Today’s post comes from Robin Wheelwright Ness, Digital Production Specialist at Brown University Library.
Museums strive to partner and collaborate with other institutions, engage the public, and build lasting relationships within communities. There is no foolproof recipe for success, but there are indeed successes that demonstrate how collaboration and community relationship building can lead to active public engagement with museum collections.
I am responsible for the coordination of work on digital projects in Brown University Library’s department of Digital Production Services; I am also a part-time graduate student in the Master’s program at Brown’s Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage. These intersecting roles have allowed me a unique understanding of just how inter-institutional collaboration and public engagement intersect to expand what the museum is, what it does, and who it is for.
The Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology holds a collection of over two hundred hand-woven Maya garments collected by anthropologist and Brown alumna Margot Blum Schevill, a specialist in Guatemalan weaving practices. In the past few years, Schevill has also donated correspondence and thousands of slides and photographs documenting Mayan weaving practices and Guatemalan village life to the Haffenreffer.
Recognizing the need to digitize Schevill’s many images, curators at the Haffenreffer approached Digital Production Services in the fall of 2012. It proposed that the Schevill slides be scanned and added to the Brown Digital Repository, to which the museum plans to link as it builds its online collection database. Digital Production Services has previously provided digitization and metadata services to, and preserved digitized components of, projects including Mashapaug Pond and the Fox Point Project. The library was pleased to join in the effort to help make the Schevill materials available to a larger audience.
Two Public Humanities students, Anna Ghublikian ’13 and María Quintero ’13, took the opportunity to work on cataloging the textile component of the Schevill collection. I taught Anna, María, and another Public Humanities student already in our employ, Jacqueline Harris ’13, to digitize the collection (using our Nikon Super Coolscan5000 slide scanners) and to use our internal tracking system to record metadata about the images. Schevill was meticulous in recording not only the locations and dates of her visits, but also the types of looms, materials, and weaving techniques employed in the creation of textiles she photographed. This information can be used to create metadata records, providing a variety of access points and, ultimately, adding value to the user’s experience with the digitized collection.
Anna and María’s work paralleled a documentary and arts project, led by Brown undergraduate Alexander Crane, which partnered with the Maya-Guatemalan Weaving Collective Oxib’ B’atz, located in nearby New Bedford, Massachusetts. Oxib’ B’atz was formed, in part, in order to keep alive the tradition of the immigrant’s native Guatemalan practice of back-strap loom weaving. The connection to, and overlap between, the Schevill collection and the ongoing work of the collective inspired an exhibit at Brown University’s Carriage House Gallery, and planted the seed in Anna & María’s minds for further expansion of the project.
As the digitization work proceeded, Anna and María began building partnerships with institutions and weavers in New Bedford, MA. This ultimately led to an exhibition at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Weaving Stories, Weaving Lives: Maya Textiles from Guatemala and New Bedford, exploring Mayan weaving as a form of storytelling. Working as co-curators, María and Anna brought additional students into the project to form an exhibit team. They displayed garments from the Schevill Collection alongside contemporary examples woven by members of Oxib’ B’atz. The exhibit featured demonstrations of back-strap weaving by members of the Oxib’ B’atz, school vacation week programming, Spanish language content, and free admission to New Bedford residents.
The work I performed conducting quality control and correction on the digitized slides facilitated the selection of images for use in the exhibit. Jacqueline has written about her involvement in the project on the DPS departmental blog, Curio, while Anna and María have written about the project in a previous post on this very blog. And — good news! — upon graduation, María Quintero became a curatorial fellow at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, where she continues to work on enhancing ties between the institution and local communities.
One of the next steps in working with the Schevill Collection is to make the digitized images of the collection available to the general public so that those with interest in ethnographic costume and Maya Guatemalan weaving traditions worldwide can make use of this valuable resource. Stay tuned for updates on the digital component of this project as it enters the Brown Digital Repository.
A woman weaving in the Guatemalan mountains. Photo by Margot Blum Schevill
Thank you Robin. We love this project, and are excited about making these images available to the public in the Brown Digital Repository. More on that soon!
