Another Year, Another THATCamp

September 16, 2015 at 8:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Joint Statement from Museum Bloggers and Colleagues on Ferguson and related events

December 13, 2014 at 10:39 am | Posted in museums | Leave a comment
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DC Ferguson protest rally of Nov. 25, 2014 concludes march at steps of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Photo by Stephen D. Melkisethian (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

DC Ferguson protest rally of Nov. 25, 2014, concludes march at steps of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Photo by Stephen D. Melkisethian (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

I felt it imperative to pull my head out of the weeds of grading final papers to acknowledge this important call to action issued by a number of voices in the museum and allied fields whose work I follow and respect. The broader topic of museum engagement with contentious contemporary events has been an interest of mine for some time. Back in 2008, I had the privilege of organizing a panel, “Making History: Reconsidering the Role of Museums in Current Events and Affairs,” for the New England Museum Association conference. It explored approaches to developing educational programming and exhibitions related to still unfolding events and issues. The panelists—Bill Hosley (then Executive Director of the New Haven Museum & Historical Society), Elizabeth Lewis (then Sr. Exhibit Developer & Designer at the Connecticut Historical Society), and Katherine Kane (then and still Executive Director of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center)—shared their experiences with the risks, rewards, and lessons learned in undertaking such work. Our goal was to provide a practical framework for: obtaining institutional buy-in, staking out a position (Is neutrality possible? Desirable?), selecting/collecting materials, working with the community, building dialogue, and gauging visitor response. I regret now that I did not take the time to capture and disseminate the session’s conversations about the role of history museums in fostering civil discourse.

So, to those already engaging—or about to address—the truly essential questions raised in the following cri de coeur, which I have reblogged from Steve Lubar’s “On Public Humanities” site, please document your work so that we can all learn and grow as a professional community.


On public humanities

I am pleased to join a group of distinguished museum folks in this statement about the role of museums in addressing contemporary issues. The public humanities puts community at the center of its theory and asks: How might cultural institutions be useful to community? The recent events help to focus that question. We should ask not what we should do now, but what should we have been doing all along to build the community connections we need to be useful now? –Steve Lubar

The recent series of events, from Ferguson to Cleveland and New York, have created a watershed moment. Things must change. New laws and policies will help, but any movement toward greater cultural and racial understanding and communication must be supported by our country’s cultural and educational infrastructure. Museums are a part of this educational and cultural network. What should be our role(s)?

Schools and other arts organizations are…

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Test Run for TimelineJS

May 26, 2013 at 7:06 pm | Posted in academic work, digital humanities, museums, war | Leave a comment

One of the challenges I face with my dissertation is keeping event and exhibition dates in mind so that I have a clear sense of simultaneity as well as sequence. I have lists in Microsoft Word and Excel spreadsheets to help me keep track, but I wanted something with visual cues. After reading Amy Cavender’s “Easy Timelines with Timeline JS,” I decided to see if this open-source tool was indeed “As easy as 1-2-3.”

Let’s see

Museums, WWII & Hemispheric Relations

March 11, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Posted in academic work, material culture, museums, war | Leave a comment

In June, I will be presenting a dissertation-related paper at Material Cultures in the Space Between, 1914-1945, the 14th Annual Conference of the Space Between Society. My abstract follows below.

“Materializing the Good Neighborhood:
Exhibitions and the Promotion of Hemispheric Relations during World War II”

In recent decades, scholars have increasingly made museums and their exhibitions the subject of study. However, little work has been done to explicate how museums wield their cultural power during times of war. This paper addresses the role of exhibitions during World War II in re-constructing a hemispheric supra-national community of “Good Neighbors” united by shared cultural, political and economic interests. Specifically, it examines the Newark Museum’s Three Southern Neighbors: Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia (1941) in comparison to R.H. Macy and Co.’s Latin American Fair (1942), an exhibition-cum-bazaar.

Both exhibits sought to materialize Latin America within US borders so that visitors could—in body and, it was hoped, in allegiance—become members of the imagined community that government agencies backing these efforts hoped to create. The Department of State, which encouraged the Newark show, and the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, which advised Macy’s effort, saw such cultural initiatives as achieving two aims. On the domestic front, they would inculcate US citizens. When regarded from abroad, the exhibitions would prove to potential allies wary of US imperialism that investment and intervention now came in the spirit of mutuality.

Drawing on material culture and affect studies as well as narrative theory, this paper situates the embodied ways of knowing constructed by museums within the matrix of intersecting exhibitionary practices also undertaken by government agencies and corporations during the war. This case study argues for the necessity of treating exhibitions not only as visual experiences or as “texts” to be read but as multisensory, material phenomena that demand interdisciplinary analytical tools. The larger questions that this paper will raise for discussion include: how do materialized narratives differ from primarily textual ones, how must one account for these differences, and what difficulties does the study of past embodied experiences present for scholars?

