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Posts from the ‘Anthropology’ Category

The Free-to-Readers Edition of Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds

As I discussed in a previous post, works in the Material Vernaculars series are being made available in a free-to-readers PDF edition via IUScholarWorks. The eponymous edited collection Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds was posted today and you can find it here:

If you think that high quality open and/or free access editions of scholarly monographs are a good thing, and if you have the means to do so, I urge you to purchase copies of the companion print or ebook editions as a way of supporting the cause and subsidizing the access of others, including those who cannot otherwise afford to obtain the book. If you really want to make a difference, consider donating to the not-for-profit publishers and libraries behind such efforts. In our case, you can contribute to the Indiana University Press (co-publisher of the Material Vernaculars series with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures) here:

Here is a screen shot showing you where to click to download Material Vernaculars. The image should link to the page in IUScholarWorks where the book is found. (The link is given above as well.)

slide1Happy reading!

Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds (is out now)

I am happy to share this note to report that the edited collection Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds has now been published. I am the editor of this volume, which includes contributions to material culture studies from Dan Swan and Jim Cooley, Jon Kay, Michael Paul Jordan, Danille Elise Christensen, and Gabrielle Berlinger. I love the work that my colleagues contributed to the book. In addition to sharing their scholarship, the volume serves to launch the Material Vernaculars book series of which it is a part. Also appearing in the new series, is Jon Kay’s Folk Art and Aging: Life-Story Objects and Their Makers (it was published last month).

The new series is published by the Indiana University Press in cooperation with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. IU Press is to be commended for its hard work bringing Material Vernaculars to press. Most of the papers in the volume were presented last fall at the 2015 Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society. The papers were presented, revised, peer-reviewed, revised again, copy edited, typeset, proof-read, corrected and processed for final publication (etc.) in less than a year, a scenario that is simply unprecedented in the world of academic book publishing. And the results are great–a well-designed, well-edited book that is rich with color images. Its all first rate.

IU Press has a big sale going through tomorrow (October 30). Its a perfect time to check out their list and perhaps purchase this new title. Paperback and Hardback editions are now available. Electronic editions are on their way. (More on that asap.)


An Interview with Alexander Betts, Curator at the Ohio History Connection

Alex Betts is a Curator at the Ohio History Connection based at the OHC’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. He earned a MA with distinction in Museum and Artefact Studies at the University of Durham in the United Kingdom. As an undergraduate he earned a BA at Indiana University, where he double majored in anthropology and history, graduated Summa Cum Laude, and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. While an undergraduate he worked for three semesters as a practicum student at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures participating in a wide range of curatorial and collections documentation projects. He also interned at the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites and at the Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Jason Jackson (JJ): Thanks Alex for talking with me. I am eager to catch up with you. For an emerging professional in our field, you have already experienced quite a few adventures as a curator-in-training and curator. We’ll come back to some of these, but I hope that we can begin with your current role as a Curator at the Ohio History Connection. You began there as an Assistant Curator in March 2015, less than a year after this 131 year old institution changed its name from the Ohio Historical Society to the Ohio History Connection. You’ve recently been promoted to the position of Curator.What is your work at the OHC about and how does your role fit within the mission of the organization?

Alexander Betts (AB): Thank you for having me! Yes, I am a Curator in the Collections Management department of the recently re-branded Ohio History Connection. We are a team of five that works to make sure that OHC’s collection of nearly two million objects can be effectively used by staff, researchers, and visitors. As a Curator, I contribute to this goal through collections inventory, cataloging, photography, location tracking, storage, and being a collections point-person on exhibit teams. Another large part of my job is to maintain an active deaccessioning regimen, from initial identification to final disposal. My work focuses on the history and art collections, but also involves the archaeology, ethnography, and natural history collections. We are based at the headquarters in Columbus, the Ohio History Center, but also work with our over 50 historic sites around the state. As you can probably guess, our team is never lacking in things to do!

At the Ohio History Connection, our mission is: “Spark discovery of Ohio’s stories. Embrace the present, share the past and transform the future.” Along with the rest of the Collections Management team, I incorporate the spirit of this mission into my work everyday. Whether we are creating new records and photos for the online catalog, hosting visiting researchers, or assisting with the latest exhibit, our work increases accessibility and helps all Ohioans to share in the mission with us. I am also a big believer of the role that active and responsible deaccessioning plays in collections stewardship, especially at a 131-year-old institution. This is one reason that I was hired for the job.