Today’s post is from Sean Gantt, Postdoctoral Fellow in Native American Studies at Brown University.
Halito, Sa-hochifo yát Sean Gantt. Charlotte, NC si-aiálhi. Chahta hicha Na Hollo siyah. Iksa Comby akanomi. (Hello, my name is Sean Gantt. I am from Charlotte, NC. I am of European and Choctaw descent. I am related to the Comby family.)
I am the new postdoctoral fellow in Native American Studies hosted in Anthropology at Brown University. I am happy to join the department for the 2013-2014 academic year. I am very excited to be at Brown University and I look forward to working with the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, as well as the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America (CSREA), Native American and Indigenous Studies at Brown (NAISAB) , and the student group Native Americans at Brown (NAB).
I am new to the area, recently moving from Albuquerque, NM where I completed my PhD in Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. My dissertation, titled “Nanta Hosh Chahta Immi? (What are Choctaw Lifeways?): Cultural Preservation in the Casino Era,” investigates the long-term impacts of tribal economic development programs on the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (MBCI) reservation in East-Central Mississippi. Before going to grad school in New Mexico I earned my BA in Anthropology from Davidson College in North Carolina.
I am a visual and public anthropologist with training in both archaeological and ethnographic research methods. I specialize on Southeastern U.S. Native American Studies and focus on tribal economic development, Indigenous self-representation, and identity. My work builds on the growing body of theory and research in Decolonization and Tribal Critical Race Theory, as well as critical Indigenous scholarship.
In the spring I will be teaching ETHN1890H: Introduction to American Indian Studies at Brown, and look forward to the opportunity to work with students in an engaging class looking at some of these issues. The class will certainly approach Native American Studies from a critical perspective, but there will also be flexibility for students to investigate research areas of their own choice as well. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about the class to contact me via email at email@example.com.
If you are interested in learning more about me, my research, or my video work please check out my website: http://seangantt.wordpress.com.
Yakoke, hachi pisa la chine (Thank you, see you all soon)
- Sean E. Gantt, PhD
Thanks, Sean — we’re glad you could join us!
Readers: we welcome guest bloggers! If you are interested in writing about your experience with the Haffenreffer, please contact Jennifer Stampe, blog editor and Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Reading Love Medicine: Beads, Bark, and Books from Ojibwe Country” closes Thursday, October 24 — so you have a few more days to visit the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library on the Brown University campus to see it. If you are not a Brown id-holder, please be prepared to show some form of identification for entry.
“Reading Love Medicine” supports the 2013-2014 Big Read in Rhode Island, a set of programs dedicated to Louise Erdrich’s novel Love Medicine. The exhibit focuses on stories that can be told about objects from Ojibwe country. Drawing on objects from the collection of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, including beaded bandolier bags and birch bark baskets, the exhibition highlights the role that objects play in establishing and maintaining identity and relationships over time and across space. It foregrounds connections between tribes across the woodland regions of North America, and between American Indian and non-Indian communities. The exhibit is curated by Jennifer Stampe, Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology at Brown University (and Haffenreffer blog editor). It is informed by her research with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota.
The Big Read is hosted by the Tomaquag Museum, a Native-operated museum that tells the stories of Rhode Island’s Indigenous peoples. Sponsors include Brown University’s Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, its Third World Center, Native American and Indigenous Studies at Brown, and Native Americans at Brown.
Join us at the next Big Read event, on Friday October 25, 5:00 – 7:00 pm, when Loren Spears, Director of the Tomaquag Museum, speaks at the Providence Athenaeum. Her topic is “Native Arts: Healing Communities”; she will address themes such as family, community, historical trauma, and intergenerational trauma. She will reflect on how Native communities are addressing these issues today by using traditional arts to build a vibrant future.
And stay tuned for more information about a Round Table Discussion of Love Medicine to be scheduled for November and hosted by Native Americans at Brown. Hope you can join us!
For more information on Big Read events, see http://www.neabigread.org/communities/?community_id=2188
Today’s post is from Jen Thum, doctoral student in Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University’s Joukowsky Institute, and proctor at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology this term.