If you are curious to know more about this topic, see Lisa Crossman’s paper, “Macy’s Taste in Latino Art: Selling the Latin American Fair’s Aesthetics,” as well as the research report that I prepared for the Rockefeller Archive Center on my work in their collections related to museums’ participation, at home and abroad, in hemispheric cultural relations.

I would love to hear from others doing related work and welcome input on collections of relevant material or scholarship that might have bearing on this project.

How Does Material Culture Shape Our Sense of War?

September 15, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Posted in academic work, material culture, museums, war | Leave a comment

This is just one of many questions that my fellow panelists and I invite you to explore with us on our “War & the Visceral Imagination” blog—and in Baltimore during the annual meeting of the American Studies Association (ASA) on October 23rd.

We called our blog and ASA panel “War and the Visceral Imagination” because we are interested in how embodied experiences of the material shape wartime notions of citizenship, obligation, and the national imaginary.

For more about the session–and to tell us about the work you’re doing,  interesting material in your institution’s collections, readings you find useful, etc.–click on through. We’d love to hear from you.

Six Months Later: Another THATCamp

November 9, 2010 at 7:46 pm | Posted in digital humanities | Leave a comment

Here it is November already, and it’s obvious that, if nothing else, attending THATCamp un-conferences compels me to update my often neglected blog. My experience at the upcoming THATCAMP New England promises to be quite different than my first un-conference encounter back in May at the Center for History and New Media. That first exposure felt like a dizzying plunge off the deep end into a freewheeling yet purposeful culture of conversation, creative energy and camaraderie.

Yes, “more hack, less yack” emerged as the unofficial theme for the weekend but, for a relative newcomer like me, who has plenty of yack but very little hack, talking about ideas, projects and the issues confronting digital humanities seemed within reach whereas hacking did not. (This said, I still sat in on a few of the programming-oriented sessions, if only to absorb the spirit of things while the content soared over my head.)  Overall, I observed much, contributed a little and came away inspired by the different models of digital scholarship that I’d encountered—in both human and project form.

My lack of technical know-how continued to nag at me, however. For this reason, I kept thinking back to a session on BootCamp organizing that I sat in on briefly. How great would it be, I thought, if I could attend a series of workshops designed to help folks like me build some of the basic technical skills needed not only to do the work of digital humanities but also to collaborate more effectively with the technical experts who support and partner with us?  Well, I’ll soon be reporting back to you on exactly what it is like to attend such workshops.  The chief reason my THATCamp New England experience promises to be different than my first un-conference is that I will be participating in all the BootCamp sessions being offered.  

Now, if I can only decide on the appropriate footwear. Boots at Bootcamp too last season?

THATCamp 2010: A Modest Proposal

May 16, 2010 at 12:14 am | Posted in digital humanities | Leave a comment
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Among the many subjects this year’s THATCampers  are buzzing about are the ways in which we can use technology and collaborative approaches to enhance student learning.  Here’s one of the ideas that I outlined in my application to the unconference:

I’m interested in adapting or developing an annotation tool for collaborative critical reading. Existing software such as CommentPress or Adobe Buzzword provide some but not all the features that I envision for this project. The aim is to leverage the reciprocal relationship between reading and writing by fostering critical reading skills that encourage students to examine how scholars structure and develop their arguments and, in turn, to think more critically about their own writing. The difference between this idea and, say, having students blog about what they are reading is that the tool would make students’ observations about the text–and the text itself–visible in the same shared space, inviting close re-examination of the text. Goals include:

  • Help students to strengthen their critical reading skills: understand how arguments are structured, use of rhetoric, conception of audience, etc. Transfer this knowledge to creation of students’ own written work.  Peer-learning: shift from many-to-one to a many-to-many model, create space for low-risk participation and carry momentum over to classroom discussion.
  • Transform reading from a solitary activity with no feedback mechanisms to a collaborative learning activity.

American Identities in the Museum

January 13, 2010 at 9:55 pm | Posted in teaching | Leave a comment

AMCV 0190M From P.T. Barnum to Second Life: American Identities in the Museum

This is a freshman/sophomore seminar with an emphasis on interdisciplinary methods that is intended to introduce students to American Studies.  Toward this end students will work with textual, visual, material, and web-based forms of evidence.  Emphasis is placed on how to conduct question-based inquiries, assess evidence, formulate a thesis, and argue it coherently in writing. In-class free-writing exercises, peer critiques of drafts, and evidence-specific workshops (e.g., two class sessions working with objects from the John Nicholas Brown Center’s Nightingale-Brown House Collections) will support skills-building needed for assignments. To aid students in thinking about rhetoric and the craft of writing, course readings expose them to materials written for varied audiences and purposes.

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24h Best non-Buy

January 13, 2010 at 8:05 pm | Posted in performance art | Leave a comment

I am now the proud collective owner of the recent Man Bartlett performance “24h Best non-Buy.” More thoughts on this later as I get the site up and running. Until then here is the artist’s summary of his recent endeavor:

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