus on the North Florida region. But today the Museums interprets Black history in general -- with objects from all across the country. Nashid Madyun: The research we pulled together takes us to the entire Florida panhandle and South Alabama, South Georgia. So now we have what we consider amongst these four floors, 13 galleries. The highlight, the number one highlight would be our Jim Crow and KKK collection, an authentic uniform, the constitutions from the 1920s, the memorabilia that highlight the derogatory advertisements and propaganda of the Jim Crow era. We also have an authentic-style church highlighting the plantation churches of the TriCounty area, as early as 1830s and replicas of those churches. 64 churches were utilized for this exhibit. Nashid Madyun: We also have a changing gallery upstairs that we highlight items or issues that address some point or some aspect of popular culture. Public culture now would be Black Lives Matter. And that movement has been going on for the past couple of years, so what we have up now is an exhibit objectively presenting the subject of newsprint from the 1700s to the present, how the violence and Black Codes and legislation and perspectives have been portrayed in print media. And so people have been very interested in that exhibit, so that's very compelling. The galleries also include African Americans in the Military -- which features artifacts from the Civil War and the Spanish American War, and African American pioneers in medicine and science, which highlights FAMU’s role as a research institution. With the way the gallery is setup, Madyun fights against the compression of African American history -- when I was studying Black history in Tallahassee, Florida as a high school student, we moved quickly from the Emancipation to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, skipping the time between. Nashid Madyun: I like to integrate new possibilities and ways to tell stories that are hidden or not properly told. We call this particular exhibit Jim Crow and KKK, aside from Slavery to Freedom. So the exhibit previously had all of these words together. And I wanted to separate those two so that we could see that there was a split and time: there was bondage and then there was amancipationand freedom, and there was a gap from the 1880s to the 1930s, when cotton was king, tobacco was strong. You had the rise of the Black middle class and the rise of the Black middle class, the mobility of the Black middle class specifically coincides with the three waves of the KKK. Nashid Madyun: So we present the derogatory material in the face of the public and say, this is how it was, and this is why it was, you had people who feared this rise. Nashid Madyun: And so. You can interpret it how you want to, but we presented based on the information we have. We could talk about the rise of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the introduction of dentists and lawyers, the Harlem Renaissance, the Chicago Renaissance, all of these movements just so happened to coincide with the exact time frames of these waves of the KKK. And that's what's going on. And so I don't believe that any part of our history, whether slave chains or breathing beds or KKK robes should be hidden. The depth and breadth of the collection enables The Museum to tell a much broader story than just a historical house -- or a museum that is tied to a single event. For museums that interpret Black history, that’s still somewhat rare, but Madyun sees it as the beginning of a trend. Nashid Madyun: I've been in museums for 20 years and when I came into museums all the museums, the majority were mainstream, there were only a few African American museums. If there was an African American museum, it was an African American historic house, right? And so the idea that a major story can be told by a small museum in our new virtual world is possible. Nashid Madyun: It was not possible 10 years ago. Definitely not possible 20 years ago. So we have the opportunity. Unfortunately, we still need to catch up to the digitization that’s needed so that we can compete. Major museums, some city museums, you know, especially art museums, they receive city funding, even if they're attached to universities. And now we're starting to see that happen with the Black museums. And my role is to take advantage of these resources and bridge the gap. Madyun says that part of the gap is technological -- that museums are always trying to catch up to where visitors are. An example that he cites is seeing his student visitors not being able to read cursive handwriting. Nashid Madyun: We had an exhibit last year that we thought was wonderful and opened it up. And the students are coming in and looking at manumission, actual bills of sales from slaves, you know, former slaves buying their sisters and brothers and wives, buying their freedom. And so we're waiting for that jaw dropping expression, and they're looking at it like it's art. Nashid Madyun: I'm like, “oh, they don't know how to read cursive writing!” Here's a letter from Zora Neale Hurston talking about her ex and going through that divorce, you know, she's from Florida, understanding that the cost of a slave was $800 and pulling these details that you would normally get. And there's a generation gap. I'm in my forties and beyond, but the new generation that are not learning to write long form or manuscript or cursive writing. So now we're able to go back and look at some of these exhibits and enhance them and align them properly. It turns out, the museum has time to go back and enhance some of the exhibits because of the pandemic. Nashid Madyun: Because of the time we live in with the pandemic the idea of digitization has, really been propelled into a stage that is front and center. People were at home doing summer wondering what they could do. They wish they could go visit the museum. You've had three or four years to get to the museum in your hometown. Now we wouldn't really want to get out and get to the museum. We began to walk through the museums and pull out artifacts and have virtual tours. It's been a very good, very productive summer. Partly because we've had no guests so we've been able to focus on all of these very practical logistical projects. And we're going to come out a nice polished, shiny diamond able to look at K through 20. So the students on campus and the counties that surround us, the exhibits will be aligned to support curriculums. Students and teachers will be able to go to our website and pull down scavenger hunt and coloring pages or discussion questions and see artifacts to help illuminate that. The Meek-Eaton Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum is part of the Florida African American Heritage Network, which we discussed in episode 85 of this show. For Madyun, the increased focus on Black museums in the state and the slow progress towards more historic markers on Black history are stepping stones. Nashid Madyun: It's a stepping stone. These are the first step into establishing and acknowledging stores sometimes. And hopefully stories are our objective, but at the least you are able to identify the initial point of interest and organizations, nonprofits, grassroots communities can come together and expound on that. Whether they erect a structure, a walking park, an activity, but across the South specifically, and I'm from Arkansas, across the South, it's been wonderful to see places that have monuments, or a historic house, or parks or demonstrations where there was once just a marker. [Outro]
During the period of Jim Crow and the Black Codes, a self-sustaining Black enclave called Smokey Hollow developed near downtown Tallahassee, Florida. As the first Black principal of Lincoln High School, John G. Riley was a critical part of the neighborhood. In 1890, he built a two-story house for his family—only about three blocks from where he was born enslaved. In the 1960s, the city of Tallahassee seized and destroyed the neighborhood as part of an urban renewal project through eminent domain. Riley's house was all that remained, thanks to activists who fought its demolition. Althemese Barnes was determined to not let the history fade: as founding director of John G. Riley Research Center and Museum, she transformed the building into a place where people can learn about Smokey Hollow. In this episode, Barnes talks about creating a museum to connect with young visitors, the process of becoming familiar with Florida's museum organizations which are often resistant to interpreting Black history, and the long process of building a commemoration to Smokey Hollow in Tallahassee’s urban landscape. Topics and Notes 00:00 Intro 00:15 John Gilmore Riley (https://www.leonschools.net/cms/lib/FL01903265/Centricity/Domain/262/Out%20of%20the%20Past%20A%20Noble%20Leader.pdf) 00:50 Althemese Barnes, Founding Director of the John G. Riley House and Museum (http://rileymuseum.org/history-founders/) 01:15 Tallahassee in 1857 (http://www.wooddrives.com/assets/HoustounPlantationCemetery_04-19-2019.pdf) 02:45 Why The Name Smokey Hollow? 04:00 The John Gilmore Riley House (http://rileymuseum.org/) 05:00 Jim Crow and the Black Codes 05:40 Growing Up in Tallahassee 06:00 The Destruction of Smokey Hollow Through Eminent Domain 07:26 Barnes Steps Forward to Found the Museum 08:10 Interpreting Black History at the Museum (http://rileymuseum.org/history-founders/) 09:10 Dred Scott v. Sandford (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dred_Scott_v._Sandford) 09:25 Brown v. Board of Education (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_v._Board_of_Education) 10:00 The Development of Cascades Park (https://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/local/2015/09/24/smokey-hollow-commemoration-celebrates-lost-neighborhood/72735610/) 11:40 Smokey Hollow Commemoration (https://www.architectmagazine.com/project-gallery/smokey-hollow-commemoration) 12:15 Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network (FAAHPN) (http://faahpn.com/about-faahpn/) 12:30 Barnes Becoming Familiar with the Museum World 12:45 Resistance to Teaching History 13:44 SPONSOR: Ian Elsner (https://ianelsner.com) 14:20 Outro | Join Club Archipelago 🏖️ (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://museum.substack.com/) to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 85. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript John Gilmore Riley was born enslaved on a Tallahassee, Florida plantation in 1857. Althemese Barnes: John Gilmore Riley was born into slavery about three blocks from here. After slavery ended, he chose education for a career and became the first black principal of the Lincoln high school that was built to provide an education for newly free slaves and their descendants. Here - where we’re sitting right now -- is the John G. Riley House and Museum in what is now basically downtown Tallahassee, and this is Althemese Barnes, the founding director of the museum. Althemese Barnes: Hello, my name is Althemese Barnes and I am the founding director of the John Gilmore rally research center and museum. And I've also been, I'm still the executive director and I've been that for 24 years. The John G. Riley House -- a handsome two story wood house -- sits in the same neighborhood as the older well-kept plantation homes. Tallahassee in 1857 was the center of Florida’s plantation economy, a system built almost entirely on enslaved labor. Enslaved people outnumbered white people three to one. Of the 779 white families living here in 1860, nearly two thirds owned at least one person. Althemese Barnes: Once the slavery system broke down or was eliminated in the area, a lot of the properties remained a part of that establishment. And a lot of the Blacks who worked on the plantation remained in the area. Over time, other Blacks moved in. So ultimately, it became this African American enclave we call it. And it's over 80 families settled around the 1870s. The families had stores. They had churches. They had a school that operated out of new Saint John AME church. Um, they had a Woodyard and I say all that to say that it was a pretty much self sustaining community. They had pretty much everything that was needed, which was important because it was doing on the days of segregation, legal segregation.So they were limited in terms of where they could go to shop. Where they could go for entertainment and what have you. And during the period of Jim Crow and the Black Codes, this neighborhood, this enclave, became known as Smokey Hollow. Althemese Barnes: Why the name Smokey Hollow? With our younger visitors, we have fun with that, but Smokey Hollow grew up out of the fact that, okay, it's an all-Black community. So a lot of the more, I would say, undesirable elements ended up in Smokey Hollow. So you have the electric station, the first electric building, the incinerator where all of the city’s trash was burned was in Smokey Hollow. Many of the women did domestic work, white families brought in their clothes and back then the women did the wash outside over a black smudge pot. So they had to make these fires. And so he would always see smoke coming up from the fire pots and then the train ran right through Smokey Hollow. So what does it emit smoke? So that's all of that is about the smoke part. Then we say to the children, well, where are we? Are we on a hill? No, we are in a hollow. So that's the Smokey Hollow. John G. Riley was a critical part of the self-sustaining neighborhood. As the principal of the the Black Lincoln academy, which later became Lincoln High School, he was known as Professor Riley. He also served as a Guardian -- a kind of official record keeper of births and deaths for Black people in the Smokey Hollow neighborhood. The majority of houses in Smokey Hollow could be described architecturally as “shotgun homes”. Riley was able to buy some, and rent them to tenants in Smokey Hollow. In the 1890s, Riley built this grander house for his family on the northern end of Smokey Hollow. Althemese Barnes: this house, when it was built, Was a very upscale, big deal for Tallahassee, for a Black person. Because if you think of the fact that, okay, you have a person who was born a slave and he was a slave until he was about eight, nine years old then along came. Another time in history when people like Mr. Riley still, we're not allowed to learn, to read and write. So he had to slip and get books. He had an auction. Yeah. Riata who was very learned it. So she could teach him how to read and then he grows up a little more, but he still has obstacles. And then. Look at the fact that other people counted on him. And then you Jim Crow and the Black Codes. Yeah. Black people, especially the men were in danger. Couldn't do things that other men did. There were lynchings close by because the jail was in Smokey Hollow, and they could it pass in there every day. I grew up in Tallahassee—in fact, I grew up and went to school less than 2 miles from Smokey Hollow, but I had never even heard of it, not even once. So why had I never heard of it? That was the question I came to the Riley house to ask. It turns out there’s a lot of reasons, but it all stems from an event that Barnes simply refers to as eminent domain. 14 years after Riley died, the city of Tallahassee decided that it needed the land that the Smokey Hollow neighborhood sat on -- and proceeded to take it as public property through eminent domain. Althemese Barnes: In 1968 the community was eminent domained, you had maybe about eight families that were able to negotiate and stay in there long enough to get money for that property. The residents were told that the city needed the land to build a new capital complex -- Tallahassee is the capital of Florida -- but not much actually came of the project save for the construction of a new road over the neighborhood, and this was the Talalhassee I was familiar with. The community: erased out of the urban landscape, and out of the minds of people like me. But not for the former residents, who forever resented eminent domain. With most of Smokey Hollow already cleared out, in the 1970s, the city also had its sights on the Riley House itself. Althemese Barnes: the idea was to demolish the house and turn it into an electric substation here. Former residents of Smokey Hollow -- many of whom were taught by Riley -- rallied to prevent the home from being destroyed. The house was fully restored in 1981. Barnes says that it was the preservationists’ goal that the house would serve as a center to interpret local African American history. And that’s where Barnes comes in. In 1996 she stepped forward to turn the dream into a reality, starting with oral histories. Althemese Barnes: We were the first people to come over to get it all cleaned up after the restoration, to turn it into a research center and museum. There are many ways to interpret this house history through aspects of his house. One of the first things I did when I came here. I said, we don't want to just be a museum with pictures on the wall. I wanted to document history that has been ignored, neglected. So with my old camcorder camera and tripod, I did almost a hundred interviews. All the people are deceased now. If people want to know anything about the Black history, the real authentic Black history. You have to talk with people who lived it. Someone else might tell you something, but your primary source is much better. Today the dream is realized. The museum doesn’t just have pictures on the wall..There’s even a talking, Audio Animatronic likeness of Riley which was, in a very Florida twist -- donated by the Disney cooperation. Audio Animatronic Riley: “If you don’t know your roots, people can tell you anything and convince you of its truthfulness.” Barnes says that the museum uses the years of Riley’s life as an interpretive method to provide context for the legal forces of segregation acting on Smokey Hollow and Black people across the nation. Althemese Barnes: We kind of bring it up even with, with the birth and death date. Mr. Riley was born in 1857, so we said, okay, what famous court decision happened in 1857? And if it's then middle school or up students, keep thinking, if you think. Oh, Dred Scott. Yes. Dred Scott decision. Tell me about Dred Scott. Black man trying get his freedom. Didn't work. Courts ruled against him. Okay. Mr. Riley died in 1954. What happened in 1954 relates to education? Oh yes. Brown vs the board of education! The location reviews of the John G. Riley House and Museum mostly express gratitude to learn what reviews didn’t learn in school. There aren’t too many museums in Tallahassee that interpret these kinds of histories. Barnes knows all too well how much work -- often bureaucratic work -- is necessary to keep the memory of Smokey Hollow in the city of Tallahassee. A more recent example of this comes in the City’s development of a new 24 acerpark, called Cascades park on mostly land that used to be Smokey Hollow. Althemese Barnes: Now here we are with these 24 weeks, well, we will do this part. And the whole thing was that the people doing the development city County, whomever was making no mention. Of the footprint, of the original footprint. And when it was time for Q and A, I raised my hand and it got to the point where people knew what I was going to say, you know, I think you need to represent the history of what was here before. You make this into cascades park, bam, no reference to smoke hour that went on for about two years. Finally, after a shift in project management, Barnes was invited to create a group that would commemorate Smokey Hollow at Cascades Park. Althemese Barnes: So we met for about, I would say two and a half, three years identified people from Smokey Hollow, brought them in. Did oral history histories. We had work groups, we got a bit map, they will come and put a sticker. Okay. This family that was here is they mopped where everybody lived, where every business was located, everything we needed to document Smokey Hollow. The results of Barnes’s efforts are now right across the street from the John G. Riley house. Park goeres pass the Smokey Hollow Commemoration -- which includes historical places and cleverly designed 3D outlines of the ubiquitous Smokey Hollow shotgun houses. Althemese Barnes: We really wanted to put real shotguns, but there was the safety security factor, that kind of thing. And so we decided now what should we call these and run around? And so we said spirit houses, because, because though Smokey Hollow is not here, the spirit of Smokey Hollow lives on. When she stepped forward to work on the museum in 1996, Barnes was unfamiliar with the museum world -- she had worked in state government. She had never written a grant. But she became familiar with the museum world in Florida. She helped found the Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network, which features landmarks and museums all across the state. She wrote grants. She helped others write grants. In order to fund projects that were overlooked by the mostly white historical establishment, she realised that she needed to sit on committees that decided which grants should be awarded, and then she sat on those committees. Althemese Barnes: But to this day, there are still resistant. If you go to some of the organizations that are supposed to be representing the state museum groups, associations, go to some of their meetings… phish. And it's really unfortunate because there's a rich history here. Now I would say during the past, say five to seven years, I've noticed more and more as a few younger people come up, they have come in wanting to know what are you doing? But it's a richness that people have missed all these years. The resources were there, but they didn't have the people with the right mindset. And this is all a part of this social justice that people talk about. And then the house itself built 1890. How many years ago was that? In a person's life they aren't supposed to still stay in, but this house is standing because some people cared about it. This has been Museum Archipelago.