Hello Haffenreffer Blog readers!
I’m Jen, a second-year PhD student in Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown’s Joukowsky Institute. One of the features of my program is the “proctorship”: a semester-long term of service for the Brown community. The Joukowsky Institute’s close relationship with the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology means that I have the pleasure of working with the Museum’s collections several times per week this semester.
Jen Thum, HMA proctor, climbing out of an Iron-Age oven at Tel Megiddo. Photo by Jen Thum
I am an archaeologist who studies ancient Egyptian culture, with ongoing fieldwork at the Roman Period site of Amheida (ancient Trimithis) in Egypt’s Daklheh Oasis, and at Tel Megiddo and an adjacent settlement in Israel’s Jezreel Valley. When I learned that I would be working at the Haffenreffer, my first question was: Does the Museum happen to have any Egyptian objects that need to be researched? The answer turned out to be yes — there are about forty Egyptian items in the Haffenreffer collection — and the rest is (ancient) history!
Two of the Museum’s painted wooden funerary statues. Photo by Jen Thum
A few weeks ago I began researching and describing these objects, most of which are currently in the Museum’s research facility in Bristol, Rhode Island. Soon they will travel to Manning Hall on the Brown campus, where visitors can see them up-close. A wide range of materials are represented in this group: we have bronzes, wooden statues, faience (a glass-glazed ceramic made from powdered quartz) and the molds used to shape it, stone vessels and figurines, and even a piece turquoise incised with images of two Egyptian gods.
An Old Kingdom limestone votive object, with an inscription identifying the man who donated it. Photo by Jen Thum
Brown senior Aida holds a piece of turquoise incised with an image of the god Horus. Photo by Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology
My goal is to get the public excited about the collections through hands-on activities. On most Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays through December you can find me in the CultureLab, explaining what some of the Museum’s Egyptian objects are and how they were used. Visitors who join me on these days have the opportunity to put the fancy object-handling gloves on themselves, hold the objects, and ask me questions. I can’t promise to have an answer for everything, but I like a challenge, and I am always happy to whip out the microscope for some in-depth investigation!
Our mold for a small rosette-shaped faience object, under the microscope. Note the ancient fingerprints we saw under the microscope! Photo by Tony Belz
History graduate student Sam handles a small faience mold. Photo by Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology
Speaking of interactive activities, if you happen to be around campus on Saturday, October 19, you can join me at 11:30 am in Manning Hall for a demonstration of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). I will use this light-based technology to examine the Museum’s Old Kingdom relief block, and visitors will have the chance to help me out.
By the end of this term, the information I have garnered from my objects research will be available for visitors to the Haffenreffer and its website. In the meantime, stop in for a visit, and follow my progress on the Museum’s Twitter account at https://twitter.com/HaffenrefferMus, with the hashtag #EgyptoloJen.
Ir Hrw nfr! (That’s Ancient Egyptian for Have a nice day!)
Thanks Jen, and good luck in your work this term! Readers, be sure to come by to see Jen at Manning Hall this Saturday, October 19 as she examines the Haffenreffer’s Old Kingdom relief block — with your help! The event is part of the Haffenreffer’s programming for Brown University’s Family Weekend and for International Archaeology Day.
A belated welcome back and best wishes for the new academic year at Brown and beyond! HMA Blog kicks things off with greetings from our new director, Robert Preucel.
I am very excited to be the new director of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University. I owe a great debt to the past directors and past and current staff members who have made this museum such a wonderful beacon of light for the study of anthropology.
The Haffenreffer Museum is one of the leading anthropology museums in the country. It was founded by Rudolph F. Haffenreffer, the industrialist and philanthropist, as the King Philip’s Museum around 1920. His main interest was Native America with a special focus on the archaeology and history of Native New England. Upon his death in 1955, the museum was donated to Brown University and J. Louis Giddings was hired as its first director. Giddings transformed the museum into a modern institution and expanded its archaeological and ethnographic reach to encompass the world’s cultures.