13244773_987181538406_4419907469572014645_nAlex sits with a pair of metal teeth (H 64030) from the Miller Ohio Penitentiary Collection at the Ohio History Connection. This and other Ohio Pen objects are on display in the OHC’s newly-opened Gallery 3.

JJ: You and I know that the range of positions in the museum field is quite large, from information technology to retail; from market research to health and safety. But when most students think about a museum job, I suspect that many of them think specifically about just the work that you are doing—working everyday with a collection (of collections) of objects. How did you travel from being a freshman in college to being a curator working with two million objects?

AB: As a freshman I already knew that I wanted a career in the curatorial/collections realm—it has been a dream of mine since I was 12. I entered IU as a history major but also quickly found anthropology. IU has such a strong anthropology department, and this is where my undergraduate interests blossomed. Starting my first practicum at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures was what cemented my desire for a museum career. It began to feel like a concrete goal. I will always look to Chief Curator Ellen Sieber as the one who jump-started the beginnings of my career. Through her guidance over three semesters, I gained invaluable experience and skills that I still use today.

After IU, I spent a summer interning with the registrar at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis. This was another fantastic internship that introduced me to a completely different area of collections work. I can say I truly enjoyed that summer!

As summer came to a close, I moved to the North East of England for the Museum and Artefact Studies program(me) at Durham University. From my first view over the medieval city and its cathedral (est. AD 1093) in the distance, I knew this was the right next step. During several months of my time there, I commuted to the nearby city of Newcastle to intern at Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, the region’s museum network. I split my time between database management in the Documentation Office and rehousing projects with the conservators. The TWAM staff were so willing to shape the internship to my learning needs and interests, which is one of the most supportive things a museum can do for its interns.

After returning home to Indiana, I began the job hunt. Despite my expectations for a competitive field, I received two job offers only four months later. One was from OHC. What do I credit for this incredible luck? My internship experiences. Part of this was intentionally strategic, as I sought collections internships that had variety and branched into registration, conservation, and databases. But the real value was in their quality. I am fortunate to have had supportive, attentive supervisors to guide me and help me learn. Without them, these internships would have been mere exercises rather than the sources of growth that propelled me to where I am now.

JJ: Wow. Yours is a very encouraging story. Given the role that internships and practicum played in you own career development, are you working now with students at the OHC or, like some institutions of its type, does it instead draw in community volunteers rather than students?

AB: OHC does have a large number of both interns and community volunteers that assist our efforts in several departments. So far I have not had the chance to take on interns of my own, but I absolutely look forward to “paying it forward” during my time here. It looks like I may have a chance to train some catalogers later this year, and I am excited to experience the perspective of the teacher.

JJ: In closing, what advice might you share with an IU undergraduate who—like you did—wants to curatorial career? What observations would you like to share with the department chairs in your home IU departments—history and anthropology? I ask both of these questions, because we are busy working to strengthen the support that the museum provides to students with public humanities/applied social science career interests. Much of this work is, of course, done in cooperation with departments across campus.

To my fellow Hoosiers and other students: In my experience, there is nothing more valuable for pursuing a curatorial career than finding good internships. I believe this to have been my key to success. Always seek out variety in those work experiences, not only for an attractive resume, but to try on various hats and see what fits you best. For the same reasons, test out different institutions. Some people strongly prefer working in small community museums, while others prefer large state museums. You may even be like me and love elements of both. It’s all about finding what feels right, in addition to gathering the experience necessary to move forward. And throughout all of it, remember to enjoy yourself!

To the department chairs: Never stop working to promote a flexible learning environment. The best classes I took were those that allowed students to create their own paths within the curriculum by being conscious of differing learning styles and allowing expression through a variety of media. In one class we were asked to present our research in any style we felt appropriate. In another, we were taken on “campus field trips” that tied into our lecture themes, such as analyzing the murals inside the IU Auditorium. These are the kinds of experiences that stick with a student. With that in mind, please continue to offer and expand opportunities at IU and around Bloomington that provide practical experience. My time at the MMWC is a good model. Classroom learning is incredibly important, but the single most useful component of my IU education was this practical experience. It not only provided me with the skills needed to progress toward a career, but also confirmed what I feel passionate about in life.*

JJ: Thank you Alex for sharing your experiences. Good luck!

AB: Thank you for the interview, Jason. If your readers and students have questions or I can help in any way, please feel free to contact me at: abetts (at) ohiohistory (dot) org.