Near the empty pedestals of Confederate figures that used to tower over Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, a new type of historical marker now stands. The markers have most of the trappings of a state-erected historical plaque—but these are rogue markers erected by a group of anonymous historians called History is Illuminating. History is Illuminating decided to use historical markers as a medium to talk about the Black history taking place while those statues were erected as monuments to white supremacy. In this episode, an anonymous member of History is Illuminating discusses the ubiquity of the Lost Cause narrative, the reasons for being anonymous and going rogue, and the means of historical marker production. Topics and Notes 00:00 Intro 00:15 Historical Markers in the U.S. South 01:00 History is Illuminating (https://www.instagram.com/historyisilluminating/) 01:20 Rogue Historians 02:10 Lost Cause Narrative 03:13 Monument Avenue (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monument_Avenue) 05:15 The Origins of History is Illuminating 06:10 Studio Two Three (https://studiotwothree.org) 06:20 Naming History is Illuminating 08:10 Constructing the Historical Markers 08:30 Episode 42. Freddi Williams Evans and Luther Gray Are Erecting Historic Markers on the Slave Trade in New Orleans (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/42) 09:05 The Markers 09:45 John Mitchell Jr. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Mitchell_Jr.) 10:30 Going Rogue 11:00 Means of Historical Marker Production 12:35 Learn More and Donate to History is Illuminating (https://studiotwothree.org/checkout/donate?donatePageId=5f00889cd470c94c5556557c) 13:05 SPONSOR: Pigeon by SRISYS 🐦 (https://pigeon.srisys.com/museums/) 13:52 Outro | Join Club Archipelago 🏖 (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://museum.substack.com/) to never miss an episode. Sponsor: Pigeon by SRISYS 🐦 This episode of Museum Archipelago is brought to you by SRISYS Inc - an innovative IT Apps Development Company with its Smart Products like Project Eagle - an agile messaging platform and PIGEON - a real-time, intelligent platform that uncovers the power of wayfinding for your museum, enabling your visitors to maximize their day at your venue. Using SRISYS's Pigeon, the museum's management can gather real-time data for managing space effectively about visitors while improving their ROI through marketing automation. Visitors can navigate the maze of a museum with ease, conduct automated and personalized tours based on their interest, RSVP for events, and get more information about the exhibits in front of them. Pigeon is a flexible platform and can be customized to work for your museum. And because the platform takes advantage of low-cost Beacon technology, the app works offline as well! This means less data transmission costs for the museum and bigger savings for visitors when using this app outside their home territory. Click here find out how Pigeon can help your museum. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 84. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] Over the past few weeks, near the empty pedestals of confederate figures that used to stand on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, a new type of historical marker started appearing. The markers have most of the trappings of a state-erected historical marker--etched letters and an iconic shape. But there is no official logo, just a bright sun icon at the top, text in the middle describing a past event, and at the bottom simply the words: History Is Illuminating. History is Illuminating: If you start looking at historic markers that were installed in the 60s, 70s, 80s across the South, not just in Virginia, but in states all across the South, they're so biasly worded and the subject matter is so biasly chosen. History Is Illuminating is a group of anonymous historians from the Richmond area who, as the confederate statues were being removed, decided to use the format of those historical markers as a medium to talk about the Black history taking place while those statues were erected as monuments to white supremacy. The anonymous historians started calling themselves rogue historians. History is Illuminating: “We have had a lot of discussions around this and we consider ourselves rogue because while all of our bosses appreciate what we're doing. A lot of the issues that come across in history are issues where the Lost Cause narrative was taught for so long in schools that talking about aspects that go against the Lost Cause narrative can often be divisive in our society, especially in the South. And I know personally for the organization I work for, I regularly receive phone calls or voicemails from people angry that we're talking about Black history or saying things along the lines of it's better just not to talk about it. We've actually had a couple of our signs defaced and we felt like it was safer for us as well as significant because the facts are what are important, not the historians that are coming forward. The Lost Cause narrative permeates museums, historical monuments, and textbooks in the United States. The narrative casts the cause of the confederacy as a just and noble one. The ideology has been used to perpetuate racism a racist power structures since the end of the Civil War. History is Illuminating: The Lost Cause narrative was actually invented here in Richmond, Virginia. There was a popularity of glorifying the battles and glorifying the nobility of what happened in the Civil War, rather than acknowledging the loss or acknowledging the essential part of slavery that was played out within the Civil War. The popularity of that concept just grew ridiculously and the United Daughters of the Confederacy joined in on this and popularized it across the South, putting it as the mainstream form of education within textbooks, as well as making monuments rise across the South. The Daughters of the Confederacy, actually not only rose monuments to the Confederacy, but they also actually rose a few monuments to the Klan. And one of the single densest and largest collections of confederate symbols was in Monument Avenue -- a grassy, purpose-built grand avenue in Richmond. The first monument erected was a statue of confederate general Robert E. Lee, which as of this recording is the only confederate monument still standing on the Avenue. When it was erected in 1890, there were no buildings around it. History is Illuminating: At the time it was constructed, you can actually see photographs to Google it that have pictures of the Robert E. Lee monument, surrounded by people working in cotton fields. The whole thing about monument Avenue that's so interesting is that Monument Avenue has been a street of walking tours. It has been a street of people coming and walking down and remembering a glorified past that was taught to them in their textbooks, in childhood, and many people from outside of the South come to Monument Avenue and are taken aback and gasp at how dramatic it is. It's these large, larger than life monuments set up on huge pedestals with marbles sculptures around them that seem like something from ancient Rome. With Jefferson Davis, giving his, ‘I quit the federal government’ speech and all of the symbolisms around him. And they also have quotes on that monument. There was a quote on that monument. There, it was, I forget the exact wording, but it goes on into detail talking about how he deserves these inalienable rights to pass on the legacies that he knew to his children. And this it's fascinating, the way that the sentence structure so often just falls short of a full sentence. The ideas just fall short of a full idea. The idea that we were fighting for states' rights, not the state right to own slaves. It's these half ideas that are not fully constructed that caused really short winded debates because there's not many talking points beyond the short ones. People were taught in school. It's just been really upsetting to everyone in our group. After years of pressure, on July 2nd, 2020, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced the official removal of most of the confederate statues on Monument Ave. That’s when History is Illuiminating started. History is Illuminating: The way this initially came down was me and a friend who is the other lead organizer, were talking on the phone one night after Levar announced that the monuments were coming down and we said, this should happen. And we initially had just planned to write them ourselves and write them in with the yard signs. We were just going to keep replacing yard signs on Monument Avenue. And my partner in signs started talking to a few friends and they were really interested. And then I knew a couple of historians that we thought might be interested too. And we just kind of kept talking to people and everyone was like, this is what I've been wanting to be doing! The group of rogue historians continued to grow. They communicate by a text channel, bouncing ideas off each other. The group partnered with Studio Two Three, a local collective, feminist printmaking studio to print a Zine featuring the markers and a map of how to find them. History is Illuminating: So there's about 10 members in the group, they're all different races, genders, sexualities, ages, all of those different representations. And there are people in the group who wanted to participate in the signage and have no interest because they are way too busy to participate in social media or anything like that. I think it's important to just keep going back to everybody and saying, who wants to participate in this, or have an opinion and let us know if you think this is a good idea or not. The name History is Illuminating is meant to indicate that it is the act of studying history itself that can illuminate the present. I choose to read it as History Can Be Illuminating. To the extent that the statues that used to stand on Monument Avenue “teach” history when combined with tour guides, they teach the battle history and the aesthetics of quitting the federal government. That history has a lot of facts in it, but what might be more illuminating could be a discussion about the reasons of the war, or the backlash against Reconstruction. History is Illuminating: When I came to them and told them I wanted the name History is Illuminating, they were kind of taken aback and they were like, I don't know how people are going to feel about hearing history. The word history seems like a bad word so often. And it's so true that so often history has been manipulated and utilized to hold people down, which is so true in the Lost Cause narrative. The people in our group realized that working in history and listening to the people getting frustrated and angry, that if we take these monuments down without taking a moment to educate people about the larger picture of why these monuments are offensive to so many people and not simply the things that people are saying in their head, the one liners from history classes as children, once you start realizing these larger pictures and you start to realize that it is unjustifiable that they're still here in our communities or even if it is justifiable that they're still here, we need to be telling the whole story. The markers are created using a CNC machine which chisels the text and creates a convincing-looking historical marker. Members of History is Illuminating are quick to point out that the markers are not intended to be confused for an official marker, but they clearly evoke the medium. In episode 42 of Museum Archipelago, author and historian Freddi Williams Evans and activist Luther Gray describe their efforts to go through more official channels to erect historical markers in New Orleans, Louisiana. Like Richmond, there was plenty of commomentation going on in New Orleans, but like Richmond, there was almost nothing that acknowledged the city’s slave trading past or powerful backlash against Reconstruction. History is Illuminating’s approach demonstrates some of the advantages of bypassing the official channels: they can act quickly to comment on the changing situation on Monument Avenue. History is Illuminating: We did the signs in chronological order. And since the Monuments themselves are not in chronological order, it's a little weird, but it works out. We wanted to talk about Black history and what was occurring to Black people in the city of Richmond concurrently with what was happening as these monuments were raised surrounding the white history. So like the first sign is Dusk of Black Power, Dawn of Jim Crow, and it discusses members of the Virginia Black men who served in the Virginia general assembly between 1869 and 1890 and 1890 was the date this monument went up, and the first act of the 1889 elected Virginia Senate was to accept the Lee monument. Another marker erected by History Is Illuminating describes John Mitchell Jr, a business person and editor of the Richmond Planet, which was Richmond’s Black newspaper at the time, and quotes what he wrote on the occasion of the unveiling of the Robert E. Lee statue in 1890. History is Illuminating: John Mitchell Jr. wrote on the unveiling that “the South’s reverence for its former leaders slowed progress and forged heavier change with which to be bound.” And he also stated that, “Black men were here to see this monument raised and we'll be here to see it torn down.” It is also illuminating to realize that even within the history and museum fields, going rogue and staying anonymous can be the easiest ways to get something like this done. History is Illuminating: Trying to move forward in a way that everyone gets a little bit more education and understands the fuller picture. It's something that a lot of museum organizations, because they are held accountable by donors or grants or things like that often have to tiptoe around and are not able to just come out and say flatly and the idea of bringing some other discussions up within the community is unsettling to many people, even within the historic fields itself. There’s also a technological story here. It used to be that only civic institutions could raise the funds to make something like Monument Avenue. History is Illuminating: What's so interesting in the city of Richmond is actually just like how all of these monuments were written. Historically, the way that monument commissions work is somebody will say, “Oh, we need a monument for this person.” And someone in the monuments commission or someone involved in the city says, yes, yes, that's a great idea. Let's create a commission for that and they'll come together. And it's a lot of experts. It's not like they don't know what they're doing, but they'll all sit down in a circle and kind of say, “yes, just I am an academic and I work in museums or I work in public history or yada, yada, yada.” They think they know what is right for everybody. And then they'll go to Richmond city council or some whoever's community city council and say, we need X amount of dollars for this piece of public art in front of this building. And they'll say, “yes, yes, that sounds great.” And then they'll go and interview a bunch of artists and choose the piece of art. But at no point, is there actually -- and these are not elected officials -- at no point does the community actually get a say in the construction of it, this monument, which is exactly what happened all along Monument Avenue. Today, historians can go rogue because the tools of producing and erecting historical markers are relatively inexpensive. The technology to 3D print a convincing life-size statue of anyone or anything is right around the corner. Today, museums are expensive and require huge funding structures to start. But they won’t be forever: the tools of museum building at every level are posed to become much cheaper. And when that happens, it won’t just be historians going rogue. History is Illuminating: If anyone is interested, they can download our Zine for completely free on Studio Two Three's website. They can donate if they want to, but I mean like it's really not a big deal. Um, we are encouraging people that if you can't afford to donate or just don't have it in you right now, that's totally fine. Fine. We'd much rather, instead of donating, you have that really hard conversation with a relative or friends that you've been putting off. [Outro]
Chris Newell remembers the almost giddy level of excitement he felt when he visited the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine as a kid. Every summer, the family drove for more than two hours for his father to perform songs about their Passamaquoddy language at the Native Market and the Native American Festival hosted by the museum. But even as a young person, Newell could clearly see the difference between the the Native Market and the Festival, which were run by members of the Wabanaki Nations, and the Museum itself, which was not. Today, Chris Newell, a Passamaquoddy citizen, is the first member of the Wabanaki Nations to lead the Abbe Museum. When he took on the role, the museum changed his title to Executive Director and Senior Partner to Wabanaki Nations, one of many steps toward decolonizing the museum and shifting power. In this episode, Newell describes how to spot a colonial museum, how museums’ default colonial mindset—including when it comes to maps and language—harms everyone, and his plan for his tenure. Image: Beadwork by Kristen Newell (Mashantucket Pequot). Wabanaki double-curve motif with dawn time as the background. Topics and Notes 00:00 Intro 00:15 Visiting the Abbe Museum (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbe_Museum) 01:40 Chris Newell, Executive Director and Senior Partner to the Wabanaki Nations (https://www.abbemuseum.org/staff) 02:05 Akomawt Educational Initiative (https://www.akomawt.org) 02:29 Museum Archipelago Ep. 68 with endawnis Spears (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/68) 02:46 What is a Colonial Museum? 04:30 The Abbe Museum’s Decolonization Process (https://www.abbemuseum.org/blog) 05:45 The Wabanaki Nations (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabanaki_Confederacy) 06:31 What It Means to be Senior Partner to the Wabanaki Nations 08:07 Museums’ Default Colonial Mindset 09:06 How Do You Know If You’re Visiting a Colonial Museum? 09:30 Maps in the Abbe Museum 10:39 The Use of Language in the Abbe Museum 12:05 “There’s No Book” 13:24 SPONSOR: A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green, Available Wherever Books Are Sold (https://www.hankgreen.com) 14:27 Outro | Join Club Archipelago (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://museum.substack.com/) to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 83. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Chris Newell remembers visiting the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine as a kid. His father was hired to put on educational performances, to perform songs about their Passamaquoddy language, history and culture at the Native Market and the Native American Festival hosted by the museum. So every summer, the family would drive the two and a half hours from their home Motahkmikuhk. Newell looked forward to it year after year with an almost giddy level of excitement. But even as a young person, Newell could clearly see the difference between the surrounding events, like the Native market and the Festival, which were run by members of the Wabanaki Nations, and the Museum itself, which was not. Chris Newell: Back then, the Abbe Museum was more of a traditional ethnographic collection, a lot of lithics and things like that, so when it came to the museum itself, it did feel very much like a colonial museum. It was a Bar Harbor institution, not necessarily a Wabanaki institution. So I definitely felt a lot more connection to things like the events, the Native American festival and those because those were Native run and the Abbe supporting them. Although I knew what the Abbe had, I knew the special collection, I knew the treasure that they have as far as the history of my peoples, Passamaquoddy people as well as Wabanaki peoples in general. and so I've always been attracted to what is available in the Abbe. Back then as a child, I felt it was kind of two different spaces. Today, Chris Newell, a Passamaquoddy citizen, is the first member of the Wabanaki Nations to lead the Abbe Museum. Chris Newell: Hi everybody. My name is Chris Newell and I am the director of education for the Akomawt Educational Initiative, also a cofounder, and I'm also the executive director and senior partner to Wabanaki nations for the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine. Chris Newell cofounded the Akomawt Educational Initiative in 2018 with endawnis Spears (Diné/ Ojibwe/ Chickasaw/ Choctaw) and Dr. Jason Mancini. Akomawt is a Passamaquoddy word for the snowshoe path. At the beginning of winter, the snowshoe path is hard to find. But the more people pass along and carve out this path through the snow during the season, the easier it becomes for everyone to walk it together. On episode 68 of this show, we interviewed Spears about how the Initiative was born out of their experiences seeing colonial museum practices across present-day New England.So what do we mean when we say colonial museum -- outside the context of Colonial Williamsburg, of course. Chris Newell: this kind of goes off of my colleague endawnis Spears who was on Museum Archipelago before: museums are colonial artifacts. The idea of a museum comes with colonization. And tribal museums, even in their own right, are using that colonial artifacts methodology as a way to present their native histories, although they do it in different in a tribal museum. In a non-tribal museum largely it's based off of the American Conservation Movement, which started in the 19th century. And when it came to museums and especially the way museum content was created, colonial museums would oftentimes focus on tribes that they felt at the time were less impacted, which would have been Western Plains tribes and Southwestern tribes. Chris Newell: So if you go into a non-tribal museum that has native content, a colonial museum, then what you typically see is a presentation of native cultures from through the lens of anthropology and archeology. And a lot of those voices, 99% of those voices, especially in the past were non-native voices that were framing that lens on how to view our cultures and so it's not uncommon to see things that may seem out of place. So to go to a Northeastern museum that has a Native collection and to see only Plains artwork or only Southwestern pottery and no Wampum art, no Ash Splint basketry is really kind of an old fashioned way of presenting things that goes back to a mode of thinking that really originated in the idea that Native people were going to vanish at one point, and that we needed our history saved by an outside force. And that's literally what the colonial museum represents is that mindset. And the Abbe Museum is rooted in that mindset. Opened in 1928, it housed the collection of Native American objects gathered by radiologist Robert Abbe in a purpose-built building. Newell was hired to lead the Abbe Museum in February 2020, just before lockdowns due to Covid-19 began. But the decolonization process had been going on at the museum for the past five years. Chris Newell: The Abbe Museum has gone through the past five years under the previous executive director, the president-CEO at the time, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, a decolonization process. And part of that was not just in the content of the museum, which centers Native voices now, but also in the structure of the way the museum is run. And the Abbe has, over time, restructured its board to become a majority Wabanaki board. So, as a colonial museum that presents Wabanaki history, we are probably the only museum that has that structure, where the voice of the people that we are representing is now centered and also is governing the institution itself. When the changeover in directorship happened, the museum changed the title from president and CEO to executive director and Senior Partner to Wabanaki Nations as part of this decolonization process and the shift of power. Chris Newell: The Wabanaki tribes of today are five tribes, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Miꞌkmaq, Maliseet, and Abenaki tribes and the history, there was 20 tribes at one point , but currently there are five tribes. Wabanaki are, is an overarching term for the cosmology of the peoples in those tribes in the belief, in the Gloosekap stories, a creation named Gloosekap created our people from the ash trees and gave us the name Wabanaki, which is the anglicized version of in Passamaquoddy Wolastoqiyik, which would translate to the people of the Dawn. Collectively, that's how we see ourselves. We understand that we are the Eastern most tribes on the continent. And we are all connected in that way. So when it comes to that portion of my job, I take it very, very seriously. There's no book, right? There's no example for me to follow. I think about the museum world and the lack of representation by native people in the museum world. There's a history for the reason why that is, but what I always tell people is that it doesn't not do us any good as native people to be absent from these spaces. No matter what these spaces are interpreting our cultures and our histories and everything else, therefore we need to be present there. 85% of native people work in the museum field as an entry level of visitor services or security. And very few of us get up into the intellectual leadership positions and what I would want to do, in the long run, I would love to see the Abbe museum have full Wabanaki staff. I mean, that would be the, the biggest goal I could actually have, but how do I do that? I need to partner the community into the museum world. That way, the Abbe always feels like a welcoming space to any of the community members from the Wabanaki communities in Maine and beyond. Newell acknowledges that encouraging members of the Wabanaki Nations to work at the Abbe Museum can be an uphill battle because of the racist history of museums like it. Chris Newell: The way museums in the past have done things like hold on to Native American remains that has, you know, the older generation would not go into those physical spaces because of that. The Abbe museum is one of the places where we have repatriated all of those remains and we're making it into a welcome space and that's a big change for the museum world. But even outside of holding onto human remains, there are many examples of how museums’ default colonial mindset can—in addition to everything else—lead to a worse visitor experience. Chris Newell: As somebody that used to work in a tribal museum, it was not uncommon for me in that space for a non-native visitor, whether a child or adult to ask whether the tribe that we were presenting the history of still existed. There's a lot of people in this world that still think that Native people are all dead and gone, and that's oftentimes reinforced by their childhood experiences and their adult experiences going into a colonial museum and seeing artifacts that are only from the past or seeing our work that is only from the past. And so for museums to update or be decolonized the way that they present themselves. They really gotta get out of that mode of trying to save a vanishing culture, but rather hosts the art in the histories of the living cultures that exist here now. One of the easiest ways to tell if you’re visiting a colonial museum is if it doesn’t ask you as the visitor to normalize some aspect of the culture presented. So an Abbe Museum experience that only features maps with modern-day political borders, or is entirely in English, is not doing a good job of presenting the culture that members of the Wabanaki Nations share. Chris Newell: Two dimensional maps are, of course, a European a derivation or creation, Native people map the world in a different way. And we use songs, very long songs and orations to map our territory. But if you go into the exhibits, what we did was we did create a two dimensional map of all of Wabanaki territory, but we took out the roads and the cities and all the colonial borders. And then when you see the landscape that way, representative in that fashion, you see how it all of a sudden makes sense how our tribes existed, the riverways that separated our territories and all of those things. Chris Newell: And you can see how people traveled, great distances, how they would portage from one river to another. So it’s also is going to enrich the experience for the non-Wabanaki visitor, because they're really going to be able to, you know, see our perspective in our worldview in our language and the way we view land, all of those things, not an interpretation, but rather a first person perspective, which is really, really a powerful and impactful way. Bar Harbor, Maine is an international tourist destination—cruise ships dock there. Today, the museum’s exhibits and signage are mostly in English, but Newell hopes that under his tenure, much more Native language gets incorporated to the point where a non-Wabanaki visitor will have learned some Native words before they leave the museum. Chris Newell: Iit gets rid of the implicit bias that colonial museums have been feeding for so long. When the early English would arrive in the 17th century, they would use the word “improvement” as a reason for taking over and subduing land. Building things like farms, permanent housing. But nowadays in America we used a word development to do the exact same thing, but when we use that word development, what we mean is we're about to dig up a big plot of that life giving life cycle, and we're going to do something and build something, but really the process involved destruction first. Chris Newell: Viewing the landscape through the different languages really gives you a window into the different mindsets. The use of language I think is probably the best bridge that I can draw for making all of that happen. When an English speaker learns some of our language and learn some of our worldview through it, they have experienced something. And so for the non-Native museum visitor, the international visitor to come through and to learn our worldview through our language and to have it normalized, you know, to have the bathroom signs to say, “skitap” and “ehpit”, you know, instead of men's and women's,, and for people to figure that out with the international signs, you know, but they would learn, some of our wording and that’s a profound experience. As Newell says, there’s no book and there’s no guide for the process of transforming the Abbe Museum from a colonial, traditional ethnographic collection into a fully decolonized museum run by members of the Wabanaki Nations. But because of work like this, the snowshoe path becomes a little bit easier for other museums to follow. Chris Newell: We want to be informative to anyone who would walk through the door. But we also want to be informative to the Wabanaki person. And then by also doing that the Wabanaki people who already know that language come into a space that uses their worldview and then it doesn't become a Bar Harbor institution, to the Wabanaki visitor anymore. It starts to become a home away from home. We are in the land of the Dawn, no matter what. And so the Wabanaki visitor should feel that sense of welcoming one walking into that space. Chris Newell: This is really a passion of mine, a passion that was born out of my childhood, watching my father, you know, making a difference in this world. And that's what I would hope to do. I leave a lofty goal of my future in that I would hope that by the time I am done with this world, that I have changed it for the better, not just for the good of Wabanaki people, but for everybody.
In the wake of the racist murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol tore down a statue of Edward Colston, a prominent 17th Century slave trader. Protesters rolled the statue through the street and pushed it into Bristol Harbor — the same harbor where Colston’s Royal African Company ships that forcibly carried 80,000 people from Africa to the Americas used to dock. In this episode, we examine the relationship of statues and museums. Why do so many call for statues of people like Colston to end up in a museum instead of at the bottom of a harbor? Looking at examples from Dr. Lyra Montero’s Washington's Next! project in the United States, American Hall of Honor museums for college football teams, and statues of Lenin and Stalin in Eastern Europe, we discuss the town-square-to-museum pipeline for statues. Image: CC Keir Gravil (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ksagphotos/49984347227/in/photolist-2j9WR18-2jazCE1-2cbCsz3-XD7Js5-UGSVnw-2jaMmP1-YJQ5tD-bnShow-YJQ5vc-YJQ5uv-bnSgD5-bnShdd-2ja9Hsz-YtCdDN-YJQ5vH-Gp9V5R-n2dXrg-6VsrMU-PDvmUa-KCcbg9-2cbCszU-2jaQiZc-FJGAe4-2ja1X1Y-2ddat65-2ddat7s-2cbCsBY-Lo4Y6-ckDyvJ-FtWJaQ-2df5dZR-ayEzVH-TjJrC9-2j9zUv2-25qrmQH-UyYa9n-2jb5YPJ-ckDxPy-ckDwBJ-ckDxeb-8ago8j-9Tub44-2ddat4b-ckDzh5-j83Vog-T9ws1o-YDcBwm-25RX15G-UyYacZ-27oTt6N)- Black Lives Matter Protest, Bristol, UK Topics and Notes 00:00 Intro 00:15 Tim Tebow Statue at the University of Florida (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jldkfqP8Ug) 00:50 Football Hall of Honor Museums 02:02 Tearing Down Edward Colston’s Statue in Bristol (https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-bristol-53034050?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.com/news/england/bristol&link_location=live-reporting-story) 02:44 Dr. Lyra Monteiro (https://sasn.rutgers.edu/about-us/faculty-staff/lyra-d-monteiro) 03:00 Episode 77. Washington's Next! (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/77) 03:12 The “Slippery Slope” Argument 04:56 Dr. Sadiah Qureshi (https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/history/qureshi-sadiah.aspx) 05:33 Should Colston’s Statue End Up in a Museum? 05:58 Episode 5. Stalinworld (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/5) 06:42 Grūtas Park (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grūtas_Park) 07:32 Episode 25. Museum of Socialist Art (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/25) 08:20 Museums of Bristol Website (https://museums.bristol.gov.uk/narratives.php?irn=2374) 08:40 Number of Confederate Statues in the United States (https://www.splcenter.org/data-projects/whose-heritage) 09:55 Archipelago at the Movies : National Treasure is Now Free for Everyone (https://www.patreon.com/posts/archipelago-at-31845538) 10:25 Outro | Join Club Archipelago (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://museum.substack.com/) to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 82. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript The statue appeared in 2011 on the path of my daily commute to the University of Florida, where I was a student. It was a statue of a football player named Tim Tebow, and the strange thing about it was that Tim Tebow was still around. In fact, it was just a few months after he graduated, and it was commemorating events, like touchdowns, that I remembered. I remembered seeing him around campus, and now I was looking at him as a statue. But it wasn’t just a statue. Behind the statue was the entrance to a Hall of Honor which featured football trophies. But the space was not just a room with trophies, it was a story about the football program where the trophies were an inevitable consequence. In short, it looked like a museum. Reader rails and old pictures of the early days of the program were presented alongside pigskin footballs from the 1930s with good lighting. But this wasn’t just at one university. All across the football conference, these trophy rooms looked like museum spaces. At Florida State University, just a few hours away, the trophy room begins with artifacts from and descriptions of the Seminole Nation — even though these are tellingly light on the details. The point was to tie the athletic program’s success with that of historical figures fighting a US invasion. It is all done very deftly — one minute you’re looking at a map of what is now Florida drawn by a US general, and the next, you are looking at a tattered football jersey, the next bronze statue of the story’s heroes. There’s a bridge between statues and museums — they feed into each other. So why do athletic programs adopt statues and museum-like spaces? Because they want to sell us a selective account presented as a neutral archive of the past. [Audio of Edward Colston Crashing Down] Last week in Bristol’s The Centre, Black Lives Matter UK protesters tore down a statue of Edward Colston, a prominent 17th Century slave trader. [Audio of Edward Colston Rolling Through the Streets of Bristol] Protesters rolled the statue through the street and pushed it into Bristol Harbor. The same harbor that Colston’s Royal African Company ships that forcibly carried 80,000 people from Africa to the Americas used to dock. Before it was thrown in the harbor, the statue of Colston had been standing in the center of town since 1895. And it wasn’t as if the source of Colston’s wealth was just discovered last week. Lyra Monteiro: The idea of how do we make visible, for instance, the enslaved people who are invisible at all of these sites of memory that were about white supremacy when they were created. And now they still are, but we don't talk about that. How do we make that visible? You know? That's something that I've been, I've been playing around with for a long time. This is Dr. Lyra Monteiro, professor of history at Rutgers University Newark and cofounder of the Museum Onsite and the creator of Washington's Next!. In our interview for episode 77 of this show, she explains — and answers — one of the arguments against taking down white supremacists statues in the context of the United States. Lyra Monteiro: The slippery slope argument. And the people who make this argument tend not to be the ones who are like. Overtly gung ho and like, you know, it's our Southern heritage to honor Robert E. Lee. It's not those folks. It's more the people who are historians. Sometimes our historians, sometimes like museum folks. The argument that they make is that, well, yes, it's not good that there is a statue to Robert E. Lee. But the thing is if we take him down (and obviously using him to stand up for all the Confederate statues) if we take him down, well then where are we going to stop? Because the reason why he's not appropriate for us to honor and public spaces because of slavery. Well, there are other slave owners that we honor in public space, and of course the biggest ones there are George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. And of course, there's no way in hell we're going to get rid of those statues. Right? What we're going to take down the Washington monument? I don't think so. The idea is it's a slippery slope that we're setting up. If we are starting to tumble down, the minute that we start taking down the statues of people who supported and promoted slavery. Monteiro’s answer to the slippery slope argument is yes, Washington’s Next. Lyra Monteiro: The tone of voice in which I hear the slippery slope argument from scholars and from museum practitioners is, and from, you know, public parks officials is less one of panic and concern about attacking that legacy and much more one of, “Well, that's just silly! Obviously we wouldn't do that.” Dr Sadiah Qureshi, Senior Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Birmingham writes in _Flux: Parian Unpacked_ about toppling statues, “critics accused protesters of wanting to ‘rewrite’ history. Yet... fail to engage with what is really at stake... namely identifying, acknowledging and removing endemic structural problems of racism in reparative form” A suggestion offered by more than a few people is museums. Why not put the statues of problematic people in museums? Is the bottom of the harbor really the right place for a statue of Colston? Of course, these questions tend to ignore that the bottom of the ocean is the final resting place for hundreds of actual people thrown overboard from Colston’s ships because they were deemed a poor investment for Colston’s company. On Museum Archipelago, we’ve investigated what various Eastern European countries are doing with old statues of dictators like Lenin and Stalin. Monika Bernotas, who was interviewed on episode 5 of this show, describes how her family’s native Lithuania removed it’s ubiquitous Soviet statues from city squares all across the country. The removals were events that helped build the young nation, but once the statues were removed from their original locations, no one knew what to do with them. Many of them ended up at something called Grūtas Park — a kind of half-theme park that includes a massive statue garden. The statues are presented simply and somewhat randomly — each has a little description of the city and square where that statue used to stand. Many Lithuanians and the Lithuanian government have criticized the uncritical approach to the park’s layout. Visitors are free to do whatever they want. Monika Bernotas: Once you get into the actual statue walk, it’s kind of funny because you can do whatever you want. So like, climbing on top of Lenin and Stalin, picking their nose, patting them on the head, doing whatever you want. But I like to think that I have some sort of connection, some sort of understanding, that these images might have been both scary and inspirational at different times in somebody’s life. For me, they’ve been images that were bad. When I was going up I always knew that Lenin’s face that Stalin’s face, these were the faces of terror that drove my grandparents out of Lithuania. But to be able to interact with them on this very humorous level is really interesting. The situation at Bulgaria’s Museum of Socialist Art in Sofia is somewhat similar. The outdoor sculpture garden is littered with statues commemorating Soviet power placed wherever there is room. I’ve visited many times and I’m never quite sure how to react. There’s a lot of power in deliberately taking these statues out of the context they were made for. What once may have been an imposing statue underscoring who’s in charge in a public square is now gesticulating impotently at a rose bush. In Eastern Europe, the statues of Lenin and Stalin were erected during the Communist times, and were swiftly removed when the system fell. In the West, statues erected more than 100 years ago still stand without context. Washington’s Next because the money he made from owning, working, and selling people isn’t a footnote -- it is the reason he was the first president. Even at the Museums of Bristol website, Colston is identified as a “revered philanthropist / reviled slave trader”, in that order, as if the money he gave away to the city of Bristol wasn’t violently extracted from the people he enslaved. It’s not a sufficient answer to put these statues in a museum. I don’t know if there’s enough museum space for all the Confederate monuments in the American South or enough museum space for all the statues of King Leopold in Belgium. But more importantly, the political exercise in selective remembrance neatly packaged as an unbiased archive that statues represent is the same exercise that museums represent. Museums and statues are bridged together -- many of these statues are right in front of the museum entrances, priming the visitor for what they can expect to find inside. Statues and museums share a centuries-long history of supporting white supremacist, colonialist, racist ideologies and helping them flourish, and providing the evidence for them and undergirding them through their placement, through their air of authority, and through their supposed neutrality. The statues of American football players at American universities helps me think about this because the stakes are so low: the rivalry is clear. “Our football team has heroes and a long legacy.” And it is telling that the two tools that were employed make that point are statues and museums.
