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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.
68 Episodes
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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.TranscriptBelow 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.
Cité de l'Espace (https://en.cite-espace.com/) in Toulouse, France is a museum in the middle. It is in the middle of France’s Aerospace Valley (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerospace_Valley) and the European Space Industry. But it is also geographically in the middle of the two competing superpowers in the Space Race that ended with Apollo 11.From its vantage point in the middle, Cité de l'Espace has its own story to tell. The museum features a mix of Soviet and American space hardware, like an American Apollo lunar module and a Soviet Soyuz capsule. The museum also features an extentive collection of French-made space hardware.In this episode commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, I visit Cité de l'Espace to see their preparations for “Apollo Day,” discuss a museum on the lunar surface (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/32), and see how the Space Race is presented from the middle.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.TranscriptBelow is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 67. 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]All over the city of Toulouse, France, on buses and on the streets, there are ads featuring a smiling moon with an American astronaut reflected in its sunglasses.[Audio of Toulouse radio ad]Apollo Day is the 50th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 moon landing — the first and for now, only time humans have made it to another celestial body — hosted by the Cite de l’Espace museum in Toulouse.[Audio of Toulouse radio ad]Toulouse is the centre of the European aerospace industry, with the headquarters of Airbus anchoring what is known as Aerospace Valley — a cluster of engineering and research centers in the heart of France. Like the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex featured in episode 64, the museum also has aspects of themed attractions, but unlike most space museums in the United States, the museum presents hardware and content from multiple space agencies around the world, taking a more global approach to the history and future of space exploration.This could be because, in addition to being the Centre of the European aerospace industry, the museum and the rest of France sit in the middle: physically in the middle of the two competing superpowers in the Space Race that ended with Apollo 11.NASA, the American Space Administration, and the Soviet Space Program are both well represented here. The museum features a mix of Soviet and American space hardware, like an American lunar module, and a Soviet Soyuz capsule.And the mix of Russian and American is also present in more subtle ways too: in a planetarium show, an animated “James the Penguin and Vladimir the Bear” guide visitors through the night sky.[Audio from planetarium show: “Vladimir, you’re a surprising bear!”]I was keen to visit Cite de l’Espace because my family also sits in the middle of the Space Race.My mom, who is Bulgarian, remembers watching the Apollo 11 moon landing as a kid on TV from behind the iron curtain. She says news about humanity’s achievement was broadcast in Bulgaria, but with an air of disinterested detachment. The adults she was watching the broadcast with knew better than to celebrate.My dad, who is American, remembers watching the Apollo 11 moon landing at his home in Wisconsin: everyone around him was interested and, of course, openly excited.From its vantage point in the middle, Cite de l’Espace has its own story to tell. The story of the Apollo landings is presented here with all the excitement of an American space museum, if a little less patriotic.One obvious difference was the date: when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, it was 8:56pm Houston time on July 20th, 1969, but in France it was almost 4am on July 21st. There’s something charming about accounting for timezone changes on a place like the moon, but I wonder if that’s the reason why the museum’s Apollo Day is July 21st, when I have always learned the moonwalk began on July 20th.Cite de l”Espace did not answer my request for comment, but the exhibit text says that French children were awoken in the middle of the night to watch the moonwalk. In the galley, footage of the moonwalk was interspersed with footage of people watching from all over the world, including Sydney, Australia and Paris, France.In the gallery about the Apollo missions, I watched a museum presentation of earth-moon comparisons for children called Meeting Moon. The focus was on physics: a demonstration of what it would it would feel like to lift a heavy object on the earth and then the moon. But the presentation was rooted in the Apollo Project, referencing specific missions and even the experiences of individual astronauts.The finale of the presentation was as feat of coordination by one of the child volunteers. They were strapped into a harness that simulated moon-like conditions, and were asked to erect an American flag in a hole in the carpeted lunar surface…[Audio of room noise]Which they finally managed to do.[Audio of the room applauding]The presenters noted that the United States was the only country to land humans on the moon so far.[Audio from gallery]I like the optimism of the “so far.”Even if the next enterprise to land on the moon is American, the United States won’t be the only country there for too long. The museum has a temporary exhibit called “Moon, Episode II” (presumably Episode I was the Apollo missions), which presents some of the challenges, and proposes some solutions to going back to the moon. Each of the solutions presented did not rely on national agencies, but simply human ingenuity.Cite de l’Espace is not designed for an American or Russian audience. Instead, the museum is the showcase of space achievements in general and French contributions to those achievements in particular. The biggest thing in the museum is an Ariane 5 rocket, a human-ready launch vehicle designed by the French Space Agency that accounts for 60% of global satellite launches. You can get a bite to eat at La Terrasse guanaise, a reference to French Guiana, an overseas department of France, where European rockets are launched because of the department’s proximity to the equator.But while I was there, the museum was making its final preparations for Apollo Day: moving a lunar module to a special location in the middle of the open air part of the museum, all to get ready to celebrate not just an American achievement, but a human one.One of the young visitors also curious about the preparations was wearing a tee shirt with Yuri Gagarin’s face on it. Gagarin, the first person in space, flew on a Soviet rocket only eight years before the moon landings. The modified version of that rocket is also on display not far away.In a video in the Moon episode II gallery, the narrator notes that the boot prints around the Apollo 11 landing site are still there, untouched just as the astronauts left them, ready for humans to visit again.Cite de l’Espace has nothing to say on the topic of a museum at the site of the landing — a project regular listeners know I want to help develop when the time comes.I hope that future museum at the Apollo 11 landing site is a little like Cite de l’Espace. I hope that it doesn’t just feature the American story, but instead features the mix of countries presented here that lead to the achievement.So, whether you celebrate on July 20th or 21st, I wish you a happy Apollo Day. This has been Museum Archipelago.[Outro]
The most-visited room in the most-visited science museum in the world reopened last week after a massive, five year renovation (https://extinctmonsters.net/2019/06/14/deep-time-is-a-masterpiece/). Deep Time, as the new gallery is colloquially known, is the latest iteration of the Fossil Hall at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.It might not seem like much in geologic time, but the Smithsonian Fossil Hall has been welcoming visitors for more than 100 years. Over those years, the dinosaur bones and other fossils—even some individual specimens—have remained at the center, even as the museum presentation around them has changed dramatically. You can measure the change by the different names of the hall through time. What is today Deep Time first opened in 1911 with a different name: The Hall of Extinct Monsters. In this episode, we’re going back in time through the iterations of the Fossil Hall with Ben Miller (https://extinctmonsters.net), an exhibitions developer at the Field Museum in Chicago. From its opening as The Hall of Extinct Monsters in 1911, to renovations in the 1960s and 1980s, to the forceful climate crisis message of 2019’s Deep Time gallery, the Smithsonian Fossil Hall has answered life’s biggest questions. This is the story of how museum workers shrugged off their “cabinet of curiosity” roots and embraced education-oriented exhibits like what we see in the gallery today.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.TranscriptBelow is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 66. 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[Audio of Deep Time gallery]This is the most visited room in the most visited science museum in the world — the east wing of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. It’s the Fossil Hall, known simply as “the place with the dinosaurs.”Today is just a few days after its 2019 grand-reopening. For the past five years, this room was closed to visitors, undergoing a massive renovation. The new gallery is called Deep Time after the concept of geologic time. Deep Time reflects our current best understanding of life on earth. The dinosaurs in the hall are presented as part of the larger story of evolution: the gallery is punctured by prominent black pillars marking extinction events like the End-Permian Extinction, the End-Cretaceous Extinction that killed all non-avian dinosaurs, and our devastation of life today. It might not seem like much in geologic time, but this room has been welcoming visitors as a museum gallery for over 100 years. Over those years, the dinosaur bones and other fossils have remained at the center as the museum presentation around them has changed dramatically to keep with our understanding of the world. You can measure the change by the different names of the hall through time. What is today Deep Time first opened in 1911 with a different name: The Hall of Extinct Monsters.Ben Miller: It was this great big, open neoclassical space with a skylight three stories up. There was a handful of mounted skeletons of dinosaurs and other animals on pedestals in the middle of the floor, some smaller fossil cases lining the walls. It was very reflective of paleontology in museums at the time, in that paleontologists were concerned with taxonomy and with classifying known forms of life, but they weren’t really concerned about, say, the behavior of those animals, or the ecosystems they fit into. From its opening as the Hall of Extinct Monsters in 1911, to renovations in the 1960s and 1980s, to the new Deep Time gallery today, the Smithsonian Fossil Hall has answered life’s biggest questions. This story is not just a story of life on this planet but also the story of our changing understanding of how we fit into it. Today we’re going back in time through the iterations of the fossil hall with exhibitions developer Ben Miller.Ben Miller: Hello my name is Ben Miller and I’m an exhibitions developer at the Field Museum in Chicago. Before that, I worked for the park commission in Maryland. I was putting together Dinosaur Park. That’s largely my career at this point. Miller writes a blog about the history and artistry of paleontology exhibits in museums called, fittingly, Extinct Monsters dot net. When the Hall of Extinct Monsters opened in 1911, the building that is now the National Museum of Natural History was called the United States National Museum. The hall, with various fossils scattered around the room, generally resembled a classic “cabinet of curiosity” approach to exhibit design. Ben Miller: “Certainly museum workers of the time, particularly at the Smithsonian, they were considering exhibitions as showrooms for the collections, rather than having any particular public educational function.”In other words, there was no overarching story — the exhibit wasn’t telling the story of life, it was just saying, ‘here are some cool fossils.”Ben Miller: That’s always the first thing that is conceived of when one’s putting together an exhibition today is what the story is. At the time, this was a showroom for the collections. There wasn’t any kind of narrative that was considered. They were certainly adding new specimens over the course of the first half of the 20th century, including the biggest thing in there, the Diplodocus, the big, long-necked dinosaur went in in the early thirties. But, the basic architecture of that space remained pretty much the same. It just got more and more crowded.Diplodocus remains in the hall to this day, forming an impressive set-piece in Deep Time. The Hall of Extinct Monsters persisted largely unchanged until 1962, when it was finally renovated as part of a Smithsonian-wide modernization project. Ben Miller: In the 50s and the early ‘60s, the Smithsonian went through this modernization project. The US National Museum and all the other components of the Smithsonian, they were looking at overhauling all these older exhibits and bringing in more a visitor-centric focus to those spaces. The Dinosaur Hall and the adjacent halls got renovated. This was a project led primarily by Ann Karras, who was the exhibit designer at the time. She had a hand at rewriting some of the labels, re-organizing the different fossils that were on display, to put them into a story that the general public would be able to follow moving through that space. They also changed the aesthetics quite a bit, which to me, it was a bit of a downgrade. They got rid of all this gorgeous neoclassical design, the big skylight on the ceiling. They boarded up all the windows, put in dingy brown, wall-to-wall carpeting. Yeah, that’s what the exhibition looked like.The most polite way to describe the dingy brown carpeting would be, “earth tone”. When doing the renovation, workers realized that the largest mount, Diplodocus, was too difficult to disassemble and move, so the new exhibit was designed around it. Still, the exhibit was evolving. Ben Miller: It was partially still based on taxonomy. There was a room for reptiles, a room for mammals, a room for fishes. But, they were bringing in the story of life over time and the evolution of life over time, so, which organisms came first, which came later. There was definitely a tone of progress, that was more in vogue at that time, than you would really see in a modern take on the history of life. The next set of renovations took place in the 1970s and 1980s. Those renovations, known as “The History of Life” followed the evolutionary progression of fossils, plants and animals through time.Ben Miller: I think the turning point was in 1974, when they did the Hall of Ice Age Mammals and the Rise of Man. That exhibit was, rather than being based on taxonomy or the structure of the collections, it was this integrated story that drew on paleontology and anthropology and climatology and geology, bringing in different curators and different experts, as well as exhibit designers, to tell this cohesive, collaborative story about what the Ice Ages were like. That dovetailed a bit with the reorganization of the paleontologists at the museum at the time into what’s now known as the Department of Paleobiology. They were more interested in the life and evolution of these animals. I think everyone knew at the time that that was going to be the future, this