*Alex concludes by urging IU to continue developing its hands-on opportunities. This aspiration is expressed in the Bicentennial Strategic Plan of the IU Bloomington Campus in goal 1(2)f “Developing workplace savvy and  professional confidence  through  internships in all settings.” Internships and Practicum are a key focus of the MMWC Strategic Plan as well (see 4.3).

Time to Apply to the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology

simaposter_medIts application season again for the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology.

As noted recently on the American Folklore Society website:

“The Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA), supported by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation, is accepting applications for its 2015 program in Washington, DC to be held June 22-July 17. SIMA is an intensive museum research methods training program for graduate students, offered in residence at the Department of Anthropology in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Graduate students at the masters or doctoral level who are preparing for research careers and are interested in using museum collections as a data source should apply. Although primarily oriented to cultural anthropology, students in related programs (Indigenous Studies, Folklore, etc.) are welcome to apply if the proposed project is anthropological in nature.”

Learn a lot more about SIMA on the program website:

I am excited to be returning to SIMA 2015 as a visiting faculty member.

Thanks to the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution for its great support of the Institute.

Osage Weddings Project Website Launched


On the Digital Practices in History and Ethnography Interest Group: An Invitation


New members are invited to join the Digital Practices in History and Ethnography Interest Group (DPHE-IG) in the Research Data Alliance (RDA), an international initiative to facilitate the development of effective data practices, standards, and infrastructure in particular research areas, and across research areas–aiming to enhance capacity to archive, preserve, analyze, and share data, and for collaboration both within and across research communities.

RDA’s DPHE-IG works to advance data standards, practices and infrastructure for historical and ethnographic research, contributing to broader efforts in the digital humanities and social sciences.  Bi-weekly calls move the work of the group forward.  Many meetings are “project shares” during which someone leading a digital project describes their efforts and challenges. Some calls are with other RDA groups (such as the Provenance Interest Group), aiming to draw their expertise into our work in history and ethnography.

Our call-in meetings are on Tuesdays, 1:00 p.m. EST; see our schedule through May 2015, and let us know if you would like to share a project. Also see our annual report of activities, including a list of project shares thus far.

RDA holds two plenary meetings each year at which interests group can meet, and interact with other interest groups.  The next plenary is in San Diego, California and will be held on March 9-11, 2015.

Please join the group (just below the calendar here) [its free] and pass on this information to others who may be interested.  We would especially appreciate help reaching people outside Europe and North America.

Jason Baird Jackson (Indiana University), Mike Fortun (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), Kim Fortun (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), co-chairs

(Contact me if I can answer any questions that you might have about DPHE–Jason)

Collaborative for Cultural Heritage Management and Policy

The Collaborative for Cultural Heritage Management and Policy (aka CHAMP) is a very active initiative at the at the University of Illinois. Led by anthropologist Helaine Silverman, it involves a huge number of Illinois faculty and organizes a wide range of conferences, talks, and projects. CHAMP has announced a busy series of lectures for October. Check out its website for more information on CHAMP’s activities. Here are the upcoming lectures.

3 p.m.
Food, heritage and intellectual property in Europe
Lecture by Dr. Erica Farmer (James Smithson Postdoctoral Fellow, Smithsonian Institution)

4 p.m.
Negotiating the “increase and diffusion of knowledge”: Policy, practice, and values around cultural heritage at the Smithsonian Institution
Lecture by Dr. Erica Farmer (James Smithson Postdoctoral Fellow, Smithsonian Institution)

5 p.m.
GSLIS 126 (501 E. Daniel)
Why UNESCO Matters: The Destruction of Cultural Heritage around the World
A panel presentation:
Lynne Dearborn (Architecture): The destruction of vernacular architecture
Laila Moustafa (LIS): The loss of Islamic manuscripts
Helaine Silverman (Anthropology): Looting the archaeological record
Kari Zobler (Anthropology): The devastation of Syria’s cultural heritage
Co-sponsored with the UNESCO Center for Global Citizenship

4 p.m.
Lucy Ellis Lounge, first floor in FLB
Vikings in America? Swedes in the American Ethno-Racial Hierarchies in the 19th Century
Lecture by Dr. Dag Blanck (English Department, Stockholm University)

Lincoln Hall room 1064
The Colonial Occupation of Piura: The Historical Archaeology of the First Spanish Settlement in Peru
Lecture by Dr. Fernando Vela (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

Reflections and Reports on Open Access Published in the New Issue of Cultural Anthropology (@culanth)

The new, May 2014 issue of Cultural Anthropology is out now. It is the second issue of the journal to be made freely available online, which means anyone with internet access can read it. (Hurray.) In support of the journal’s commitment to understanding and pursuing open access approaches to scholarly communication, the new issue has a dedicated section of peer-reviewed contributions focused on open access in the journal publishing realm.