Old Sturbridge Village is a living history museum in Massachusetts depicting life in rural New England during the early 19th century. But the early 19th century isn’t specific enough for the site’s historical interpreters—to immerse visitors in the world they’re recreating, knowing exactly what year it “is” matters. Tom Kelleher, Historian and Curator of Mechanical Arts at Old Sturbridge Village was tasked with choosing that “default” date. He chose 1838 in part because the social and political change of that time period would resonate with today’s visitors. But there’s another aspect of the year that will resonate with visitors today once the museum reopens after closing due to Covid-19: how people in New England responded to the Cholera Pandemic of the 1830s. In this episode, Kelleher describes the difference between first and third person interpretation, and how visitors might react to seeing 19th century costumed interpreters with modern facemasks. Topics and Notes 00:00 Intro 00:15 What does the word interpreter mean? 00:56 Tom Kelleher, Historian and Curator of Mechanical Arts at Old Sturbridge Village (https://www.osv.org/explore-the-village/costumed-historians-artisans-and-farmers/) 01:34 Old Sturbridge Village (https://www.osv.org/) 02:30 First-Person Interpretation 03:30 Third-Person Interpretation 05:35 “Who’s the president?” 06:50 Picking a default year 07:40 How people in New England responded to the Cholera Pandemic of the 1830s (https://alhfam.blog/2020/04/03/the-asiatic-cholera-pandemic-of-1832/) 09:30 Living History Museums Interpreting Pandemics 10:00 Interpreters in facemasks 10:44 Archipelago at the Movies 🍿 (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) 11:56 Outro Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://museum.substack.com/) to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 81. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] Tom Kelleher first learned what the word “interpreter” meant when he applied for a job at Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum in Massachusetts. Tom Kelleher: They posted a job for a research historian and being young and firstly minted as a historian. I thought I knew everything and I applied and they called back a few weeks later and said, I'm. Sorry, you didn't get a job. Tom. Um, and I went to hang up saying, thank you because it was nice of them to tell me. And they said, would you be interested in being an interpreter? And I thought for a minute and said, well, my Spanish isn't that good. I don't think I could do that. And they said no you don't understand. The people who explain the past are called interpreters. They interpret the past for the present. Today, over thirty years later, Kelleher is Historian and Curator of Mechanical Arts at Old Sturbridge Village and one of the museum’s longest-serving employees. Tom Kelleher: Hello, my name is Tom Kelleher. I’ve been working in the living history field, which is wearing the clothing of people of the past and trying to have the past make sense for the present. I work at a living history outdoor museum in Massachusetts called Old Sturbridge village. And I literally and figuratively wear a lot of hats. And one of them is, I'm the one in charge of initially training all our new costumed historians or historical interpreters depending on what term you like. A living history museum recreates historical settings to simulate a past time, providing visitors with an experiential interpretation of history. Old Sturbridge Village is a living history depicting life in Rural New England, set on a couple of hundred acres. The museum features over 40 historical buildings -- most are antique buildings that have been moved and restored to the site. There’s also three water-powered mills and a working farm with animals. Tom Kelleher: It's not a recreation of the town of Sturbridge or anywhere else. It's more like a slice of life, a historical sampler. So in a couple hours of walking around, a day of walking around, you can get an idea of what life was like in early 19th century New England. And one of the ways the museum gives visitors an idea of what life was like in early 19th century New England is historical interpreters. In the business of historical interpretation, it turns out, there are two broad categories: first person interpretation and third person interpretation. Tom Kelleher: What's called first, first in a role, playing, pretending you're a person from the past explaining how the past worked over a particular time and place. You, me as the historian pretends that I don't know anything past whatever year I'm portraying. For example, Plymouth Plantation, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, there are costumed staff that pretend it's 1627. They have this confusion thing, which then I think puts a burden on the public because then instead of being an interpreter, you're not making things clearer, which is what an interpreter should do, but just confusing the situation. An example, I give my new staff all the time of bad roleplaying interpretation is people ask, where's the bathroom? And you get this at some sites, you know, you say, excuse me, where's the bathroom? And they go, “Bath? Why I haven’t had a bath! You'll catch your death of cold bathing. I wash my face, I wash my hands with water, but oh my, why would anyone immerse themselves?” So you know, the kid there, he got a kid who needs to go to the bathroom, for heaven's sake, just point right over there! The historical interpreters at Old Sturbridge Village interact with visitors in third person. Tom Kelleher: When you're in third person, you're wearing the costumes, the clothing of an earlier time and place. And you're doing the work of an earlier time in place, but you are not pretending that the people you're talking to are wearing strange clothes and our magic inventors with all their electronic technology. You just try to have conversations with them to try to relate to how the past in present, interact, or as I like to say, you don't know where you are until you know where you've been. And so I think while I do a lot of role playing at Old Sturbridge village, most of us are not in character at any one point in time, but we're just portraying the past to try to make it make more sense to the present. In a museum without historical interpreters, the date and place don’t necessarily have to be specific. But a historical interpreter exists in a specific date and place. Whether they are first person or third person interpreters, the visitor experience depends on that anchor in time and space. Tom Kelleher: One of the drawbacks if you will of living history of portraying clothes is, is that you do have to narrow down your time period. And truthfully, we as an institution at Old Sturbridge Village, wrestled with that for a number of years. When the museum was founded, we opened to the public in 1946. It was kind of like, well, you know, about 200 years ago, about 1800. About, about, about, it was hazy. But they weren't doing a lot of costumed interpretation at the time. But in the early 1970s, Old Sturbridge Village and a number of other sites in the United States and Canada especially started getting serious about making sure our clothing was more accurate. And the tools and techniques we were using, the recipes the ladies would cook in the houses, that kind of thing, were more authentic. And it started dawning on us that you couldn't just show a 50 year old span. I mean, if you're trying to show a 50 year time span from 1970 to 2020. How should people dress? How should they act? What kind of devices should they be using? And so it gets confusing. An example is a visitor asking an interpreter: who’s the president? For first-person interpreters at Plymouth plantation, that’s a difficult question to answer: in 1627, not only was there no United States or heads-of-state who used that term, organizations that might have used the word president were few and far between. But even for a third person interpreter at Old Sturbridge Village, answering that question requires a specific date. Tom Kelleher: Well, it depends. Andrew Jackson was president from 1829 to 1837 Martin van Buren was president from 1837 until 1841. So what specific year are you in? And so they might go into the shoe shop and ask the Shoemaker, “who's the president?” And it'll say, Andrew Jackson, and he'll be right. And the same people might be in the printing office later in the day. And the printer says, Martin van Buren. And the guy said, well, wait a minute. The guy in the shoe shop thinks it's Andrew Jackson. So we decided that you have to pick a year. And frankly, about 10 years ago, the administration told me, “Tom pick a year.” I agonized and justified it. And I arbitrarily, not arbitrarily, but with a lot of reasons that nobody needs to know about, picked 1838. And so that's our default year. We don't really make a big deal of that to the public, but our staff knows that when push comes to shove, when somebody asks, what year is it, who's the president? We’re 1838. Picking a specific date also allows the museum to go back in time. People in 1838 would be using objects and recalling events from earlier decades.Kelleher points to more rapid means of communication, widespread substance abuse, a widening disparity of wealth, rapid technological development, rising consumerism, and growing political divisions as aspects of the 1830s that resonate with visitors today. But there’s another aspect of 1830’s that resonates with visitors today -- or at least it will once the museum opens up again after its closure due to Covid-19: how people in New England responded to the Cholera Pandemic of the 1830s, also known as second cholera pandemic. Tom Kelleher: At Old Sturbridge Village, we interpret health and healing a lot of ways. Cholera is an infectious, uh, bacterial disease, usually from poor sanitation. Is that still fairly prevalent on the planet. In the 19th century, people didn't understand until the late 19th century, didn't understand bacteriology didn't understand what caused diseases, how diseases are spread. Even more so than Covid-19, it was very scary because even though there's a lot that's unknown. The second cholera pandemic would have been in recent memory to people in 1838. And even before the current pandemic, Old Sturbridge Village portrayed 19th-century diseases and medicine as part of its presentation of the lifestyles of the time. Tom Kelleher: We do sometimes talk about the cholera epidemic and we talk a lot about a lot of diseases. I mean, the early 19th century was a time when people didn't really have a germ theory. So there was especially in the popular mind, there's very little separation between the spiritual and the physical world. There were ideas then. There was a health reformer in the 1830s named Sylvester Graham who had made a name for himself as a temperance preacher, preaching on the evils of alcohol. And he took advantage of the cholera epidemic when it came to the United States in 1832 and basically started advocating a vegetarian diet, very regular meals, no snacking, whole grain breads. So he guaranteed that if you followed his regime that you would not get cholera. A lot of people then, in the 1830s, blamed immigrants for the cholera.Softentimes, people do point fingers and scapegoat. It's “them” making “us” sick. Kelleher sees living history museums as uniquely suited to interpret public health, historical pandemics, and medicine. Tom Kelleher: Some sites actually have special event weekends that focus on epidemics. There's a place in Georgia called Westville that used to have, I think, yellow fever days, and they'd have a weekend about the panic when a yellow fever epidemic would sweep through the American South. Old Sturbridge Village, like most museums, is currently closed to the public. The farm animals and gardens are being tended to. As Kelleher and his team plan for the reopening, they know that the costumed interpreters will sport a new item of clothing when the museum opens: an anachronistic face mask. Tom Kelleher: Our museum, when we reopen, we, the costume historians are going to be wearing face masks. I mean, we're not necessarily in roll, but it is the 21st century, and that's going to be a constant reminder to the public that, you know, we're in a different time and place: not so much in the 1830s, a different time in place, but during the Covid-19 world. So yeah, I think it will be a constant reminder and perhaps even a minor shock to people that is going to be a necessity because we are, we're where we are. And how people are gonna react to it and deal with it. I don’t know. [Outro]
The British Museum’s South Asia Collection is full of Indian objects. Dr. Sushma Jansari, Tabor Foundation Curator of South Asia at the British Museum, does not want visitors to overlook the violence of how these objects were brought to the UK to be held in a museum. So for the 2017 renovation of the South Asia Collection, Jansari, who is the first curator of Indian descent of this collection, made sure to create unexpected moments in the gallery. She highlighted artifacts bequeathed to the museum by South Asian collectors and presented photographs of a modern Jain Temple in Leicester, where she’s from. In this episode, Jansari talks about giving visitors the tools to think about the colonial interest in items in the collection, why she started her excellent podcast, The Wonder House, and how not to let the decolonization movement’s momentum evaporate. Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:15 Seleucid–Mauryan war (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seleucid–Mauryan_war) 00:45 Megasthenes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megasthenes) 01:30 Dr. Sushma Jansari, Tabor Foundation Curator of South Asia at the British Museum (https://twitter.com/sushmajansari?lang=en) 02:00 How Events Are Transformed Through History 03:00 Decolonising Museums and Collections 04:21 39. Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum With James Delbourgo (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/39) 04:50 Empire and Daily Life in the U.K. 05:46 Being the First South Asian Curator of the South Asia Collection (https://twitter.com/sushmajansari/status/1053193933810008064?lang=en) 06:30 Working on the 2017 Renovation of the British Museum’s South Asia Collection 08:00 Creating Unexpected Moments in the Gallery 08:15 Mathura lion capital (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathura_lion_capital) 09:30 Visitation Trends Since the Update 10:58 “Not Just One or Two Tweaks” 11:10 Why Jansari Started The Wonder House Podcast (https://thewonderhouse.co.uk) 12:10 “Every Movement Has Its Moment” 12:30 Subscribe to The Wonder House Podcast (https://thewonderhouse.co.uk) Apple Podcasts (https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/id1486140839?ct=podlink&mt=2&app=podcast&ls=1) 13:30 SPONSOR: Pigeon by SRISYS (https://pigeon.srisys.com/museums/) 14:28 Outro | Join Club Archipelago 🏖️ (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://museum.substack.com/) to never miss an episode. Sponsor: Pigeon by SRISYS 🐦 This episode of Museum Archipelago is brought to you by SRISYS Inc - an innovative IT Apps Development Company with its Smart Products like Project Eagle - an agile messaging platform and PIGEON - a real-time, intelligent platform that uncovers the power of wayfinding for your museum, enabling your visitors to maximize their day at your venue. Using SRISYS's Pigeon, the museum's management can gather real-time data for managing space effectively about visitors while improving their ROI through marketing automation. Visitors can navigate the maze of a museum with ease, conduct automated and personalized tours based on their interest, RSVP for events, and get more information about the exhibits in front of them. Pigeon is a flexible platform and can be customized to work for your museum. And because the platform takes advantage of low-cost Beacon technology, the app works offline as well! This means less data transmission costs for the museum and bigger savings for visitors when using this app outside their home territory. Click here find out how Pigeon can help your museum. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 80. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] There’s a way to look at history that focuses on the events themselves. And then there’s a way to look at history that focuses on the fallout. In the 4th century B.C.E., Seleucus who was one of Alexander the Great’s successors, and Chandragupta, who was the first Mauryan emperor in Northern India, met for the first time by the banks of the river Indus, and they had some kind of military encounter. What kind of military encounter? Well we don’t really know. What we do know is that, following the encounter, Greek ambassador Megasthenes was sent to the Indian interior for the first time. Sushma Jansari: And he wrote an ethnography called the Indica, and it sort of described India for a Greek audience, based on, personal observation, but also the, you know, there's lots of strange storytelling as well and it, this particular text has sort of formed the, the foundation of Western knowledge of India for generations. And you can just imagine that, soldiers, British soldiers in the 19th century took translations of this particular text with them to the Northwest of India when they were exploring. So it's had a very long life, and it's a particular moment that that continues to resonate. This is Dr. Sushma Jansari, Tabor Foundation Curator of South Asia at the British Museum. Sushma Jansari: Hello, I'm Dr. Sushma Jansari. I'm the Tabor Foundation Curator of South Asia at the British museum, and when I'm not at work, I work on my podcast, which is very much a passion project, and this is called The Wonder House. We’ll get to the Wonder House in a minute, because it’s an excellent podcast, but first, as a doctorate at the University College London, Jansari studied this ancient encounter, of which only Greek descriptions survive. Sushma Jansari: that moment of meeting and connection has been completely transformed. It was transformed during the colonial period by British and Indian scholars. And you have British scholars saying, Oh, you know, so, because once ward, and he defeated this Indian general, whereas the Indian scholars wrote the complete opposite. Their take was that Chandragupta got to defeat this incoming European and he became a great leader and ruler. So actually, because of this uncertainty, I think it tells us a lot about the time we live in right now and how moments have been transformed in the past. What we can study is the fallout -- how people interpret these historic events and how that reflects on the moment they are living in now. And of course, what better way to see -- in the form of a building -- how people interpret historic events than a museum itself. Sushma Jansari: I think this is why the whole idea of decolonizing museums and collections is so important because I think up till now we've all been complicit and telling very partial stories, under the guise of trying to be neutral. And as we know, that neutrality is quite problematic and it tells a very, very, partial truth or partial version of a story. Museums are a great way to see what historic events meant to the museum builders, and I can think of no clearer example than the British Museum. Sushma Jansari: We have, you know, really incredible exhibitions on say, you know, when you're thinking of ancient South Asia, they're often on Buddhism or Hinduism or Jainism. So they have a very close religious focus. But what they don't tend to address, very rarely that I've ever seen anyway, is how did those collections arrive here? What was the colonial interest in that material and how has it been interpreted? How has it been presented? And also why, why in those particular ways? How, how has that changed over the last, you know, century or so? It's too easy to present, so-called neutral view of the ancient past and of ancient religions. But I don't think that's particularly ethical. I think if you’re going to be doing that, you need to be telling that fuller story. In episode 39 of this show, we examined Hans Sloane and the origins of the British Museum. Funded in large part by his marriage into the enslaving plantocracy of Jamaica and the Atlantic slave trade, and aided by Britain’s rising colonial power and global reach, Sloane assembled an encyclopedic collection of specimens and objects from all around the world that became the bases for the world’s first public museum, The British Museum, a place where anybody could freely enter to see the glory of the British Empire. Sushma Jansari: I think empire enfuses pretty much every aspect of life in the U.K., whether we're all aware of it or not, you know, whether it's the names of the streets, we walked down, the, the museums that were founded, the collections, they are hold the structures we still all inhabit. When we actually look around at the museums, most of the museums, I'd say in the U.K., they hold the contents of empire, you know, objects that were collected around the world by colonial officials, by soldiers, by sailors, people working abroad. You can't disentangle the two, when you are telling a story, you need to be honest and tell the whole story, or at least as much of it as you can possibly share. Because otherwise you're telling a very, very partial one that often overlooks the violence of an object's collection. and the situation and circumstances it was created, taken, purchased and brought here to the U.K. to be held in a museum. Today, Jansari is the first curator of Indian descent of the South Asia Collection at the British Museum. Sushma Jansari: In the past, truth be told, I didn't really think about it very much. I think it's only when I look at my curatorial practice and how I approach my role, the collections, who I want to work with and how I realized that actually there is a difference between what I do and what other people, you know, in a whole range of institutions bring to their role and at first I was really uncomfortable about that. I thought, my goodness, you know, is it just because of who I am and what I am? What about, you know, my academic side, and you know, all of that and my skills and knowledge, but actually I think it's. My ability to do my job is it's somehow richer. I bring a slightly different perspective to what I do and how I do it. The South Asia Collection at the British Museum is so enormous that it can capture the sweep of history of South Asia, from the Paleolithic period to the present day. The gallery reopened in 2017 and before that, it was last refurbished in 1992. Sushma Jansari: It just happens to be the largest gallery in the museum, so, Hey, no pressure. and I. Yeah, exactly. And everyone's looking, you know, the, so, you know, try not to fail on your first go. So it was, it was really tricky. and so we started by thinking, well, who actually comes to the museum and does, I mentioned over 70% of our audience comes from outside the U.K.. And if those people, a huge proportion, they. They're not very well versed in the history, cultures and religions of South Asia, so how would you present your collections in a way that shares this really incredible part of the world with people who don't know a great deal about it? And so we, decided to have a chronic thematic kind of approach. So we started with the paleolithic, which is about one and a half million years ago, and ended at the present day. The encyclopedic collections at the museum permits us to be able to do something like that. And as part of that, I sort of worked on the ancient to medieval sections, which is, the, the, the collections I cover along with, the bulk of the anthropological collections and also the textiles. It's got a mammoth collection that I look after. But as part of that, I was very keen to introduce moments where, you know, slightly unexpected stories and people were presented. So for example, in the main aisle, you walk down, one of the first sculptures you encounter is the Mathura lion capital, which dates about the first century A.D. And it was actually excavated and request to the museum by a South Asian collector, Bhagwan Lal Indraji. And I put a portrait of him on that, on the label as well as a little bit of text explaining it. Cause I wanted people to be confronted by South Asians in the South Asia gallery. It's not enough to, you know, display “their” culture and “their” collections and “their” history. I think it has to be a shared enterprise and, you know, in another section, for example, in the Jainism in Western India, the medieval section, I included photographs of the Jain temple from Leicester, which is where I'm from in the U.K.. I wanted to show that the sculptures on display, they are just as much part of British culture, as it was, you know, back then in the medieval period, it's not just some alien religion and alien culture. It's, it's our shared culture now. I think it's really important to sort of connect the dots. So you do share this, sort of broad sweep of history and culture, but then you want to also intersperse it with these other really important moments linking, you know, who and what you might see around you as you're going about your everyday life in the U.K. and linking it with, with the past as well. I asked Jansari if she’s noticed changes in who visits the gallery and how much time they spend there since the update. Sushma Jansari: I'm very interested in who's there, how they engage with different displays, how I can sort of tweak them to make them more engaging. And I have definitely noticed that there are more, South Asians in the gallery space, the South Asia section. This is a really tricky one because, although you hope that a museum is for everybody. The reality is that as you say, a lot of people don't feel that the museum is for them and it's, it's, it's, it's terrible because obviously the museum is for everybody, but once again, when you have very neutral displays and people aren't addressed. People aren't consulted, you aren't working with members of the community. I think it's understandable why they might feel somehow excluded from these spaces. And you know, we've all had moments where we've been chatting to people and they assume that a museum is not for them. It's somehow seen as a very different othering space. And when you see the workforce inside the museum, also predominantly white, and. There are very few members of, you know, black and minority ethnic staff in the museums. Once again, what sort of message are you trying to share with everybody else? You're saying, Hey, come come to our museum, but you got work here. You know how, how. How do you change that? And I think it's not just one or two tweaks. I think it's a fundamental reimagining of what exactly a museum is and who exactly this museum is for and how do those parts come together? I'm not sure that we yet have those answers, but what I think is really, really important is that we start having these conversations and we start experimenting. And this is one of the reasons why Jansari started the Wonder House podcast. The podcast, which is completely independent of the British Museum, is a way for Jansari to share the most innovative contemporary approaches to decolonization. Sushma Jansari: And so I got in touch with some people whose work I really respect, and I asked them if they were willing to talk about their work, what they learned, what they, what they thought didn't work quite so well, and share their stories and experiments with decolonizing so that everybody could have a chance to listen in on a friendly conversation. See what aspects might work for them, their collections, their institutions, and sort of feel supported and encouraged to experiment. What I love about The Wonder House is being able to listen in on these conversations that might not be happening in museums themselves, but are happening at coffee houses and pubs nearby. And the show explores the scale too -- you hear Jansari, who works at one of the largest institutions in the world in conversation with people who might be their museum’s only curator. Sushma Jansari: Because I think I really worry that the decolonize that the decolonizing museums, sort of incredible energy that it has right now. It's quite easy for that to evaporate. Every single movement has its moment, and unless we embed this kind of, knowledge and approaches, it's going to evaporate and not just the collections, but also, you know, the simple fact that you know, many of us who work in museums, you're often one of the only one or two. black and minority ethnic people in an entire institution. That's not easy. Jansari studies the ancient world, but now she is at the forefront of modern museum interpretation, printing not just the event, but also how the event rippled through history. Remember the story about Seleucus, and Chandragupta from the beginning of the episode? Sushma Jansari: And in fact, that Indian interpretation of that moment has won out. And actually if you read, historical novels, modern comics, if you watch, Indian films and Indian TV series, that's exactly the vision of Chandragupta that we have now. It's evolving all the time. you know, ideas are being shaped and reshaped, almost day by day at the moment. And I think that's really exciting. [OUTRO] Sushma Jansari: I remember one time I saw somebody just from the corner of my eye looking, really, it looks as if they're really focusing close on a particular textile. I thought, Oh my God, what is it? Know what's going on? So I wandered over and actually she had a compact out. I was applying her lipstick, so it's always good. You know, you assume you created this amazing display, but you know what?