Anthropology museums have a special role in our society today. They are uniquely positioned to serve as key intellectual sites for the production of global understanding of the world’s peoples and cultures both past and present. Such museums provide unparalleled opportunities for students and faculty to explore social issues in all their complexities and nuances. “Teaching with things” can give students hands on experience of these issues in ways that they might not otherwise acquire. These museums also are the loci for didactic exhibits that can engage students and general public with contemporary topics, such as race, ethnicity, gender, heritage, health chances, urbanization, population flows, and globalization.
One of my goals will be to make the collections even more accessible. One way we are doing this is through our new Faculty Fellows program. This program gives faculty an opportunity to use our collections in their teaching. We are using CultureLab as the venue for students to encounter museum objects. Another way we are doing this is by digitizing our collections. Putting photographs online enables anyone with a computer to see these remarkable objects and to potentially conduct research on them.
I also hope to develop some exciting new exhibitions that help mediate our experiences with the modern world. We are already doing this and a good example is the City-Plaza-People exhibition that opened last fall. This exhibition, prepared by Professor Rebecca Carter’s class, examined public spaces in transition and used Providence’s Kennedy Plaza as a case study.
I also want to reach out to descendant communities, the people whose ancestors made the objects in our collections. For example, we recently hosted a group of expatriates from the Kingdom of Bangwa in western Cameroon. They came to examine a collection of 19 masks that were collected in the mid-1960s. They wanted to reconnect with artwork that could serve as important inspiration for current and future generations.
I would like to build ties with local museums and institutions. One way to do this is to develop collaborative exhibitions that take greater advantage of our mutual interests in art, history, and society. For this reason, I also want to expand our program of acquiring contemporary Native American art. It is a powerful way to show that Native peoples are still here and that they have profound things to say not only about their communities, but also about world events and issues.
I feel honored to be part of the distinguished history of the Haffenreffer Museum. Indeed, I feel a special connection with Giddings since, like him, I come to you from the University of Pennsylvania. Please feel free to contact me about your thoughts about the museum. My email is email@example.com.
P.S. Kuwatsi hopa means “hello everyone” in the Cochiti language.
Thank you, Bob! We’re happy to have you, and look forward to hearing more about these initiatives over the coming year.
We welcome guest bloggers! If you are interested in writing about your experience with the Haffenreffer, please contact Jennifer Stampe, Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Providence Journal urges readers to visit the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology to see our new exhibit honoring donors Dwight B. Heath, emeritus professor of anthropology at Brown, and Anna Cooper.Heath. The exhibit showcases collections from Mexico, South America, and Africa.
Read about Heath’s research, not treated in the exhibit, on cultural variation in drinking practices from Malcolm Gladwell and the New Yorker.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has recently reported on research on Viking travels in Newfoundland conducted by Kevin P. Smith, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Haffenreffer. Smith argues that, a thousand years ago, Vikings traveled further into the Northern Peninsula than was previously thought; there, they were turned back by the Beothuk in a confrontation that might be “first big encounter between [indigenous people] and the western world.”
Hope to see you in Manning soon!
A group of students in “Methods in Public Humanities,” a course taught by Steve Lubar at Brown University this spring, have been working to bring a version of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology’s exhibit “City • Plaza • People” to Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence, Rhode Island.
Raina Fox, writing on behalf of her fellow students Ann Kremen, Lara Savenije, Selen Senocak, and Nate Storring, reports on the group’s work to both expand the audience for the original exhibit and participate in an ongoing conversation about the plaza’s redevelopment.
The Haffenreffer’s exhibit City • Plaza • People was researched, designed, and mounted by students in Rebecca Carter’s course “Urban Life: Anthropology in and of the City,” last fall. Based on ethnographid research in Kennedy Plaza, it was structured to highlight the history, present use, and possible future manifestations of the plaza; it included a series of panels, a video of people moving through the plaza, an iPad with digital content, and a series of photographs of people holding signs reflecting their hopes for the plaza. The exhibit was an impressive feat, though its reach was somewhat limited by its location on Brown’s campus, a concern shared by students who worked on the original exhibit. As students in Public Humanities, our goal was to explore ways to make this project more public, by linking the information explored in the exhibition to those for whom it might be most relevant.
