Continued from Part 1 and Part 2.
A Nash Motor Home, one of the artifacts “read” in the RASI class. Photo credit: Canada Science and Technology Museum, Nash Motor Car Company, 1983.0258, 2012
On the final day of Reading Artifacts Summer Institute (RASI), each group was required to present its artifact to an audience of other participants, museum staff, and volunteers. Throughout the morning, artifacts that had initially seemed ambiguous and daunting at the start of the week were slowly separated into layers of meaning and their hidden histories were recounted. A small piano was revealed to be a portable ecclesiastical device used in religious sermons; a Gestetner printing press was exposed as a post-war business venture for a Japanese immigrant; a cannon-shaped lens viewer proved to be one of the first novelty cameras; a radiography device turned out to be one of the earliest home service x-ray machines; and a Nash Motor Home was an intact summer retreat, complete with additions such as a wooden arm that came down to signal a turn.
In our presentations, we were challenged to consider various methods suitable for presenting research on artifacts, from traditional slide show presentations to performances. Continue reading
Kentucky Derby Museum’s Web page.
The Kentucky Derby Museum, a non-profit organization located in Louisville, Kentucky, announces the opening of its Colonel Clark Library. With collections dating back to the mid-19th century, the Colonel Clark Library is an outstanding resource for historians, especially those interested in agricultural, sporting, and local history. The centerpiece of the Colonel Clark Library is the collection of Jim Bolus, long-time sports writer, historian, and renowned expert on the Kentucky Derby. The Bolus Collection consists of thousands of research files, printed materials, and recorded interviews covering the sport of Thoroughbred racing from 1875 to 1995. The Library also houses primary documents on the history of Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby since its inaugural running in 1875, and approximately 3,000 published volumes which include noted Thoroughbred industry publications such as The Blood-Horse, Thoroughbred Times, and the Daily Racing Form.
The Colonel Clark Library is open to the public on Tuesdays during the Museum’s normal operating hours and also by appointment. Access to the Library is free of charge. For general information on the Kentucky Derby Museum click here. To search the library holdings click here. For phone and email inquiries, contact Chris Goodlett at 502-637-1111, ext. 259 or by email.
The brochure that accompanied the mystery stove. (Source: Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation, No. L11201)
Read Part I of this series here.
On the second day of the Reading Artifacts Summer Institute (RASI), we received the artifact accession files. Although our physical examination of the stove had proven effective, artifacts need some help to speak. Material cultural historians have shown the benefits of (re)connecting objects to their historical contexts by undertaking a process of “thick description,” combining the use of written sources with material ones. We eagerly anticipated what the accession file could tell us about the stove’s origins, manufacture, and targeted audience. Continue reading
The authors chose this enigmatic little stove for their week-long exploration. (Source: Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation, No. 1981.0040)
In August 2012, a group of 26 doctoral students and museum professionals from different disciplines and multiple countries gathered at the Canada Science and Technology Museum (CSTM) in Ottawa, Canada, for the fourth annual Reading Artifacts Summer Institute (RASI). The one-week program, guided by staff and volunteers from the museum with guest scholar Dr. Allison Marsh, a historian of technology from the University of South Carolina, offered participants three avenues to investigate the role of artifacts in society:
- as historical sources with multiple cultural meanings that shift over time,
- as teaching tools in museum environments, and
- as three-dimensional objects whose preservation and storage present additional information–and challenges–to the work of curators, conservators, historians, and educators.
In the CSTM’s cavern-like storage warehouses, where artifacts range from delicate light bulbs to a massive mid-nineteenth-century steam engine, it became immediately apparent how much effort–intellectual, physical, and fiscal–is needed to maintain collections. This is not a new story for the curatorial world, but, in the midst of the Digital Revolution, where more and more objects, people, and places exist as digital representations and relationships, the week offered an opportunity to rethink how and in what ways our work with artifacts contributes to the construction of meaning in a pluralistic society. Continue reading
Read Part I of this series here.
The first big step in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s re-installation process was to conduct visitor research. How do visitors feel about the current South Asian galleries? What do they already know about the area’s religions, geography, cultures, etc.? What do they want to know? What do they find difficult or overwhelming? Which objects do they seem to be drawn to and why? These questions to laid the groundwork for the re-installation, and we set out to find the answers in a number of different ways. Continue reading
Lowell National Historical Park’s interpretation of women’s industrial labor, as reflected in this model of an integrated textile mill, remains ground-breaking after 35 years.