The modern museum invites you to touch. Or it would, if it wasn’t closed due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The screens inside the Fossil Hall at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC say “touch to begin” to an empty room. The normally cacophonous hands-on exhibits at the Exploratorium in San Francisco sit eerily silent. Museum exhibit developer Paul Orselli of Paul Orselli Workshop says he’ll be reluctant to use hands-on exhibits once museums open up again. But he hopes that future hands-on exhibits are more meaningful because museums will work harder to justify them. In this episode, Orselli predicts what hands-on exhibits could become, the possibility that the crisis will encourage museums to adhere to universal design principles instead of defaulting to touchscreens, and how Covid-19 might finally put an end to hands-on mini grocery store exhibits in children's museums. Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:15 Hands-On Exhibits in Museums 01:00 Michael Spock (https://bostonchildrensmuseum.org/michael-spock) 02:04 Paul Orselli (https://www.orselli.net) 02:40 The Growth of Hands-On Exhibits 03:30 “The last thing I want to do is rush into a super-crowded museum” 04:40 “Empty Interaction” 06:50 27. Yo, Museum Professionals (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/27) 07:30 The Future of Touchscreens 09:14 Universal Design Principles 10:20 The End of Mini-Grocery Store Exhibits 11:00 “Constraints Are A Good Thing For Creativity” 11:40 Archipelago at the Movies : National Treasure is Now Free for Everyone (https://www.patreon.com/posts/archipelago-at-31845538) 12:15 SPONSOR: Pigeon by SRISYS (https://pigeon.srisys.com/museums/) 13:10 Outro | Join Club Archipelago (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://museum.substack.com/) to never miss an episode. Sponsor: Pigeon by SRISYS 🐦 This episode of Museum Archipelago is brought to you by SRISYS Inc - an innovative IT Apps Development Company with its Smart Products like Project Eagle - an agile messaging platform and PIGEON - a real-time, intelligent platform that uncovers the power of wayfinding for your museum, enabling your visitors to maximize their day at your venue. Using SRISYS's Pigeon, the museum's management can gather real-time data for managing space effectively about visitors while improving their ROI through marketing automation. Visitors can navigate the maze of a museum with ease, conduct automated and personalized tours based on their interest, RSVP for events, and get more information about the exhibits in front of them. Pigeon is a flexible platform and can be customized to work for your museum. And because the platform takes advantage of low-cost Beacon technology, the app works offline as well! This means less data transmission costs for the museum and bigger savings for visitors when using this app outside their home territory. Click here find out how Pigeon can help your museum. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 79. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] The modern museum invites you to touch. Or it would, if it wasn’t closed due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The screens inside the Fossil Hall at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC say “touch to begin” to an empty room. The normally cacophonous hands-on exhibits at the Exploratorium in San Francisco sit eerily silent. And the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia-- which is inviting you right there in its name--has presumably stopped running commercials. Please Touch Museum Commercial: “No need to keep your hands by your side here. Exhibits are rich in detail, encouraging children to touch, feel, and see the way everyday things in our lives work… to learn more and to plan your visit, visit pleasetouchmuseum.org. Interactivity in museums in the form of hands-on exhibits has been a trend since 1962, when Michael Spock, director of the Boston Children's Museum, removed “do not touch” signs from the display cases. Since then, hands-on exhibits have served as a way for museums to indicate they’re free of their paternalistic past; that knowledge doesn’t come from on high, but instead comes from the vistor’s own curiosity, investigation, and play. Paul Orselli: Traditionally in science centers there were all of these science content that lend themselves to physical and interactive demonstrations and in a children's museum, they were very much concerned about multi sensory approaches and engaging, different types of learning styles. You know, full body and kinesthetic. When the bulk of your audience is preschoolers, they can't read, so you need to engage them in some other way. I think that's traditionally where interactive have lived in science centers and children's museums. This is Paul Orselli of Paul Orselli Workshop, who knows a lot about science centers and children's museums. Paul Orselli: Hello. My name's Paul Orselli. I'm the chief instigator at Pow: Paul Orselli Workshop. That's my company that specializes in museum exhibit development and consulting. Before I started running my own business, and I worked inside museums, I sort of oscillated back and forth between the science center world and the children's museum world. But hands-on exhibits spread further than science centers and children's museums. They spread to art museums and history museums and natural history museums too. Paul Orselli: And I think the reason that interactive approach expanded was that those other types of museums realized that this interactive or immersive approach helped them reach a broader audience. As more and more museums become more and more concerned with reaching a broader audience, one of the opportunities for them to explore, or one of the tools in their toolbox are interactive exhibits and experiences. So, the question is, will visitors still want to use hands on exhibits once museums open again? Is the trend that started in 1962 over? Paul Orselli: as a museum designer and as a visitor, the last thing I think I want to do immediately after museums open up again is to rush into a super crowded museum. We're sort of training people in the era of covid-19 and maybe future pandemics to socially distance and be careful about touching surfaces and objects and so on and so forth. Part of me wants to say, especially as it relates to children's museums, even before covid-19, it wasn't like they were the most rigorous cleaned places in the world. So the thing is, it's kind of hard, for my friends in the museum world with a straight face to say, well, we're. We're just gonna, be more rigorous with our cleaning schedules and our cleaning regimen. I mean, are you really gonna trail after hundreds of visitors in a, in a decent size museum and sort of wipe down everything they've touched after they touch that. One thing that Orselli can see happening is that hands-on exhibits will need to work to justify themselves a little harder during the planning stages. He sees the end of so-called “empty interaction.” Paul Orselli: There are lots of good examples, but maybe there are also some examples of things that I would consider primarily empty interaction. And a good example of that is a flip label. You know, here's one piece of texts and information on a little flap or a door, and to encounter the rest of the information or to get an answer to a question, you have to open up the flap and you get the rest of the textual or graphic information. I mean, that's interactive in the sense that you had to do something to sort of complete the informational circuit, but that might be about the lowest level of interaction possible. When I teach graduate students, one thing I often say is the flip label is the last vestige of an exhibit scoundrel. You know, it's like somebody who's not really somebody who's not really putting in the work, you know, they just sort of mailed it in. “Oh, we can put a bunch of flip labels here, or we can put a flip label here, and then that's something for kids to do.” It's sort of a challenge because now that I mentioned that about flip labels, it's sort of like, whoa, could you actually design a flip label experience that is more of a conversation or open-ended or engaging in terms of an intellectual sense and not just sort of this base level, tactile or mechanical sense. And, you know, I'm sure you, I'm sure you can. It's that when it's misused or thoughtlessly used. You know, the end results are just bad. We can't just so glibly and unthinkingly employ something like a push button as we did before. And I, and honestly, I don't know that that's a bad thing because then it sort of forces us to think, well, how could we provide a satisfying experience and what are the interfaces or other kinds of opportunities that we could provide that would let people, you know, that would carry the content, that would carry the emotional ideas that we want to carry across? In episode 27 of this show, I argued that there’s a certain type of content that digital media is best suited to: systems simulation. Understanding Concepts like climate change requires thinking about how complex systems interact with one another, and computer simulations allow for that type of enquiry. It’s almost like a video game: visitors try to find the edge of the rules of the world, expect in an exhibit about climate change, those rules are the rules of atmospheric and oceanic physics. Right now, the best understood and most common interface to digital media is a touchscreen. Paul Orselli: There is a certain segment of people who love their touchscreens. You know, they would, if they could fill up their museum with touchscreens, they would do it. And you know, again, I'm agnostic, touchscreens and touch tables: they are amazing tools, but now we have to be realistic. So now you're going to bring somebody into a new museum and ask them to crowd around with several other people and poke at a touchscreen after what has just happened in the world? That's a toughie. So what are some interfaces that allow visitors to interact with digital media, without a touchscreen and without requiring the visitor to touch anything with their hands? Paul Orselli: And if I think for example, of a large floor projections system. Where you could even just tap with your foot to control some different parameters or different people may be on the different corners of this large projection area could be controlling in real time different parameters. I could imagine that actually being a positive and a worthwhile experience that still takes into account a social aspect, but also a social distancing aspect as well as, you know, something that is sort of full body and it doesn't involve people touching their hands and that you don't have to sort of sanitize the floor cause people are tapping it with their feet and doing things. In his most optimistic moments, Orselli hopes that a new approach to hands-on exhibits can bring universal design front and center. Paul Orselli: Flexibility or control with something like tapping of a foot, which could easily also be somebody wheeling their wheelchair over the active area too. I mean, I think this brings the notion of universal design to a different place and a positive place. You know, these, these limitations and this triangulation between post Covid-19 perception and the notion of universal design. I'm going to be optimistic, and maybe that puts us in a, a better place, in a more thoughtful place, in a more satisfying place, ultimately, in terms of interactive experiences for visitors, which I suppose is really what this sort of all boils down to. How supported are museums as institutions in the various countries or parts of the world where they exist or how resilient our particular museums or museum structures that let them withstand these sorts of events. But Orselli sees a silver lining: an end to all those mini grocery store exhibits at children's museums. Paul Orselli: Although this might finally be like finally be a good reason for all the children's museums in the world to get rid of those horrible mini grocery store exhibits! A small room filled with lots of tactile objects that kids are just constantly pouring over and checking out and throwing into their mini baskets, and then they get put right back on the shelf. Already already it's a gigantic entropy experiment, so if you're going to keep that experience, are you, after everyone has touched something, hundreds of things, wipe and disinfect them all, and then replace them for people, you know, to just do this. I think constraints are a good thing for creativity and now we've just been thrown some public health and perceptual constraints. And we have to, we have to think about that because certainly our visitors are going to be thinking about that. Then if we don't show that, at least we're sensitive to that. Our visitors could rightfully think that we are insensitive. Not only to those design constraints and those design considerations, but insensitive to them as people who want to have fun and want to be safe. [Outro]
Museums across the globe are now closed because of Covid-19. Some of those shuttered galleries presented the science behind outbreaks like the one we’re living through. As Raven Forrest Fruscalzo, Content Developer at the Field Museum in Chicago and host of the Tiny Vampires Podcast points out, the fact that museums are closed is an important statement: they trust the scientific information. In this episode, Forrest Fruscalzo discusses the people that make up public health, how museums can be a trusted source of public health information, and examples of museum galleries that incorporate public health. Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:15 Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World at the National Museum of Natural History (https://naturalhistory.si.edu/exhibits/outbreak-epidemics-connected-world) 01:06 Raven Forest Fruscalzo (https://www.tinyvampires.com/about-1) 01:45 Public Health 02:08 Information Deficit Hypothesis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_deficit_model) 03:29 Museums and Trust 06:10 Museums That Present Public Health Topics 06:38 The Ancient Americas | Field Museum (https://www.fieldmuseum.org/exhibitions/robert-r-mccormick-halls-ancient-americas) 07:04 Northwest African American Museum (https://www.naamnw.org) 07:40 Visitor Experience at Outbreak 08:40 Museum Closings Because of COVID-19 10:10 Tiny Vampires Podcast (https://www.tinyvampires.com) 11:00 SPONSOR: Pigeon (https://pigeon.srisys.com/museums/) 12:30 Outro | Join Club Archipelago (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://museum.substack.com/) to never miss an episode. Sponsor: Pigeon by SRISYS 🐦 This episode of Museum Archipelago is brought to you by SRISYS Inc - an innovative IT Apps Development Company with its Smart Products like Project Eagle - an agile messaging platform and PIGEON - a real-time, intelligent platform that uncovers the power of wayfinding for your museum, enabling your visitors to maximize their day at your venue. Using SRISYS's Pigeon, the museum's management can gather real-time data for managing space effectively about visitors while improving their ROI through marketing automation. Visitors can navigate the maze of a museum with ease, conduct automated and personalized tours based on their interest, RSVP for events, and get more information about the exhibits in front of them. Pigeon is a flexible platform and can be customized to work for your museum. And because the platform takes advantage of low-cost Beacon technology, the app works offline as well! This means less data transmission costs for the museum and bigger savings for visitors when using this app outside their home territory. Click here find out how Pigeon can help your museum. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 78. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript A few months ago, before reports of a new form of coronavirus now known as COVID-19 started appearing in the news, I visited an exhibit called Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The exhibit laid out the coordinated detective work that public health workers and many other professionals do as they identify and respond to infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola virus, and influenza. There was even a touchscreen game that invited me to work cooperatively with other visitors to contain an outbreak before it spread further. Raven Forrest Fruscalzo: So the funny thing about public health and a lot of the scientists that contribute to the knowledge that public health workers use, is that if you're doing everything right, nobody realizes that you're doing it right. It's the opposite of a glamorous job. This is Raven Forest Fruscalzo, a professional science communicator and writer who works as a content developer and production assistant at the Field Museum in Chicago, and hosts the excellent science podcast, Tiny Vampires. Raven Forrest Fruscalzo: Hello, my name is Raven Forrest Fruscalzo, I am the host of the Tiny Vampires podcast and my day job is at the Field Museum here in Chicago. So public health is a little bit of a complicated thing because there are a lot of people who do public health that maybe people don't consider them to be public health workers. Forest Fruscalzo lays out three broad groups of people working in public health: scientists, public health workers, and clinicians. The scientists generate new knowledge, the public health workers apply that knowledge by creating plans to prevent disease and increase access to treatment, and clinicians carry those plans out by directly treating people. Raven Forrest Fruscalzo: As a science communicator, I think one of the issues between scientists or health workers and the public is this thing that we say insights, communication called the information deficit hypothesis, which is basically we're assuming that people don't know things and if only we could just give them the information, then they would know and understand. Using that model, which is basically how most science has been communicated in the past. It causes a lack of trust because it's kind of this assumption that on a scientist's standpoint that other people are ignorant and we decide what information they need. That has created this massive rift of this massive trust issue because the public doesn't trust the scientists because the scientists are assuming that they're ignorant and the scientists are not trusting the public to understand. With healthcare in particular, there's a lot of emotions, people are afraid of getting sick and they also have a lot of their own personal experiences that they're trying to incorporate into what public health officials are telling them. And this is where museums come in. Raven Forrest Fruscalzo: So museums, which I think is something that you've talked to a lot of on your show about is that they have a lot of trust, their credibility is really high. There's a lot of information out there about disease and different public health aspects that are kind of all over the place. For example, burning a tick with a match. So when you have an exhibit about why it's important to remove a tick with forceps or tweezers instead of burning it with a match, if a public health worker tells them that they might be skeptical about it. This is the way that my family has been doing it for years and years. Whereas with a museum they have that credibility and they have that ability to show in more detail and in a lot of different ways why that's important. People will take that information and internalize it more than with an organization that they might not trust as much. A lot of museums are starting to do exhibits that not only incorporate what we know, but also how we learned what we know. And that really increases people's trust in that information. One of the advantage of presentations of public health within a museums is simply the context. Raven Forrest Fruscalzo: A lot of museums are starting to do exhibits that not only incorporate what we know, but also how we learned what we know. And that really increases people's trust in that information.Because if I just tell you a fact, you might be skeptical, you should be skeptical and want to look into that deeper. But if I tell you a fact and then explain to you how we got that information, your ability to trust that information vastly increases. I think a lot of exhibitions and a lot of museums have started to put a priority on that. And I think that's really important because museums in the past have done and said some really terrible things and we're constantly trying to acknowledge and move past that or at least the Field Museum is. And I think one of the ways of accounting for that is starting to tell people how they know what they know. Because if that was the philosophy of museums back when they were presenting a lot of racist information, they would not have been able to support it with scientific information or scientific research because it's not there. The new way of doing things is you can't just say things, you have to back it up. And I think that is a really important way of accounting for the past. There are a number of museums that present public health topics, either as outreach or by focusing entirely on the subject. Raven Forrest Fruscalzo: There are actually a few museums that, that's all they do. There's a public health museum in Massachusetts and then the CDC actually has a museum of their own. Museums really have the ability to make a large impact when they do public health sorts of exhibits or incorporate public health into their existing exhibits. So a good example of that is like at the Field Museum, part of our Ancient Americas exhibit is about the smallpox transfer from Europe to the Americas and how that impacted the native people of South and central America. So that's not what the exhibit was about, but it is incorporated into it. So another great example is the Northwest African American Museum in Washington. They did a really cool exhibit that was about five diseases and conditions that disproportionately affect the African American community. And there are a lot of art museums around the country who have art therapy programs that aid people who are being treated for mental illness. So there are a lot of different museums that are starting to think about what their role is when it comes to the health of their community. The Outbreak exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History opens with videos of planes taking off and landing at various airports around the world -- underscoring one of its main points that the world is connected. As I was walking through the exhibit -- and I can’t stress how abstract the threat of viruses seemed to me at the time -- I was suddenly aware of walking through the gallery with many other people. Reading about infectious diseases, I was less eager than usual to use the touchscreen exhibits with my bare hands. Raven Forrest Fruscalzo: It really is a testament to the power of that exhibit when you're pulled out of the exhibit and then realize that what it's about is something that you're currently participating in. I think that's where museums really fit in. Because they have so much experience in helping people to understand complex ideas and using lots of different types of media to make that happen. We’re broadcasting during this pandemic: the end of March 2020. Almost all of the themes presented in the Outbreak exhibit seem relevant today: that diseases aren’t “exotic, in other words, they don’t all arrive from distant places. That a connected world has advantages even during a pandemic. But as Forrest Fruscalzo points out, the fact that the National Museum of Natural History is physically closed because of COVID-19 -- and so is the Field Museum and every other museum we’ve ever featured on this show is telling in itself. Raven Forrest Fruscalzo: So museums closing I think is a really important statement that they're making. That they trust the scientific information that is being put out there. There's a lot of scientists who work at museums, but that does create a gap. Museums are where people get a lot of their scientific information, especially adults. Once you're out of school there really isn't as much access to scientific information, a lot of it's behind paywalls. So museums are institutions that the public is relying on. COVID-19 has really changed my view on how important digital media is to how the museum is interacting with the public. On her podcast, Tiny Vampires, Forrest Fruscalzo avoids the assumptions of the info deficit hypothesis as she communicate science to her listeners. Each episode is instead guided by questions sent in by listeners about insects that transmit disease and the scientists that are fighting them. And like a good museum exhibit, the question is answered with background information and the story of how scientists were able to shine a light on that particular mystery. Raven Forrest Fruscalzo: People are far more intelligent and far more understanding than the scientists, public health workers of the past gave them credit for. This whole concept of talk to people like their fifth graders is exceedingly condescending. We're all in this together regardless of our educational background or anything. So yeah, it's definitely a... We're all figuring this out and just being good stewards of the information and having really good communication.
