The Anthropology Laboratory: Where Indiana Jones fits into Modern Museum studies

 

This next site visit, involved the Temple University Anthropology Laboratory of Research and Exhibitions. Visiting this site offered a behind-the-scenes examination of museum work and exhibits. This experience also engaged in a discussion that was unique to the Anthropology Lab, the inter-relationship between history and archeology. In previous site visits to other local museums, the focus has mainly been on discussions of preservation, audience and the details of exhibitions.

While at the Anthropology Laboratory of Research and Exhibitions we got to see many local artifacts as well as others gathered from different places across the world. One of the main distinctions between this level of archeology and exhibits source, was the fact that much of the artifacts were gathered in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. Visiting the site also learned the evolution of archeology since that era, and the level of internal politics of the field. These kinds of factors really decide what an exhibit can contain. The local collection for example, was an interesting resource that tied into some of the themes we’ve discussed. The lab was a real-world example of the kind of practices we discussed. The collection featured was that of artifacts gathered from the Philadelphia Almshouse, where refugees lived during Colonial America. The exhibit surrounding the collection tapped into our present cultural discussion on refugees, through the presentation of these materials.

The Anthropology Laboratory of Research and Exhibitions is in the process of following the kind of model expressed in Letting Go: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World. The Anthropology lab is in the process of becoming more like the kind of participatory museums, that “meet visitors expectations for active engagement and to do so in a way that furthers the missions and core values of an institution”[1]. One of the first steps the lab has taken to do is by digitizing materials and records. However, the lab should focus on further developing their “presence” more, perhaps by creating a website, and other means to establish themselves as an institution.

The Anthropology Laboratory of Research and Exhibitions offered a unique experience into museum studies, outside of the realm of historical study. The collections and artifacts there offer an opportunity for a visitor to witness objects and materials they would not have the chance to see elsewhere. Whether that ‘something’ is an artifact from New Guinea, or a 19th century spittoon, the Anthropology Laboratory has these kinds of materials in their collection. Looking to the future, the lab should use this to their advantage and make their collection more accessible. This can easily be accomplished by continuing to spread awareness of their institution to an audience through digital means.

 

 

[1] Bill Adair, et al.,(editor)  Letting Go? : Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World Left Coast Press, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/templeuniv-ebooks/detail.action?docID=767292pg 21

 

A Close Reading of “From Storefront to Monument: Tracing The Public History of the Black Museum Movement”

 

     From Storefront to Monument: Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement by Andrea Burns examines four different museums from across varied urban locals, that were founded and run by African Americans. Each of these museums were a piece of a narrative of expressing black history, that during the 1960’s was simply not presented in mainstream museums. The alienation of this audience in public history spheres inspired many to create new museums. This book chronicles the dedicated efforts of the volunteers and activists that were the leading voice to establish a presence for African-American history within their local communities.

One aspect of the text that I found interesting was how powerful and impactful these museums’ community outreach methods had. One of the early examples of this was the DuSable’s museum’s call for donations, mainly of ordinary objects, from the local community, “Artifacts of African American history—whether photo- graphs or manumission papers or quilts—were in fact objects of immense power, worthy of inclusion in a museum”[1] This affirmation of the importance of African-American history was a method of engaging with an audience that had been so excluded in other museums. Another example of this outreach was the popularization of the “mobile museum” in Detroit with the International Afro-African American Museum. Andrea Burns notes that, “by bringing the mobile museum to churches, schools, and other community centers throughout Detroit, the museum exposed Detroit’s school- children, as well as older audiences, to a new and accessible interpretation of African American history and culture.”[2] This impact of the community outreach across numerous groups of an audience, speaks to the power the spread of information and cultural history has. Another example of this kind of outreach was in the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, with The Rat exhibit which was the museum’s way of tackling a relevant issue of the local community, and the use of the museum as an educational resource to the public. “Accordingly, when visitors arrived at the museum in November 1969, they found panels on the history of rat infestation…and learned about pest control”[3]  This kind of methodology for exhibit presentation and creation was something that was innovative at the time.

Community engagement was an element that was vitally important for the African-American Museum of Philadelphia, given its physical distance and inaccessibility to the local African-American community. However, unlike the other museums, the African-American Museum of Philadelphia was entrenched in local politics from its beginnings and struggled to define itself in the early years of its establishment. “In the case of both the African American Museum of Philadelphia and Detroit’s Museum of African American History inaccessible…or absent archives detracted from the primary mission of African American museums-namely to educate and serve their audiences”[4] These concepts of the museums relation to audience and social obligation tied to communities are some of the same discussions found in Amy Tyson’s ethnography “Crafting Emotional Comfort: Interpreting the Painful Past at Living History Museums in the New Economy.” This theme of audience and its importance has been a continued discussion, and in the case of these museums especially the role museums have inclusion and audience.

