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Posts from the ‘Academic LIfe’ Category

Reflections on The Mind is a Collection

On September 22, 2016 Indiana University’s Center for Eighteenth Century Studies held the 2016 Kenshur Prize celebration at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. The museum was an especially appropriate setting because the prize winning book was The Mind is a Collection: Case Studies in Eighteenth Century Thought (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015) by Sean Silver (English, University of Michigan). It was an honor to be asked by Center Director Rebecca Spang to join a panel of discussants of Silver’s book. What follows here are the remarks that I prepared for this occasion. Those paragraphs preceded by XX were not read in oral presentation but are noted here. Silver’s book, and companion digital exhibition, are an important contribution to material culture and museum studies, in addition to being significant in the fields of Eighteenth Century Studies and the history of ideas. My notes here presume a context present at the event but absent here–a general introduction to the author’s work and project, relevant commentary by the author, and commentary by my colleagues on the panel (who were chosen to represent a diversity of relevant perspectives on the book and project). I preceded my own remarks by welcoming the students and faculty of the Center to the museum and congratulating Sean on this important recognition for his book and exhibition.

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I lack sufficient knowledge of the science, history, culture, and literature of this period, as well as of the relevant parts of cognitive science, to knowledgeably engage the heart of Sean’s remarkable work. Reflecting it central organizing device and thematic concern though, the project’s literal and conceptual organization as a museum-minded exhibition of museum mindedness does offer me a way in. I fear though that I have proven to be one of those rushed museum visitors trying to squeeze in a stop at the big city museum while in route to the airport, roller bag in tow. Passionately interested and markedly impressed, but also nervous and feeling pressed for time, here are a few reflections on my hurried visit. They address smaller vitrines and displays around the edges rather than the main exhibition hall with the core of the story. In the end, such sites of engagement are, of course, a specialty of my own field of folklore studies.

I was struck by the degree to which this is a book and digital exhibition (among the most sophisticated that I have encountered) of our moment. This is not in itself a complete surprise, of course (all of our writings would similarly qualify in degrees), but it does warrant closer acknowledgement. Those who work in museums have a love/not-love relationship with the museum-ification of everything that western societies (and others as well) are in the midst of right now. This is easiest to see in the proliferation of settings in which the word curator is made to apply. TED talks are curated as are meals, fashion shows, and car insurance options. What Barbara Kishenblatt-Gimblett speaks of as the curation of the life world is manifest in the extreme when we speak of curating’s one’s own person brand through, for instance, one’s social media engagements. When it comes to more-than-just-museums curating, there are many very cool things happening on this front in The Mind is a Collection—both the book and the digital exhibition. Like I am, Sean is a part of the zeitgeist. He has interests and passions that are socio-culturally and historically conditioned and he knows the mood of the present so as to anticipate the interests of his readers; but at the same time, his book is fundamentally about the curation of the life world and is a valuable reminder that there is much more to this than a present-day sensibility. I loved learning about the degree to which the curatorial style was a past-day sensibility for learned London, if not for the mass of the city’s residents. Something special happens when a well conceived, well executed project is perfectly calibrated between the ethos of its present and the ethos of the other time or place or context with which it is concerned.  Such dynamics could be investigated in any scholarly project, but here they just ring clear as a bell for me.

XX Another instance of this calibration of then and now ethoses concerns what here at IU we call—as reflected in our strategic plan, for instance—“a culture of making.” Even when Sean is discussing unfamiliar matters, I sense that nearly any practicing museum curator would swoon in response to his manifest love of objects, particularly in their status as manifestations of craft. This is a book and digital exhibition for material culture specialists, even if it deals with materials and concerns not uniformly familiar to the most established material culture disciplines. But outside the scholarly realm, ours is a moment of craft in countless guises, from molecular baskets concocted in materials engineering laboratories to yarn bombing on the streets of Bloomington. I have a friend who crafts artisanal reproductions of the earliest telescopes—the kinds of objects that would seemingly belong in the cabinets of Sean’s subjects. As my own students are documenting ethnographically in a wide range of domains and as the programs of the Mathers Museum reveal, a significant portion of our fellows of the present are in love with the hand made thing and, sometimes, with making things by hand. Such enthusiasms surely persist in a core of actors in each period and place, but they also go in and out of wider fashion. Ours is a maker-minded moment and this is an engaging book and digital exhibition written about the maker-minded living in another maker minded-moment by a maker-minded author. My pleasure again arises in part from the parallelisms found here. I also look forward to learning more about Sean’s in-progress work The Crafts of Enlightenment.