The statue of George Washington in New York City's Union Square commemorates him on a particular day—November 25th, 1783—the date when the defeated British Army left Manhattan after the American Revolutionary War. The statue celebrates the idea that Washington brought freedom to the country, but professor of history at Rutgers University-Newark Dr. Lyra D. Monteiro researched how many people of African descent that Washington was enslaving on that same date: 271. Representing these people formed the heart of Washington's Next!, a participatory commemorative experience focused around that statue. In this episode, Monteiro describes how a tweet from President Trump was the inspiration for the name, how passersby reacted to the project, and the subtle ways that public monuments have power. Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:15 George Washington in Union Square (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equestrian_statue_of_George_Washington_(New_York_City)) 00:30 Evacuation Day (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evacuation_Day_(New_York)) 01:50 Dr. Lyra D. Monteiro (https://sasn.rutgers.edu/about-us/faculty-staff/lyra-d-monteiro) 02:35 Trump’s Tweet (https://www.washingtonsnext.com/about) 03:30 The Slippery Slope Argument 05:30 George Washington Viewed As Beyond Reproach 07:26 Washington's Next! (https://www.washingtonsnext.com/) 09:10 Making Something the Public Wants to Engage With 11:05 How Public Monuments Have Power 12:50 Museums on Site (https://www.washingtonsnext.com/the-museum-on-site) 13:20 Episode 25. The Museum of Socialist Art in Sofia, Bulgaria is Figuring Out What to Do With All the Lenins (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/25) 13:40 Outro / Join Club Archipelago (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://museum.substack.com/) to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 77. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] There’s a statue of George Washington in Union Square in Manhattan. It’s the oldest statue in New York City’s Park service; it was erected before the Civil War. it is cast to present Washington on one particular day -- November 25th, 1783 -- otherwise known as Evacuation Day. On that day, which was just after the end of the American Revolutionary War, the defeated British Army departed New York City. Lyra Monteiro: Because Manhattan was their stronghold. And most of the black people who had joined the British side with the premise of freedom were evacuated from in defiance of George Washington's terms for this surrender, for the British surrender and all that. But this particular statue of George Washington is commemorating a hugely important date for this city. It's commemorating and marking and celebrating the idea of freedom being brought to the country, and hence as a moment to look at and draw attention to the hypocrisy of all of that. That at the same time that he's being celebrated for freeing the country, he's actively enslaving a number of other people, most of them in Virginia, some with him there, and actually a couple of them getting onto boats and going up to Nova Scotia with the British because they had escaped and joined and joined that immigration. So again, that's why the specificity of this statue mattered. The number of Black people enslaved by Washington on the day commemorated by the statue is 271 -- and these people are at the heart of Dr. Lyra Monteiro’s project Washington’s Next! Lyra Monteiro: The idea of how do we make visible, for instance, the enslaved people who are invisible at all of these sites of memory that were about white supremacy when they were created. And now they still are, but we don't talk about that. How do we make that visible? You know? That's something that I've been, I've been playing around with for a long time. Lyra Monteiro: Hi, my name is Lyra Montero and I am an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University Newark, where I also teach in the graduate program in American studies and the African American and African studies department. Okay. And I also am the cofounder of the museum onsite and the creator of our most recent project, Washington's Next. The name, Washington’s Next comes from one of President Trumpʼs tweets following the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017. Trump took the opportunity to argue against movements to remove statues of Confederate generals like Robert. E. Lee, which live in prominent public places in U.S. cities. One of these tweets read, You can’t change history, “Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson - whoʼs next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!” I’m a little bit sorry to ask this, but could you lay out Trump’s argument, such as it is? What he is trying to say? Lyra Monteiro: I can explain the argument that he is referencing. How about that? Whether or not he actually understands it, I don't know. But Donald Trump took an argument that has existed, you know, probably just about as long as we've had, you know, controversies over these statues honoring Confederate leaders. That is the slippery slope argument. And the people who make this argument tend not to be the ones who are like. Overtly gung ho and like, you know, it's our, it's our Southern heritage to honor Robert E. Lee. It's not those folks. It's more the people who are historians. Sometimes our historians, sometimes like museum folks. The argument that they make is that, well, yes, it's not good that there is a statue to Robert elite. But the thing is if we take him down and obviously using him to stand up for all the Confederate statues, if we take him down, well then where are we going to stop? Because the reason why he's not appropriate for us to honor and public spaces because of slavery. Lyra Monteiro: Well, there are other slave owners that we honor in public space, and of course the biggest ones there are George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. And of course, there's no way in hell we're going to get rid of those statues. Right? What we're going to take down the Washington monument, I don't think so. You know, so. The idea is it's a slippery slope that we're setting up. If we are starting to tumble down, the minute that we start taking down the statues of people who supported and promoted slavery. So part of it, part of that slippery slope that you're describing is that, to the extent that someone like Washington encapsulates our founding myth, we can't let it touch that myth. It's too sacred and we're protecting them by protecting the statutes around them. But the things that Washington represents, the thing that, the things that I learned as a school child in the floor of the public schools about George Washington were things about his honor, and his honesty and how, thank goodness he wasn't a tyrant because America would look a lot different there as a result. And that is a very, very powerful thing. Lyra Monteiro: And the implication there is also that America is a wonderful and beautiful place. I very much come from the perspective that enslaving other human beings is one of the most dehumanizing things imaginable for the person who's doing it, too. You summed that up really well in terms of, you know, the role that George Washington, much more so than Thomas Jefferson serves as being the father of the country. It's impossible to imagine questioning anything about him. Anything about his character, as you said, he's this honest person, all of these things, we should look up to him. And you know, a lot of that is just good old fashioned nationalism and the need for a coming-out-of-nowhere nation state like the United States to create these religious symbols and these religious narratives about where it comes from. And how important it is, and then how powerful it is. And yeah, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, they are just so central to that. And so I think that when people are saying that, honestly, like when the tone of voice in which I hear the slippery slope argument from scholars and from museum practitioners is, and from, you know, public parks officials, and also frankly from Donald Trump is less one of panic and concern about attacking that legacy and much more one of, “well, that's just silly! Obviously we wouldn't do that.” And the way that he phrased that tweet really kind of like set it up very nicely for us. You know, who's next? Washington's Next! We added the exclamation point under the title also because, because our fearless leader really loves exclamation points, so, we thought it would be an appropriate thing to add. The centerpiece of Washingtonʼs Next! was a participatory commemorative experience, focused around that statue of George Washington in Union Square. Monteiro and the Washingtonʼs Next! team placed 271 empty chalkboards on the ground in front of the statue, to represent each of the 271 people. The empty chalkboards invoked erasure -- how these people are forgotten in favor of the man we’re supposed to admire. For a few hours, these chalkboards stood empty, reflecting the absence of these people from public memory, in contrast to the man depicted in the statue. Then the Washingtonʼs Next! team invited passersbys to honor individuals Washington enslaved by reading their biography and writing their name on one of the chalkboards. Lyra Monteiro: So the project actually went through several iterations. You know, the, the core of it, focusing on that statue, on the date, and on the people who were enslaved by him at that date. That quarter of the project was there for many, many months. But the, how it manifested in physical space was something that went through a number of changes. And one of the reasons was making sure that we were presenting something that would draw people in. And it turns out, yeah, I mean, those, I remember the first time that we did a test with the actual chalkboards we ended up using on the easels. It was crazy. I mean, cause you know, New York is New York has seen everything. But you would be surprised, like all kinds of other things that we'd put on the ground or other things that we'd done, you know, with different kinds of like, you know, you know, formations and costumey things that we were playing with, you know, nobody cares. But the minute they saw these like easels on the ground that were blank at that stage, everyone was like, “what's that>” And so that was when we knew. That is the thing we need because of it. You know, it doesn't make sense. I don't know what that is. You know, it's not a protest sign. It's not just some random shit on the ground. Monteiro’s philosophy is that it is important to create something that members of the public would want to engage with -- and then stick with them as they go about their lives. Lyra Monteiro: Everyone who was working the event in Union Square on that day was wearing a black t-shirt that had Washington's Next! on it. So you'd be pretty identifiable. And also holding onto these little handouts that we had. So then if people came up to us and were like, “Hey, what's going on?, we'd give them a handout. Usually the questions were much more specific. Like, “Oh, I don't get it. What's the statute?” Okay. Well, and then the thing about the handout was that it was designed very carefully to answer all of those questions live and in front of that statue. You know, here's the picture of the statue from another angle. So you can see more clearly. So this is statute George Washington. It was built in, right? You know, “George Washington had slaves?” Yeah. So here's a description of his slave ownership and blah, blah, blah. And you know, in general, and here's Mount Vernon and a map of the different plantations that he had around Mount Vernon that are not part of the tour anymore, of course, you know, and things like that. So like basically, and even though we had, we had the image of that particular tweet as well, it was part of that pamphlet. But again, you know, we weren't, we were never asking people to take it. Lyra Monteiro: They were asking us for it. And then on top of that, then we rely on word of mouth, right? So somebody does come up to us, gets a pamphlet, talks to us about the things they have questions about. They're still looking at it. Another person comes up and sees, they have a pamphlet and goes, what's this about? Lyra Monteiro: Um, because. You know, that I think has a lot more power than us being like, hey, “we're smarter than you and we know a lot of stuff. Pay attention to us!” Washinton’s Next! Ties into Monteiro’s academic work about public memory and stories around how we commemorate people in public space. Lyra Monteiro: When I teach a public introduction to public history class to undergraduates, one of our, one of the main projects they do involves studying a monument or ,emorial in Newark, so near our campus, and you know, finding out who made it, spending time by it and watching how people interact with it or don't. Inevitably, of course, usually nobody interacts with it. And if they look over it all, it's because they're like, why is the student hanging out there in this like, kind of dreary weather, you know? And the number of times that they themselves are like, yeah, I used to walk by it all the time. I never even looked. Right? And then that weird thing about monuments and what I think makes them so powerful, and any statues in of people in public space is that we don't think about them having power or mattering. And yet they do, in some ways because we don't think about them, you know, until there's a threat to them until somebody says, “Oh, yeah, no, I think I'm going to take that down.” You know, like my. Seriously, like all of my students and, and, and Rutgers-Newark is the most diverse university in the country and has been since these things have been measured. You can probably imagine that most of the statues in Newark are not to People of Color to put it mildly. And it's amazing how over the course of that project, how many of them just develop this like ferocious, cause I'd taken that project in different ways. And one of them at one point had to do with like, do you think your statute should go, especially after Charlottesville? Do you think the statute should be torn down, or should we, you know, keep it, and if we want to keep it, how would we enhance it to make it more relevant? And I was, it's always interesting to see how many of them just get so devoted to the idea of keeping the statute to the person that's already there. Even if they've never heard of that person. There's something that there's just so much power in having something set in stone, you know? Washington’s Next! is a project of Museums on Site, which is dedicated to helping people understand their worlds through free, site- and community-specific experiences. You can find more information about Washington’s Next!, see a panel discussion about the project called Monumental Racists, or get involved in other ways, by visiting washintonsnext.com. [Outro] Lyra Monteiro: My favorite joke around that to this day remains, you know, Washington and Lee university in Virginia. Yeah. So there's Washington and Lee University. I need to check up on the latest status of this cause this was like a decade ago that I originally heard about this, they were talking about, you know, getting rid of the Lee part because. Obvious reasons, but then it gets pointed out, well, what about the Washington part? Why on earth are you make a huge deal to change and rebrand your whole university? Just to eat wise, you're going to get rid of Lee. Really? And this was from people who actually got it, I think, you know, as opposed to the ones who are like that stupid. They're like, ha, ha, that's awesome. And they, and so their proposal was that they should change the name of the university to Ampersand University! Which I just adore.
Sometimes, a historical event is all about the branding. And the brand of Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts as the spot where the Mayflower pilgrims first disembarked 400 years ago this year is pretty strong. The branding is strong enough to override the fact that the Mayflower actually first landed on the other side of Cape Cod, in what is now Provincetown. The Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum commemorates that site. And even within a museum that’s trying to correct an inaccuracy, it has its own to grapple with: the museum used to portray the meetings between the members of the Wampanoag Nation and the Mayflower pilgrims with dehumanizing murals. In this episode, Courtney Hurst, board president of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, describes how the museum is working to correct these inaccuracies by working closely with the Wampanoag Nation. And as the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower arrival approaches, the museum is in the middle of yet another rebrand. Just as the word pilgrim was reframed by Mayflower passenger William Bradford as a way to tie his journey to stories in the Christian Bible, the museum is reframing the word pilgrim to include recent Provincetown history. This episode was recorded at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum on February 22, 2020. Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:15 Plymouth Rock and Historical Branding 02:00 Courtney Hurst 02:20 Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum (https://www.pilgrim-monument.org) 03:55 Portrayal of the Wampanoag Nation 04:30 Our Story 05:20 Corn Hill 06:00 Provincetown 400 (https://www.pilgrim-monument.org/provincetown-400/) 07:00 Reframing The Word Pilgrim 09:30 Spiritus Pizza Riot of 1990 (https://duckduckgo.com/?q=Spiritus+Pizza+Riot+of+1990) 10:17 Historical Brands are Powerful 11:30 Archipelago At the Movies 🎟️ (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) 12:20 Outro/Join Club Archipelago (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://museum.substack.com/) to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 76. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Sometimes, a historical event is all about the branding. And the brand of Plymouth Rock as the spot where William Bradford and the Mayflower Pilgrims first disembarked is pretty strong. In the American tradition that I grew up learning, the Rock symbolized the Pilgrim’s arrival in what is now the United States, and the beginning of their interactions with the Native Nations who lived nearby. Plymouth Rock is an easy visualization tool, a shorthand, something that sticks in your mind. But, the Mayflower didn’t first land on Plymouth Rock, or even near what is now Plymouth Massachusetts. Its first five weeks -- including the signing of the Mayflower compact -- happened in a bay on the other side of Cape Cod, near a city now called Provincetown. Courtney Hurst: I grew up in Provincetown, and when you grow up in Provincetown, and it’s all you know, it's all you ever know. So I grew up knowing that the Pilgrims landed here. And we were always taught the importance of that, the Mayflower compact, and to go out in the world and realize that not everyone was taught that is just fanicanting. They spent five and a half weeks here exploring our shores, there were a lot of significant moments before they realized that the terrain was just too rocky, not as protected from the weather. So they got back on the boat and headed to Plymouth. For whatever reason, in history books and when kids were thought, it just picks up in Plymouth. After those five weeks, the Mayflower continued on to Plymouth, where the pilgrims settled. It’s really easy to compress five weeks, particularly if they happened 400 years ago. The quest here is not just accuracy -- it’s not about saying, “well actually.” It’s to be aware that we’re all participating in historical branding -- and that monuments and museums are perhaps the best brand ambassadors. Courtney Hurst: Hello. My name is Courtney Hurst and I'm president of the board at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum. So it is interesting. Even recently, unfortunately there was some graffiti on Plymouth rock just last week. And in the news, you know, every news feed was running it, especially here locally. And it was saying Plymouth, the landing place of the pilgrims. So we were, we were calling to correct people and say, that's actually not true. The Provincetown Museum sits under the Pilgrim Monument -- a slim granite tower that dominates the skyline of Provincetown. The monument was completed in 1910 to draw attention to the fact that the Mayflower landed here first -- good branding. As a school kid, Hurst said that the top of the tower was a great place to escape with friends, and since the museum was free, she would hang out there whenever her school was between sports seasons. But during those childhood visits, she was unaware of another type of dehumanizing branding happening in the exhibits. Courtney Hurst: A whole wing used to be aligned with these huge murals, almost life size. As a kid, they felt life-size. And now that I'm talking, I see they're not, but they're big. And each one depicted a different moment in the Pilgrim's arrival and the impact on that Wampanoag Nation. So it’s their first interaction. And the Native people all look exactly alike. There's no definition in their faces. Their hair is exactly alike. They all look really aggressive, really angry, and that they're on the attack. The pilgrims all have very distinct features. They're wearing different clothes, their expressions, they look almost fearful. They are cowering. They almost look like they are under attack. So you can even start to go layers deeper and deeper and deeper in the inaccuracy is, but when you just look at it, the stereotype that it was portraying on a subconscious level. The portrayal of Wampanoag people like this isn’t unique, but it serves the narrative of the pilgrim's virtue and nobility in the face of a hostile world—not only were they persecuted in Europe, that narrative goes, they were also persecuted in the new world, which creates a justification for anything that happens afterwards. All this is buttressed by the implied neutrality of the museum. Courtney Hurst: And they were so inaccurate that we're actually going to leave one of them up in this new exhibit as a, can you point out what's wrong? And is part of the interactive of the exhibit will be to show what’s wrong. The new exhibit, which is called Our Story, is a partnership between the Provincetown Museum and members of the Wampanoag Nation. Courtney Hurst: So Our Story, we’re working in conjunction with the Wampanoag Tribe, Paula Peters and Steven Peters specifically have been the real brains behind it and the execution of it. We have learned in the last few years through working so closely with the Wampanoag tribe that a lot of the story was wrong. And then it wasn't told accurately. So we have worked with them to create a whole entire new exhibit. We've gutted the room and we're rebuilding it, and it's called Our Story. And what's interesting about it is it will be told from their perspective as far as how they were living here before the pilgrims showed up. An example of a story from those first five weeks that has been told exclusively from a colonial lens is the story of Corn Hill -- the spot near Provincetown where pilgrims “found” stores of corn preserved by the Wampanoag. Courtney Hurst: it was always positioned as they just simply found the corn, and that's how history tells it. It was actually stolen corn, that it was clear the way that it was stored, the way that it was kept, that it had been put there by people. There's no way that you could have been able, they even say that in their log. So it was clear people were living here, they just hadn't come across them yet. The Our Story gallery opens later this year to commemorate the 400 Year Anniversary of the Pilgrims Arrival, under the initiative Provincetown 400. The initiative is planning for a much different commemoration than the 300th anniversary in back 1920. Back then, it was called a celebration, not a commemoration, and included pageants and parades. Courtney Hurst: It's not a celebration for everyone and that it is. Somewhat more solemn and that, yes, you know, the pilgrims came here and they did some good things and they were brave for coming here and seeking. And that's part of the story. But it's not all to be celebrated. So we've been training ourselves for the last two years. Even that small nuance of a word, but it's not a nuance when you see how important it is. So everything from that word choice will shift to things like, we're not having a parade. You know that that was an initial brainstorm idea. You think like, Centennial, let's do a parade. And things like that, we're not going to do that. Cause that would be seen as disrespectful and we understand that. So the collaboration has been so tight throughout that I think it's going to feel a lot different in all those ways, I hope. But the Provincetown Museum is also in the middle of another, maybe even bigger branding change: connecting the pilgrim story of 400 years ago to the modern history of Provincetown. Over past 100 years, Provincetown has attracted artists, playwrights, and the LGBT+ community. Today, Provincetown is perhaps the best-known gay resort on the U.S.’s East Coast. Hurst wants to expand who we think of as Provincetown’s Pilgrims. The word “pilgrim” has been intentionally used to describe the passengers of the Mayflower because of a passage in William Bradford's journal, therefore connecting his journey to the Christian Bible. That’s good branding. But Hurst sees a throughline to Provincetown’s more recent history as well. Courtney Hurst: We're hoping to reframe the word Pilgrim and for it to symbolize a group of people and really what they're seeking, which is to be accepted for who they are, whatever that be, whether it’s religious freedom or any freedom at all, seeking a place for them to be themselves. I think there's a sense that this board and this team are committed to telling a more accurate story of Provincetown. And the Mayflower pilgrims were the first pilgrims to arrive here 400 years ago, and they came seeking acceptance and tolerance and freedom. And then pilgrims of all sorts have come to Provincetown shores since them, they were the first, but so many, the fishermen, the artists, the LGBQT community, so many. So we're really hoping that we can take each of those stories, each of those pilgrim stories, and tell a cohesive history of Provincetown. Growing up here, the AIDS epidemic was so close to us, and again, you just grow up thinking that's what most people saw and life. And to think that my mom would like cruise dinners by guy's house that were struggling and had no one, and how many of them came here to, in some cases, die and how this town, these Portuguese women in the community just took them in and loved them and really took care of them. That's a story that's, you know, it's Provincetown story, but it's, it's the AIDS story and it's a national story. And that's a case that likely might be in the new updated version of the museum. So when we say that we want to tell a more accurate, it's even just a more comprehensive story cause it does have a thread in the nation's history as well. An example of a future exhibit might be about the Spiritus Pizza riot of 1990, which Hurst says was Provincetown’s analog to the important Stonewall riots in New York City. Courtney Hurst: When the bars would get out at night. And typically the gay bars would get out and not just gay bars, but gay people would come into the street and they would all eat pizza and it would be really hard to get through. Well, one night there was a police officer was giving some, giving them trouble unnecessarily, shouldn't have been, and the group rioted. So these moments that were happening here in our Cosmo, but shifted the town and the town shifted legislature on what used to be called gaybashing and putting more laws in place and protecting them even further. And it was this moment that for us changed perception and culture in Provincetown. Historical brands are powerful. In the same way that a single moment can shift a town’s legislation for the better, a photogenic rock can diminish five weeks of history in the minds of millions of students, and the word choice that a museum uses can turn a bushel of stolen corn into just an innocent lucky find. As the 400 year anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival approaches, the Provincetown Museum is preparing for the commemoration by changing things up. They don’t use the word branding—but, like the Pilgrims themselves, they’re expanding the word pilgrim to include recent Provincetown history, they’re working to tell the story of members of the Wampanoag nation directly instead of through the lens of the colonists. And they want people to know that the Mayflower landed here first before moving on to Plymouth. Courtney Hurst: So we obviously want to shine a spotlight on the fact that the pilgrims actually landed here and the time that they spent here. But beyond that, we're hoping to cast a spotlight on Provincetown as a place that is welcoming to pilgrims. And that message for us in today's time feels just as powerful.
Proprietary technology that runs museum interactives—everything from buttons to proximity sensors—tends to be expensive to purchase and maintain. But Rianne Trujillo (http://www.riannetrujillo.com), lead developer of the Cultural Technology Development Lab (http://www.cctnewmexico.org/ctdl/) at New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU), realized that one way museums can avoid expensive, proprietary solutions to their technology needs is by choosing open source alternatives. She is part of the team behind Museduino (https://museduino.org), an open-source system for exhibits and installations. On this episode, Rianne Trujillo and fellow NMHU instructor of Software Systems Design Jonathan Lee (https://www.nmhu.edu/department-of-media-arts-technology/) describe the huge potential to applying the open source model to museum hardware. Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:15 Proprietary Technology in Museums 01:04 Rianne Trujillo (http://www.riannetrujillo.com) 01:24 The Cultural Technology Development Lab (http://www.cctnewmexico.org/ctdl/) 02:04 Museduino (https://museduino.org) 02:35 Jonathan Lee (https://www.nmhu.edu/department-of-media-arts-technology/) 02:50 Open Source Software and Hardware 04:09 Arduino 06:35 Hardware Lock-In 07:02 Where Museduino is Already Installed 07:24 Museduino Workshops 08:55 Archipelago At the Movies 🎟️: Lisa the Iconoclast (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) 09:44 Outro/Join Club Archipelago (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://museum.substack.com/) to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 75. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript On Museum Archipelago, we focus on power in museums. On how cultural institutions have a tremendous amount of unchecked power. But power takes many forms and one of these forms is control over the technology that delivers museum content to visitors. From a button that plays a bird call when you touch it, to a projection screen that plays a story about the Battle of Gettysburg when you get close to it, every museum interactive requires a technological solution. Rianne Trujillo: Oftentimes, museums will purchase proprietary solutions. Oftentimes they're very expensive, especially to maintain them, and if they break you are sort of forced to rehire the same company or rebuy new equipment, and that can be fairly costly really quickly. This is Rianne Trujillo, lead developer of the Cultural Technology Development Lab at New Mexico Highlands University. Rianne Trujillo: My name is Rianne Trujillo. I'm the lead developer of the Cultural Technology Development Lab at New Mexico Highlands University, and I’m also an instructor of Software Systems Design. The Cultural Technology Development Lab is an R&D program where university faculty and students, museum professionals, and other partners work together on technology and design solutions for cultural institutions. Through working these institutions across New Mexico and the U.S., Trujillo realized that one way museums can avoid expensive, proprietary solutions to their technology needs is by choosing open source alternatives. Rianne Trujillo: So by using open source hardware, we can basically solve that issue of cost by using fairly inexpensive, off-the-shelf components from various electronic suppliers. And that’s how Museduino came to be. Museduino is an open source hardware controller designed specifically to be used in museums. Using this hardware controller, which is about the size of an altoids tin, and a little bit of technical knowledge, museums can create and control their own interactives instead of always hiring an outside company. Rianne Trujillo: We built Museduino to solve our own needs when building exhibits. Jonathan Lee: It's all open source, and if we want to put it out there, we can show anyone else how to build that and they can implement it in their museum. This is Jonathan Lee. Jonathan Lee: My name is Jonathan Lee. I'm a professor of Software Systems Design at New Mexico Highlands University. Either they can implement it by buying the same parts or just downloading our code if it's off-the-shelf components and then inserting their content into it as well. Both Lee and Trujillo see a huge potential to appling the open source model to museum hardware. The phrase open source comes from the software world: open source software is a development model where the source code of a piece of software is freely available to anyone who wants it. We all use open source software every day, whether we realize it or not. Most ATMs, web servers, and cash registers rely on open source software simply because it’s the cheapest and most secure -- the source code is freely available so bugs are identified and fixed quickly. Open source hardware projects, like Museduino, borrow from the software world by making the instructions of how to build and program them freely available. Yes, you still need to pay for someone to manufacture the physical components, but they are commodities -- there’s multiple vendors that can make you the exact same thing. Jonathan Lee: We have used an open source program to create the printed circuit board design and so if you wanted to, anyone could download that circuit board design and they could actually have however many they needed printed. This together makes for a radical way to approach exhibit hardware -- where the technical solutions that a museum comes up with aren’t confined to just one museum. Jonathan Lee: One of the originators of the project said they liked the Linux model of put it out there, let other people make it better, make it, fix it, build something for the platform that we make and then set it free. In fact, that’s exactly what happened with Museduino: it was built upon another piece of open source hardware, a single-board controller called Arduino. Rianne Trujillo: What Museduino is, is essentially a Arduino shield that extends the footprint of the Arduino via four RJ45 or standard Cat-5 cable cabling in four different directions. We've tested it with up to 200 feet away. So if you're building a very large scale museum exhibit and you need a sensor in one location and an output maybe 10 feet away, you can control all of that with the one Arduino, using our system. Exhibits components tend to be far away from each other, even in small museums, because the gallery is designed for the visitor moving through the space. The specific problem is that, unlike wireless devices like internet of things or IOT -- light bulbs or buttons, museum hardware needs to work 100% of the time, and right now, the best way to do that is with wires like the standard cat-5 cable. Rianne Trujillo: We're from New Mexico where we work with a lot of cultural institutions, where the walls are adobe, and there's always not great internet connection in the space, or also remote sites where there might not be internet connection, so we try to stay away from IOT boards and we use our system to have solid hardwired connections because those other systems could be a point of failure for the exhibit. From the outside, or even from the inside if you’re focusing on the museum from purely a visitor experience perspective, exactly what tools museums use to create interactives might not seem like that big a deal. But it is a big deal for the museum itself to own its means of production. Rianne Trujillo: We primarily work with institutions who don't have a lot of funding to be able to purchase these proprietary systems. So open source hardware allows us to build relatively inexpensive exhibits. We've heard instances where maybe they purchased a piece of software from a company and then like a month later they didn't exist anymore. So that can happen to people, especially if you're putting thousands of dollars into it. Hardware lock-in mirrors software lock in: many museums use a video player called a Brightsign. These are little closed-source purple boxes that allow museum staff to play and schedule videos. They are designed to solve a problem: to help museums not have to worry about playing videos for their visitors. But they also remove the ability of museum staff to fix the system if something goes wrong. Museduino is already installed at many museums and cultural institutions around the U.S., like Acadia National Park’s nature center, the Carlsbad Museum, and the Bradbury Science Museum at Los Alamos National Labs. From the beginning, Trujillo and the other members of the Museduino team have been sharing their knowledge with the wider museum world. Rianne Trujillo: We go to conferences and share Museduino and just also a general Arduino tutorials and things like that. We do workshops at these museum related conferences to get people interested in open source hardware in hopes that they can start thinking of ways to incorporate it into their museum exhibits. Museduino represents a radical approach to exhibit technology design. By allowing museums big and small more control over the installation and maintenance of the technology in their galleries, the Museduino team shows how the principles of the open source movement fit within the museum landscape. Rianne Trujillo: Since we've presented at these different conferences, people got to take home Museduino, so we know that it's in institutions in several places. The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History in California, they just recently did a project with it, where they actually made a pneumatic tube system with the Museduino for donations. They said their donations went up 10 times the amount that they normally had before. Of course, it was probably somebody with a bin or it was a drop box where you can donate. And now when you donate a dollar, you see this whole theatric thing happen where you get to watch your money go up in some twos and some lights flicker. You can find more about Museduino at https://museduino.org, and keep an eye out for a workshop near you.