integrative approach, telling a story about a particular point in time or bringing together a particular narrative was going to be what exhibitions were going to be in the future. That was what drove the renovations throughout the whole east wing for the rest of the century. They continued on to the spaces where the dinosaurs were and around them and eventually finished in 1991 with the Ancient Seas Gallery. It wasn’t always easy. There were some points of tension between this old guard of curators and the new professionalism and greater voices of authority in the project that the exhibitions department was having. But, ultimately, people were seeing these exhibits as something that existed more for the public, rather than being a showroom for the collections.It’s also the version of the exhibit that Miller remembers visiting as a youngster growing up in the DC area. Ben Miller: I’m not sure when I started going, probably around 1990, and there were still a few changes after that.I was maybe two or three years old, so I don’t really know how deeply I was thinking about it. This was probably the first dinosaur exhibit I went to, so it was just the place to see dinosaurs, I didn’t really have a point of comparison, and got to know all of those specimens very well, going to see them year after year after year. What I think was always very clear is that space was at the mercy of its history, and that this had been a series of partial renovations over the course of decades and decades. There were some tight corridors. There were a lot of false walls boxing people in, leading to dead ends and cul-de-sacs. That was just the result of continuing to add new things and new partial renovations to a space that wasn’t really built for that. They added the cast of T. rex around 2000. But, that version of the exhibit, it stuck around for quite some time.The gallery was restricted in part by the story it was telling, guiding visitors through time in a maze-like fashion, making it difficult from a visitor flow perspective to go backwards, particularly with the visitor numbers as high as they were. This is also the version of the gallery that Miller studied when, later, he worked as an intern at the Smithsonian. Ben Miller: I was working with the Paleobiology Department and, later, with the Education Departments, and one of the things I was doing was visitor research, interviews with visitors there about: how they understood the history of life on earth, how they conceived of the great expanses of time, what they thought about the presentation of evolution in the gallery, and that sort of thing. I hope that that little contribution I made was helpful in eventually conceiving the hall as they did.This series of renovations from the 70s and 80s lasted all the way to 2014 — when the hall was closed for the renovations that ultimately became Deep Time. What makes Deep Time so exciting was that it was by far the most complete renovation since the hall first opened in 1911. And that meant the possibility to completely rethink fundamental assumptions about the way the story of life on earth was presented. That meant stripping the entire gallery of the “earth-tone” carpet, and clearing away all the false walls and cul-due sacks that had made the renovations in the 1980s so claustrophobic.Ben Miller: They had this opportunity to take everything out and start over from the beginning, which I’m very jealous of as a museum professional. Usually, you’re just building on decades and decades of what already exists and trying to fit your new story in. They wanted to bring back that historic architecture. I imagine that also has something to do with the visitorship that the Smithsonian gets. That’s one of the most highly visited museums in the world. They get 8 million people every year. When they plan exhibitions, they really have to think about getting those crowds through the space. I imagine that to that end is part of why it’s such an open exhibit, that you can explore at your own pace and go in different ways instead of going along a predetermined route.Deep Time presents the story of life on earth and that includes drastic changes in climate. The gallery does a good job of presenting anthropogenic climate change against the backdrop of previous, much slower changes. The people who made the exhibit have made it hard to visit the museum without contemplating the climate crisis and our role in creating it. Project manager for Deep Time, Siobhan Starrs, says that while people come for the dinosaurs, “they’re get get a lot more than dinosaurs.”Ben Miller: They were able to really start from square one, what do we want people to think about when they think about the history of life on earth? What they landed on was they really wanted to bring the human story into that, to show that we, as people today, were part of the evolution of life. We’re not separate from it, and everything we see in the world today is something that has a story and has roots in the long history in deep time, as the exhibit is called. I think orienting the exhibition around the extinctions seems like a really good move, as you said, because it connects to the modern story about humans causing extinction today, and, also, because, these extinctions are checkpoints in the history of life where everything changedOne of the exhibits that helps visitors think on a deep time scale isan animated interactive media piece called “Your Body Through Time,” which illustrates early instances of characteristics found in our bodies like bilateral symmetry and lungs, and how they evolved in our ancestors. And the presentation of the fossils themselves is dynamic—very much a departure from the taxonomical presentation when the room was simply “the hall of extinct monsters.”Ben Miller: I know something that was important to the curators was to show the skeletons as animals. They went through the process of disarticulating all of their mounted skeletons, conserving them, and putting them back together in poses that show different kinds of behavior, not just eating and killing each other, as you see in a lot of newer exhibits. But, they’re doing things like sleeping and guarding eggs. There’s even a mammoth in there, that’s using its tusks to clear snow off the grass. All sorts of really interesting behaviors that bring new life to these creatures and really show them as living, thinking beings that once existed.The re-imagined exhibit is also arranged in reverse chronological order: visitors start among mammoths and ground sloths of more recent history and move backward in time through increasingly alien-looking versions of North America, until ultimately encountering the earliest life. This reorientation also means visitors enter the gallery in the middle of a human-caused mass extinction event already in progress — the same way we enter any place on earth.Ben Miller: I think it’s a very novel approach to start in the present day and move back. I think most exhibitions, they have started with the origins of life and moved forward. It will be really interesting to see how folks react to going back in time. Certainly from an aesthetic perspective, I think it’s very clever, because you can put your big, impressive ground sloths and mastodons at the front and really show people something really cool.Ben Miller: Whereas if you start with the origins of life, you’re starting in a room full of really old stromatolites and rocks and hell scenes of what the earth looked like then. You’re kind of hiding what the big show is, which is going to be your skeletons of dinosaurs and so forth. It will be interesting to see how people respond to that.
Everything decays. In the past, human heritage that decayed slowly enough on stone, vellum, bamboo, silk, or paper could be put in a museum—still decaying, but at least visible. Today, human heritage is decaying on hard drives. Sarah Nguyen (https://twitter.com/snewyuen), a MLIS student at the University of Washington, is the project coordinator of Preserve This Podcast (http://preservethispodcast.org/), a project and podcast of the same name that proposes solutions to fight against the threats of digital decay for podcasts. Alongside archivists Mary Kidd and Dana Gerber-Margie (https://twitter.com/theaudiosignal), and producer Molly Schwartz, Nguyen advocates for Personal Digital Archiving (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_archiving), the idea that for the first time, your data is under your control and you can archive it to inform future history. Personal archiving counters the institutional gatekeepers who determined which data and stories are worth preserving. In this episode, Nguyen cautions that preserving culture digitally comes with its own set of pitfalls, describes the steps that individuals can do to reduce the role of chance in preserving digital media, and why automatic archiving tools don’t properly contextualize.Image (left to right): Mary Kidd, Sarah Nguyen, Molly Schwartz, Dana Gerber-Margie, and Lyra Gerber-MargieMuseum 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 epsiode.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.TranscriptBelow is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 65. 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 TranscriptEverything is in a constant state of decay.In the past, human heritage that decayed slowly enough on stone, vellum, bamboo, silk, or paper could be put in a museum — still decaying, but at least visible.And today, human heritage is rotting on hard drives. The entire internet, everything from social media to Wikipedia, is stored on hard drives on anonymous computer, waiting for the inevitable, and not-too-distant day when they will just wear down and stop working… heritage lost forever to the sands of time. But there is one potentially beneficial loophole to digital heritage as compared to non-digital heritage: digital files can be copied. They can be copied again and again and again, perfectly every time. The path between past and future for a digital file is to hop from one storage to another every few years in an unbroken chain: staying one step ahead of digital decay. Digital copies aren’t like a Xerox of a Xerox which just becomes unreadable over time do to increasing noise. And best of all, making a digital copy doesn’t destroy the original.Sarah Nguyen: Wax cylinders there, you can only do it so many times. Or then the grooves we’ll be inaccurate after playing it. But then within the digital interface, because it’s so easy to pick up and throw away, that’s where it becomes even a higher risk of deterioration and loss within the file. This is Sarah Nguyen, the project coordinator of Preserve This Podcast, a project that proposes solutions to fight against the threats of digital decay for podcasts. She cautions that preserving culture digitally, while having some advantages over other mediums, comes with its own set of pitfalls. Sarah Nguyen: Hello, I’m Sarah Nguyen. I am the project coordinator for preserve this podcast. So alongside the two archivists, Mary Kidd and Dana Gerber-Margie, and our producer, Molly Schwartz. Currently I am an MLIS student at University of Washington, so I kind of get to bring in the current readings of what people are talking about within preservation or within file formats. Preserve this Podcast is a tiny and delightfully meta podcast called, Preserve this Podcast, and it is accompanied by an equally-delightful zine, detailing what you can do to prevent digital decay. The founders saw the podcast industry booming, and wanted to teach independent culture producers who aren’t operating as part of new large, podcast companies, how to keep control of their narratives—now and in the future.Sarah Nguyen: So podcasts are notorious for being DIY. People who are independent storymakers audio creators who don’t have an institutional backing. We kind of see Preserve this Podcast as supporting what we call the personal digital archiving: so PDA is the acronym for it. We want to make it so that podcasters are able to be autonomous and have the agency to control their content outside of the digital decay as we call it. Personal digital archiving is the idea that today, individuals, who history might call normal people have the opportunity to preserve via digital methods. In the past, it was only the rulers or the vastly wealthy who could take control of their own data.This is the first time in human history that your data have a good chance to be archived.Sarah Nguyen: That’s why this whole kind of subprogram of personal digital preservation has been this movement. I think it’s like once a year or twice a year, there is like a PDA conference host at various institutions around the US, where it kind of just talks about what are low barrier to entry practices that people can use to archive their own work because in how the real world works, when you don’t have the luxury of your job being archiving any sort of digital files because you have to like create these things and make sure that there is a return on investment. Artists and creators aren’t really looking to save their work. At the moment in time when you’re creating something, it’s a disruption to actually have to think about “how do I backup and save things?” Because you get on a wave and kind of just want to make it happen.Sarah Nguyen: One of my other part time jobs outside of preserve this preserve this podcast is with a dance company. And when you like just like creating like a piece of work or choreographing a piece while you’re in the dance studio, you’re not also making sure that your file is backed up off this camera off of your iPad or iPhone, you know, after you’ve created it.I will admit it here: I am a hobbyist PDA-er. I have systems that automatically log everything I can about my activity and health to custom spreadsheets. I built a private server that my phone automatically updates my location to several times a minute, so I can always know every museum I’ve ever visited. You can be sure that the file you’re listening to right now will be transcribed and backed up in multiple locations.But according to Nguyen, automatically backing up is only half of what properly archiving actually means. Automatic backups and automatic transcriptions are in some ways making it easier to preserve, but proper achieving is also about contextualizing. So it’s not enough to just record podcasts or my locations as individual entities. I need to contextualize them, too.Sarah Nguyen: And that’s kind of like the biggest one of the bigger bottlenecks of archiving is like are you contextualizing that object, that file correctly so that it’s represented in the correct way? So I think that in certain processing, like the manual side of it potentially is becoming easier, but the more intellectual side of representation and identity of a thing is becoming more difficult because, especially with podcast or almost anything on the internet, Youtube videos, whatever, things are being created at a much faster rate.Many, many hours of video are being uploaded to YouTube every second of every day, and each video is analized by machines looking for patterns. Expecting the machines to contextualize all those hours of content is only going to lock in biases — either mirroring society’s or introducing new ones. Sarah Nguyen: The way that people have perceived libraries, museums and archives is an educational space, right? They think that it’s all fun and fun and interesting and educational versus like having a specific opinionated point of view. The whole point of a podcast is that you have a story, you as an individual have this idea of how the world works and you want to share it. That’s what makes it even more important to be able to assign your own descriptive texts to it so that you ensure that people know what you’re trying to say to them upfront.Sarah Nguyen: So like in our most recent episode with Kaytlin Bailey, who does the Oldest Pro Podcast, she talks about, basically the oldest profession, which is sex work. And like for her to say, you