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Figure: The landing page for Silver’s digital exhibition The Mind is a Collection.

 

XX For the social scientific reader, I also think that this book and digital exhibition participates in the contemporary conversation in the human sciences in a novel and interesting way. Like other particularly noteworthy works of our moment, it is a book about the recursive entanglement and co-constitution of humans (as individuals and in groups), objects, and ideas occurring together in particular environments. (For instance, consider Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World.) Its central concepts are shared keywords of our moment: design, complexity, network, embodiment, scale… Such matters interest many of us broadly, but in Sean’s project I find that they are being approached in fresh and new ways that I can happily begin carrying back into my own disciplinary conversations. His website and book are just the kinds of works that I could recommend to the graduate students with whom I work, as an anecdote to conventional approaches to conventional topics addressed with the help of canonical works. Put another way, the book and website engage shared interests in fresh ways. I say this from the perspective of someone who teaches a graduate course on Theories of Material Culture. I would welcome the challenge of working with students in that course in study of The Mind is a Collection.

XX The term material culture arose in the disciplinary context of anthropology. It fits and doesn’t fit in that field in a number of different ways in different times and places. In one now moribund American formulation, material culture was part of a triumvirate that also included mental culture and social culture. The phrase material culture persists despite our shedding of these two companion terms.  During the height of ideas and symbols-centric anthropology, material culture studies faced hard times in social and cultural anthropology. Folklore studies became a key contributor to the study of material culture during the time of its neglect in cultural anthropology.  Today, matters have changed again and material culture is front and center in anthropology and anthropologists face a changed landscape outside their field. The English Department at the University of Michigan has a nice website. When looking at the department’s faculty, one can sort them easily by research interests. In the past, but even today, many cultural anthropologists would be surprised to see that material culture is one of these departmental research foci. They would be even more surprised to see that twelve core faculty members in English—Sean among them—identify with this interest. The same dynamic is now active in many fields lacking deep histories of work in this area. Those who long studied material culture alone in a tiny disciplinary node now operate in a field that is broad and deep. Sean’s book arrives in this new context, one that is driven home each day when my editorial assistant and I open envelopes containing books sent to Museum Anthropology Review for review. If a skeptic asked me for an illustration of what a scholar of English could contribute to the material culture studies commons, The Mind is a Collection offers an incredible answer. But it also reveals the newer challenge for anyone working in material culture studies—this interdisciplinary field is now vast and sophisticated beyond the practical ability of most practitioners to keep up. Material culture studies has entered a new era.

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Figure: The cover of The Mind is a Collection (Penn Press, 2015).

Let me close with a reflection on “thinkering” this is a great word prominent in a great project. In the contexts in which it comes up here, this neologism caused me to think of a pronouncement that I always make when discussing the pleasures of being a curator. It comes up sometimes when I am discussing careers with graduate students. It always comes up in my graduate course in Curatorship, and it certainly has popped out when a non-museum friend or colleague finds me at work cleaning a vitrine with Windex or measuring a gallery wall with a tape measure. What I have said countless times is that the special pleasure of being a curator is that it is the perfect mix of brain work and of hand work—hammering one minute, studying in next. Now this dualism participates in exactly the problematic conceptualizations that are at issue in Sean’s study, but he is generous and, in my reading, he gives our folk psychology back to us and lets us get on with the work. While he holds a professorship and not, to my knowledge, a curatorship, it is a pleasure to have engaged with the work of someone whose brain work and hand work are so well integrated and so well executed. I hope that soon Sean will get the chance to build a physical exhibition to go along with his book-as-catalogue and his digital exhibition.

Improving Access to Scholarship: Material Vernaculars as Milestone and Experiment

First the take away, then the story. While produced in very nice and reasonably priced hardback, paperback, and ebook editions, works in the new Material Vernaculars series are also being made available in free-to-the-reader PDF versions. This is a great thing and, if you agree with me about that, and can afford to do so, I really hope that you will purchase the edition of your choice, thereby signaling your support for making such works freely accessible to those who cannot afford to purchase them. If this seems strange to you, its a lot like community and public radio in the United States. Those who can support these services help make them accessible to those who cannot afford to make their own donations. We all gently nudge those who use them and could, but don’t, support them. (Called free riders.) Its not utopia, but its what we have and its better than the vast majority of people being locked out of non-commercial arts and education programming (and scholarly books). Now you can skip to the end for the link if you are in a rush.

