Many things have been happening lately–so many that keeping up with them here has been difficult. Many good things have gone unreported and some bad current events (global and national, not personal) have gone un-commented upon. I am pleased though to celebrate the conclusion of the 2013 Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology. I was invited to join the institute for its last week and a half and to participate in its concluding symposium at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) on the Mall in Washington. In the symposium, SIMA’s twelve graduate student participants presented the initial findings of their four-week research projects utilizing the (amazing) collections–both objects and archival materials–of the NMNH Department of Anthropology. The students came to SIMA from many different graduate programs and backgrounds and possessed a diversity of historical, ethnographic, topical, and theoretical interests. They did wonderful work and I learned a lot from their studies and from their careful and compelling reporting. While they have further to go, of course, with their projects, I think that it is pretty exciting to hear the results of four intensive weeks of research as the concluding act of that same four week process. Quite remarkable.
I am very appreciative of my continued association with this wonderful program. I am glad that I have been able to help it continue moving along so well.
SIMA will happen again next summer. Details will be posted here on the SIMA website in the months ahead.
A perfect example of how scholarly research in folklore and anthropology can be made accessible and interesting for a wider audience is the Artisan Ancestors podcast produced and hosted by my friend and colleague Jon Kay. (Jon is, among other roles, the Director of Traditional Arts Indiana.) If you have not yet encountered the Artisan Ancestors show, I urge you to check it out. As Jon describes it, the focus of the show is on strategies for “researching creative lives and handmade things.” Jon does interviews with people involved in such work with the goals of encouraging and guiding newcomers to such studies and of expanding the horizons of those already deeply involved. Long adept in the skills of the public folklorist, Jon has mastered the podcast genre. He is a great interviewer and he knows how to do in interview with the needs of his audience and the requirements of the medium in mind. The production values are high but it is clear that he has worked out a system that gets good results without endless, expensive work.
In his newest episode (#26) Jon interviews Dr. Candace Greene, another friend and the Director of the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA). The interview explores the purposes and goals of SIMA in a way that not only introduces this training program (for which I was a faculty member this past summer) but also encourages deeper understanding of the broader value of museum collections for research in social and cultural history. It is a great interview and listening to it will illustrate not only the value of the SIMA effort but also suggest the value of podcasting initiatives such as Artisan Ancestors. Kudos to Jon and Candace for their great job with this episode.
Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA)
Supported by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation
June 27 – July 22, 2011
Application deadline: MARCH 1
SIMA is a graduate student training program in museum research methods offered through the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. During four weeks of intensive training in seminars and hands-on workshops at the museum and at an off-site collections facility, students are introduced to the scope of collections and their potential as data. Students become acquainted with strategies for navigating museum systems, learn to select methods to examine and analyze museum specimens, and consider a range of theoretical issues that collections-based research may address. In consultation with faculty, each student carries out preliminary data collection on a topic of their own choice and develops (and continually refines) a prospectus for research to be implemented upon return to their home university.
Who should apply?
Graduate students preparing for research careers in cultural anthropology who are interested in using museum collections as a data source. The program is not designed to serve students seeking careers in museum management. Students at both the masters and doctoral level will be considered for acceptance. Students in related interdisciplinary programs (Indigenous Studies, Folklore, etc.) are welcome to apply if the proposed project is anthropological in nature. All U.S. students are eligible for acceptance, even if studying abroad, as are international students enrolled in universities in the U.S.A. NOTE: First Nations people of Canada are eligible.
The program covers students’ tuition and housing, which is provided at a local university. A small stipend will be provided to assist with the cost of food and other local expenses. Participants are individually responsible for the cost of travel to and from Washington, DC.
Application deadline – MARCH 1, 2011
SIMA dates for 2011: June 27 – July 22
For more information and to apply, please visit http://anthropology.si.edu/summerinstitute/
Additional questions? Email SIMA@si.edu
Last week I went quickly to New Orleans. I had not planned to go to the American Anthropological Association meetings this year, but my friend Candace Greene called a meeting of the Advisory Board for the Smithsonian Institution Summer Institute on Museum Anthropology. Candace direct’s this important NSF-funded summer training program (more about it soon) and I have been involved in its development since its formative stage. This coming summer will be the program’s third year of providing a month-long intensive training program in the use of systematic museum collections for advanced research in cultural anthropology and neighboring fields. The program attracts graduate students from across the United States and really fills an important need.
I arrived in New Orleans in time for an all-afternoon SIMA advisory panel meeting. The program is preparing plans for its next three year cycle and our conversations focused on assessing what has been accomplished and building out for the future. The meeting ended in time to catch up with fellow Oklahoma-ists Dan Swan, Michael Jordan, Jessica Walker and John Lukavic.. After dinner, I was able to attend one of many solid museum anthropology and material culture studies panels on the conference program. John was a presenter on this panel (Making Meaning with Objects: Community Processes and Museum Practices) and presented a talk titled “Circulating Property and Knowledge: Intellectual Property and Cultural Knowledge Systems of the Southern Cheyenne.” John’s paper was one of many fine contributions to this panel.