know, specific words within her podcast, it can be misinterpreted completely by Google’s algorithm. Then her podcast could potentially be taken down just because through automatic flagging, they’ll misinterpret it as she’s trying to promote sex work. It strikes me that we are in the middle big shift from archiving tools of the past: now, that archiving is in control of an individual — you! — instead of being left to a third-party like a museum or library. That changes the valence of collections if everyone can take control over their own story.Whether any of this data are going to be useful or interesting to the future is beside the point. By reducing the role of chance, and eliminating the institutional gatekeeper who determines which data and stories are worth preserving, anyone and everyone’s data has a chance inform future history. Sarah Nguyen: We put this under the guise of a PDA, a personal digital archive. Right? So it is up to you if you want to and you feel the need and, and the just want to save your work for the future, it’s under your responsibility. I kind of, that’s kind of where we’re putting it at. It’s kind of like if you want to share your story, then you will go as far to preserve it, versus just handing it off to someone who might preserve it under the wrong context. So I think that it’s important to the point where you as a creator believe it’s important. And so if we can give you all the tools and a step by step guide to do as necessary, we would love for anyone to be able to do it. In the past, museums and libraries would control who got to be collected. The best way forward might not just be to force these institutions to open up, but also bypass them altogether by making the archiving tools accessible to all. Sarah Nguyen: In libraries and archives, there is this whole debate about the archives and libraries are not neutral. We’re not neutral because there is that idea that like, yes, we want to give you the options to have access to all different types of materials, even if it is racist or can be hurtful to someone. But, um, should we, because our, we actually neutral in that way. Like is it going to actually help or is it misinformation at that point? So we want to make sure that within your podcast, when you’re creating it, you’re able to control, uh, so that someone doesn’t misinterpret it in a way. Sarah Nguyen: That’s why we want to give the agency to the creator themselves, not to put it under the onus of someone else. And if this does take off, which we kind of hope it does that like someone will be able to fund an actual server or institution where people will be able to submit it for the long term versus in the generalized, internet archive. First steps are just kind of making it in an accessible way in a zine, a podcast, workshops where people can kind of dip into the waters and feel if it’s important to them and if they want to do it. And then if not, we’re totally fine with that too.Preserve This Podcast can be found wherever podcasts are available — for now. In the final episode, Nguyen and the other hosts acknowledge that accessing their podcast into the future depends on a 301 redirect and remembering to pay server bills. The project is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is hosted by the Metropolitan New York Library Council.Preserve This Podcast is also traveling to various workshops and conferences to take podcasters, producers, and audio archivists through their curriculum of archiving podcasts. You can find a full list of where they’re going at PreserveThisPodcast.org.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis Experience, which opened at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennedy_Space_Center_Visitor_Complex) in Cape Canaveral, Florida in 2013 brings visitors “nose to nose” with one of the three remaining Space Shuttle orbiters. The team that built it used principles of themed attraction design to introduce visitors to the orbiter and the rest of the exhibits. Atlantis is introduced linearly and deliberately: visitors see two movies about the shuttle before the actual orbiter is dramatically revealed behind a screen. The orbiter’s grand entrance was designed by PGAV Destinations (https://pgavdestinations.com), whose portfolio includes theme parks and museums. Diane Lochner, a vice president of the company who was part of the architectural design team, says that without that carefully-planned preparation, visitors wouldn’t have the same powerful emotional reaction to the Shuttle.In this episode, Lochner is joined by Tom Owen, another vice president at PGAV Destinations to talk about the visitor experience considerations of the Shuttle Atlantis Experience, whether attractions engineered to create a specific emotional response in visitors are appropriate for museum contexts, and the broader trend of museums taking cues from theme park design. 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 epsiode.Club Archipelago 🏖️If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! TranscriptBelow is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 64. 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 TranscriptWe’re going to start today’s episode with a thought experiment. Think of a museum. The first museum you think of. What does it look like?Hold that thought.Now think of a theme park? How different do they look from each other? My guess, is pretty different.But the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida has aspects of both. One the one hand, it is a museum—galleries featuring spacecraft, historic launch pads, and a complete Saturn V rocket layed out in an enormous room.But on the other hand, it is a themed attraction—a destination featuring ride-like simulators, themed concession stands, and the new Space Shuttle Atlantis Experience. It’s as if the Complex, only a short drive from Orlando, Florida, is competing for visitors against one of the globe’s most effective themed attractions — Walt Disney World.As it turns out, not everyone everyone mentally separates museums and theme parks so discreetly. Tom Owen: We have a nuanced view about the relationship between entertainment and educationThis is Tom Owen, a vice president of PGAV Destinations who worked on that new Space Shuttle Atlantis Experience at Kennedy Space Center Tom Owen: Hello. My name is Tom Owen. I’m a Vice President with PGAV Destinations. My background is in theater, scenery and lighting design for theater and so I’ve been able to incorporate that theatrical thinking into my work with museums and zoos and aquariums and theme parks really the entire time I’ve been here.It’s not surprising that someone who works in both museums and theme parks would see similarities between the two. But I am surprised that Owen doesn’t see the world divided between education and entertainment.Tom Owen: I think that entertainment is a great way to educate people. If it was just the dry facts, people would get bored and leave. Entertainment doesn’t diminish education. In fact, I think it often times makes it more effective.Diane Lochner We believe that you can actually learn quite a bit from theme parks and themed attractions.This is Diane Lochner, who is also a vice president of PGAV. She also worked on the Space Shuttle Atlantis Experience. Diane Lochner: “Hello, my name is Diane Lochner. I’m a Vice President at PGAV Destinations.And my background is actually in architecture. I’m a registered architect and have been for 20 plus years. And so my intrigue is the understanding of the built environment, but how that impacts visitors as they’re working their way through attractions and museums. And the Space Shuttle Atlantis Experience can be described as both a themed attraction and a museum. The exhibit, which opened in 2013, features one of the three remaining shuttle orbiters — the white part of U.S. space shuttle system that looks like a giant glider. Lochner and the rest of the design team used principles of themed attraction design to introduce visitors to the orbiter. Diane Lochner: So we made some conscious decisions about how to introduce people to the shuttle itself. So, it’s a very scripted linear experience prior to witnessing the shuttle. And that was intentional because we needed to emotionally prepare the visitors to accept the information that they were going to learn about the shuttle. And we think that’s a critical piece in planning. And so before anybody actually sees the shuttle itself, there was a short pre-show film that gave a little bit of information, mostly about the people that were involved in designing the shuttle. It’s not heavy, it’s not deep, it’s not long. And then they move into another theater that is got a very inspirational film again about the shuttle and the launch and some of the sequence of the process of the shuttle, and then finally at the end of that film, the shuttle is revealed very dramatically.This type of timed control with a required film reminds me of a more recent example: George Washington’s Headquarters Tent displayed at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The tent is presented in its own theater with screens and projections. If the tent was simply set up in a gallery without the focused attention, people would just walk right past it. But by making a large production out of it with lights, screens, and sounds, the effect is a viscerally memorable experience.Now back to the Shuttle Atlantis. Diane Lochner: The image on the screen actually aligns with the space shuttle beyond. At the end of the film, the screen actually lifts up and the visitors are presented nose to nose, so to speak, with Space Shuttle Atlantis. So it’s a pretty dramatic presentation relative to meeting Atlantis for the first time.Diane Lochner: It’s really been an interesting thing to watch visitors clap and cry as that screen lifts up and reveals the shuttle. And so in that sense, I think we created that really important preparation so that people were ready to receive the information and start to learn and start their experience at Space Shuttle Atlantis.After the screen dramatically lifts up relieving the orbitor, visitors pass through the hole where the screen used to be and enter the Atlantis display, after which they are free to wander through the entire gallery. The main idea of the gallery is that the U.S. Space Shuttle system was an innovative program, designed to reuse spacecraft so that the frequency of going to space could increase and astronauts get more work done in space. Tom Owen: The main takeaway about the whole shuttle program is the individual orbiters was part of a system and that that whole purpose of that whole shuttle program was working in space. And so we depicted Atlantis as a workhorse. In fact, the way that we chose to display it was up in the air, banked at a dramatic banking and with the payload bay doors open, the telescopic arm deployed just as it would have been at the moment that it was pulling away from the International Space Station. So that that message of Atlantis at work was a powerful image that we wanted to ingrain in the minds of people. Tom Owen: Every exhibit that was designed had to be approved by NASA’s STEM education team. So there was, again, a very strong interest that people learn, but also that the project would inspire the next generation of space exploration. The project wasn’t designed for people that are already space enthusiasts or already knew a lot about space. It was really designed, at least as much or for the most part, for people that we wanted to inspire so that they would become space enthusiasts and maybe maybe take an interest in STEM or maybe even take an interest in a career in the space program.So here’s that middle part of the Venn Diagram, the intersection of a themed attraction and a museum: the Shuttle Atlantis Experience is educational, and it deals with a set of historical events. But it heavily relies on some of the principles of themed attractions to get the point across. Fundamentally, I see themed attractions as engineered to create a specific emotional response in visitors — and through that, they offer an escape from the real world. They are a chance for us to enter a fictional world. “Frontierland”, an “old west”-themed land in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, never actually existed, but clever trick is to make it feel like a lived-in space that has a history. When I am in a fictional world, even the smallest thing that reminds me of the real world takes me out of the illusion. And hilariously, sometimes a theme park will go so far as to put up up fake historical markers and even museums that describe people and events that never happened, but nevertheless lead to what the environment looks like today. But when learning about the real world, I’m not so sure the same strategies apply. The real world is messy, and the study of history, for example, is not fun, and not amusing. In episode 17 of Museum Archipelago, I cover the spectacular failure of a Disney theme park concept called Disney’s America in the early nineties. Disney’s misguided idea would have put a park showcasing [quote] “the sweep of American History” — including the institution of Slavery and the Civil War — within a fun theme park environment just outside Washington, DC. Courtland Milloy, writing in a series of Washington Post editorials about the then planned Disney’s America around 1993, brought out the inherent contradiction of the project merging a fun day out with a view into American history. He writes, “Against a backdrop of a continuing distortion of African American history, which includes awful textbooks and self-induced amnesia about the legacy of slavery, a slave exhibit by Disney doesn’t even sound right.”By contrast the U.S. space program happens to an example of a much less problematic history that, as a result, works displayed in a themed attraction setting -- and one on US. Government property not at Disney World. Being a shuttle astronaut was extremely risky -- of the five shuttle orbiters that have gone to space -- only three of them are still around to display in museums. But nobody become a shuttle astronaut by accident.And since the failed Disney’s America concept, the big theme parks have stayed out of attractions based on real-life histories, or at least relatively recent real life histories. Instead, they have blurred the lines between various destination types by switching modes. Both Owen and Lochner see a world where competition for visitors leads museums to focus more on creating that specific emotional response you find in themed attractions. Diane Lochner: I think that museums are beginning to investigate other attractions relative to continuing to capture more visitors, at least certainly the ones that we're talking to in the most recent projects. They are really beginning to understand that they might have to do some things that are a little more out of their norm relative to appealing to visitors because they still want to make sure that obviously they are achieving their goals relative to educational standards and things like that. But certainly the competition for time has really increased. And so I think, in general, museums are starting to think about different ways of curating the experience for individuals and really beginning to connect to visitors' emotions in different ways.Tom Owen: And even though the objective of Disney may not be for visitors to come and learn something, or at least not to be able to go down a list of facts that they learned about a certain topic, which some of the museum might say is their objective. I think people learn things going to theme parks. For example, if a kid is at a certain age where they've been fearful of roller coasters but they get brave and they decide to get on a roller coaster. They're learning something important about themselves and the fact that they're put into an experience that's really special and over the top and different from their everyday experience, it inspires them and it opens up their world of thinking.