This summer I had the pleasure of being part of a tour organized by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage in Philadelphia. A group of practitioners from across the arts and cultural sector spent several days in the Boston area exploring questions relating to gender and sexuality in public historical interpretation.
When I was first invited to accompany the tour as a kind of traveling-scholar-in-residence, my first thought was, “But I don’t do gender in my work.” That was quickly followed by the realization that in a world inflected by feminist and queer scholarship and activism, most of us do indeed do gender, at least implicitly, whenever we think about interpreting the past in public. Like race and class, it’s become something that we automatically tend to ask ourselves about. It’s a crucial way to pry open received histories and connect to present-day concerns. And the question that I found myself returning to as we visited museums, historic houses, a textile mill, a ship, a college campus, a settlement house, and a cemetery or two, was, “Is there a new interpretive landscape beginning to take shape now that we’ve made gender a more central part of public historical inquiry?” Continue reading
With the resignations of the Hirshhorn Museum’s director and the chairman of its board of trustees this summer, the Bubble, or Seasonal Inflatable Structure, project (at left) has collapsed in a very public way. As the Bubble deflated under the weight of its projected costs, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, a different kind of venue for arts and culture, continued its long run of phenomenal success. (This year’s festival, which ran from June 26 through July 7, featured Hungarian heritage, African American styles of adornment, and speakers of endangered languages.) Although the Bubble’s projected $12.5 million price tag was the most frequently cited reason for its demise, I want to propose an alternative explanation. With the former director’s goal of using the Seasonal Inflatable Structure to host think tanks and Davos-style meetings of the minds, the project bore the taint of elitism and was not a good fit for the Smithsonian. Continue reading
I founded the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History by accident. Originally, the idea was for a one-night party in my apartment in January of 2011, designed to create a for-us, by-us space where queer people could join together to celebrate ourselves as a valid public, worthy of speaking to; a valid subject, worthy of speaking about; and a valid authority, worthy of speaking on our own terms. But when a few Facebook postings generated nearly 30 exhibits–and over 300 attendees–I realized that what had started as a party had the potential to become something more.
A few of us began holding meetings to define just what “The Pop-Up Museum” was. Eventually, we came up with this as our mission statement:
The Pop-Up Museum of Queer History develops exhibitions and events that engage local communities in conversations about queer pasts as a way to imagine queer futures. We provide a forum to do what we’ve always done: tell our own stories. We are artists, historians, educators and activists and we believe you are too. Continue reading
View from the South Asian Gallery at the Philadelphia Museum of Art | Credit: Mekala Krishnan
I recently started a new position at the Philadelphia Museum of Art as a Curatorial and Interpretation Fellow, for which my Public History degree from American University has been (and will continue to be) invaluable. Understanding art through history and vice versa is one of the joys of curatorial work in an art museum, but interpreting cultural, historical, religious and aesthetic context to a wider audience can be a real challenge. This is especially true when one focuses on art from a culture that is foreign to a large number of American museum visitors. My work involves the PMA’s South Asian art collection, which is currently undergoing a process of reinterpretation and reinstallation and will be re-presented to the public in 2015. My position as point person in the reinstallation involves working with both the curatorial and education departments to understand visitors’ entry points on to the subject of South Asian history, art, culture, religion and philosophy, and to come up with thoughtful and innovative ways to activate a stellar collection of artworks and allow it to speak across cultural borders. Continue reading
Editor’s note: This post continues the series of conference city reviews published by The Public Historian in the Public History Commons
The Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum, April 20, 2013. NCPH Annual Meeting, Ottawa, Ontario, Henriette Riegel, Executive Director. Tour Leader: Captain Michael Braham. http://www.diefenbunker.ca/
The above-ground entrance to the Diefenbunker. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Dickey.)
Located thirty-five kilometers (twenty-one miles) west of downtown Ottawa, Canada, the former Central Emergency Government Headquarters for the Canadian government, more familiarly known as the Diefenbunker, offers the public a glimpse at the long shadow cast by the specter of mutually assured destruction that characterized the period known as the Cold War. Known as the Diefenbunker, in a play on the name of Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, the bunker was built between 1959 and 1961 to house up to 535 government officials in the event of a nuclear attack. The premise of the Continuity of Government Program, first announced by Diefenbaker in 1958, was that a “‘thin thread’ of continuous government” would be maintained in the event of such an attack. The bunker, which was operational until 1994, served as a telecommunications hub for the Canadian Forces and was staffed by approximately one hundred military personnel. Since 1998 the Diefenbunker has been open to the public as a museum and last year averaged more than one hundred visitors a day. Continue reading