The next day, before heading home, I was able fit in several meetings and a couple more excellent panels. Two of my meetings were with journal editors eager to trade notes on the changing world of scholarly communication, including the practical possibilities of shifting to open access strategies. The paper panel was “Museum Ethnography in Theory and Practice” organized by Jennifer Shannon and Christina Kreps. I was not able to hear all the papers, but all that I did hear were excellent, as was the commentary provided by Eric Gable and Ann McMullen. I also went quickly to see the poser session organized by Dan Swan–”Applying New Theories to Old Things: Museum Research Today.” The posters (and the projects that they represent) were all great.
Getting caught up in open access talk, I had to race to catch my plane with a real sense of anxiety. I took the most impressive cab ride of my life. The driver had no choice but to take me into some terrible rush hour traffic on I-10 going to the airport. He used so many tricks to get there fast that it was mind boggling. On many occasions, he bypassed long stretches of gridlock by exiting and then creatively cutting from off-ramps to on-ramps thereby getting back onto the interstate ahead of big blocks of stopped and slowed cars. Had I been a driver in the vicinity I would have been out of my mind with irritation at his antics, but as a passenger worried about missing a flight, I was full of admiration. It really was movie-quality cab driving. It took an hour to get there and I know that he saved me 30 or more minutes. NOLA has flat rates from downtown to the airport and this instance was the first time in which I thought that a taxi rate seemed way too low for the work done. Needless to say, I was a generous tipper. This cab ride may be the thing I remember most about the trip.
I left way early in the meeting and missed tons of promising panels and missed seeing scores of friends and colleagues. Perhaps I can make a longer trip of it next year.
Another exciting (for me) component of my March visit to the Cultural Property Research Group in Göttingen was my participation in a the first day of a two day workshop led by the members of the project’s sub-project titled “Constituting Cultural Property as Part of the International Law Regime, and its Development.” This research foci is directed by Professor Dr. Peter-Tobias Stoll (an international law scholar at Göttingen) and includes several talented doctoral students as researchers. Their sub-project description notes:
The discussions and negotiations of cultural property in the Intergovernmental Committee of WIPO are closely linked to other policy areas, institutions and regulatory realms. Among others, these include the long-standing efforts to arrive at a form of human rights protection for indigenous peoples, the international cultural policy pursued by UNESCO – the Conventions for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003), developments in international law concerning the environment, and controversies in the World Trade Organization over protecting intellectual heritage. The interactions, and intersections, between these various efforts in international law are the subject of this sub-project. In doing so, what is at issue is a forward-looking analysis of internal compatibility and the linkage in terms of process with other regulatory realms, as well as the development of corresponding methods. The knowledge obtained from individual cases here can be used to create a more general means of regarding the international law regime, one which is characterized by increasing differentiation and a need to coordinate the individual sub-realms that have developed. (source)
In the March 19-20, 2010 workshop led by the sub-project group and participated in by the larger Cultural Property Research Group as a whole, the aim was to describe research findings to date, to articulate them with the models and findings developing in other sub-projects, and to bounce these ideas off of a group of guest scholars visiting for the occasion. The topics considered on these days included: (1) International Trade Law and Cultural Diversity, (2) Fragmentation, and (3) International Negotiations in Different Fora, Regimes, and Organizations. The two main guests invited were Michael Hahn of the University of Lausanne and Nele Matz-Lück of the MPI Heidelberg. I was able to participate in the opening session in which Stoll described very effectively the state of play in these related domains of international law vis-a-vis the work of the sub-group and the total project as a whole. This was followed by a rich set of commentaries by the two special guests and a very fruitful discussion by all of the participants.
I was struck by two aspects of this experience. One was the very effective degree to which the various sub-projects of the overall project were contributing very fruitfully to one another, despite considerable difference in disciplinary backgrounds and norms (in economics, social anthropology, folklore/ethnology, and law). The other was the remarkable effectiveness of the institutions that the group has developed for communicating internally and externally and for moving the research process forward fruitfully despite the size and complexity of the undertaking. As was true throughout my visit, my participation in the International Law Workshop was instructive in both substantive ways and in terms of what it taught me about organizing large and ambitious collaborative research projects.
Alex Golub in Inside Higher Education on the Kindle for Academics.
Don’t miss Kim Christen’s account of returning to Tennant Creek. Its a beautiful account of an important moment. Find it on her website here.
From a Dear Colleague Letter from Candace Greene, Director of the Smithsonian Institution Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA):
Dear Colleagues – I am pleased to announce a new research training initiative being launched by the Smithsonian Department of Anthropology with support (pending) from the National Science Foundation.
The Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology is an intensive four-week training program that will teach graduate students how to use museum collections in research, incorporating Smithsonian collections as an integral part of their anthropological training. Support from the Cultural Anthropology Program at NSF will cover full tuition and living expenses for 12 students each summer.
Please help us get the word out on this program, which will begin in June 2009 and is already accepting applications. Full information including application instructions and dates is available at http://anthropology.si.edu/summerinstitute.
Director, Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology
Ethnologist, Collections and Archives Program
Department of Anthropology
National Museum of Natural History