The Museum of Old and New Art (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museum_of_Old_and_New_Art) opened in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia in 2011. With a name like that, MONA (https://mona.net.au/) could include any type of art. But looking at the collection, it’s clear that its creator, millionaire gambler David Walsh (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Walsh_(art_collector)), has a fascination with sex and death -- and bets that the rest of us do too. Walsh himself calls MONA a “subversive adult Disneyland.” The building’s architecture is designed to make you feel lost, and the art is displayed without any labels whatsoever. It’s just you and the art.In this episode, Hobart-based musician Bianca Blackhall (https://www.facebook.com/biancablackhallmusic/) talks about how she’s watched MONA reshape the creative community and art landscape of the island, what makes the museum different from other art museums, and how Hobart is now in “Sauron's Eye of tourism.”This month on Museum Archipelago, we’re taking you to Tasmania (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/tags/tasmania). Over the course of three episodes, we’re conducting a survey of museums on the island, and exploring how each of them relates to the wider 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), or Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE) to never miss an episode.Club Archipelago 🏖️If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics Discussed00:00: Intro00:15: This Month, Museum Archipelago is Taking You To Tasmania00:47: Museum of Old and New Art (MONA)01:05: Museum Archipelago on ABC Radio Hobart01:30: The Way MONA Shapes the Island01:44: MONA’s Architecture is Designed to Make You Feel Lost02:42: Bianca Blackhall 03:05: David Walsh03:50: “A Subversive Adult Disneyland”04:08: The Holy Virgin Mary04:13: On the road to heaven the highway to hell04:29: Cloaca Professional, 201004:55: MONA’s Lack of Labels05:33: “Art Wank”06:20: Pride in MONA06:50: “Sauron's Eye of Tourism”08:20: A Monument to Joyful Secularism08:43: Join Club ArchipelagoMore➡️ The Making of MONA by Adrian FranklinTranscriptBelow is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 63. 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 TranscriptMuseums on the Australian island of Tasmania are a microcosm of museums all around the world. They struggle with properly interpreting their colonial past, the exclusion of First People from telling their stories in major museums, and having a large, privately owned art museum reshape a small town.This month on Museum Archipelago, we’re taking you to Tasmania. Over the course of three episodes, we’re conducting a survey of museums on the island, and exploring how each of them relates to the wider landscape of museums.Today we visit the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. It’s known as MONA, and it is by far the largest museum in Tasmania… not only by square footage (it’s the largest privately owned art museum in the southern hemisphere), but also by its influence.Helen Shield: If you were hosting an international podcast about museums, where would you spend your precious travel dollars to record? That’s Helen Shield, host of a terrestrial broadcast radio program in Tasmania. Helen Shield: There’s one obvious answer, isn’t there?She’s a Hobart local and she interviewed me about this series. Listen to how she describes the way that MONA shapes the island.Helen Shield: It wouldn’t be a trip to Tasmania without stopping in a museum that has singlehandledled changed tourism and probably the international reputation of this island, stopping in at MONA.MONA, often called the museum of sex and death, opened in Berriedale, a suburb of Hobart in 2011. The building, an enormous bunker out on a peninsula overlooking a river, sneaks up on you as you approach. Once you’re inside -- though a rather small entrance that whisks you underground, the architecture is designed to make you feel lost. There are no signs or directions, so you have to choose your own route. The maze-like paths split in two, with no indication which way you should take, other than which one might seem more attractive to you. Tunnels and stairs -- which don’t always move you up or down by one story -- are not an escape from the disorienting experience -- instead, they might lead you to a tight closterphoic chamber, a lovely cafe overlooking the water, or another massive, previously undiscovered subterranean open space. Bianca Blackhall: I don't think people expected it to have such an impact. It's kind of like a layer. It's very villainous. This is Bianca Blackhall, a Hobart-based musician who has watched MONA reshape the creative community and art landscape of the island. Bianca Blackhall: Hello, my name is Bianca Blackhall. I live in Tasmania. I'm 27 and I'm a musician among other things.The museum is the product of Tasmanian millionaire and art collector David Walsh. Walsh made his fortune by gambling, and Blackhall says that he is a much-talked about figure in Hobart.Bianca Blackhall: He'd be an interesting guest at the dinner table cause he's quite unusual in his manner and that he'd made his money through gambling and he was good with numbers. In his introductions to one of MONA’s past exhibits, Walsh recalled of spending a lot of time in Hobart’s museums as a teenager.Bianca Blackhall: And apparently he used to get dropped off by his parents in town at the museums. And he used to just walk around them all day as a kid and then they'd pick him up again at the night. They’d be like, “come home”. Cause maybe he was, you know, annoying them or whatever at home as a kid.With a name like the Museum of Old And New Art, MONA could pretty much include any type of art. But looking at the collection, it’s clear that David Walsh has a fascination with sex and death -- and bets that the rest of us do too. And, turns out, he’s right. Social animals like us, love thinking about fucking and dying -- and excretion and rot. Walsh himself calls MONA a “subversive adult Disneyland.”There’s The Holy Virgin Mary, a painting created in part with elephant dung. There’s On the road to heaven the highway to hell, in which the remains of a suicide bomber are cast in dark chocolate. There are dead horses and rotting, festering wounds with swarming bugs encased in acrylic. There’s audioanamatornic skeletons fucking. There’s a digestive machine at turns food into feces and stinks up an entire gallery. The art tries to punch you in the gut, and it mostly succeeds in part because there aren’t any descriptive plaques telling you what’s important about the art or how to feel about it. Ian Elsner (on ABC RADIO HOBART): I have to say, I’ve never seen anything like it.Helen Shield: And this from someone who works in, and spends his free time exploring museums. Ian Elsner (on ABC RADIO HOBART): So often we are in the museum world very stressed out by the labeling. We spend hours and hours thinking about what the labels and placards look like next to a piece of art, and so it was it was really refreshing to just go into the museum and see no labels at all. Bianca Blackhall: The wording in normal museums is more clinical, like these two people are it's a copulating and they’re enjoying it. They’re always removing feeling from the equation like, oh, objectively this is this, but moving on.Your only guide to the museum is its inhouse app, called the O. The O will provide some interpretation of the art, but the interpretation is hidden away in a little tab called ARTWANK, which has the icon of a penis. It’s delightful to see art off the pedestal, but Blackhall says that the levity and approach might also be easier for the artists. Bianca Blackhall: I think it's a very uncomfortable thing to be asked to explain. Please explain. You know, that's Pauline Hanson says, and it's like more, how do I say this stuff without being a twit? It's almost like they've made the unconventional the every day, you know, and sometimes, you know, you wander around there and then there'll be people in smocks getting about and you're like, why are they, well, you know, these are these arts smocks. I'm not sure you know what's happening, but it's, so it's like now it's a part of your every day.Do you think for Tasmanians there's a certain amount of pride that it's here?Bianca Blackhall: Definitely, yeah. People have welcomed it with open arms almost. The way people talk about it, they say things like, “MONA, Yup, Yup. Very good.” You know, like in a kind of very, you know, gruff way but like, “oh yeah. Very good. Yup. Going to go down to the big bonfire. With the kids. And it’s good.”MONA has also been well-received by art critics and by tourists visiting from outside Tasmania. As a new destination on the global art tourism circuit, there’s no doubt that the museums has changed Hobart, a city of a quarter million people. Bianca Blackhall: I feel like it partially began with MONA, this Sauron's Eye of tourism. I feel like we’re in the eye. It’s watching us. The world is going, “that little island there”. And it really in in the last year or two, you can feel the new foot traffic. You can really feel it. It’s a little bit… I don't know if we're actually quite got the infrastructure for the amount that we have tourists that we now have. Luckily, MONA I think took responsibility for itself but yeah you can definitely feel… we have cruise ships now coming in and that, I don't know if they even go to minor, but we've had the cruise ships coming in and out. Sometimes there are cruise ship traffic jams where they have to wait out in the bay for the other one to leave before they come in. And yeah, it's changed rapidly in a very short space of time. It's quite shocking.