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Those who know about my work know that I have been focused on promoting free and open access to scholarly work for a relatively long time. My advocacy efforts followed soon after I began work as a scholarly journal editor. At that time, I was drawn into a diverse range of problems, opportunities, and paradoxes that the transformation of scholarly communication was (and is still) engendering. Probably the best place to find the things that I have written on this theme is to look at the interview that I did with Ryan Anderson (published in Cultural Anthropology in 2014)

In 2015, my focus in this work shifted to books when I was a participant in a project funded by the Mellon Foundation. The results of that project were reported in: A Study of Direct Author Subvention for Publishing Humanities Books at Two Universities: A Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation by Indiana University and University of Michigan.

Concurrent with such advocacy work, I have tried to build real-world projects that could advance scholarship while testing strategies for increasing public access to research. Now in its tenth year, Museum Anthropology Review (now the journal of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures) is the best example of this. On the book side, there is now the Material Vernaculars series co-published by the museum and the Indiana University Press. In my previous post, I highlighted the series first title—Folk Art and Aging: Life-Story Objects and their Makers by Jon Kay and the series’ scholarly mandate. Here I am flagging the series’ relationship to free and open access movements.

Books cost a lot of money to make. In a peer-reviewed article, based on our humanities book research studying publishing work of the Indiana University Press and University of Michigan Press, my colleagues report that the zero copy cost for a typical humanities book is about $27,000. Efforts to increase access to scholarship have to find ways to confront these costs from all sides—finding ways to lower prices but also new ways of funding the professional work that it takes to make a quality book.

For me, for the museum, and especially for the IU Press, the Material Vernaculars series is an experiment. If we get past talking about it and actually begin doing it, what can we learn that will, we hope, help us learn to do it more and better? This is part of what is at stake for IU Press and for the whole world of university press humanities book publishing. I am thrilled to be a part of a new series that has a secondary role (beyond its primarily scholarly one) of finding ways to make scholarly books more widely and openly accessible.

So paradoxically, if you believe (for example) that the communities about whom ethnographers write should have access to what they write, then I call on you, paradoxically, to purchase a copy of Folk Art and Aging and the other other books that are in the pipeline. Your purchase helps support the goals of the series and it demonstrates that paid-for print editions or e-book editions are not mutually exclusive of free-to-readers electronic editions. If it helps, think of the print edition as a thank you gift for your donation to this cause rather than as a commodity that you are purchasing in the marketplace. You can feel particularly good about it if you purchase it directly from the Indiana University Press, thereby cutting out one or more commercial intermediaries.

It (PDF) won’t always be the file format of choice, but for now the free editions of Material Vernaculars titles will be circulated in PDF form via the IUScholarWorks Repository. When people download the books from IUScholarWorks, there is a download count, which helps us learn how many people, over what time period, showed interest in the book(s). (So, send your friends to the link rather than passing around the PDF…)

If you are wondering how to download the book, see the picture above for the place to click.

Here is the link. Two actually. The first is durable but enigmatic. The second is more human readable, but potentially less permanent.

http://hdl.handle.net/2022/20906
https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/20906

Happy reading.

An Interview with Curator and American Music Specialist Levon Williams

Levon Williams will return to Indiana University in the fall of 2016 to pursue a MA degree in Non-Profit Management in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He holds a BA in Interpersonal Communications from Purdue University and studied Library and Information Science at IU. He has previously worked as Curator of Collections and Registrar at the STAX Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis and as Curator of the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville.

Jason Jackson (JJ): Thank you Levon for taking time for this interview. You are looking ahead to your new graduate program, but I am sure that you have also been reflecting on your recent years working as a curator and interpreter of American musical culture. What have been some highlights of your work as a museum professional so far?

Levon Williams (LW):  Well there have been many, but here are two that really standout. During my time at the Stax Museum, I had the opportunity to work collaboratively with the non-profit organization Facing History and Ourselves (FHAO). Facing History and Ourselves’ work focuses on empowering young people to be “upstanders” (as opposed to bystanders) by strengthening their capacity for empathy and understanding. Our goal was to create an educational curriculum for middle school and high school aged students centered around the development and music of Stax Records as well as the history of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

The opportunity to use the history of Stax Records as a lens through which to explore broader concepts such as Civil Rights history in this manner spoke directly to both my professional and personal goals. Using music as an entry point, we were able to help students frame their own history and related it directly to the lives they live everyday. FHAO were absolutely wonderful to work with on this project and I am very proud of the result. This curriculum includes text, images, as well as several audio/visual elements. It can be viewed here: Sounds of Change.