Every time an Apollo astronaut said the word Houston, they were referring not just to a city, but a specific room in that city: Mission Control. In that room on July 20, 1969, NASA engineers answered radio calls from the surface of the moon. Sitting in front of rows of green consoles, cigarettes in hand, they guided humans safely back to earth, channeling the efforts of the thousands and thousands of people who worked on the program through one room. But until recently, that room was kind of a mess. After hosting Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Shuttle missions through 1992, the room hosted retirement parties, movie screenings, and the crumbs that came with them. Spurred by the deadline of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 in 2019, the room was carefully restored with a new visitor experience. The restoration project focused on accurately portraying how the area looked at key moments during that mission, right down to the ashtrays and soda cans. In this episode, Sandra Tetley, Historic Preservation Officer at the Johnson Space Center, describes the process of restoring “one of the most significant places on earth.” Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:14 Apollo Mission Control Center (https://spacecenter.org/exhibits-and-experiences/nasa-tram-tour/apollo-mission-control/) 00:49 Sandra Tetley 02:00 “History Keeps Going” 02:35 Becoming a National Historic Landmark 04:00 Starting the Restoration 04:40 Gene Kranz Steps In (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_Kranz) 05:15 Mission Control Visitor’s Galley 06:30 The Visitor Experience 08:10 The Drama of the Room 09:37 Independence Hall (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independence_Hall) 10:10 Coffee Cups and Cigarettes 11:15 Apollo Flight Controllers Get to Celebrate 13:04 Archipelago At the Movies 🎟️: Lisa the Iconoclast (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) 13:50 Outro/Join Club Archipelago (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://museum.substack.com/) to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 74. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Every time an Apollo astronaut said the word Houston, they were referring not just to a city, but a specific room in that city -- mission control. In that room, NASA engineers -- average age: 26 -- answered radio calls from the darkness of space. Sitting in front rows of green consoles, cigarettes and cigars in hand, they guided humans to the moon and back, channeling the efforts of the half a million people who worked on the program through one room. Sandra Tetley: I realized the value of this room to American history and to the world history. It's one of the most significant sites on earth. But up until a few years ago, that room was kind of a mess. Sandra Tetley: It was open to anyone who could get into the building. You could actually go into that room, you could sit in the chairs, you could dial the phones, press the buttons. They would have the co-ops come in their first day and they could have coffee and breakfast at the consoles. The Department of Defense used to have their retirement celebrations in there. It was looking pretty ragged when we first started restoring it. This is Sandra Tetley, historic preservation officer at the Johnson Space Center. Sandra Tetley: Hi, my name is Sandra Tetley. I am the historic preservation officer and real property officer at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Tetley and her team at the Johnson Space Center or JSC just compleated a restoration of the Apollo Mission Control Center, also known as MOCR-2 or -- because space programs are built on acronyms -- simply, “moker.” Putting aside the room being used for retirement parties and breakfasts, the real challenge of the restoration was simply the fact that history keeps going. MOCR-2 served as mission control before and after the Apollo missions to the moon. Sandra Tetley: So it started out with Gemini. It flew all the manned Apollo missions. Then it did the Apollo Soyuz test project, Skylab and then began into Shuttle. And we actually lost the Shuttle Challenger out of this same room. So if the goal is to restore the room, how do you know which is the most significant mission? How do you know which era to restore it to? Well, in this case, it’s clearly Apollo. Sometimes history is messy as its layers overlap, but here it’s pretty clear. And this is a widely held-view. In 1985, the room became a National Historic Landmark or NHL, specifically because of its role in Apollo. Sandra Tetley: The building is a National Historic Landmark based on the man in space survey, which was a survey done of all the NASA centers. When the building was designated that they have a series of performance, which was from Apollo 11 and then through Apollo 17, which is when man landed on the moon. Of course except for 13. But that was the period of significance of the room, meaning that in this designation of an NHL, this is what the big focus would have been about. By 1992, the room was no longer being used for any missions and this gave way to the era of retirement parties and breakfasts. Sandra Tetley: That's where the Texas historic commission stepped in. And they really fought to keep that room from being completely gutted and modernized. You know, we were in the throws of Shuttle and Space Station and so we did not have the budget or you know, really the interest to do an actual restoration of that room. And because it was a National Historic Landmark, and what happened is the Texas state historic commission made an agreement with NASA and with JSC to leave that room alone. To basically preserve it or restore it for posterity because that is where we landed men on the moon. The restoration really got underway around 2014 when Tetley started applying for grants with the national park service. The interest was there, but it wasn’t obvious what the next steps were. Sandra Tetley: We began to try to get buy-in and support to do the restoration. And there was a lot of consternation because that room is so visible and it is so important. Various organizations on site wanted to control it and they wanted to control the restoration. So there was a big battle on who would do that and how it would work and how it would go. Tetley pushed for a restoration rather than a simple renovation. Gene Kranz, who served as chief Flight Director of the Apollo missions, decided to leverage the upcoming 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 to get it done right. Sandra Tetley: Only after Mr Kranz wrote what I call his nuclear letter and got the, an article in the newspaper, Houston Chronicle, and he wrote the Park Service, the advisory council, both our senators, the NASA Administrator. I mean, everyone got a letter saying it is time to restore this room. You're running out of time. It needs to be ready for the 50th anniversary. And that finally got everybody kind of on, you know, off dead center to get going. That’s when the restoration really started to take shape. During the missions, the room featured a visitors gallery behind it. The idea was that media and family could watch what was going on without disturbing the engineers on the floor. Since they were making life-and-death decisions, the engineers couldn’t be interrupted. Today, that same visitors gallery serves the same purpose -- to keep visitors off the floor. Sandra Tetley: One of our biggest battles that we had, was to begin to lock it down and prevent people who go into the consoles and going into the room. And that continues to be our biggest battle is to keep a limited number of people off the floor of the MOCR. This is not a unique problem to human heritage on earth. And once we create a museum at the Apollo 11 landing site on the moon, it won't be a unique problem to human heritage off of the earth either. There’s only so many people can visit the cave before the cave paintings are ruined. Sandra Tetley: Now that it's restored, the best vantage point is from the viewing room because all the consoles are lit up and there's furnishings and documents and so forth all over the console. That’s the best view because noone goes into the console room at all except for the retired flight controllers. The restored room looks exactly like it did in 1969. As visitors enter the gallery above, t he room comes alive in a 14 minute experience that portrays five different parts of of the Apollo 11 mission with historical accuracy: the descent and landing, the first step, the reading of the plaque on the lunar module, President Nixon calling the astronauts, and finally, the recovery after splashdown. The lights on the consoles, the projected graphs and maps, the buttons, and even the clocks change to display how they would have at those moments. Sandra Tetley: Space Center Houston, who's our visitor experience, wanted more of a Disney-esque type experience. Where you heard the, the chatter about the main landing, but that you saw it at a computer generated imagery on the screen of the moon, of the, the LM landing on the moon. What a restoration is that you try to make it be historically accurate. And that wasn't historical accurate. They never had any film or any imagery of them landing on the moon until they returned. So the only thing that was showing on the screen was data, whatever was showing from a console, they would project up there. They showed the map where they were expected to land. The lunar map and information like that, that they were making these decisions. So we have to go through all of the film that was ever filmed in mission control. We had to go through all that and then we had to recreate every single thing that was on all five of the summery display screens and all the clocks and then sync it all up to the actual audio. What I like about this approach is that it lets the drama of the historical events play out because there is a lot of drama in the room itself. Having all the real-time information come through maps and numbers and the astronauts own voices -- particularly as a decision-maker -- is an incredibly intense experience on its own. Sandra Tetley: We wanted people to really understand what the flight controllers were doing and what decisions they were having to make. You hear backroom loops of people saying, we've got, you know, another 1201 alarm. No, keep going, keep going. You know, and you've got the, you're hearing these decisions and you can feel the stress, and what they're having to do. And then even when they land, you continue to hear, okay, we've got a stay and no stay, you know, and then they begin to make that. And so it's very intense. And that is what we want to portray to people. We want them to understand that these men whose average age was 26 years old, we're having to make these, these real time decisions based on these numbers. And if you look at the screens on the consoles are crazy. I don't know how anyone can make heads or tails out of them and they're having to sit there and make these decisions for these men's lives. And you know, what will happen and what do I do and how do I do this? And, and they, you know, they did it. And that's what we really want people to, to get in there and just go, Oh my gosh, this is so cool. This is great. And I think it really comes across very well. When you visit Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed, you see that the desks in the Assembly Room are staged with quill pens and spare parchment as if the signers just had to step out for a moment. The restorers did the same thing here, but instead of quill pens, the studied the binders, cigarettes, ashtrays, bottles of coke, the engineers Han in hand from old film and video. Sandra Tetley: When you go into to and view the MOCR, everything there is place for a reason, based on films and still photography. And we placed them all there during the mission for the flight controllers. And it is a little bit of a blend of flight controllers. For example, one may drink coffee and we'd have this coffee cup that we may have the RC Cola can there as well. So we didn't try to just isolate it to one particular, there were different shifts during that time. And there was also lots of people in the room. It wasn't just the one flight control. I mean there was four or five people around each flight controller. So there was stuff everywhere. We have briefcases, we have sports coats that were their jackets and, and sack lunches that they brought in and ashtrays. We realized that we didn’t quite get it without ashtrays. Our cigarettes are ashtrays or are full of cigarettes and, and if anything about the ashtray we have, they have those big amber ashtrays because they're cigar ashtray. And the reason why they got the big cigar ass tradings cause they smoke so much that they would fill up the smaller ashtrays too fast. The restoration opened on July 20th, 2019, exactly 50 years after the room guided humans to the lunar surface for the first time. In attendance were Gene Kranz and other flight controllers and engineers. This time, though, they didn’t have life-or-death decisions to make. They could simply enjoy the room. Sandra Tetley: So on the 50th anniversary, the flight controller said, we really want to have that list to ourselves. We don't want a big crowd. We'd like to take our wives in there too because I very rarely I will to the family and their wives on the floor during missions. And that never happened during missions. One of the things the flight controllers said is that when they landed man on the moon, we did not set to celebrate. So the 50th anniversary came around, stay really celebrated. And we had them all come in and we showed them all the visceral experience because a lot of them, that was the first time they've seen it. And then we brought them on the floor and all of them could just go and look at all the consoles and you know, they told us, they told us so much, no it didn't look like this, you know, is this look like this? And Oh my gosh, how did you find my coffee cup? That's just wild, you know, a lot of comradery and then we took their pictures. So we took each flight team pictures at their console. So we have these really great photographs. A lot of them were very emotional and, and, uh, you know, just sort of were able to really relive it and realize what they've done at this point. And so that was very special. That kind of topped it all off. This has been Museum Archipelago. Get instant access to this, and other great perks by joining Club Archipelago on Patreon.
The field of conservation was created to fight change: to prevent objects from becoming dusty, broken, or rusted. But fighting to keep cultural objects preserved creates a certain mindset — a mindset where it’s too easy to imagine objects and cultures in a state of stasis. Sanchita Balachandran, Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum, founded Untold Stories to change that mindset in the conservation profession. Through events at the annual meetings of the American Institute for Conservation, Untold Stories expands cultural heritage beyond preserving the objects we might find in a museum. In this episode, Balachandran talks about Untold Story’s 2019 event: Indigenous Futures and Collaborative Conservation, avoiding the savior mentality, and how the profession has changed since she was in school. Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:14 The Conservation Profession 01:12 Sanchita Balachandran (http://www.objectsconservationstudio.com/) 01:35 Untold Stories (https://www.untoldstories.live/) 03:30 Mohegan Sun 2019: Indigenous Futures and Collaborative Conservation (https://www.untoldstories.live/mohegan-sun-2019) 04:58 endawnis Spears and the Akomawt Educational Initiative (episode 68) (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/68) 06:09 Savior Mentality in Conservation 07:37 Changing Working Practices 09:03 Changing Technical Practices 10:30 Changing Social Practices 11:25 Activating Cultural Heritage 12:15 Salt Lake City 2020: Preserving Cultural Landscapes (https://www.untoldstories.live/aic-2020) 12:30 Learn More About Untold Stories and Watch Recordings of Past Events (https://www.untoldstories.live/mohegan-sun-2019) 12:40 SPONSOR: StoriesHere Podcast (https://storieshere.com/) 13:40 Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️: National Treasure (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) 14:34 Outro Photo credit: Jay T. Van Rensselear Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://museum.substack.com/) to never miss an episode. Sponsor: StoriesHere Podcast This episode is brought to you by a new museum podcast, StoriesHere! The latest episode is an excellent two-part series about the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. It includes the story of a family secret being hidden from a daughter, revealed after talking at the site with a former incarcerated person. If you like Museum Archipelago, check out StoriesHere! Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 73. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript The field of conservation was created to fight change: to prevent objects from becoming dusty, broken, or rusted. But fighting to keep cultural objects preserved creates a certain mindset -- the mindset of protector. A mindset where it’s too easy to imagine objects and cultures in a state of stasis -- that this is how it always was and will be forever. Sanchita Balachandran: Often, I mean, just given the Colonial and Imperial histories of museums, it was because people were going to be gone forever. That culture was gone. And so this is the last trace, but in fact, that's not how cultural heritage works. It's transformed. It's changed. It continues on in different forms. And a lot of the way that conservators think about cultural heritage is, is about mitigating that change, which makes it a little bit fossilized. But to me, that changes where things are really vibrant and exciting and people are so closely connected to cultural heritage, that it really feels alive. This is Sanchita Balachandran, Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum. Sanchita Balachandran: Hello, my name is Sanchita Balachandran. I’m a conservator and I’m trained in the conservation of archaeological materials in particular. And my day job is the Associate Director at the Archaeological Museum at Johns Hopkins University. Balachandran founded Untold Stories, a project that pursues a conservation profession that represents and preserves a fuller spectrum of human cultural heritage. For the past few years, the project has been hosting public events at the annual meetings of the American Institute for Conservation. Untold Stories emerged out of Balachandran’s frustration with how narrowly conservation has been defined. Sanchita Balachandran: I felt that there were, literally, too many untold stories in the field of conservation. I wanted to find ways to actually start to think about what else cultural heritage could mean other than, say, the things we typically think of as belonging in a museum. For many of us, cultural heritage means going to this, you know, important-looking building that has paintings and sculpture and has labels next to it. And I think we've kind of decided in some ways that that's cultural heritage and preservation means taking care of those things. And really, I've become more and more aware and curious about the fact that cultural heritage is a much more complicated and diverse set of practices. It's often not necessarily about a single object or a thing, but rather how that thing might function within a community or communities as part of a series of practices and exchanges and storytelling. And I just wanted to have a way to work with people who are really doing that work outside the museum and doing it in ways that, I think preserve, but also change cultural practices. Since Untold Stories takes place at the annual meetings of the American Institute for Conservation, a lot of professionals in the field are already gathered there -- the meetings attract over 1000 conservators. Like many professional conferences, the meetings are often held in a nondescript hotel setting. But Untold Stories makes it a practice to contextualize where attendees are sitting and the history that preceded them. An example of this is the 2019 Untold Stories event, titled Indigenous Futures and Collaborative Conservation. Sanchita Balachandran: How many times have you been to a conference and you could be anywhere. Right? I mean, you're in this big room and you never leave the hotel or the conference center. And part of what I was interested in was trying to actually place us somewhere. So in 2019 since we were actually meeting at the Mohegan Sun, which is a Mohegan owned casino. We were on native land. It seemed like a really important opportunity to talk about Native sovereignty and the kind of history of genocide in our own country. The fact that anyone who's non-indigenous in this country is a settler-colonialist. But to really think about what this means in terms of how we take care of collections that have come to us, as a result of historical happenstance, but also a very violent past and to acknowledge the fact that museums, which for most of us who work in museums are very safe, welcoming, and, you know, joyful places are evidence of this history of pain and removal. So, the opportunity to work with, the Akomawt Educational Initiative was really exciting because it's a partly Native cofounded and they do a lot of educational work around questions of how we even think about the history of this country. And to me that was really important to be able to say in native space as opposed to, you know, in a place somewhere else. Part of Balachandran’s point is that there isn’t such a thing as a contextless cultural material: the intentionally non-descript conference ballroom has a lot in common with a deliberately sterile museum environment. Episode 68 of this show features an interview with endawnis Spears, Director of Programming & Outreach at the Akomawt Educational Initiative and one of the conveners of 2019 Untold Stories event. In the episode, she discusses her presentation about how Native narratives are violently presented through a white lens in museums. Sanchita Balachandran: It was in endawnis Spears of Akomawt who suggested the title. She had worked in museums, she's very familiar with these questions and she's the one who suggested Indigenous Futures, which forces you to recognize that this is not something of the past. We really wanted to do something that felt like we were going to push. This had to be uncomfortable, but it also had to be aspirational. Where do we go now? And how can as conservators we actually be part of this very kind of collaborative, supportive mission to ensure futures? We can't make it happen by ourselves. It's not like we're saving anybody. And that's another big concern of mine. There's a real sort of savior mentality that I think conservation has to, we save objects. And I certainly came out of graduate school thinking that I was going to save everything. Um, and to me that's a very problematic way to think about it because frankly, if the object still survives, it didn't need me. Right? It made it thousands of years without me. Somehow we've kind of decided that we're the ones that making the, that make these things live forever, which is pure arrogance. So part of this event was really to think about how as conservators can we come up with action items and by action items it was practices, but more than anything a kind of shift in a mental framework for working much more equitably and more humbly, you know, to really have a sense of respect for this notion that there has already been a history before you. And so when you enter into this hopefully collaborative relationship, you need to acknowledge that things have survived for a long time without your intervention and they don't need you, but you could actually provide some sort of service, some sort of benefit that could actually help. The Untold Stories team, true to their mission, is careful not to present the workshop as a single solution, or even a set of solutions. The team wants to counter the assumption within the profession that all you need to do is go to one workshop and you're all done. Sanchita Balachandran: Unfortunately this doesn't change the working practices. It doesn't change the mindset. It doesn't change the way an organization functions. And what happens is, you know, then marginalized people are called upon again and again to kind of keep performing this vulnerability and this discomfort for themselves in order to educate people who are unwilling to do the work, the consistent -- like, every single day for the rest of their lives work -- that will be required to make transformative change possible. So part of what, in the 2019 conversation we, we felt very strongly we had to say is if, if you really believe in equality, if you really want to do something that is truly collaborative, that does not assume some sort of hierarchy it means being really uncomfortable the entire time. And maybe at the end of it things will change, but you still have to kind of follow through on it when it gets really uncomfortable. And the fact is most marginalized communities, people have done this their entire lives.So it just feels like it's time for, you know, I think in general, the museum community to say we're willing to engage in these kinds of difficult ongoing, perpetual conversations. It’s really interesting to approach these issues from the framework of such a technical profession. What is different, what has changed in the field of conservation since you were in school? Sanchita Balachandran: I was in grad school two decades ago, so it's, you know... I guess I would break it down into technical practices, which I think most conservators would, would think of themselves as doing sort of things with their hands, changing a surface in some way and then more social practices. How do you be in this world? Uh, in terms of technical practices, some of the things that we do on a regular basis are certainly did to me raise a lot of questions about how do we even come up with this. So, you know, one of the things that I was trained on, and I think a lot of conservators still do, is something like spit cleaning, right? For a long time, uh, it was known that something like human saliva has really amazing cleaning properties. And, you know, it's the reason why your mom might've like licked her thumb and you know, rubbed a mark off your face. But, but it works really well and it's, you know, there have been attempts to make this much more scientific as to like, what are the enzymes, for example, in saliva that work. But you know, now thinking about it and my gosh, to spit on someone else's things, it's this really strange concept. And yet it was something that was really suggested as a very efficacious way of doing a treatment. For me, this has meant that I really have to be extremely aware of the choices I'm making and at least be aware of the discomfort that they raise in me when I start thinking about what I'm actually doing. So that's the kind of technological discomfort and awareness. And then there's how, how does one work with anybody else? Certainly in academia, and I would say also in museums are very hierarchical spaces where, you know, in the museum the sort of curator often has had the privilege of storytelling. And often when people who are not within the museum are consulted, they're consulted either after most of the work has been done or that that information is kind of extracted from them and presented as part of this larger narrative rather than allowing people to simply say what they believe these objects are, or how, you know, the story needs to be presented. For those in an established field, like museum professionals or conservators, it is easy to go with the language and practice that exists before you arrive. Projects like Untold Stories challenge those assumptions and help create a new model. Sanchita Balachandran: For me, it's really about kind of activating cultural heritage and, in very kind of living ways. Underlying all of this work with Untold Stories was to really think about what is possible, in terms of preserving cultural heritage. I think if you think of cultural heritage as being something that's preserved by people in, you know, conservation labs only, to me that's really limiting. And it also is untrue because we have millennia of, you know, people caring for their things and their stories and passing this knowledge on, um, through oral traditions and other kinds of traditions. So to somehow claim that we are the only ones capable of doing this kind of preservation work is fundamentally untrue. And so to me, kind of bringing up this resilience, but also just this joy of doing this incredible connected, human work was something that I wanted to be around. The next Untold Stories event will be held during the American Institute of Conservation’s annual conference in Salt Lake City from the 19th to the 23rd of MAY 2020. The title of the event will be PRESERVING CULTURAL LANDSCAPES. You can learn more about The Untold Stories Project, and watch recordings of past events, at Untold Stories dot live.