The displays at the Tiagarra Cultural Centre and Museum (https://tiagarra.weebly.com/) in Devonport, Tasmania, Australia were built in 1976 (https://tiagarra.weebly.com/tiagarra-opening-and-timeline-1975---1979.html) by non-indigenous citizens and scientists without consulting Aboriginal Tasmanians. David Gough (http://www.utas.edu.au/community/naidoc/community-bio-david-gough), chairperson of the Six Rivers Aboriginal Corporation, (https://www.facebook.com/groups/434417366698696/) remembers visiting the museum when he was younger and seeing his own culture presented as extinct (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aboriginal_Tasmanians).Today, Gough is the manager of Tiagarra. When he took over, one of the first things he did was put masking tape over the inappropriate and incorrect descriptions and write in the correct information. As Gough explains, racist language covered up and written over by the very people it describes is the perfect metaphor for what Tiagarra was in the past and what it is going to be in the future. On this episode, Gough and fellow Six Rivers Aboriginal Corporation board member Sammy Howard give a special tour of the museum, describe using the museum to educate members of their community and the wider public, and discuss the future of Tiagarra (https://duckduckgo.com/?q=Tiagarra+Mersey+Bluff&t=h_&ia=web).This month on Museum Archipelago, we’re taking you to Tasmania (https://www.museumarchipelago.com/tags/tasmania). Over the course of three episodes, we’re conducting a survey of museums on the island, and exploring how each of them relates to the wider 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), or Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE) to never miss an episode.Club Archipelago 🏖️If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics and Links00:00 Intro00:15 This Month, Museum Archipelago is Taking You To Tasmania00:46 Tiagarra Cultural Centre and Museum01:56 Dave Mangenner Gough02:53 “To Keep”03:00 A Brief History and the Importance of Understanding the Past0438 Tour of the Museum06:00 Protecting Sites 07:15 Educating the Public About ‘Middens’09:20 “A Collection of Hoop-Jumpers”10:30 Optimism for the Future of Tiagarra11:35 Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country12:40 Connecting with Members of First Nations Around the World13:28 Join Club Archipelago14:10 OutroTranscriptBelow is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 62. 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]Museums on the Australian island of Tasmania are a microcosm of museums all around the world. They struggle with properly interpreting their colonial past, the exclusion of First People from telling their stories in major museums, and having a large, privately owned art museum reshape a small town.This month on Museum Archipelago, we’re taking you to Tasmania. Over the course of three episodes, we’re conducting a survey of museums on the island, and exploring how each of them relates to the wider landscape of museums.Today, we visit Tiagarra Cultural Centre and Museum in Davenport, Tasmania, Australia. The museum is situated on Mersey Bluff, a traditional Aboriginal sacred site, that now hosts a nature trail and a caravan park. The museum was built in 1976 to promote Aboriginal culture and cultural tourism. But the displays were put together by non-indigenous citizens and scientists. David Gough, of the local Devonport/Latrobe Aboriginal community, remembers visiting the museum when he was younger and seeing offensive words on the plaques and on the walls. David Gough: When we were younger and looking at this stuff and thinking, wow, you know, there's words…. really inappropriate words. Talk about about us as no longer a race of people. People have been writing my family and our stories and writing in a way that suited them. They wrote us as savages and nomadic and all these things. They wrote things like we didn't how to make fire, that we were really limited people. But we lived through two ice ages.Today, Gough is the chairperson of the Six Rivers Aboriginal Corporation and the manager of Tiagarra. One of the first things he did as manager was put masking tape over those words. David Gough: As soon I got the keys to the door back, I put masking tape over words, this sticky tape there… I put masking tape over really inappropriate words. I’ve written over them like, “beautiful people,” rather than some of the words that were under those and said now we can put ourselves in here, rather than… this place told stories… left us as we don’t exist anymore, because we don’t have our stories in here. Offensive racial language covered up and written over by the very people it describes is the perfect metaphor for what Tiagarra was in the past and what it is going to be in the future. David Gough: Hello, my name is Dave Mangenner Gough. Tiagarra Cultural Centre and Museum Davenport, Tasmania. Tiagarra is an Aboriginal name that means “to keep”. This site is a significant site. Where the caravan park is, just there, was where there was huts and a village. Aboriginal Tasmanians lived in Tasmania for at least 60,000 years: often completely isolated from mainland Australia by rising sea levels. European colonization of the island, and a violent guerrilla war between British colonists and Aboriginal Tasmanians from the mid-1820s to 1832 known as the Tasmanian War, was devastating to Aboriginal Tasmanians. For much of the 20th century, including when TIAGARRA was constructed, the Tasmanian Aboriginal people were widely, and erroneously, thought of as being an extinct cultural and ethnic group.David Gough: There was a roundup of our people and a mass attempted genocide of our people. The impacts of colonization and displacement has meant our families had to chop wood in order to survive and cultures changed and shifted. Growing up in schools, some of the kids go, "Aboriginal, what does that mean?” They don't really grow up knowing a lot about what their ancestors did or what happened to their families because it’s been pretty… well especially here, our families went through great trauma, and that still affects us, so we’re seeing young kids growing up, and there’s just this traumatic patterns that happen. Through a series of careful museum upgrades, teaching Aboriginal cultural to as wide an audience as possible, and activism, Gough plans to change this. David Gough: It's important for, for our own families, it's important for the the other kids in the areas as well. Then I think that that's why I go to the schools is to help work with our kids, but also the other kids. And then it builds this mutual respect and an understanding about who we all are. And I think understanding where our past, we'll give them hopefully a way forwards.Gough took me through the museum as it is today. Except for the masking tape and some ochre handprints, the museum looks almost exactly as it did in 1976. We enter through the front door -- a fake cave that opens to a description of the land bridges across the Bass Strait, which today separates Tasmania from the rest of Australia. David Gough: Yes. We enter with a cave. We actually have some money to make some changes to this session, but we're very mindful that now this place is a time capsule and it's actually becoming a museum of museums. So I'm, I'm really cautious about making changes to it, but there will be some changes. David Gough: This panel here talks about 12,000 years apart, two ice ages where we were connected to Australia and how that allowed what people would say migration and people and animals. We know this actually came up close to here and this is a great lake. People lived around this lake; it wasn't just people walking backwards and forwards. And we've got a lot of aboriginal heritage sites in rock shelters are underneath.David Gough: When I bring kids through here and spend an hour with them or talk about living sites. We used caves as living sites and we have several different caves in our country that are, some are living in caves and some are ceremonial caves and the ceremonial caves, we try to keep quiet from most of the public because they get vandalized.David Gough: I have visited a lot of our sites cause I was on the Aboriginal Heritage Council for quite a few years and I’ve been very heavily involved in protecting our heritage around the country. What happens is when someone comes across in damages something that we're saying, oh, they didn't realize what it was. So then it would get thrown back at you saying, well, if I had of known, I wouldn't have done that. That's why I went on the council already focused on changing that act, about protecting our heritage to take out that the ignorance clause and to put some due diligence around process so people understand so if they're going to dig somewhere or they're going to do something in an area they need to contact heritage and find out if there's if there is something there that they would damage. The gallery continues through detailed dioramas. Gough says visitors, specifically school groups of children that come through, are fascinated by them. But he says that without proper interpretation -- without stories being told in the voice of Aboriginal Tasmanians -- the dioramas’ true meaning is lost and the lasting impact is lessened.David Gough: What we keep in here is stone tools and artifacts and there's dioramas about how are our people live through two ice ages. It's very important as an education tool but without us being here, it's kind of pointless.David Gough: And this over here talks about what they call middens, which I don't like the word meetings. And a lot of us is as we growing up were, were cause I think it might be a Latin name for rubbish, you know, um, and it's because that's what they saw it as. David Gough: But people drive up and with four wheel-drives and, and are destroying them. And we constantly trying to make, get protection. We're trying to get world heritage listing of these areas because some of these are about four times as high as this building. So when you're standing there and you're looking at abalone shells on, on that and you see the hight, you know, that they were feeding, eating, people, eating, that's how old these places are. Many thousands of years old. And right there we have rock Petroglyphs, rock markings in those areas too, which are probably five times older than the Sphinx.David Gough: There's a lot of ceremony that happens around these, these living sites. Babies are born and the elders have passed away and they're buried there or cremated there as well. So for us, these not rubbish tips, they’re hospital, the church there, everything, there are graves there, everything, and our family members have had to go up to where they've four wheel drives and rebury people. So in other exposing people's remains. It's really, really sad when you're up there and you're trying to stop people that they're now saying it's their culture to four wheel drive on these areas. Gough sees the public education as crucial not only to protect the sites, but also protect the stories. David Gough: So this place going through this with kids and that and getting to understand, maybe change some concepts and understanding about what's around them and what a landscape actually means. When you see something like this, you can turn around to someone else and say, do you know what this is? Then you become the educator and then you can pass on that, the reasons about why you would look after it, because once it's removed, the story can go.The museum is currently closed -- only open for pre-arranged tours consisting mostly of schoolkids and the occasional podcaster. Even the ownership of the museum has been contentious up until recently -- the Devonport City Council rescinded the lease from the Six Rivers Aboriginal Corporation in 2014 and did not hand back the keys until 2015. Sammy Howard, fellow board member of the Six Rivers Aboriginal Corporation, explains that the museum has been hampered by red tape every step of the way. Sammy Howard: Really, as Tiagarra, we’ve struggled for years to try and keep the doors open. It's the only museum keeping place in Australia that’s not federally or state funded. I'm just sick to this of watching air governments set us up for failure. They didn't give us the training and the things that we needed. I’m starting to think that we've become a collection of hoop jumpers. Because every time we get through one hope, there's another one put in front of us, hurdle jumpers, whatever. They just seem to, we'll let you go this far, but hang on a minute. You can't go too far. You can't succeed. The white governments have got to be seen as with falling bulk amount of money at this and it's not working. David Gough: When you’re trying to deal with these things, what people kept trying to talk about in meetings was Return on Investment. And it's a difficult space when you're talking about sharing and your culture and having a place for your community to be. This place means a lot to our families in this area. But both Howard and Gough are optimistic about the future of Tiagarra. The Corporation hopes to bring some higher-tech exhibits like touch screens into the museum and build the resources to maintain opening hours with staff and guides from the community, all while centering their own story.A number of factors contribute to their optimism. The museum can now apply for specific funding sources.From other Tasmanians, there is an increased interest in understanding the land and its people, and a greater understanding of British colonization of the island.David Gough: We've sort of feeling that this is our year where we will get this place open again. You know, more than just bringing school groups through. With this business plan, what we're doing is to get out to spend some, some of this money and upgrade some of the exhibits in here and put ourselves and our stories into this space. This is really important. That could be an option of having a self guided tour with people walking around it here. And as they come to different sections getting told that story is that where we're wanting to tell. But everything costs money. And it is not just upgrading the museum. All over Australia, and indeed all over the world, the practices of welcome to country and acknowledgement of country are slowly becoming more common as a way to open events, school assemblies, and conferences. David Gough: There’s a difference: there's an acknowledgement to country and they can be done by anyone. It is to acknowledge the land and the traditional people of the land. And that can be done by anyone. And it should be done by people to say. Before you do a speech or a forum or a function is firstly to say, I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land. If you know, the name of them is to mention the name of them and to say that, you know, to acknowledge the land we made on is is their land and you know, those sort of things. David Gough: Welcome to country is done by someone who is from that country. It's basically welcoming people onto our land and for people to understand where they are. And I feel it's very positive and people get to understand, I learned a bit about who we are or what land they're on and learn a bit about the traditional people and custodianship or other than ownership. Gough describes visiting Native American nations in the US state of Arizona and realizing that the challenge that members of First Nations face all around the world -- including developing museums that simultaneously serve their own people and the wider public, are similar. And so a are some of the solutions. David Gough: So I do believe they're doing that and more I can see that with my friends and Arizona that there's some acknowledgements coming up around the universities are where they see it. Yeah. And that's, um, that's, that's a great thing.David Gough: You know. So when we're doing things here, I'm getting things in support from my friends on the other side of the world that have been going through similar things. So it was a conversation on there [Facebook] last week, which was around acknowledgements. Those people know what we do is, so I was able to comment on that and then people backwards and forwards. So there is some support in that, which is really, really positive. Hi, it’s Ian again. Since you’ve listened all the way to the end, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re a fan of Museum Archipelago. Join other fans by subscribing to Club Archipelago. It’s a not-so-secret club that gives you access to special bonus features like longer versions of some of my interviews, my take on the museum industry, and insider tours of museums around the world, all with the same humor and quality you’ve come to expect from Museum Archipelago. Join today for $2 a month at Pateron.com/museumarchipelago, and get Museum Archipelago Logo stickers mailed straight to your door. That’s pateron.com/museumarchiepalgo.This has been Museum Archipelago.[Outro]