A second major highlight, was the opportunity to work collaboratively with the Curatorial Team at the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) to create what will become the interpretive program for the museums galleries. The NMAAM set open in Nashville, TN in 2018 will house 5 main galleries, a changing gallery and a large area for shared visitor experiences called Rivers of Rhythm. It is shaping up to be something that will be extremely engaging for visitors from various interests and walks of life.

It is not often that one has the opportunity to have input on how a story of this magnitude (the history of American music) will be told on this scale (roughly 1600 sq ft.)  Learning about the process of undertaking such a task, as well as working collaboratively to contribute to how the history and music will be contextualized in the story the museum will tell has definitely been another professional highlight.

JJ: Those are incredible experiences. In the case of the FHAO project, an exciting museum effort is closely aligned with positive social change. In the NMAAM, the creation of a new museum is itself a huge change, one that will surely create an important platform for doing good on a national level. How did your previous work in the field and your studies at Purdue and Indiana prepare you to contribute to those endeavors?

LW: I’d definitely suggest that in a way all of your previous experiences contribute to how you approach any given project in one way or another. However, specifically in regards to my undergraduate and graduate experiences, I would lean heavily on my graduate experience having a significantly strong impact.

Over my two years at Indiana University, I worked, volunteered and/or interned at Wells Library, Monroe County Public Library, IU GLBT Library, Kinsey Library and Special Collections, Archives of African American Music and Culture, Archives of Traditional Music, Mathers Museum of World Cultures and the Monroe County History Center. My understanding of how libraries, archives and museums worked increased exponentially. My association with these different organizations offered a wealth of opportunity to gain experience in all three disciplines, and was immeasurable in terms of exposing me to the inner workings of different organizations. I’d definitely say it did much to prepare me for my first steps into professional life. The opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of departments were set up, how workflows were managed as well as the seemingly inescapable politics of work were just a peak into what what I would encounter in the field, but I am beyond grateful for those opportunities.

I was also able to utilize these positions as a platform to build a strong professional network. I established relationships with several people I would come to call mentors. It has been tremendously helpful to be able to call on them during my time in the field. I am eternally grateful to all of them for the support they’ve offered over the years. Their collective impact on my career path cannot be understated.

JJ: I like how you stress the ways that skills development and networking are both part of the practicum/internship/volunteering experience. I also note that you treated libraries, archives, and museums as a diverse but unified sector—what, with the inclusion of galleries, we sometimes call the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) fields. You have finished up your work at NMAAM and are soon to return to IU as a student. What will you be studying and what are your goals for your program?

This fall I am returning to IU to pursue a Master of Public Affairs degree in the of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. My focus will be Nonprofit Management. After spending close to 5 years in the field I felt this area might be one where I could make an impact of significance. I am a strong believer in the importance of a strong and supportive organizational culture. I feel that strong support and sustained investment (financial and otherwise) in creating and empowering strong leaders is especially pronounced in the Nonprofit sphere as organizations are often understaffed and may not have salaries that reflect the impact of the work they do. I feel an environment that is energizing and offers the potential for professional and personal growth goes a long way to keep staff passionate about the mission they serve.

On a personal note, my hope is to broaden my Administrative skill set and to return to the field with a strong foundation in best practices for operating healthy Nonprofit organizations as well as some practical experience as well. The SPEA Nonprofit Management program stands to significantly deepen my understanding of many of the Administrative elements of leadership in Nonprofit organization such as budgets and philanthropy in general. I strongly believe a better understanding of how these concepts all work together will prove invaluable as I continue my career. The program also offers a Capstone project that I am very excited about, as it will afford me the opportunity to apply the concepts I will be learning in class to real world scenarios. I look forward to possibly returning to museums or working with other organizations in the Nonprofit sphere once I have completed my degree.

JJ: The leadership needs that you’ve identified for the non-profit sector are certainly pressing. I am excited for you that you have this new opportunity to return to SPEA and secure this additional training. I look forward to keeping up with your work, both in the nonprofit management program and throughout your career. Thank you for sharing your experiences with me. Good luck with your new round of studies.

An Interview with Dr. Lori Hall-Araujo, Curator and Assistant Professor at Stephens College

In fall 2016, Lori Hall-Araujo will begin a position as Assistant Professor and Curator in the School of Design and the Costume Museum at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. She recently concluded a year as Anawalt Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for the Study of Regional Dress at UCLA’s Fowler Museum in Los Angeles, California. She holds the Ph.D. in Communication and Culture from Indiana University as well as an M.A. in the History of Religions from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. in Philosophy from Michigan State University. She has extensive experience as a museum professional and, during her time in Bloomington, she curated the exhibition Clothes, Collections, and Culture . . . What is a Curator? for the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. Learn more about her work at http://www.lorihallaraujo.com/.