Museums tend to be verbal spaces: there’s usually a lot of words. Galleries open with walls of text, visitors are presented with rules of do and don'ts, and audio guides lead headphone-ed users from one piece to the next, paragraph by paragraph. But Speechless: Different by Design, a new exhibit at the Dallas Art Museum and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, guides visitors as far away as possible from words with six custom art installations. In this episode, curator Sarah Schleuning and graphic designer Laurie Haycock Makela discuss how their personal experiences lead them to Speechless, and describe the process and considerations of putting it all together. Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:14 Museums as Verbal Spaces 00:52 Speechless: Different by Design (https://dma.org/speechless) 01:05 Sarah Schleuning 01:30 Schleuning’s Personal Experience 02:45 Picture Exchange System 03:40 Planning Speechless 05:00 Yuri Suzuki’s ‘Sound of the Earth Chapter 2’ (https://earthsounds.dma.org/) 05:17 Misha Kahn (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misha_Kahn) 05:38 Laurie Haycock Makela 06:08 Makela’s Personal Experience 06:55 The Exhibition's Ground Rules 07:11 The Exhibition's Design 09:26 Museum Fatigue (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/2) 11:30 What Keeps Schleuning Up at Night 12:16 Museum Selfies (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/9) 13:29 Introducing Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️! (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago/posts?tag=Archipelago%20at%20The%20Movies) 14:16 Outro | Join Club Archipelago (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://museum.substack.com/) to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 72. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Museums tend to be verbal spaces: there’s usually a lot of words. Galleries open with walls of text, visitors are presented with rules of do and don'ts, and artists guide headphone-ed users from one piece to the next paragraph by paragraph. But there’s a new series ot exhibits designed to be different, to guide visitors as far away as possible from words. One of those is a collaboration of the Dallas Art Museum and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. It’s called Speechless, and to underline the point, it is subtitled: different by design. Sarah Schleuning: Speechless has been an exhibition that merges research and aesthetics and innovative new design to explore accessibility and modes of communication in the museum setting. This is Sarah Schleuning, curator of Speechless. Sarah Schleuning: Hello, my name is Sarah Schleuning and I am The Margot B. Perot Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design and the interim Chief curator at the Dallas Museum of Art. And I love to focus on projects that really explore ideas of how design and art can transform our everyday lives. The roots of Speechless come from Schleuning’s own rethinking of how to communicate without language. Sarah Schleuning: The idea really germinated out of something very personal for me which is that one of my children has motor planning disability, a neurological issue that rendered him, when he was younger, fairly speechless and I had to sort of rethink how I communicated with him and how we as a family interacted with somebody where language wasn't the primary avenue. So it started in that idea, but I was also in my curatorial work had been really interested in issues of playscapes and interactivity and how the exposure to aesthetics and design are really great gateways to get people to really think about how that impacts their everyday life. And so this project was a merger of these ideas. Even museums that specialize in the visual arts have a tendency to communicate verbally with their visitors. Sarah Schleuning: I think that that was the thing that I realized even for myself here. I deal in visual culture. But the way I communicate about it is through words or through, you know talking about it and and that I myself am hyper sort of hyper-verbal. All of a sudden, I had this very close proximity to somebody who wasn't interested in learning from me through language and what I started to realize really because we started using the Picture Exchange system communication system, which is a series of images that you use to communicate. So you'd say what do you want to eat? And on the sheet would be a picture of a series of different foods and then they could point and so it's very sort of prescriptive. And it would be apple. And then what I started thinking was we at museums are sitting on this vast repository of images is I mean, you could use Magritte's Apple, there are so many different looks and feels and kind of different nuances to what an apple could be or these images and in essence that communication is kind of a two way thing. The project is made up of six art installations intended to foster “participatory environments” within a museum context, and in particular, engage the senese. Sarah Schleuning: We had the opportunity about a year ago to invite 6 design teams to come to Dallas and work on this project. And we invited six specialist from the Dallas community that were scientists, but kind of both theoreticians and practitioners who specialized in fields like neuroscience and autism, dementia, communication disorders, physical therapy related to sensory issues and really to think about the broader spectrum of what disability looks like and how to broaden our own perceptions of how to design for that and think through those ideas. Sarah Schleuning: But I think the biggest underpinning of the exhibition for me and for the institutions were that it was an experience that ultimately was positive and joyful so that these fully immersive interactive spaces that each design team was creating was really something that was positive and felt like it offered an opportunity to see the greatness in the difference between us, instead of seeing it as a negative. One of the pieces, by Yuri Suzuki is called ‘Sound of the Earth Chapter 2’ and features a giant, unmarked black globe. Without the context of the familiar outlines of continents, visitors instead hear sounds recorded at the part of the earth while they place their ear against the surface of the globe. Sounds from more southern regions are accessed by crouching down. Another, by Misha Kahn, features a garden of colorful sculptures that inflate and deflate throughout the day. The task of bringing all of these tinstallationals together fell on designer and educator Laurie Haycock Makela. Maklela was responsible for the overall graphic identity and the corresponding exhibition publication. Laurie Haycock Makela: Hi. My name is Laurie Haycock Makela. I'm a graphic designer and an educator and I'm working on the book and some of the kind of related exhibition kind of graphic identity issues for Speechless. As a book designer I deal with words also, so there's a certain irony and working on this project, but it made me really attentive to you know, I'm a typographer, you know, kind of. You know from the bottom of my heart, you know, I look at language as image also, Like Schleuning, Makela understands what it is like to communicate non-verbally. Laurie Haycock Makela: I've been a book designer and an educator and all that for years and years and then I had two brain hemorrhages and brain surgery which really made my everything stopped, you know, that was but… So yeah, I think that Sarah brought many of us in here because of certain personal experiences that make it so we really understand in some pretty deep way or experiential way what our options are when we. You know are left with maybe for a while. I couldn't I didn't speak or write or read or anything like that. So I had to rethink all that. So I really identified with the content or the concept of this project from the very beginning, you know. The six installations only thematically relate to one another, and are introduced by the ground rules “Be curious, be thoughtful, be gentle.” -- one of the few instances of text in the gallery. Visitors can experience the installations in any order they choose by going into rooms off the main area, which Schleuning explains by evoking a sea creature. Sarah Schleuning: The exhibition itself will be designed kind of like an octopus is I guess the best way I can think to describe it and when you go in the room if you think of the octopus's sort of head, it is actually going to be an empty room. Sarah Schleuning: And that room will have some furniture and we'll have some things and they'll be these kind of videos that are really going to be sort of short Boomerang videos of each artist in their space kind of showing people what to expect what they would use their and so that then you could understand. Yes, they're six spaces. Sarah Schleuning: Then the place like Lori's doing is really. We wanted to make a space. That was what we called kind of a de-escalation Zone and you know those spaces typically a museum like sensory spaces and others which are becoming more commonplace in institutions, like Museum often are off of the sort of educational space or in other places, and we wanted to put it primary in the exhibition it we wanted it to be sort of fully accessible and not, stigmatized is probably too hard of a word but making it feel like it was accessible to everyone that everybody may need it the opportunity to just have a moment to take a to sort of reboot and refresh. In that space there will be rockers and weighted blankets and one of our Specialists deals primarily with that. So we vetted that project and what we wanted to use in there in that. And then Lori the book that Lori is done, which really shows the whole creative process of each of the different designers will be wheat pasted on one of the walls and and so we'll both be a place for reflection for people to look at these but also a kind of stabilizing line for people if they need to sort of combat calm down or recenter. Even though the museum world has a term for visitors needing a break from galleries -- it’s called museum fatigue and you can listen to a brief overview of it on episode 2 of Museum Archipelago -- the causes of museum fatigue and a best practice approach remain speculative. Researcher Beverly Serrell found that visitors typically spent less than 20 minutes in exhibitions regardless of topic and size before becoming much more selective about what they explore. Her research supports the notion that visitors have a limited time frame after which their interest towards exhibits diminishes. And this is the reason why you can usually find at least a bench 20 minutes into a linear exhibition -- but it’s clear that museums can do much more. The designers of Speechless hope that their approach can contribute. Sarah Schleuning: The other thing that I really wanted to make sure happened in the exhibition was that you never walked from one project to another you always go into a space and then you come back into this central, sort of emptier, zone so that you always have a chance to it's almost like a palate cleanser, right? You always kind of go from one experience and then you're able to reflect a decompress and then you can move into another. Sarah Schleuning: We don't know how it's going to go. I mean part of the idea of being experimental, and I applaud both institutions for encouraging us to go really go for it is that you don't know what's going to be successful or not. And so we are investing in doing evaluations during the project and it's our intention to then publish those findings at the end because we want to. So much of the planning for this exhibit comes from making visitors comfortable enough to have a non-museum-like interaction with the art, but visitors are used to a museum context with clear text instructions. So how soon into the visit do they start playing and lose some level of inhibition, loose some of the exhibit context. Sarah Schleuning: I stay up at night thinking about that. I think it's been really interesting because even with you know, the designers themselves, you know, it's that balance between they want to make something that's really spectacular and it's in an art museum and they want it to really have, you know be elevated at that level and at the same time, how would you interact with this as a child? You know and and how would you change that to be more responsive to that or to think through these things? And trying to work through, you know the best you can but you never know. And and that's what makes it both, you know, exciting and anxiety-producing. Laurie Haycock Makela: Yeah, I just started biting my nails. Yeah. Speechless, with its visually-striking rooms is opening into a world more comfortable than ever about expressing itself non-verbally. Audio and images and animations of images are just as easy to create, modify, and share as words. Episode 14 of this show, which was an entire discussion of museum selfies from 2015 feels hopelessly outdated in 2019 -- images are how many visitors “talk” about the galleries they visit. Like any language, there’s a continually evolving grammar in images and selfie, and one strategy is for a museum to give visitors the tools of that grammar: a dictionary and a thesaurus in the form of strange shapes and a colorful backgrounds. Exhibits like Speechless give visitors the tools to center non-verbal expression within a museum frame. Speechless: different by design is now open at the Dallas Museum of Art, and will be until March 22, 2020. After that, the same exhibit will be on display at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
Museums are seen as trustworthy, but what if that trust is misplaced? Chicago-based independent curator Elena Gonzales provides a solid jumping off point for thinking critically about museums in her new book, Exhibitions for Social Justice. The book is a whirlwind tour of different museums, examining how they approach social justice. It’s also a guide map for anyone interested in a way forward. In this episode, Gonzales takes us on a tour of some of the main themes of the book, examining the strategies of museum institutions from the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia to the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:15 Trust in Museum Institutions 01:00 Elena Gonzales Website (http://www.elenagonzales.org) Twitter (https://twitter.com/curatoriologist) 01:45 Exhibitions for Social Justice (https://www.routledge.com/Exhibitions-for-Social-Justice-1st-Edition/Gonzales/p/book/9781138292598) 03:05 What is an Exhibition for Social Justice? 04:20 National Museum of Mexican Art (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Museum_of_Mexican_Art) 07:12 “Questioning the Visitor” 07:50 Anne Frank House Museum (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Frank_House) 08:25 Eastern State Penitentiary (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_State_Penitentiary) 11:23 Buy Exhibitions for Social Justice On Routledge (https://www.routledge.com/Exhibitions-for-Social-Justice-1st-Edition/Gonzales/p/book/9781138292598) (Use Promo Code ADS19 for 30% Off) On IndieBound (https://www.indiebound.org/search/book?keys=Exhibitions+for+Social+Justice) On Amazon (https://amzn.to/2BQxb2s) 12:30 Introducing Archipelago at the Movies (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago)! Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://mailchi.mp/6aab38a7b159/museumgo) to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 71. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript The American Alliance of Museums often says that museums are the most trustworthy institutions in modern American life. And the statistics are remarkable: some surveys indicate that museums are the second most trusted news source after friends and family. As rates of trust in other institutions plummet: the news media, etc, museums still enjoy a privileged position in collective consciousness. It’s something I’ve noticed over the past few years: even non-museum spaces try to adopt museum-like presentations to apply the veneer of trustworthiness. But it’s an uneasy set of statistics. Is it possible that the reason museums are so trustworthy is because they've been excellent at toeing the status quo, the party line? And whose public consciousness are museums enjoying a privileged position inside of anyway? That’s why I was thrilled to come across Exhibitions for Social Justice by Elena Gonzales during a recent museum binge. The book presents the current state of museum practice as it relates to the work of social justice, but also a guide map for anyone interested in a way forward. Elena Gonzales: I think if a lot of people fully understood how museum work is done, they might actually not trust us so much because they would understand the subjectivity. But I think the more that we are transparent about museums, content, who creates it, how, what the goals of an exhibition are, et cetera, the more people can trust us authentically and rightfully. I’m joined today by Elena Gonzales, author of Exhibitions for Social Justice. Elena Gonzales: Hello, my name is Elena Gonzales and I’m the author of Exhibitions for Social Justice which is newly out from Museum Meanings and Routledge. I’m an independent curator and scholar in the Chicago area, and I’m also the co-chair of the exhibitions committee at the Evanston Art Center where we curate 20 to 30 exhibitions per year. In Exhibitions for Social Justice, Gonzales lays out the ways that institutions can use the overwhelming and uneasy trust capital built up over centuries. Elena Gonzales: Museums have a centuries-long history of supporting white supremacist, colonialist, racist, bigoted ideologies and helping them flourish, and providing the evidence for them and undergirding them. And it is museums' ethical and moral obligation now to not only dismantle that through de-colonial practices, but also to make themselves into pro-social inclusive institutions that are actively working for social justice. Gonzales believes that museums have the power to help our society become more hospitable, equitable, and sustainable, and the book presents a survey of specific museums and exhibitions that have made their goals clear. Elena Gonzales: People often ask me what counts as an exhibition for social justice? And I think people, they immediately snap to museums and exhibitions that deal with mass violence, that deal with redress of major wrongs like genocides. Your Holocaust museums, your Memorial museums, that type of thing. And when they ask this question, I say what I think is the most readily accessible definition for social justice, which is that social justice is the equitable distribution of risks and rewards in society. And then I say that there are so many different areas that this touches in terms of content beyond Memorial museums, beyond Holocaust museums. And that's not to minimize the work of those institutions. Those are critical institutions and holding those memories is very, very important. And sites of conscience are very important to my work in general. Elena Gonzales: But I think there are many topics anywhere ranging from equity in education, equity in health care, environmental justice, gender equity. Any kind of moment where a culturally specific group is gaining access to historical voice or contemporary voice in the public sphere. There are just many different entry points to this topic. One of the main ideas of the book is that the work of social justice must be institution-wide, not just the work of one curator. Gonzales writes about the experience of her first curatorial effort at the National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA) in Chicago. NMMA is a culturally-specific first-voice museum dedicated to serving its local Mexican community. Elena Gonzales: It was a really big project for us. It's called The African Presence in Mexico. And the main exhibition was called The African Presence in Mexico: From Yanga to the Present. I curated a second exhibition. It was about the relationships between African Americans and Mexicans in the United States and the relationships between African Americans and the country of Mexico, and that was called Who Are We Now? Roots, Resistance, and Recognition. At an all-staff meeting shortly before the opening of the project, Carlos Tortolero, the president and one of the founders of the museum, reiterated the goal of solidary to the entire staff of the museum. If the museum did everything right, the museum would have a large number of new African-American visitors in particular. He said that if any staff members felt prejudices towards the museum’s Black visitors or doubted the history being presented, then they should look for another job now. Elena Gonzales: The President of the museum, Carlos Tortolero, who's still the President now, said that he wanted everyone in the museum to feel that we had found long lost members of our family. Cousins, brothers and sisters, however you want to think of it. And he was saying he wanted us to feel this way and he wanted us to make all of our visitors feel that level of celebration as we welcomed them to the museum. And in particular, he wanted our African American visitors to feel extremely welcome, extremely celebratory about the nature of this relationship that we were eager to share at a level that it really hadn't been told in an educational way before, or even in a history capacity. Exhibitions for Social Justice makes the point that the exhibition was successful because the whole museum -- every person in the building -- was behind the mission. Elena Gonzales: I've studied museums like the NMMA where the entire institution is headed in the same direction, and everyone is committed to the goal of this exhibition for social justice in question, in this case, the African Presence. And then I've studied museums where that that's not the case. Where the curators may have this idea that they're working for social justice, but the institution is not behind them in that way. The institution does not believe that that is an inappropriate goal. And that just hampers the work of those curators in that are. Gonzales discusses the various ways that museums can inspire action inside and outside the museum, and the states involved in how museums envision visitors as social actors. One of these strategies is questioning the visitor -- like the traveling exhibit Free2Choose developed by the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam. Elena Gonzales: But I think that what is a strategy that I talk about in the book and that I've discovered in other places that I think is really effective is questioning the visitor. Questioning the visitor in a way that involves the visitor in this dialogue with him or herself, once again. This conversation that is going to create memories about the experience and produce rehearsal of the experience, like an ongoing thinking about the experience after the fact and possibly talking about it with others. For example, the Anne Frank House Museum in Amsterdam had an exhibition for a number of years, it's since closed, that had you think about the tensions between freedom of speech and protection from hate speech, and you got to think about some examples where these things come into conflict and then you voted on which right should win out, which was more important, and you voted in such a way that people could see the responses going up in real time. The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia features another example of the visitor questioning technique. The museum address the American crisis of mass incarceration directly by making visitors answer the question, “Have You Ever Broken the Law” by the two pathways into the Prisons Today gallery. Elena Gonzales: the Eastern State presentation is not confrontational. It's, I think, thought-provoking and inviting. They simply say, "Have you ever broken the law? Yes, no," and there are two pathways that you can take. And you're going to see the same material or you're free to see the same material after that, either way. You're not actually separated from the other content. This works because 70% of American adults admit to committing a crime that could have put them in prison, but most of them never go. The exhibit goes on to explore some of the systematic reasons why, as well as what life is like for those who go to prison and the families they leave behind. But the path you walked down to get in is always on your mind. And the museum also has strategies to reconnect the visitor with the content even after the visit -- sometimes even years later. Elena Gonzales: So at the end of the Prisons Today show, you can do an activity that that allows the museum to send you postcards to yourself after the fact, after the visit. So they send it at a couple of different intervals. It's like a month, a year and two years or something like that. It's a few different intervals of time. And it's very clever because you don't just fill out a postcard and put it in a box, it's a digital thing. You answer some questions and they create the postcard. So you haven't seen the postcard in advance. You don't see it until you actually check your email and then you receive a postcard based on the responses that you answered to the questions. So I think that is a very effective way to create ongoing engagement because when you consider the way in which the position that museums have in our informational environment, and then you consider the position of the museum experience in the life of the visitor, this content might actually become more relevant over years or even decades. So I think that ongoing contact that takes place not soon after the visit is really valuable. But Eastern State Penitentiary also sits in a unique place: the social justice aspect of the exhibition is far from the primary draw of the institution. Elena Gonzales: It's a very interesting spot to visit. Most people think they're going to visit there because they want to see Al Capone's cell. They're passing through, it's this historic penitentiary and there's all kinds of draws that have nothing, so they think, to do with social justice. And for Eastern State, they have an opportunity with a huge number of this middle majority for them, of this body of visitors that is not necessarily apathetic about criminal justice and mass incarceration. Not necessarily experts in criminal justice or mass incarceration. They're tourists and they're visiting for that purpose. Elena Gonzales: So Eastern State has an opportunity by not advertising the social justice content that they do indeed provide in their exhibition presence today, and in other ways throughout the prison. They have an opportunity to explore the topic with visitors who aren't seeking it out, which is very special because as you say, the minute you say the words social justice, or justice, or activism or a variety of other keywords, you do start to get a self-selecting audience. Eastern State offers this opportunity to talk to people that you might not otherwise get to talk to if you say that your topic is social justice. And I think that actually works really well for visitors, and visitors have very important experiences there that they might not otherwise have. The book is excellent -- for me it was helpful just to see the way the book categorized different types of museums and introduced vocabulary and models I’m unfamiliar with. Gonzales provides a whirlwind tour of various museums, each presenting different strategies, buttressed by academic studies. If you’re looking for a jumping off point to think more critically about museums, take a look. Elena Gonzales: This is a moment when we need all of our institutions and all of our people in different areas to help work for social justice. And museums are a huge part of that. But it's not just for museum professionals. People who are activists in other areas, people who are educators, people who work in environmental justice, people who are community organizers, I think are going to love translating the tactics and strategies to their own work.