Penal transportation from England to Australia from the late 1700s to the mid-1800s was used to expand Britain's spheres of influence and to reduce overcrowding in British prisons. The male convict experience is well-known, but the Cascades Female Factory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cascades_Female_Factory) in Hobart is at the center of a shift in how Australians think of the role that female convicts played in the colonization of Tasmania. Dr. Jody Steele, the heritage interpretation manager for the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority (https://portarthur.org.au/about-us/), which includes the Female Factory, says that having a convict ancestor used to be considered shameful. But in the past 20 years, attitudes have shifted dramatically. Sites like the Female Factory (https://femalefactory.org.au/), the Female Convicts Research Centre (https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au), and a general interest in geological research have helped the public better understand how the forced labor of women built the economy of the island. Today, the museum is on the cusp of a major renovation (https://femalefactory.org.au/event/cascades-female-factory-design-and-interpretation-centre-project/). Dr Steele describes how the proposed design, chosen by an all-female panel, will present the female convict experience in Tasmania.This month on Museum Archipelago, we’re taking you to Tasmania. For the next three episodes, we’re conducting a survey of museums on the island, and exploring how each of them relates to the wider 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), or Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE) to never miss an episode.Club Archipelago 🏖️If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics and Links00:00 Intro00:15 This Month, Museum Archipelago is Taking You To Tasmania00:46 Cascades Female Factory01:00 The Male and Female Convict Experience02:26 Dr. Jody Steele02:48 Why It’s Called The Female Factory 04:30 Being A “Respectable” Women In Colonial Society06:10 Interpreting the Site07:05 The Lack of Artifacts at the Site08:50 Australia's Changing Attitudes Towards Convict Ancestors09:38 History and Interpretation Center Design Competition11:12 Female Convicts Research Centre12:15 The Reminders of Convict Labor in Hobart13:20 Join Club Archipelago14:00 OutroTranscriptBelow is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 61. 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]Museums on the Australian island of Tasmania are a microcosm of museums all around the world. They struggle with properly interpreting their colonial past, the exclusion of First People from telling their stories in major museums, and having a large, privately owned art museum reshape a small town.This month on Museum Archipelago, we’re taking you to Tasmania. For the next three episodes, we’re conducting a survey of museums on the island, and exploring how each of them relates to the wider landscape of museums.Today, we begin with the Cascades Female Factory in the Tasmanian capital city of Hobart. It’s at the center of a shift in how Australians think of the role that convicts played in the colonization of the island. Jody Steele: The male convict story is the story that everyone’s heard about and everyone wants to discover something about it. So I think it’s odd that the female story is equally as fascinating and as intricate as the male story, and yet until recently nobody’s really shown that much of an interest in it with the exception of family researchers or people who have a specific connection.The site tells the story of European colonization of Van Diemen’s Land, the original European name for the island, from the female perspective.Jody Steele: The whole penal transportation to Australia and subsequently Van Diemen’s Land started as a result of prisons in England. Post industrial revolution, and people turning to crime without all the industries that they were used to, machines taking their jobs, the prisons just started to literally overflow. So they needed a mechanism to get the people out of those spaces, stop the overcrowding, and the colonization of Australia was an attempt to get that population out of Britain, and essentially far far away. Over 170,000 men women and children were transported during the transportation phase, which started in New South Wales in the late 1700s and in Van Diemen’s Land in 1803.The only museum in Tasmania that represents the female convict story is the Cascades Female Factory, where Dr. Jody Steele works as the heritage interpretation manager.Jody Steele: Hi. My name is Jody Steele. I am the heritage interpretation manager for the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, and we are lucky enough to be the portfolio managers of three world heritage sites with form part of the Austrian convict sites world heritage nomination. And the Female Factory fall under our portfolio. Understanding why the site is called the Female Factory means understanding how the female convicts were seen as resources to the early colonists. Jody Steele: Moving men out here as a labor force was something that seemed to make a lot of sense to the early Brits, to be able to pack up men and move them across the fall trees and to gather all the materials necessary for building, as in literally building a new colony. And then of course, if you want that population to grow, that can’t be done with men alone. So in the early 1800s, the first vessels with women on board came. Those women in the first days as convicts were usually assigned directly out to the early Hobart population. As your servants, housemaids, that sort of thing. As soon as anyone in that situation needed to be reprimanded for anything that they’ve done, they needed an establishment to do that. And so, as a result of that, the Cascades Female Factory was established. Right here.Jody Steele: Right here. So the female convicts were an amazing resource to that particular set of colonials. They could have female convicts coming in and care for their children. Witnesses educators and a lot of these women weren’t just petty criminals you know they were quite skilled at a number of trades. So you had two seamstresses and all of the trades that the men didn’t lend their hands to. You needed somebody to do laundry for the colony. And so having a prison filled with women who you wanted to put under hard labour to punish them. Laundry was one of the greatest ways to do that. You could well if the military presence could have their their uniforms laundered here and washed and ironed so it gave the colony a massive resource of trades that the men weren’t doing. Which is why it got its name as the Female Factory. The system operated under a strict series of punishments, that was nevertheless at the discretion of the guards. It was managed by a hierarchy of those incarcerated and was encouraged by attitudes towards what it meant to be a respectable women in the colonial society. Jody Steele: A lot of the women who were assigned out were assigned out to people. Some of them to people that they knew. Some of them even to their husbands which is quite curious and I think in those instances there is an absurdity to the system where these women were assigned to people that they were genuinely in love with. They wanted to have families with. They got pregnant. Pregnancy while you were under sentence was considered a crime which meant that those women ultimately would be removed from their assignment brought back here to have child they would spend time with the child when it was a baby. They would be usually weaned quite quickly from their mother. And sometimes you know within within months that mother would then be back under sentence being punished separated from her child with the child being left in the care of other convict women in the nursery usually by sort of three years of age. The child would then be removed from this location the nursery here and removed into an orphan school. You may never see your child again. Now as somebody who wanted to have that baby with the person they were with. That must have been horrific. And then there is the flip side to that story when you could be assigned out to an individual master. He may have had absolutely no choice in falling pregnant and yet you were the one who gets punished for that occurring. You would come back in here and quite often that into that individual who you were assigned to originally would simply just get a new female convict servant and you know you’re left under punishment for something that was clearly not your fault it must have been horrific. Steele says the biggest interpretation challenge is that is so easy for visitors to see the entire population of incarcerated people rather than individuals with vastly different, often contradictory, experiences.Jody Steele: I think the biggest challenge when interpreting a site like this is people come with an understanding of a mass population. They think of a convict population. And unless they happen to be descended from an individual convict, they find it really hard to think about the individual within the system. And with over 7,000 women passing through these few yards alone, it tends to be the mass mentally that we try to break down here, which from my perspective is the most fun part of what I get to do, is to find the odd individual who has this amazing story, whether it be a tragic tale or a tale of resilience and strength. Telling the stories of odd individuals is complicated by the fact that not many artifacts remain. The site itself is made up of three yards, surrounded by sandstone walls with only markings on the ground indicating the size of prison cells or nurseries.Jody Steele: The challenge here, unlike a lot of our convict site museums is that the artifactual material associated with female convicts just isn’t there. Even our state museums, don’t have a lot of artifacts associated with female convicts. There isn’t the material history surrounding them that has been maintained for them men. Jody Steele: Probably one of the hardest things to deal with is the fact that most of the convict population didn’t have access to the time or the inclination to sit down and write a daily journal, and for most of them the literacy wasn’t particularly high usually when they arrived, but part of the convict system was actually educating a lot of these people, so a lot of them left with a much better education when they got in, but the time they could have started writing a journal, they were most likely off getting married, building businesses. So there’s a massive gap, and we really do rely heavily on what is the administrator’s view of these individuals, right down to the way they described them when they got off the ships. And then, we rely heavily on their descendants, who have all those stories and the oral histories of how these families built up from these individual women. Dr. Steele talks about a massive cultural shift in Australian attitudes towards ancestors who may have been incarcerated. Because the family memory of the Female Factory goes back just two or three generations, it’s an opportunity for the museum to better interpret and educate by becoming a hub for these stories. Jody Steele: For a very long time, having a convict ancestor was considered something to be ashamed of. And that has probably only shifted in the past 20 years of having a sense of pride of being descended from a convict when they became aware that even through they may have been criminals, some of them quite serious, some of them petty, that they were responsible for building the new colony of Australia. And that’s been a real shift of people being real proud of it now, and because genealogical research is now enormous, we’ve got access to things that aren’t that oppressive record. Business records, and images of shopfronts where these people built businesses. Massive massive change in attitude.The Female Factory is in the middle of a design process to open a brand new History and Interpretation Centre on the site. The process began with an architectural design competition judged by an all-female panel.Jody Steele: It’s really important when we’re working on this site that we recognise the contribution of women to society. I mean that is that is why this place is is recognised and part of that process when we we put the call out for the architectural design competition was that we really wanted women to contribute to this project we had over 50 original people who came in who put their hand up to get involved in the competition and we pulled together a team of amazing women mostly architects and the chair of our board Sharon Sullivan who oversaw the process and did all of the review of all of the nominations. Looking for things like female contribution of course looking at the Heritage impacts and how the building would would sit in in the landscape and what stories the building itself might tell the new building that they were hoping to put in this space will be clearly identifiable as a brand spanking new building that is that is part of our intention but it will also hopefully be aside from being a beautiful architectural structure. We’re hoping that it will recede and then the individual stories will come out as you’re inside the building. The building will be located over the cellblock location so I guess you know in a lineal form it will represent part of the historic landscape. But outside of that most of our storytelling will have to be in a very different format and we’ll have to get really creative. We work really closely with a group of people called that are called the female convict Research Center that’s started as as a bunch of women female researchers who I think they would forgive me for saying they’re totally obsessed with female convict history and they have built up a an amazing database of all of the female convict women. And so we have access to that database and it would I mean what an amazing thing to be able to know that you have a female convict ancestor to be able to come here to tap into that find out how long they were here exactly what space they were living in working in even being punished in to be able to go to that space you know and stand essentially in the footprints of your ancestor would be an amazing thing.You can see the winning design in the show notes for the episode. The architects call for a beautiful but solum building with plenty of play between the open spaces of the yards as they are today, and confined spaces of cells as they used to exist. Hobart is a city partially built with convict labor, but the reminders — the type of stone on a building for example — are subtle, and you have to know what you’re looking for. A structure like the one proposed removes the sublty, and makes it harder to forget. Jody Steele: I would I would love you know the female convict history to be the first thing that people engage with and then to flow on into into the story of the men. I want people to walk away even if they don’t have a better understanding of convict female convict history. I want them to walk away asking questions and I think that’s what we all want when we build these places we want them to start questioning what they believe what they think what they knew before they walked in the door. I don’t necessarily I mean subliminally I’d love to educate everyone who walks through the door but quite often those people are on holidays and they probably don’t want me lecturing to them for an hour and a half about convict history. But I want them to walk away questioning you know what this place meant to Tasmania or you know what the women at least felt or went through to try and get some kind of gut reaction from them and to that experience that these people went through to create the place that we live in working today.Do you like the podcasts I make? Club Archipelago is the best way to support me. It gives you access to a special bonus podcast that’s an even deeper dive into the museum landscape — kind of like the director’s commentary to the main show. There are longer versions of some of my interviews, commentary on the industry as a whole, and insider tours of various museums from past guests, all with the same humor and quality you’ve come to expect from Museum Archipelago. Join today for as little as $2 at Pateron.com/museumarchipelago, and get Museum Archipelago Logo stickers mailed straight to your door. That’s pateron.com/museumarchiepalgo. [Outro]Jody Steele: I can admit, I like you am a total museum junke and wherever I go I drag anyone who I’m traveling with to every possible museum to every possible museum in every possible place to wherever I travel around the globe. I’m the person who reads the sign and then taps on it to figure out what it is made out of, and whether I like the font. You’re there, you’re there with me, you do it in every museum you walk into.