Jason Baird Jackson (JJ): Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I know I will want to ask about the varied things that you have been doing in the museum world since you left Bloomington, but I have to begin with a big CONGRATULATIONS on the news of your tenure-track position at Stephens College. As you look ahead to moving to Missouri and getting started there, can you describe your new position?

Lori Hall-Araujo (LH-A): Thanks so much for the well wishes. I’m absolutely thrilled about embarking on this next phase of my career and feel very fortunate. The Atlantic recently published an article about how colleges and universities are offering buyouts to senior faculty and staff to encourage retirement and save on spending. While Oberlin, the story’s featured college, is promising not to replace its tenured faculty with part-time instructors and non-tenure-track faculty, that’s the direction many colleges and universities are heading. Most academic jobs now are either part-time or non-tenure track so I feel extraordinarily lucky to have been on the job market just as the Stephens position opened up.

My role at Stephens College calls on me to wear two hats, one as professor in the fashion program and the other as curator for the Costume Museum and Research Library (CMRL). Stephens’ fashion program emphasizes practice within a liberal arts environment. The classes I teach will tend towards the academic side. This year I teach writing intensive courses on dress history that situate changing modes of dress within their cultural and sociopolitical contexts. For my course on 20th century dress I plan to use the Costume Museum’s collections in my teaching.

The Costume Museum and Research Library at Stephens has over 13,000 objects from the mid-18th century to the present and includes designer and everyday attire. As curator I am responsible for mounting two exhibitions each academic year though my ambitions for the CMRL go well beyond that. This fall I will work with staff to conduct an overall assessment of the facilities and collections to determine ways we can improve storage and increase access for students, faculty, and outside researchers. Finding ways to incorporate the collections into the curriculum is a top priority. The fashion program recently earned an affiliation with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). This is a highly coveted and prestigious affiliation as it provides students with scholarships as well as industry opportunities. The CFDA tapped Stephens to participate in its scholarship competition based on the strength of student portfolios and the Costume Museum’s collections so the work I do as curator has real potential to resonate in our students’ futures.

JJ: That sounds great on every front. I love my dual museum-faculty role and I feel confident that you will really thrive in that environment too. Before we get to what you have been doing most recently, can you reflect a bit about the ways that your studies at Indiana contributed to the work that you are being called to do at Stephens? This matters not only in a MMWC context, where we are always seeking to be more impactful in the careers of museum professionals-in-training, but also in the context of Indiana University’s new School of Art and Design, where students and faculty share so many interests in common with you. You came to IU with a lot of museum background. What did IU add to the equation?

LH-A: I had been Collection Manager for Costume and Textiles at the Chicago History Museum before enrolling in my IU doctoral program. One of the reasons I chose IU was for its museums. I wanted to dip my feet into curatorial waters and the Mathers Museum gave me that opportunity. Working closely with [MMWC Chief Curator] Ellen Sieber and other Mathers staff, I was able to experience first hand how a well run university museum operates. The Mathers offers credit-granting practica for students, which are a great way to learn about the collections and to gain hands-on supervised museum experience. At Stephens the Costume Museum offers work-study positions in its collections. In the future I’d like to see us offer museum practica along the lines of the year-long cataloging and curating project I worked on at the Mathers.

JJ: You came to IU as a doctoral student in the Department of Communication and Culture. As a Ph.D. student you thus had a research agenda that you hoped to establish and then carry forward into your career. Do you feel that you were able to integrate your training as a researcher and your museum interests? One of your foci is dress in Latin American contexts. How did this interest mature at IU and how has it carried forward through your work at the Fowler Museum and up to the present?

LH-A: While there was no museum studies track in my department per se, I was able to get the support I needed. Before his retirement, Dick Bauman was my advisor and he really pointed me in the right direction as far as coursework and training went. Beverly Stoeltje in Folklore was my earliest advocate for writing a dissertation that incorporated my interests in dress theory, film, performance studies, and museum studies. I took a short exploratory visit to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in my second year at IU and it was Beverly who urged me to check out the Carmen Miranda Museum there. From that kernel of an idea my research and dissertation bloomed.