To the extent that there was a Communist capital of humor in the last half of the 20th century, it was Gabrovo, Bulgaria. Situated in a valley of the Balkan mountains, the city prides itself on its unique brand of self-effacing humor. In 1972, the Museum House of Humor and Satire opened here, and the city celebrated political humor with people in Soviet block countries and even some invited Western guests. Today, three decades after the collapse of Communism, the Museum House of Humor and Satire remains one of the region's most important cultural landmarks. The museum has had to reinvent itself to interpret not only a democratic Bulgaria, but a the global, meme-driven, and internet-forged culture most visitors live in. I went to Gabrovo to visit museum director Margarita Dorovska, who describes how the museum's strengths in its early years—like knowing how to present political humor without arousing the interest of the authorities—inform how the museum thinks of its role in the world today. Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:15 Gabrovo, Bulgaria (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabrovo) 01:07 Margarita Dorovska 01:44 How the Museum House of Humour and Satire Started 02:40 How to Run A Humor Museum Under Communism 04:05 1st International Biennial of Humour and Satire in the Arts in Gabrovo 05:55 The Museum in 1989 06:40 After the Collapse 07:00 Humor is Not Universal 07:30 Media Freedom in Bulgaria 07:55 Addressing Civic Space in Bulgaria: Garden Town (https://www.humorhouse.bg/engl/exhibitions/temporary.html) 09:09 The Museum and the Internet 11:00 Outro | Join Club Archipelago (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://mailchi.mp/6aab38a7b159/museumgo) to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 70. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript In the middle of Bulgaria, not far from the crumbling Buzludzha monument, lays the town of Gabrovo. Situated in a valley of the Balkan mountains, the city prides itself on its unique brand of humor. Many local jokes jokes are self deprecating about the Gabrovoian obsession with frugality and entrepreneurship, and center around the comical lengths that townspeople go to save money. The mascot of the city is a black cat without a tail. It is said that Gabrovoians prefer cats without tails because they can shut the door faster when they let the cat out, saving on their hearting bills. Margarita Dorovska: That's actually typical for the Balkan mountains. This used to be the kind of humor that would exist in the region around Gabrovo, not just Gabrovo itself. But Gabrovoians were smart enough to brand it as theirs. That's the entrepreneurial side of things, of course. [laughter]. This is Margarita Dorovska. Margarita Dorovska: Hello! My name is Margarita Dorovska and I'm a curator by profession and I'm the Director of the Museum of Humour and Satire in Gabrovo, Bulgaria. The museum was founded in 1972. Before the Wall fell, this location was known as the Communist capital of humour, extending its reach across Eastern Block countries, and also to certain circles in the West. I visited Gabrovo because I wanted to find out how this political humor and satire museum could have started here during communist times, and how the museum is tackling the global, meme-driven culture of the world today. Margarita Dorovska: There are a couple of precursors that we have to go through to understand how the museum appeared. Two things. One is the Gabrovo humor jokes. So someone announced the completion in the newspaper, that the municipality is paying a certain amount for each joke that gets juried into a collection of Gabrovo jokes. They collected a lot of these jokes, made a book, and this book was an absolute bestseller. It was immediately translated of course in Russian, but also in different languages like French, English, German and it started selling very very well. The other thing that happened was the the Gabrovo carnival: this was restarted in the 60s and it is typical for being a carnival with a lot of political humor and satire. And this is the crucial theme of the museum and why it was able to exist in an age of single-party rule. The people running the carnival, and later the museum, were experts at walking up to the line, without crossing it. Margarita Dorovska When we speak of political satire, do not imagine the general secretary of the party being satirized. It was very clear to what level the satire can reach. So satire was an instrument in the hands of good communists to fight those who abused power, but to certain level. So it extends up to maybe a local official, but never higher? Margarita Dorovska: Exactly, exactly. It was very clear where the satire can reach. As to the Gabrovo jokes, they’re not political, they deal with economy, with the mentality of the local people. Combining the two: or maybe more realistically, using the Gabrovo jokes as a Trojan Horse to present more political satire, was what led some entrepreneurial Gabrovians to open a museum. Margarita Dorovska: [In] Typical Gabrovo style, they didn't build a new building, but they refurbished an old leather factory. So the building we are in is the fromer leather factory. First it was cheaper, second it could go slightly unnoticed because you don't need the same kind of permissions to build and to refurbished. And if you wanted your out-of-the-mainstream project to succeed in communist Bulgaria, asking for permission was not the way to go. The museum started to put on biennials, festivals held every two years which featured invited Western guests. The first was in 1973. Margarita Dorovska: They immediately started with the biennials, the first edition of the biennials was dedicated to cartoons and small satirical sculpture. It was international and they brought in amazing names. How could that exist? If you think of that time, most cartoonists in the western world would be critical, would be leftists. So they would be very welcome in Bulgaria. And that would indeed be a gathering place for East and West. But there was a problem with that first biennial: the jury selected, for first prize, a cartoonist from Turkey, a country on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Margarita Dorovska: The director thought, "oh wow, what we did?" "What are you doing? How are you going to give a prize to a cartoonist from a NATO country?" And they started asking themselves, but we never asked for permission to start a biennial, to gather all of these people, that's going to be a huge problem, what are we going to do?” Then he thought, what am I going to do? The only thing he could do was go straight to the monster. So the director went straight to the daughter of the general secretary and the Bulgarian dictator, Ludmilla Zhivkova, who would later become minister of culture. Margarita Dorovska: She was good enough to listen. She was smart to perceive good ideas and to support them. So, it worked. She came, she opened the biennial. And it all went on well. And they never gave the reward anymore to a cartoonist coming from a country that would be an issue. The museum and the biennials kept growing, until communism collapsed in 1989. Margarita Dorovska: In 1989, they had more than 80 foreign guests, artists, juries coming for the biennial. So it was massive. After 1989 was the collapse indeed. At that time there were more than 100 people working in the House of Humor. Because if you think of all the different departments: cinema, literature, folklore, it was a big enterprise, with a lot of events, with amazing exhibitions. When I look at photos from the 1970s and 1980s, I'm absolutely astonished by the exhibition design you see. It's amazing, it's so well done. I don't think anywhere in Bulgaria it was so good. After the collapse, the museum's staff shrank to a skeleton crew. Dariskova joined the museum in 2016 and argued for a new direction for the museum's curation. Margarita Dorovska: As you can imagine, until 1989, my colleagues would have insisted that humor is universal. That all human beings all laugh. Humor is omnipresent and universal. The first fight that I had to have with the team when I came was to say, “I’m sorry but humor is not universal.” Humor is so culture based. It’s totally culture-based. Of course, it is safer to say that humor is universal and not to go into political humor. It’s safer. But then you don’t do your job. Our mission is to be very timely, to show things that are happening today. And if a humor and satire museum can’t do that, who else can do that? While a lot has improved over the past decade in Bulgaria, media freedom is declining. Most of the press has been purchased by oligarchs, and corruption and collusion between the media and politicians is widespread. Margarita Dorovska: You know there are issues with freedom of expression in Bulgaria. So at least a museum should be some sort of outlet. The museum addresses the civic space in Bulgaria with a new temporary children’s exhibit called Garden Town. The charming subtitle is “where mischief has a happy end.” Margarita Dorovska: We wanted to look at different examples or area of publicness, what’s public life, public debate, public media, public space and so on, and we really wanted to have this theme for children, so for the first time we are doing this children’s exhibition. It’s called Garden Town, and it’s a model of a town where the different neighborhoods address different issues, such as graffiti, you’re invited to draw, or voting, that’s the place where you go by yourself and it’s accidentally a toilet but it’s also a voting room, then we have some gorilla guarding, making bombs of seeds, etc. Finally, there’s the PensivePark where kids -- because they usually come in groups, they are invited to sit down and have a discussion and reach a decision. We give them some advice about how they can make a decision like tossing a coin, or concessions, or voting, or different options -- including anarchy! [laughter] It’s really something to see how far the museum has come from starting within the communist system, to reinventing itself to remain relevant in ways that are crucially important to a modern Bulgarian audience. Dariskova admits that the next stage of reinventing -- interpreting humor on the internet, to an audience that lives online -- hasn’t happened yet. Margarita Dorovska: That’s the first big challenge I could think of when I learned that the museum was looking for a director. I came to the museum, I looked at it, I was real impressed, and then I thought how can I change this place? How can you make it really fun when all the fun you need is on your phone. You can just scroll for hours and never stop laughing, so what can a museum do about that? Are we supposed to show the same things? No! You don’t go to the museum to go look at something you could see on your phone. Internet certainly has changed humor a lot. This is an exhibition we’ve been planning but we are trying to find the right research team to prepare that, memes, all the different funny games. It is very interesting to see how internet has been changing humor and where we are at now. The way jokes developed in Gabrovo, where people told slightly different versions to each other -- and in the process carefully distilled the most sharable essence of the joke -- mirrors the way that memes are forged in online communities. Constantly morphing to get more attention. Maybe the best chance we have of interpreting communities online and off comes from a humor museum. Thre Gabrovo Museum of Humour and Satire, which has already morphed through 20 years of communism and 30 years of democracy, is a good place to start. Just close the door quickly when you let the cat out. This has been Museum Archipelago.
From Apollo Mission Control in Houston, Texas, to the field in southeastern Russia where Yuri Gargarin finished his first orbit, there are many sites on earth that played a role in space exploration. But Hutchinson, Kansas isn’t one of them. And yet, Hutchinson—a town of 40,000 people—is home to the Cosmosphere, a massive space museum. The Cosmosphere boasts an enormous collection of spacecraft, including the largest collection of Soviet space hardware anywhere outside Russia. How did all of these space artifacts end up in the middle of Kansas? To find out, I visited Hutchinson to talk to Cosmosphere curator Shannon Whetzel. In this episode, Whetzel describes the story of the Cosmosphere as “being in the right place at the right time,” why the museum’s collection includes “destroyed” artifacts, and how she interprets Soviet hardware for a new generation. Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:15 The Cosmosphere (https://cosmo.org) 01:20 Why Not Kansas? 01:35 Shannon Whetzel (https://cosmo.org/about/team) 01:45 Patty Carey (https://www.hutchgov.com/1912/Cosmosphere---Patty-Carey) 02:18 Starting the Collection 04:10 Apollo 13 Command Module (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_13) 05:02 Successes and Failures 05:50 Soviet Hardware 06:50 Space Race Gallery 07:58 Lunasphere (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luna_2) 08:35 Teaching the Political Context of the Space Race 09:30 Leaving Trash on the Moon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_artificial_objects_on_the_Moon) 09:58 Site-Specific Museums 10:51 Join Club Archipelago (https://www.patreon.com/museumarchipelago) Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://mailchi.mp/6aab38a7b159/museumgo) to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 69. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] There are many sites on earth that played a role in human spaceflight: the mission control building in Houston, Texas where flight engineers communicated with the Apollo astronauts on the moon, or even the grassy field in southeastern Russia where Yuri Gargarin landed to end his mission as the first person in space. But Hutchinson, Kansas isn’t one of these sites. No spacecraft engineering happened here, like in Huntsville, Alabama. No rocket testing happened here, like in Perlington, Mississippi. There’s not even a historic, exploration-related radio telescope here, like in Parkes, Australia. Despite this, Hutchinson -- a town of 40,000 people -- is home to the Cosmosphere, a massive space museum. The Cosmosphere boasts an enormous collection of spacecraft, including the largest collection of Soviet space hardware anywhere outside Russia. How did all of these space artifacts end up in the middle of Kansas? To find out, I visited Hutchinson to talk to Cosmosphere curator Shannon Whetzel. Shannon Whetzel: I think some of our brochures say, “why not Kansas”, right? The story of the Cosmosphere is more or less the right place at the right time. Whetzel says that the museum has had many decades to be in the right place at the right time. Shannon Whetzel: Hello, my name is Shannon Whetzel, and I am the curator here at the Cosmosphere. The Cosmosphere’s first iteration was a star projector and folding chairs set up at the Kansas State Fair Grounds in 1962 by a woman named Patty Carey. She was inspired by the launch of Sputnik and ultimately wanted to set up a space science center in the Midwest. Shannon Whetzel: The volunteers we have who have who knew her personally, I did not know her personally, have basically said she’s a very nice arm-twister. You didn’t say no to Patty Carey. And that planetarium grew to what you see now. By the late 1970s, Patty Carey was making plans to transform the planetarium into the Kansas Cosmosphere and Discovery Center. Shannon Whetzel: The collection as we know it started in the late 1970s. NASA is looking to… I hate to say “unload,” but looking to get some hardware out there for the public to see, and the Cosmosphere was beginning its first expansion, so we had the space and the connections, and that’s how we started collecting space hardware. The Cosmosphere was the right place — a big building in the midwest— and the right time — the late 1970s. The era was a strange time for space exploration: it was after the Apollo program, but before the Space Shuttle. The Smithsonian Air and Space museum opened in Washington, DC in 1976, and I get the sense that a whole bunch of space artifacts that didn’t make the cut for that museum ended up in Hutchinson. Shannon Whetzel: The Smithsonian and NASA… they want to get stuff… I say stuff… artifacts, priceless artifacts out for the public to see everywhere. Maybe also that’s a sign of their success, that they’ve gotten into the Midwest and it’s been a priority. And we are so grateful to the Smithsonian I don’t know if you noticed how many of our exhibits have Smithsonian labels. I believe we are the only Smithsonian affiliate in Kansas. Looking carefully at the collection, you also see another pattern: hardware from missions that didn’t go exactly as planned. There’s a heavily damaged Mercury boilerplate capsule from the Mercury-Atlas 1 mission. There’s Liberty Bell 7, another Mercury Capsule that was the US’s second human spaceflight mission in 1961 -- the Astronaut survived, but the capsule sank into the ocean and wasn’t recovered until 1999. And then there’s the Apollo 13 Command Module, Odyssey, which was restored and added to the museum in 1995. Shannon Whetzel: I think at the end of the Apollo 13 mission, the astronauts were home safe, it was fantastic, but I think it was viewed more as a failure than a success. So yes, Apollo 13 was display in France for a while, it wasn’t viewed as something that should be in the States as much. And then our guys restored it. I can’t imagine any museum turning away the Apollo 13 Command Module today. But it is the Cosmosphere’s ethos to say yes to an unwanted, unrestored artifact -- even if that artifact is sitting under water, or somewhere in France. They see the investment in recovery and restoration as well worth the effort to add to their collection. And that’s what makes the museum so notable today. But there’s also a point that the museum is making with the collection as a whole: space exploration is as much about the failures as about the successes. Shannon Whetzel: I believe Apollo 13 had come up with that contingency plan before, it wasn’t on the fly. And in a way it was testing their contingency plan. And it went wonderfully. They got home safely. Shannon Whetzel: We discuss a lot now about how it seems in our culture that there’s a fear of failure. We are afraid to fail. Or if something doesn’t work the first time, that means that that idea should be discarded. And I think that that’s not what got us to the moon. That’s not what made our space program successful. Without meaning to, that’s become one of our catch phrases around here. We don’t want our campers, our students to be afraid to fail. But the collection isn’t just made up of American space hardware. The Cosmosphere also boasts the largest collection of Sovet space artifacts anywhere outside of Russia. And this fills in the sizeable gaps of how most other space museums present the Space Race. The Cosmosphere team, which included Patty Carey, started obtaining Sovet Space hardware in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Shannon Whetzel: Again, right place at the right time. The Sovet Union was crumbling, they were looking to get rid of their artifacts, we worked through a broker, and we were able to obtain them. And they are part of our collection. They are loaned pieces. Why the decision to try to collect them? Why didn’t other museums try to, in the same way that you did? Shannon Whetzel: I think that our early leaders were very visionary in what we could become and realized in a sense that we were only telling half the story. Half of the Space Race gallery is colored red and filled with Soviet space objects and text about the Soviet human spaceflight program, and the other half is blue, telling the American story. Shannon Whetzel: I think that our gallery is set up particularly well in the sense that you get the comparison. We split the gallery so you can get the sense of this is what’s going on in the Sovet Union at the time, this is what the Americans were doing. So I think our gallery does a very good job of comparing the two-- Mercury and Vostok are right beside each other. The effect is striking -- the Cosmosphere is not a design museum, but by putting the artifacts from two different superpowers close to one another, you get an appreciation for the subtle and not-so-subtle differences in the industrial design -- compare the design language of the Lunokhod Moon Rover, on display at the museum, with Amercian Mars rovers that Americans might be more familiar with, and you can see the different ways each program approached the problems of surviving in space, even without the color coordination. Whetzel’s favorite Soviet artifact is the Lunasphere, a copy of a soccer-ball shaped device carried by Luna 2, whose only purpose was to cover its crash-landing site on the moon with little pendents embossed with images of the hammer and sickle. Shannon Whetzel: The Soviets send the Lunasphere, and it’s just a small ball that upon landing, it has a small explosive in it and all of these, our gallery calls them Cosmic Calling Cards go all over the surface of the moon. What a nice little metaphors for the cold war -- what a stick in the eye. Whetzel also said that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to teach younger generations about the political context of the Space Race. After all, it’s been 30 years since the Berlin wall fell. Shannon Whetzel: It is very difficult to explain the cold war. First of all they didn’t live through it, I don’t know if you did. It wasn’t black and white, there was so much grey, and I think that’s the difficult part. Especially, you’ve seen our gallery, it’s pretty big, a 45 minute tour down there you just barely make it to the shuttle, and that’s if you’re rushing. It’s difficult to portray those ideas in a short amount of time to a younger audience. No matter what you do, historically it gets wrapped up nice and neat. As we change here on earth, so too does the way we teach the story of spaceflight. Whetzel gave me an example of the list of items humans have left on moon -- a list that includes everything from the propagandistic Lunasphere pendants to actual trash left by the Apollo astronauts. Shannon Whetzel: I did a tour with our campers the other day, we do a collections tour, and I was telling them, and they were appalled. I was like, wow, the generational difference. They were appalled, they were like, “we trashed the moon”? And I was like, “we did.” This is one of the reasons I will always keep coming back to space museums. The environmental consciousness that the Apollo program itself sparked by its images of a tiny, fragile, borderless earth, now gets the chance to reevaluate Apollo anew. And that is just one of the ways that the Cosmosphere, free from a specific location, can tell the story of human space exploration better than a site-specific museum. Visiting the Johnson Spaceflight Center in Houston, Texas, visitors learn about how that site played a role in the larger Apollo missions. Visiting the Parkes Observatory in Australia, you can learn about how the radio telescope was instrumental in broadcasting the famous image of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon to the world. But the Cosmosphere allows visitors to take a step back. This has been Museum Archipelago.
Akomawt is a Passamaquoddy word for the snowshoe path. At the beginning of winter, the snowshoe path is hard to find. But the more people pass along and carve out this path through the snow during the season, the easier it becomes for everyone to walk it together. endawnis Spears (https://www.akomawt.org/about-us.html) (Diné/ Ojibwe/ Chickasaw/ Choctaw) is director of programming and outreach for the Akomawt Educational Initiative (https://www.akomawt.org). She saw a need to supply regional educators with the tools to implement competent education on Native history and Native contemporary issues. She co-founded the Initiative with Chris Newell (Passamaquoddy) and Dr. Jason Mancini to make those tools. In this episode, Spears talks about the different between living culture and sterile museum artifacts, her discussion at Untold Stories 2019: Indigenous Futures and Collaborative Conservation (https://www.untoldstories.live/mohegan-sun-2019) about how Native narratives are violently presented through a white lens in museums, and the potential for museums to disrupt that for many visitors. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/museum-archipelago/id1182755184), Google Podcasts (https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubXVzZXVtYXJjaGlwZWxhZ28uY29tL3Jzcw==), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE), or even email (https://mailchi.mp/6aab38a7b159/museumgo) to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 68. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] endawnis Spears: “For many indigenous people, we are looking for ways to engage our culture at all places at all times. And for me and for many other Native people, it happens to be in the realm of museums.” endawnis Spears focuses on engaging with her culture within the realm of museums precisely because museums violently separate her culture from a living context. endawnis Spears: [Introduction in Diné] endawnis Spears: [Translation] Hello, I’m endawnis Spears, and I am Yucca-fruit-strung-out-in-a-line clan. I’m born from the Ojibwe people. My maternal grandfather’s from the Tangleclan, and my paternal grandfather is from the Choctaw/Chickasaw people. I’m the director of programming and outreach for the Akomawt Educational Initiative. endawnis Spears co founded the Akomawt Educational Initiative in 2018 with Chris Newell and Dr. Jason Mancini. The Initiative was born out of their experiences in museum and classroom education across present-day New England. They saw a need to supply regional educators with the tools to implement competent education on Native history and Native contemporary issues. They created the Initiative to build those tools. endawnis Spears: The word Akomawt is a Passamaquoddy word for the snowshoe path. One of our co-founders, Chris Newell, is a Passamaquoddy, and he recommended this term as a defining a part of our Initiative. In [the] Passamaquoddy world, snowshoe pass at the beginning of the wintery season is hard to find. It’s hard to walk on, but the more people pass along this path and carve out this path through the snow during the season, the easier it becomes for everyone to walk it together. And we see that as part of our mission and part of the work that we’re trying to do, part of the guiding principles for our work, that we are looking to add to that educational experience for people we are living with and amongst here in what is present day New England because we are all going on the same direction, and the more information and the more culturally accurate and respectful and historically accurate information we are working with, then the easier it is for our children, for our grandchildren. And when I say our, I mean native people, but I also mean non-native people, and so I mean our neighbors and our allies that we live and make lives with here in the present day United States. The Initiative focuses on what is called Sites of Knowledge. These include K-12 schools, universities, and museums. But as Speares describes, the notion of slioed sites of knowledge is a western idea, poorly suited to the work that they do. Instead, The Akomawt Educational Initiative seeks to employ knowledge at all places at all times—something that museums as they exist today fail to do. endawnis Spears: In our traditional communities, in our native communities, there was no place that you would go to learn and to gain the authority on one particular place and then leave that place and not employ that knowledge someplace else or not see the connection between one place and another, so to go to a museum, and this is the authority, and this is where you learn about this, and then you exit the museum, and that knowledge is no longer useful to you as you go about your daily life, that concept of siloing knowledge and siloing our understandings of the world is a foreign one to this continent. Spears shared a striking example of this at Untold Stories 2019: Indigenous Futures and Collaborative Conservation, the closing session of the American Institute for Conservation’s annual conference. She showed an image of a Haudenosaunee cradleboard, as presented in the Detroit Art Institute. It is completely divorced from context and certainly doesn’t feel lived in, in typical museum conservation fashion. She compares this with an image of the cradleboard that held her as a child and has securely held all four of her children. The ties on the cradleboard are ceremonially re-tied for each child — representing a continuity in the material world, that is nowhere to be found in the museum. endawnis Spears: If you came into my house right now, you would see all of the cradleboards from when I was a baby that were made for me, which I have a few. And then the cradleboards that we had made for our children, my husband and I’s children. They are placed up on the wall. They’re displayed on our wall as beautiful art, as part of our family and part of our heritage. The difference between that and a museum is that we keep pieces of that baby’s experience within the cradleboard, so we keep a blanket in one of them. We put them up on the wall to remind us of that time, that special time with our son or our daughter. And so these are instances where the cradleboard is referring back to a specific child in a specific place in a specific emotional life of our family. Spears uses The difference between her cradleboards in her own home and how they would be treated in a museum collection to illustrate the difference between living collections and ethnographic objects. And I think when we look at cradleboards within museum collections, all of that is ripped away. All of that is stripped, and that stripping of those experiences and the spiritual and emotional life of that piece is a violent one, and it’s a very apt representation of what colonialism is, that we are going to take this, and we are going to rip it away from its relationship with you and make it only relevant in its relationship to us, the colonizers, and that’s the story that gets honored. That’s the story that’s more important, and that is a violent story, and it’s one of domination, and so when we go into museums, and we see items that have a lived relationship with us, within our communities, within our homes, we see them on display as ethnographic objects. That is a reminder that our understanding of our own material culture is not the one that is important. To prevent the continued violent ripping of the emotional life that object collections represent, the Initiative offers a range of educational support services and educational programming across present-day New England. And part of that is making sure certain words remain problematized. endawnis Spears: We don’t like to use the term New England unproblematized. This is not problematic. Everyone calls it New England. This is OK. We sanction this term. We don’t want to use any terms that place American western understandings of our places and our culture and our communities in reference to Europe, in this case England. Some of the services offered by the Initiative take the form of outreach programming like, “Understanding Cultural Appropriation”, or guided tours like, ​”Lessons in Radical Feminism From the Fourteenth Century” at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. The Initiative also offers consulting services, providing museums, historical societies, and cultural institutions with socially just and accurate historic information and the means with which to interpret Native collections and themes with and for Native communities. endawnis Spears: We get to go to museums across southern present day New England and, again, look at exhibits critically. There are many museums in the area that are starting to form Native American advisory panels, and who sits on those panels is so important. I think one thing that Akomawt really is very good at is we are also part of the native communities here in the northeast, so I’m from these other tribes, but I married a Narragansett and all of my children are also Narragansett, which is a federally recognized tribe here in Rhode Island. And so I do have buy-in into this community, into the wellbeing or the representation of my children’s community. Knowing how inaccurately museums portray your own culture, or cultures you’re familiar or interment with, how does that change how you visit museums where you don’t know much about the culture being presented? endawnis Spears: I think that for me to say that I’m always aware of that when I go into a museum is not completely accurate, that native people, even though we know that this has been done to us, we still look to some of these institutions as places of knowledge. And I think that when I go into a museum to learn about something, there is always that question of, how did this get here? Whose was it? Who made it, but really why did they make it? What is this object’s life outside of here? And I think that I’m not always asking that question all the time, but that is a question that’s there at the back of my mind. And I think that the more that museums can bring these disembodied pieces back to a body, the better I would relate to it as a native person and as an indigenous person. I think that there’s definitely a duality at play for me when I go into a museum. It’s conflictual. There are some newer museums that deliberately define their primary audience as members of a Native Nation. An example that just opened in Minnesota is the Hoċokata Ti (the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s new cultural center). There’s a touchscreen interactive media piece there that protects some information behind a code that only Nation-members know. How can practices like these change how museums have presented themselves for centuries? endawnis Spears: That is so interesting because it asks the question, who is the primary recipient of what we’re giving in this space? Who are we pointing this space towards? Who is the orientation point? And that doesn’t mean that there can’t be other people in the space learning from that or watching that process. I think that as museums grapple with their colonizing past and the role that they played in colonizing Turtle Island, the world, being in bed with imperialism, I think that as the museum field grapples with that history, we are going to start to see museums as places where practice can be on display, so in the sense that there is an orientation towards this tribal nation. This is who we are speaking to, but the museum can point out or put on display the fact that this practice is being followed and people are in a museum using the actual practice. The museum is speaking very directly to the practice, very blatantly using language and terminology and saying, “We have a certain group that we are prioritizing here. We want you to learn in this space, but you are not the thing that this museum revolves around,” and that in and of itself is an educational experience. Sometimes it’s good to be disruptive in that way and that museums can be a disruptive force in that process by saying that their orientation is towards this particular community and not towards the over-culture. And I think it’s really important for white visitors to museums in a very comfortable space. They know how to interact with museums. They know how to interact with exhibits that reaffirm what they were already thinking before they went into the building. I think to disrupt that experience can be really interesting and really important, and I think that museums have an opportunity to be a really interesting disruptive tool in that process. The Akomawt Educational Initiative lives at https://www.akomawt.org/. There, you can find a list of resources from a “guide to indigenous terminology” to readings and books organized by grade level. You can also see a list of classes and services that the initiative offers across present-day New England. You can watch Spears in the complete proceedings of Untold Stories 2019 at untold stories dot live. Information is also available for the 2020 conference in Salt Lake City, Utah called, PRESERVING CULTURAL LANDSCAPES. This has been Museum Archipelago.
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