The fight for racial diversity in museums and other cultural institutions is not new: people of color have been fighting for inclusion in white mainstream museums for over 50 years (https://amzn.to/2udBIYZ). Dispose these efforts, change has been limited. A 2018 survey by the Mellon Foundation (https://mellon.org/media/filer_public/e5/a3/e5a373f3-697e-41e3-8f17-051587468755/sr-mellon-report-art-museum-staff-demographic-survey-01282019.pdf) found that 88% of people in museum leadership positions are white. Stephanie Cunningham (https://twitter.com/stephacunning) has a clear answer for why these white institutions aren’t changing: “When you’ve been practicing exclusion for so long, you can’t change overnight.” That’s one of the reasons why she co-founded Museum Hue (https://www.museumhue.com) with Monica Montgomery in 2015.In this episode, Cunningham traces Museum Hue (https://twitter.com/MuseumHue)’s trajectory from a small collective to a national membership-based organization (https://www.museumhue.com/join), and spells out why being a well-meaning institution is necessary but not sufficient for equity in the field.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), or Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE) to never miss an epsiode.Club Archipelago 🏖️If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics and Links00:00 Intro00:15 The Ongoing Fight for Racial Diversity in Museums01:52 Stephanie Cunningham02:26 The Founding of Museum Hue03:05 Hueseum Tours03:52 “Authentic Participation” and Jobs06:29 Museum Hue’s Membership Model07:05 Knock On Effects of Resistance to Change08:56 A Story of the Museum Exhibition Design Company10:10 The Unchecked Cultural Power of Museums11:05 Black Visuality11:25 Museum Hue’s Memberships12:07 Arts Targeted By Oppressive Forces13:55 Outro/Join Club ArchipelagoTranscriptBelow is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 60. 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]Stephanie Cunningham: People of color, especially people of African descent, have been fighting for museums to be more inclusive over 50 years ago. It's the reason why institutions like the studio museum in Harlem was created. It's the reason why MOC, the Museum of Chinese in America, El Museo del Barrio, all these institutions came up because of the lack of inclusivity within these institutions. What we've seen today is not actually a shift in inclusion in a white mainstream museum, but a two-tiered museum, which is still the white mainstream museums and the development of these culturally specific institutions that I mentioned. It's important for us to realize that there has been need for institution building for people of color, but also these white mainstream institutions that hold a lot of our cultural heritage have to also include us into the scope and the framework of their institution and become more inclusive as well.A 2018 survey by the Mellon Foundation found that 88% of people in museum leadership positions are white. This imbalance continues though museum visitorship numbers, even though many museums are within communities of color or within states that have high populations of people of color. Stephanie Cunningham has a clear answer for why these white institutions aren’t changing: “when you’ve been practicing exclusion for so long, you can’t change overnight.” And that’s one of the reasons why she co-founded Museum Hue.Stephanie Cunningham: Hello, my name is Stephanie Cunningham. I am the co-founder and creative director of Museum Hue, an arts organization that works to increase the visibility of people of color working in arts and culture and museums in particular. It's really important that we begin to think more critically on how to change this, how to shift this and make museums more innovative and inviting that will attract more people of color and also be very honest about their history and their conflicting provenances as well within the institution. Stephanie Cunningham co-founded Museum Hue with strategic director Monica Montgomery in 2015. The organization began in New York City as a collective of people of color working in museums and other cultural spaces. Stephanie Cunningham: We realized that we really needed a safe space, a space where we can have psychological safety, where we can be ourselves and talk about our experiences working within cultural institutions, whether it be microaggression, macro aggression or racism and talking about perhaps some best practices of the things that were also going well for people within institutions as well.Museum Hue began infiltrating spaces with programs like Hueseum Tours, which the organization leads in art museums and other performance venues. The tours started in New York City but have since branched out to different parts of the country. Stephanie Cunningham: We'll have a conversation focusing on staff and artists of color and also narratives of color as well, because what we also realize is that a lot of the narratives within museums and cultural institutions don't reflect people of color, and so we invoke and incorporate those within our own tours and presentations within these spaces. The Huesuem Tours are one example of Museum Hue’s focus on authentic participation within the arts world. Another is jobs, particularly jobs in creative and leadership roles. At the heart of the issue is not a lack of qualified creatives of color, but instead that the doors of museums and the surrounding ecosystem are largely closed off to people of color.Through extending Museum Hue’s network, and by pipelining people of color in the museum and cultural field, Cunningham has seen how a mostly-white cultural institution’s desire to be more inclusive is necessary but not sufficient when it comes to actual inclusion. And that’s why, last year, Museum Hue became a membership-based organization. Stephanie Cunningham: We decided to become a membership based institution. This came out of our fellowship at Race Forward Racial Equity in the Arts organization. About 50 or so institutions throughout New York City were invited to participate, and we all had our own platform and ideas, but the basis was for all of us to create racial equity framework, and so we decided with the Museum Hue membership that we can focus on institutions that are willing and wanting to work with us in changing the framework of their institution, making it more inclusive of people of color. We've been able to facilitate a lot of opportunities, a lot of jobs for people of color within these museums and also work with them in trainings on cultural competency, but mostly working on real action based because we know that these conversations, although well intentioned, they can fall short, and so we need institutions to take action steps. Action steps look like creating real policy and also procedures in ways that we are accepting or they are accepting people of color and allowing them to have a seat at the table in a real way, looking at their board, making it more diverse, and so looking at real ways that we can begin to focus on the framework of the institution and working on them from the inside out. In episode 48 of Museum Archipelago, The Whitest Cube podcast co-host Ariana Lee makes the point that many museums can claim diverse workforces if you take into account people of color working in museum’s janitorial services department, but less so in seats of power. To that end, Museum Hue created an internal survey that any cultural or museum-related institution can use to develop an assessment of their current staff and institutional attitudes towards inclusion and diversity.Stephanie Cunningham: This isn't a change that happens overnight because you've hired people of color. We want it to be a core part of the foundation and the structure of the institution. In order to do that, we have to encourage them and support them and thinking about this more critically, and so because we've moved in this new vein, it's been a real blessing that so many institutions around the country have wanted to sign on with It's about over 80 at this point, and so we're looking at different ways to support them in creating the toolkits and creating more tours, and not just focusing again on our institutional members but also mostly on people of color in the field as well. Cunningham’s focus on museums and other cultural institutions comes in part because museums can be more resistant to change than some other parts of society--and in the case of museums, that resistance has knockon effects. Stephanie Cunningham: Many people of color have the needed qualifications and some factors in many of our fields but yet don't see them represented, and so we have to realize that there's a real epidemic that have people of color are not represented in leadership or given opportunities for leadership or different spaces and different industries. For me, tackling museums, number one for me is my focus because I have a degree in art history and cultural heritage preservation. I also think that museums, for whatever reason, within the grand scheme of society that's been changing isn't seen as a place of importance for the there to be racial diversity. I think it's needed in all industries, but especially in museums when we're talking about cultural heritage or talking about artistic freedoms of expression, it's incredibly important that we begin to look at museums first because museums create the narratives that we see throughout our landscape. It's important that people begin to see people of color represented in history, in art because that then opens up a new lens for people and of appreciation and recognition of cultural contribution that people of color do not get in this country. For me, museums have to begin to create a lane that is really much more inclusive than they actually are. For Museum Hue, increasing the number of people of color at museum leadership levels begins to shift the framework of not just that institution, but of entire museum ecosystem, like museum exhibit design companies.Stephanie Cunningham: There is a very prominent, I won't say the name, exhibition design company that works with so many museums throughout the country. They went to meet with a museum that they were speaking with to begin to work with on an exhibition design. During the meeting, they were asked by the person that they were working with, a person represented by the museum who was a person of color asked them, "Do you have people of color on your staff?"They, for whatever reason, had not even thought about this. They're like, "We're doing exhibition design. Why does this matter?" But it does matter because perspectives and cultural differences and understandings are also needed as well, and so they reached out to Museum Hue because they were like, "Do you know of anyone in exhibition design that can possibly work with us?" People of color are also going to begin to ask these questions of companies that they're working with as well, and having companies think about this issue as well because it's going to affect their bottom line. Museums have incredible cultural power, and most of it is unchecked. Cunningham’s point is that it, without serious change, that cultural power won’t last forever. Stephanie Cunningham: Museum Hue is just working to change that and to utilize our collective power and our voices to call out these issues and help usher in a change that is constant, not a change that is dependent upon the funding that an institution gets for diversity and inclusion, but something that is a core part of museums and other cultural institutions, because I honestly believe if museums do not change and become more inclusive, expect obsolescence, expect museums shutting down, expect museums continuously become irrelevant for the greater public. Cunningham also hosts an excellent podcast called Black Visuality. Past guests have included Blake Bradford, who is also featured on episode 43 of Museum Archipelago. As the director of Lincoln University’s Museum Studies program, Bradford also sees a pipeline of Black students, exposing them to career paths that are largely closed off to people of color.Museum Hue has three different membership types. Once is an institutional membership, for organizations to align their diversity + equity efforts with Museum Hue, and also advertise job openings. Another is the Huers membership, for people of color interested in the Museum Hue platform. And finally, the Allies membership, for those looking to support Museum Hue’s mission.You can listen to Black Visuality and learn more about Cunningham at stephanieacunningham.com. You can find more information about Museum Hue by going to museumhue.com. Stephanie Cunningham: My work really if you look at all the things that I've been doing falls under two parts. It's really just looking at ways to support people of color to increase our visibility, to facilitate our employment and get us more entrenched in the creative economy and also on the other part, call out and challenge and address the barriers and the hierarchies and issues that relate to specifically racism and lack of opportunity in the field for people of color. That's what I'm continuously doing is just working on ways to shift this field and move it into where we can see much more equity, much more diversity, much more ... There's another word that I'm looking for. Much more parity as well in the field is incredibly important to me.This has been Museum Archipelago.[Outro]