Dick encouraged me to do a practicum at the Mathers, which I did thanks to the faculty sponsorship of Pravina Shukla. Several years before enrolling at IU I had spent some time in Oaxaca, Mexico making art and learning about indigenous textiles. When I met with Ellen Sieber I expressed my interest in Latin American textiles and she suggested I work with one of two sizable collections. I chose to work with the Royce Collection as it includes Zapotec clothing and objects from Juchitán, Oaxaca. My work on that project was incredibly rewarding in terms of the intellectual and creative freedom it provided. My exhibition was highly reflexive and examined how the meaning of objects changes depending on context–art, wearable garment, museum object, and so on.

The themes I addressed for the Mathers practicum have informed my research at the Fowler Museum where I have been studying two significant collections of objects collected in Mesoamerica throughout the 20th century. I ask questions such as, “Why does the collector collect what she collects? What does it mean for outsiders to come into indigenous Mesoamerican communities and buy clothing? What happens when the collector’s cultural biases cause her to misinterpret or misrepresent other cultures?” These are difficult and sensitive topics but I think there’s a way for productive dialogue to emerge from this project. Ideally these issues would be addressed not just between academics but also in a more public way such as a museum exhibition.

JJ: Needless to say, hearing you recount your experience at IU is very gratifying. We can’t let your Carmen Miranda research go unexplored, but you have just referred to your Mesoamerican clothing research, including your earlier visits to Oaxaca, your work with Chancellor’s Professor Anya Royce’s collection at the MMWC, and your more recent work on such collections at the Fowler Museum. In my corner of the field, the Fowler Museum has a strong reputation as a leading university museum of world cultures. When administrators here ask me to identify aspirational peers for the MMWC, it is always on my list. How did you secure a postdoctoral fellowship there? What was it like to work there? What’s next for you Mesoamerican research?

LH-A: From 2014 to 2015 I worked on the Hollywood Costume exhibition organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum and hosted in Los Angeles by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Just prior to the exhibition’s closing, the curator, Deborah Nadoolman Landis (professor in UCLA’s Theater, Film and Television Department and founding director and chair of the David C. Copley Center for Costume Design), invited the Fowler staff to come check out the exhibition. That was when I first met the Fowler director, Marla Berns, who suggested I stay in touch. After Hollywood Costume closed I visited the Fowler and got to see their many treasures in storage. Marla told me they were planning to offer their first ever post doc fellowship and invited me to apply. Happily they offered me the fellowship and in September I hit the ground running.

During my time at the Fowler I’ve been impressed by how much they accomplish with such a small staff. They have an incredibly full exhibition schedule for their own galleries and of course have any number of objects out on loan at any given time. The first six months were magical when I got to throw myself fully into research. Then from March to June I had the opportunity to teach an undergraduate class for the World Arts and Cultures Department, “Collecting Indigenous Mesoamerican Dress.” The class was essentially the research I’d been working on in the preceding six months. Every week we looked at objects from the collections and addressed issues of collecting practices, interpretation, and different theme-driven exhibitions. My students were amazing. Their final projects asked them to conduct original research in the Fowler archives and to discuss the objects. The questions they raised and the discoveries they made have been so helpful to me as I write about my own research.

This past January I had the opportunity to look at pieces in the Fowler collections with the Oaxaca Textile Museum‘s founder, Alejandro de Ávila Blomberg. He’s been an ideal colleague, so generous. He’s invited me to attend a textile conference in Oaxaca this October so I’ll be there and plan to do a little exploratory research while in Mexico.

JJ: That is great to hear. I hope that you can continue your work with Oaxacan textiles while based at Stephens. People are understandably passionate about them and they both raise and help address so many key questions, as your comments reflect. Selfishly, we would love for you to weave our collections into your ongoing work. Happily, I can report that Professor Royce is continuing to add new works to our collections on the basis of her still active research and her strong relationships with friends in Oaxaca.

While many of your projects are getting short changed here, we can’t conclude without giving your dissertation research and its famous subject—Carmen Miranda—its due. Brazil is about to host the world for the 2016 Summer Olympics. I recently heard an interview with vocalist Carla Hassett. She was discussing Carmen Miranda on NPR and cited Brazilian composer “Caetano Veloso [whom she said] said, [she] is the original tropicalista, meaning she was really the first artist to leave Brazil and influence and bring the culture to outside of Brazil. She was really our pioneer of that.” Hearing that interview, I immediately thought of your work and how you have tried to understand the role of dress in how the world made sense of Carmen Miranda and, by extension, all of Brazil. As Brazil is now a focus of much global attention for so many reasons, what does your research tell us about Carmen Miranda’s legacy?