“City • Plaza • People” on display at the Haffenreffer this spring. Photo and illustration by Nate Storring.
Our project coincides with an important moment in Kennedy Plaza’s ongoing development: a new plan for the space, revealed by Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy (DPPC) on April 18, will soon begin to reshape the plaza and the ways that people interact with it. In this new vision of the plaza, the bus operations that currently make up the heart of the space will be moved to its outer edges, allowing the middle of the space to be reimagined for public use.
Kennedy Plaza “Before” and “After.” Illustration by Union Studio Architecture.
The plan envisions the plaza as a more pedestrian-friendly environment with trees, public art, activities, dining and shopping opportunities, arts and cultural events, space for public organizing, and safer, more pleasant travel experiences for those using mass transit. By increasing the number of simultaneous activities in the plaza, DPPC hopes to embrace the concept of the power of ten – originally developed by Project for Public Space – which holds that successful public spaces have at least ten complementary activities at any given time, with visual access between them. Depending on funding, reconfiguration of the bus stops and improvements in front of City Hall could be completed as soon as 2014 with other elements likely to be completed by 2017. According to a study by the Rhode Island Transit Authority, 45,000 people pass through the plaza each day, making these changes relevant to tens of thousands of people. As an extension of the Haffenreffer exhibit, we see our project as an opportunity not only to share some of the changes the plaza has experienced in the past, but to help people to shape their own informed opinions about the changes coming to the plaza.
In our initial meetings, we struggled to identify the shape and goals of our project, most notably due to the complexity of the needs we sought to address. One of the most persistent challenges we encountered was the need to identify and then respond to an incredibly diverse and undefined audience. This diversity is not only a question of age, gender, language, or ethnicity, but also of use. People come to the plaza for many different reasons- to eat lunch in the middle of their workday, to wait for a bus, on their way home from school, to pass the time when there is nowhere else to go. We found it difficult to identify an approach that would be multiply meaningful to these many different audiences.
We ultimately decided to create a series of thematic panels to insert into Kennedy Plaza itself, which would be light, quick, and cheap to implement. We thought carefully about the design and placement of these signs to make them as accessible as possible, and brainstormed a series of themes that could potentially encompass elements of the plaza of interest to viewers.
We researched, wrote, and designed eight panels; sought appropriate rights and permissions for all images and quotes included; researched and priced materials to print and install these panels; and built connections with DPCC. Upon receipt of the appropriate funding and approval the panels can be easily printed and installed in the plaza.
Envisioned Kennedy Plaza exhibit. Photos and illustration by Nate Storring.
Each panel follows a similar format, including a title, large image, smaller text broken up into easy to read sections (in the form of a quote, caption, and short body paragraph), and smaller images. The eight panels focus on the following themes:
- The Unfinished Plan for Downtown Providence, 1970
- Occupy Providence and Political Movements in the Plaza
- Words of Our Presidents: Political Speeches at the Plaza
- The Soldiers and Sailors Monument
- The Statue of Ambrose Burnside
- Getting Around Providence
- Providence’s “Superman Building,” the Industrial Trust Tower
- The Struggle of Life: The Bajnotti Memorial Fountain
Our engagement with “City • Plaza • People” began as an attempt to bring an exhibition to Kennedy Plaza. Yet the experience proved to be more about the process than the product, and about learning to work with a variety of student colleagues and community partners. We were inspired throughout by the enthusiasm with which our ideas were received by people in the community, and encouraged that our efforts seemed to be of interest to the general public.
Thank you, Raina! We’ve enjoyed working with you and are glad to be involved in both the ongoing conversation about the redesign of Kennedy Plaza and the effort to engage with Providence’s many constituencies. And we look forward to seeing your panels installed downtown soon.
We welcome guest bloggers! If you are interested in writing about your experience with the Haffenreffer, please contact Jennifer_Stampe@brown.edu