There’s a new tool in young-Earth creationists' quest for scientific legitimacy: the museum. Over the past 25 years, dozens of so-called creation museums have been built, including the Answers in Genesis (AiG) Creation Museum (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creation_Museum) in Kentucky. Borrowing the style of natural history museums and science centers, these public display spaces use the form and rhetoric of mainstream science to support a belief in the literal truth of the Bible, including the creation of the universe in six days about 6,000 years ago. In her 2009 thesis, “Faith Displayed As Science: The Role of The Creation Museum in the Modern Creationist Movement (https://ncse.com/files/pub/library/Theses/Duncan_Julie-%20Faith%20Displayed%20as%20Science%20-%20The%20role%20of%20the.pdf)”, Julie Garcia visited the AiG Creation Museum and three other creation museums: The Creation Evidence Museum in Glenrose, TX, Dinosaur Adventureland in Pensacola, FL, and the Institute for Creation Research which is near San Diego, CA.In this episode, Garcia discusses her findings and explores why museums are a particularly well-suited medium for creationist ideas.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==), Castbox (https://castbox.fm/x/10jh_), Overcast (https://overcast.fm/itunes1182755184/museum-archipelago), or Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/show/5ImpDQJqEypxGNslnImXZE) to never miss an epsiode.Club Archipelago 🏖️If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics and Links00:00: Intro00:15: Quest for Scientific Legitimacy01:06: Julie Garcia 02:25: Garcia's Thesis03:50: Visiting Creation Museums04:45: Using Dinosaurs to Attract Children To Creation Museums07:00: Why Build A Museum?10:51: Creationists Going Directly To Their Audience11:17: “Biblically Correct” Tours11:48: The Two Model Approach13:00: Outro/Join Club ArchipelagoTranscriptBelow is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 59. 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 TranscriptThere’s a new tool in young-Earth creationists’ quest for scientific legitimacy: the museum. Over the past 25 years, dozens of so-called creation museums have been built, most of them in the US. Borrowing the style of natural history museums and science centers, these public display spaces use the form and rhetoric of mainstream science to support a belief in the literal truth of the Bible, including the creation of the universe in six days about 6,000 years ago. Julie Garcia: A museum lets creationists speak directly to the people in an unfiltered and unchallenged way. Just being able to put all this inside something that’s called a museum and using the trappings of science, it gives creationism that additional feel of the legitimacy and credibility that it might not otherwise have.This is Julie Garcia, and her interest in both evolution and the people who vehemently deny it, led her to explore why museums are a particularly well-suited medium for creationist ideas.Julie Garcia: My name is Julie Garcia. I was formally known as Julie Duncan at the time I wrote my senior thesis, which was called “Faith Displayed As Science: The Role of The Creation Museum in the Modern American Creationist Movement”. Garcia grew up in Kentucky, and as an undergrad at Harvard, she decided to become a History and Science major. Julie Garcia: At other colleges that’s known as History and Philosophy of Science which is basically just the study of what science is and why we trust it and what are different ways of knowing the world. For me, part of the reason to go into it is because I loved evolution so much and had always just had a fascination with the whole process and had also had a corresponding fascination with why so many people so vehemently didn’t like evolution, and why so many people, to the point of 30, 40, sometimes 50% percent in certain polls, believe in creationism. So I was prompted to write this thesis when in 2006, I heard that in my backyard, in Boone Country Kentucky, Answers in Genesis, a creationist organization, was going to be building the largest Creation Museum in the world, known as the The Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, a 27 million dollar facility, over many 20 acres, about 10 minutes from my house.” The Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, also known as just The Creation Museum opened in 2007. In its first year, it reported 400,000 visitors.Julie Garcia: I eventually decided, coming into the summer of 2008, before my senior year, that I would spend that summer traveling back home to Kentucky to visit the creation museum there, and three other creation museums around the US. The Creation Evidence Museum in Glenrose, TX, Dinosaur Adventureland and the related creation museum in Pensacola, FL, and the Institute for Creation Research which is near San Diego, CA. That’s kind of how it all started, and I spent the summer visiting and learning about the four different museums.”Garcia chose these four museums for their stylistic differences and for their geographical diversity. At each one, she viewed the exhibits, and talked to the founders and staff, then analyzed and highlighted the messages and methods common to all of the museums. Julie Garcia: There was some trepidation before I went because I was worried that by disclosing that I was not a creationist they would assume I was going to write a smear piece on their museums, which honestly when I read my thesis now I feel there are certain things that I would phrase differently that came off snarkier than I think I would write them now. But everyone was very kind to me and they were all very eager to show me everything that they had built and they were very proud of it. I came away thinking these are very nice people with whom I just disagree, but that’s what stuck in my mind the most: everyone I talk to was very faithful and believe completely in everything that was shown in the museums.I did feel uncomfortable to seeing all the children there because it’s one thing obviously for adults to decide what they believe, and feel very strongly about them and teach them to others. It was just a little troubling to me to see young children learning things that were contrary to mainstream science. But of course, that’s kind of the purpose of these museums. All four museums heavily feature dinosaurs — either in audio animatronic form or as fossils. This is not just because of time compression of geological ages present in young-Earth creationism — it is also because dinosaurs attract the pubic, particularly children, to these museums. The founder of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, Ken Ham, calls dinosaurs “missionary lizards” for their attention-getting power. Julie Garcia: Dr. Hovan from Dinosaur Adventure Land in Florida and Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis very explicitly say the purpose of using things like dinosaurs is to attract the children and to bring them in. Then again, with distance now I can acknowledge that is true for secular museums as well because we all know that dinosaurs sell, but at the same time, given the counter narrative being told at these museums about dinosaurs and humans living together, yes, I did feel some discomfort seeing kids being explicitly told that these dinosaurs were alive 6,000 years ago and that people were riding them. In Answers in Genesis, they actually have a triceratops towards the end of the museum and they actually have a saddle on it. And you can sit on it and take a pictures. And it’s not a joke: it’s a representation of what the museum says would have been a typical pre-Flood diorama, where humans were living together with dinosaurs. So why build a museum? Garcia argues that there are three significant and interrelated reasons for the creationist movement. The first: museums are seen as credible. Museums really have a long history in the US as places of scientific research and public education. In the 20th century, they were sometimes referred to as “Cathedrals of Science,” this idea that they were buildings where we set forth the best of human endeavor and everything that the collective knowledge of our species was placed in these buildings. So simply by attaching that word, museum, it gives the building a sheen of credibility that it otherwise wouldn’t have if it were called a theme park or a bible center or something like that. The second reason also relates to the focus on dinosaurs: museums are more entertaining than school, bible study, or bible school.Julie Garcia: That is something that is like a theme park, but at the same time, it’s a kind of entertaining that a lot of teachers are going to like and a lot of parents are going to like in the way that a lot of parents and teachers want an educational experience for kids. A lot of parents who might want to spend the money on what they feel like is a frivolous day at a theme park, can get behind the idea of taking them to a museum where they’re going to be learning about science and they’re going to learning wholesome things and bettering themselves. And going along with that, the entertainment value is a decent amount of money. There is money to be made from offshoots from these museums.The final reason: going directly to the people.Julie Garcia: Number three is the most important of them, which is that a museum lets creationists speak directly to the people in an unfiltered and unchallenged way. So a creator of a museum has total control over the experience that visitors have. They can control exactly where you walk and what you read at what time, and what you take away from the exhibits. I think this is part of a larger movement, away from what creationists had been doing, which was bringing these challenges in the court system: in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s a string of defeats in federal courts for violating the establishment clause. A court, when things go right, a legal proceeding is designed to get to the truth, and part of getting to the truth is subjecting assertions to rigorous cross-examination. And you have someone sitting up there, the judge who makes rulings about what is a good argument and what’s not. And can keep certain evidence out, and can rule on who qualifies an expert. And those were things that weren’t going well for creationists. So after they lost a number of these cases, they started moving more toward this museum model. I think that is because there is no cross-examination in a museum. In fact, there is no opposite point of view if you don’t want to give it. There’s no requirement that you describe how other people see evidence or that you respond to criticisms to how you are presenting your point of view. So by switching over to these museum, a lot of creationists have switched strategies from trying to impose creationism on public school districts, or impose these laws prohibiting the teaching of evolution and instead to try to change people's hearts and minds on a more local and individual level in the hope that those people will have their minds changed and will go out and teach their kids at home creationists ideas or be part of a groundswell pushing again for the teaching of these creationist ideas in schools.Being able to go directly to your audience without a middleman is one of the main ways the media landscape more broadly has changed. As institutions that used to be arbiters of truth are called into question, there is more space for viewpoints that used to be far outside the mainstream to directly attract their own audience. And it doesn't have to be on the level of a single institution either. Garcia talks about guides to scientifically informed museums, zoos, and aquariums for sale in the Creation Museum's gift shop, meant to be used at these other institutions for alternative, biblically correct interpretations of their displays.Julie Garcia: I know that in addition to those printouts you can purchase, there are also some organization that provide some of these tours, such as a group called “Biblically Correct Tours” that does tours of Natural History Museums, and my understanding of how this works is it is an offshoot of the two model approach: which is the idea that evolution and creationism is two competing philosophies and that they look at the same evidence and that they just draw different conclusions. And so by having a Biblically Correct tour of the museum, this organization explains how creationism is not opposed to science in their view because they know that Americans for the most part like science. Nobody wants to be anti-science. So if anyone disagrees about things like climate change or evolution, usually the way that it is phrased is not “well I don’t like science, and I reject science”, it’s more “well I take a more different view of the science and there are two sides of this story and I follow this interpretation.” That is exactly the type of thing that we’re seeing with tours like this, and that you also see in the Answers in Genesis Creation museum: they present things that could be in a secular museum, such as an image of a dinosaur skeleton obscured by a mudslide, and you can look at it in two different ways… It’s not just that museum-goers like science: Garcia points out that audiences tend to trust information more if it is presented in a high-tech style. In her conclusion, Garcia writes that “It seems very probable that the years to come will see the construction of more museums, most likely in the high-tech style of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, which has proven quite lucrative.” Julie Garcia: Now, it’s easier for people through mediums like Twitter and through buildings like their own Creation Museums, to claim the same kind of authority and to have an impact that they otherwise might not have in the past where they wouldn’t have had that ability get their message out.
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