[1] Burns, Andrea A. “CONFRONTING THE “TYRANNY OF RELEVANCE”: Exhibits and the Politics of Representation.” In From Storefront to Monument: Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement, 72-105. University of Massachusetts Press, 2013. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vk1qr.7Pg 22

[2] Ibid., Pg 84

[3] Ibid., 94

[4] Ibid., pg 123

“From Riches to Riches” A visit to the Hill-Physick House

Now that I’ve got the obligatory Henry Hill Goodfellas reference out of my system with that title, The Hill-Physick House was an incredibly interesting site to visit. It is just one of many examples of engaging places to visit in Philadelphia, that simply just aren’t as well-known as The Constitution Center or Independence Hall. The visit today not only including things I expected, like seeing portraits and antique furniture, but a look behind the curtain at the physical work and backroom engagement that are a part of the field of public history.

The first part of the visit, with the tour of the various rooms and aesethics of the days of Henry Hill and Dr. Physick, reminded me of Gary Kulik’s “Designing the Past History-Museum Exhibitions from Peale to the Present.” Specifically, the section of the piece on period rooms, because that was what the rooms in the Physick House were. The level of details and the interconnected nature of the rooms, like the Monticello windows and the paintings from Joseph Napoleon just gave the rooms a real presence of history. The period rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1920’s worked so well for one reason, “Even wholly commonplace items-andirons, pewter mugs, and betty lamps- became, under the Metropolitan’s influence, art objects”[1] The Hill-Physick does the same thing, drawing attention to ordinary objects like the designs on the wallpaper, and the windows along with portraits of the Doctor and his wife.

 

Photo of The Hill-Physick House

One interesting aspect I noted was some overlap in themes between this site and the Second Bank Museum. Which I found out are incredibly close by on the way back to the train, though my sense of direction is not something to boast about. At both sites, the question of “who is our audience, and how can we best engage them” was at the heart of the discussion in public history. Also, the multiple layers of stories beneath the surface level, especially in the lives of women in the past. Both Elizabeth Physick and Mary Morris lived more complicated lives than their portraits let on.

The other aspect of the tour, the look behind the scenes with real life applications of public history work, was just as engaging. It was interesting to sit in on the meeting, and to hear how much work and the process of how these history programs actually happen. The element of social media and audience engagement, were the answers to these questions of “who is our audience really?” The opportunity to see a real-world example of these methods and public history engagement is something I find relevant.

[1] Kulik, Gary “Designing the Past History-Museum Exhibitions from Peale to the Present.” Pg 17

“Citizens of Hope and Glory” A Visit to The Portrait Gallery at the Second Bank Museum

What colors come to mind when 18th century Philadelphia comes to mind, red blue, but pink. This radical viewpoint of aesthetics draws a viewer in automatically when they walk into the pink Greco-Roman style architecture and into the world of the 18th century. The Portrait Gallery at the Second Bank Museum invites a modern audience to connect to people from the past on a purely human level. Through a number of design elements and aesthetics the museum makes the viewer feel like they are standing in the presence of not just great men but the ordinary American at a time when all these ideals were carved into the national existence. The staging of these portraits and the design are all calculated to be accessible to the guest, such as framing portraits at different heights and making the guiding material dynamic and approachable.

Gary Kulik’s “Designing the Past History-Museum Exhibitions from Peale to the Present” provides examples of the evolution of museums through important characteristics. One such was this idea of collecting common objects and “permanent land-marks of the progress of the world’[1] that originated at the Smithsonian. The Second Bank Museum’s collection of not just portraits but remnants of Charles Winston Peale’s natural exhibits are a modern example of this concept. Like discussed in the classroom, the Second Bank Museum’s Portrait encounters big questions like who is our audience, and how do we connect with them? One thing that is overwhelming when visiting is how vibrant and detailed everything is, the level of storytelling at work at a single painting and all that is explicit and implied. Little details such as the color choice and background of portraits tell a hidden story in every piece of art. It combines a level of hero-worship someone would come to expect when visiting a site so close to Independence Hall, with a much broader lens on the average American within the Museum. On a first visit to the Second Bank Museum, an audience can witness history through ordinary objects

[1] Kulik, Gary “Designing the Past History Museums Exhibitions from Peale to Present” pg. 8