LH-A: What can I say?  I could fill a book addressing your question and am in the midst of doing so!

As far as Carmen Miranda being the original tropicalista goes, I can say this. The tropicalistas of the late 1960s and early 1970s inherited a Brazilian tradition of “cultural cannibalism.” Brazilians have long understood that their land and people have been acted upon whether via slavery or environmental or cultural exploitation. Yet rather than allow themselves to simply be the passive subjects of external fantasies and oppression, they have taken those external fantasies and turned them on their heads. Carmen was European born but she fully embraced the Brazilian feijoada and considered herself a Brazilian. When Caetano Veloso called her the original tropicalista he was saying that she wasn’t a sell-out to Hollywood as some suggested but instead was consuming Hollywood versions of Brazilians and regurgitating them in unique and distinctly Brazilian ways to create a kind of cultural chaos for global audiences. I’ve no doubt Brazil and its culture will surprise and confuse Olympics tourists this summer.

JJ: That is good food for thought as we all gather around screens to consume the spectacle in Brazil this summer. We can watch and look forward to your book. You will face the challenge of moving to Missouri and getting situated in your new post while also taking notes on those themes in the Brazil context. I can hardly imagine that the costumes worn in the opening and closing ceremonies won’t be ringing these bells and playing again off the tradition of cultural cannibalism you note.
 
I want to thank you so much for sharing these glimpses of some of your work in progress. Good luck with your new position and with your exciting research. We hope you are able to get back to the MMWC very soon.

Value, Ownership, and Cultural Goods: Regina F. Bendix to Deliver 2016 Richard M. Dorson Memorial Lecture

This is the season’s big lecture. With many heritage studies projects underway, it is a perfect time to welcome Regina back to Bloomington. Here are the details:

2016 Richard M. Dorson Memorial Folklore Lecture
Join us for the 6th Annual Richard M. Dorson Memorial Folklore Lecture.

“Value, Ownership, and Cultural Goods”

Regina F. Bendix, University of Gottingen, Germany

Monday, March 21, 2016
6:00-8:00 pm
800 N Indiana Ave

A reception will follow the lecture.

Abstract:

Since the mid-1990s, scholarship on heritage has blossomed – some might say boomed – and brought forth a plethora of new journals and studies in many languages, not least due to the vigorous work and impact of UNESCO’s heritage programs. UNESCO’s work on behalf of “cultural goods” reaches back roughly sixty years and has yielded many policy suggestions, conventions and programs. UNESCO’s activities in turn mobilized other international agencies concerned less with safeguarding valuables and more with ownership and group rights. They point toward ways in which different groups of actors harness the notions of tradition, folklore, culture or heritage to improve their lot on this earth. In their efforts, such groups are likely assisted more by experts in international law and economics than by students of culture.

For scholars in folklore and related fields, at least two tasks present themselves. One entails a continuation of a by now “traditional” task: understanding how excerpts from cultural scholarship, in their transfer and implementation in the public sphere transform, the practices, people and places we tend to study. A second task builds on this first one: we need to find avenues to communicate better with disciplines and practitioners engaged in establishing the legal norms and the economic projections concerning the fate of culture turned resource.

Tomorrow! Workshop on Social Media and Academic Freedom

Social media panel discussion flyer

Hostile Workplaces

Bad workplaces in broader social context is a theme in my social reading today.

I very much recommend reading Paige West’s essay “That person at your office.” (via @subliminaries c/o @professorisin)

I also recommend a piece that I read a while back that is back in the news because the labor leader at the center of the story was apparently fired today. The story is by Sarah Kendzior and it is called “The Minimum Wage Worker Strikes Back.” (via @sarahkendzior)

Cool News Briefs

Many graduate and undergraduate students received keen awards at today’s Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology Picnic. Congratulations everyone!

A couple of Fridays ago, all of the practicum students at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures made PechaKucha style (Ignite style, AFS Diamond style, etc.) presentations on the work that they have been doing throughout the museum. It was simply amazing! So inspiring. So well done. So impactful. This was our first semester hosting such an evening. The event will return in the fall. Learn more about MMWC practicum here: http://www.indiana.edu/~mathers/museumprac.html

Back in April, Art at IU featured the latest news from the MMWC Ostrom Project. The focus is on the exhibit Ojibwe Public Art, Ostrom Private Lives. Check it out http://viewpoints.iu.edu/art-at-iu/2014/04/14/ojibwe-art-collected-by-ostroms-on-display-now-at-mathers-museum/

One of that exhibition’s Co-Curators, School of Education Ph.D. student Sarah Clark has just launched a scholarly blog along with Dr. Adrea Lawrence of the University of Montana. The site is Education’s Histories. Its great. Check it out: http://www.educationshistories.org

I have not been able to keep up with all the good news from student rites of passage. Here is a catchup.