I am happy be one of the contributors to this section. Ryan Anderson and I revised and updated an earlier interview on open access that we did together. We calibrated the new version to contemporary circumstances, included specific discussions of the Cultural Anthropology case, and sketched a critical anthropology of contemporary scholarly communications practices. It was exciting not only to revise the interview but to improve it on the basis of appreciated peer-review. We think of the piece as an experiment in genre too, as the interview was a textual co-construction in which we revised and altered each others’ words with the goal of creating the most useful resource that we could. It began as a true interview, but did not end there. (In this, its inspiration was an earlier Cultural Anthropology piece on open access “Cultural Anthropology of/in Circulation.”) The interview’s primary function among the other pieces is as an introduction to open access practices. We hope that it is useful in this role. We appreciate everyone who has already expressed kind appreciation for the piece.

There are many great pieces in the open access section (see list below). I am only now reading the other articles in the issue. Charles’ Briggs’s “Dear Dr. Freud” is compelling.

A key thing about the way that the Society for Cultural Anthropology is doing its journal and website is that the site is a rich hub for content both in support of the journal and extending well beyond it. Articles are often richly supplemented with interviews, images, and media and there are also opinion pieces, shorter works, photo galleries and much additional content. While Chris Kelty is present in the open access section of the journal, I want to call attention to his even newer opinion piece, which was published today. In it, he makes a strong case for the adoption of Creative Commons licenses for Cultural Anthropology going forward. I share his views.

There is lots to read in the new issue. Here are the open access pieces.

I really like the Glossary. It allowed me to get a definition of FUD into the pages of Cultural Anthropology! (Learning the term was the only good thing about the PRISM fiasco, an episode that seems so long ago now.)

The issue is receiving a good bit of discussion on Twitter but, as so often happens, there will probably be only a tiny amount of commenting on the journal site–even though there is great infrastructure in place to allow for it. I invite everyone to prove me wrong. Be brave and leave a comment on any of the papers.

Thank you to @culanth editors Anne Allison and Charles Piot for their hard work and for including the piece that Ryan and I did. Thanks as well to @culanth Managing Editor Tim Elfenbein for his hard work on the issue.

Check Out the New Anthropod Podcast on Open Access

I really enjoyed listening to the new Anthropod podcast on open access in anthropology. Focusing on the move of Cultural Anthropology to an open access model, hosts Bascom Guffin and Jonah S Rubin have done a great job with the podcast. I urge everyone to check out their well produced conversations with Sean Dowdy (of Hau), Alex Golub (of Savage Minds and many OA discussions), Brad Weiss (past SCA President), and Timothy Elfenbein (Cultural Anthropology Managing Editor).

Find it in context here:

Museums of Ethnography and Cultural History Celebrate Fiftieth Anniversaries and Welcome New Directors

I will say more detailed things about the Mathers Museum of World Cultures during 2013 in later posts. Here I just want to flag a few happy curiosities.

Today is the last day of 2013 and 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. This fact made it an extra wonderful year to begin service as the museum’s Director. The exhibition Treasures of the Mathers Museum was the centerpiece of our celebratory activities and a new strategic plan was the fruit of our reflections on the past and our goal setting for the future. We have made good progress on our goals for the second half century, but that is for a future post.

We were not alone among museums of ethnography, cultural history, and world cultures celebrating golden anniversaries in 2013. Joining us in such celebrations were the Fowler Museum at UCLA, the Wake Forest Museum of Anthropology, and the Cherokee Heritage Center. (2013 saw other notable 50th anniversaries in the broader museum world, including the 50th anniversary of the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee/Milwaukee Public Museum museum studies program.) Congratulations to all of the half century celebrants, especially to these museums in our corner of the field.

2013 was also a year for new directors among such museums. I am happy to be among them. My friend Candessa Tehee and I shared the experience of becoming directors during a 50th anniversary. Candessa is the new Executive Director of the Cherokee Heritage Center. Robert Preucel was named the new Director of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University and Patrick Lyons was named the new Director of the Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona. The Cherokee Heritage Center was not the only Cherokee museum to get a new director, The Museum of the Cherokee Indian named James “Bo” Taylor as Executive Director. I am sure that I missed someone (please add them in the comments), but I want to wish all of these new directors well. It is an exciting time for our field and I look forward to seeing where we all collectively go during 2014.

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