Teri Klassen is now Dr. Teri Klassen, after her successful Ph.D. dissertation defense. Her dissertation is titled: Quiltmaking and Social Order in the Tennessee Delta in the Middle 20th Century

Melissa Strickland and Meredith McGriff have earned their M.A. degrees in folklore.

Kelley Totten and Darlynn Dietrich have completed their Ph.D. qualifying exams and are now officially at work on their dissertations.

Sarah Gordon has her dissertation defense schedule for next week! Jon Kay has his scheduled for the first day of the fall semester!

Dr. Gabrielle Berlinger will return to Bloomington to join Dr. Klassen in this week’s graduate commencement ceremonies.

This is just a small sample of all the good stuff going on.

Update: I just saw that Dr. Candessa Tehee defended her dissertation today! So great.

Some Folklore Jobs

“The Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University invites applications for two one year positions as Visiting Lecturers to begin Fall 2014. We seek candidates with graduate training in folklore as well as experience in the teaching of introductory folklore classes and readiness to teach in one or more of the fields of narrative, belief, folklore of the United States, material culture and ethnographic methods.” Find more detail on the AFS website.

“Staten Island Arts, an arts service organization and presenter, seeks a Staff Folklorist to run a year-round Folk & Traditional Arts Program. Reporting to the Executive Director, Staten Island Folklife works directly with traditional artists and their communities to present, document, and safeguard the traditional cultural resources found throughout the borough. Over the past four years, Staten Island Arts Folklife has been under the direction of a single folklorist, and has established itself as a source of innovation, in the field of public sector folklore.” Find more details on the AFS website.

Debt and Graduate Admissions

From the end of Matthew Pratt Guterl’s essay “Debt“:

There are many major issues with higher education, but the solutions to most of them are well beyond the reach of tenure-stream faculty.  Chairs and department members can’t generally compel deans to do much of anything, because decisions about financial reallocation aren’t usually made by deans – they get made by Provosts and Presidents, by big donors, by trustees, and by students, who can always take their precious credit hours elsewhere.

There is, though, a metaphorical debt to be paid here. We owe graduate students a clear shot at a degree without an interest rate on the back end (so, a reasonable stipend, workshop space, and research support, but also financial counseling and informal support mechanisms).  We owe them some very straight talk early in their coursework about an exit strategy if they aren’t going to make it.  We owe them a direct path to the degree, and structures and cultures that make it possible for them to complete their work in decent time.  We owe them degrees with somewhat flexible career outcomes.  And we owe it to them to match the size of our incoming cohorts – as best as we possibly can – to the job market success of recent graduates, and not chiefly to the sometimes self-indulgent abstractions of graduate teaching.

These things are within reach.  These things can be done.

Matt’s essay is part of a larger ongoing conversation happening with extra vigor, and also extra despair, right now. (I am not going to provide a pile of links here. If you are involved in training graduate students, are a graduate student, or think you  want to be a graduate student, you should be plugged into this conversation. If you have not found it on your own, you should be reading Inside Higher Education and those parts of the Chronicle of Higher Education that you can access (it is not all freely accessible and not everyone has access to an institutional subscription). You should also be following the discussion on Twitter (@sarahkendzior and those whom she is in dialogue with would be a good start) and elsewhere on the open web.)

The timing of the debt discussion is particularly appropriate because right now, in research universities around the United States, academic departments with graduate programs are reviewing applications from would-be masters and doctoral students. Such departments face many hard to answer questions. Who to admit and why? How many students to admit? Of those admitted, how many will come? Will we provide financial support for some or all of those we admit? How long will it take for an admitted applicant to accomplish the learning and career goals that they are describing in their application? Can we adequately mentor and train the person we are learning about in a large but partial PDF file? What will the career prospects be for these applicants two or six or eight years from now? How is my university changing and how is the world changing and how will these changes shape the experiences of, and prospects for, these applicants?

In my own department, I am deeply involved in this process right now. No one can know exactly how to answer such questions or to perfectly do this work–and it is really work. When it is done and some of those applicants join us next fall, I will try my best to fulfill those obligations that Matt outlines in his essay. At least those things seem clear.

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