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Posts from the ‘Awards’ 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.

Paul E. Buchanan Award from the Vernacular Architecture Forum (Recognizes Great Not-Books and Not-Articles)

Award Committee Chair Nora Pat Small recently noted for me the Paul E. Buchanan Award from the Vernacular Architecture Forum (VAF). What is so cool about this award is that it recognizes outstanding work in vernacular architecture studies that takes one of many forms that are NOT books or articles. Check out the award information page and the list of past winners. Then send your nomination materials to Professor Small at Eastern Illinois University.

Good News Roundup

There is way too much stuff going on in my life and work these days. Most of it is really good stuff, but it is hard to keep up. Before moving on to new reporting, here are some good news highlights from recent weeks.

Colleagues and I shepherded into print the 50th volume (=golden anniversary) of the Journal of Folklore Research, for which I serve as Interim Editor. JFR 50(1-3), a triple issue (!), is a special one titled Ethnopoetics, Narrative Inequality, and Voice: The Legacy of Dell Hymes and is guest edited by Paul V. Kroskrity (UCLA) and Anthony Webster (Texas). The guest editors contributed a post about the issue for the IU Press Journals Blog and the triple issue itself is can be found on the Project Muse and JSTOR digital platforms. Thanks to all who have supported JFR over its first five decades.

The Open Folklore project recently released a new version of the OF portal site. The new site incorporates a range of new features and is built upon the latest version of Drupal. I hope that it is already helping you with your own research efforts. If you have not seen it yet, check it out at http://openfolklore.org/

In September, two scholars whose Ph.D. committees I chaired finished their doctorates. Congratulations to Dr. Flory Gingging and Dr. Gabrielle Berlinger!

I noted the award quickly previously, but I had a great time attending the Indiana Governor’s Arts Awards where Traditional Arts Indiana, led by my friend and colleague Jon Kay, was recognized.

The new issue of Ethnohistory is out and it includes a generous and positive review of Yuchi Indian Histories Before the Removal Era. The reviewer is Marvin T. Smith, author of several key works on the archaeology and ethnohistory of the Native South. Find it (behind a paywall) here: http://ethnohistory.dukejournals.org/content/60/4.toc

A while back, the Mathers Museum of World Cultures opened a fine exhibition curated by IU Folklore graduate student Meredith McGriff. It is Melted Ash: Michiana Wood Fired Pottery and it is a sight to behold. If you have not seen it, stop by the museum and check it out.

Open Access week just kicked off and there are a lot of activities planned for the IUB campus. To get things started my friend and collaborator Jennifer Laherty did an interview with WFHB. It is about 8 minutes long and it can be found on the station’s website: http://wfhb.org/news/open-access-week/

The very talented Bethany Nolan was kind enough to talk to me about Yuchi Folklore and to write about our discussion for her Art at IU blog.

The Euchee (Yuchi) Tribe of Indians just held its 17th (!!!!) annual Heritage Days festival. A few years ago a Miss Yuchi/Euchee was added to the festivities and the young women chosen have been great representatives of their nation. This year another awesome young woman was selected. Congratulations to A.S. on being selected for this big honor and big responsibility.

Artworks Features IU Folklorists Kate Horigan (on Urban Legends) and Jon Kay (on TAI)

The latest episode of WFIU’s program Artworks does a great job of introducing the work of two of my IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology colleagues. Kate Horigan discusses so-called urban legends, the subject of one of her current courses. On the occasion of Traditional Arts Indiana being recognized with a Governor’s Arts Award, Jon Kay describes its many projects around the state of Indiana. No point of my writing about it, when the great show is there ready for you to listen to. Find it here:

http://indianapublicmedia.org/artworks/tais-governors-arts-award-urban-legends-late-john-thom/

Candace Greene Wins Ames Prize; Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology Recognized

I learned great news today. My friend, colleague and collaborator Candace Greene (National Museum of Natural History) has been selected as this year’s recipient of the Michael M. Ames Prize for Innovative Museum Anthropology, awarded by the Council for Museum Anthropology.

In a letter sent to Candace and quoted from in an announcement making the rounds, Alex Barker, CMA President, wrote: “The award recognizes your groundbreaking work in developing and implementing the Smithsonian Institution Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology, and particularly the transformational potential of the program. Museums are more than just collections of things, after all. They’re also collections of people, and the SIMA program provides crucial training and educational opportunities, enriching the discipline of museum anthropology and embodying the innovative spirit the award recognizes.”

I am not attending the American Anthropological Association meetings and will unfortunately miss it, but there will be a formal announcement and presentation during the current AAA meetings during the Council for Museum Anthropology’s reception on Saturday, November 17 in the San Francisco Hilton’s room Imperial A. The reception runs from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

I am super pleased with this wonderful news of recognition well-deserved. Candace has been a great leader in the museum anthropology community and her vision for the creation of SIMA, together with her hard work to make it a success, have been amazing. This is an important award, well-bestowed. Congratulations to Candace and to everyone involved in making SIMA a thriving endeavor.

Museum Anthropologists are Award Winners

I am presently batting my email box. One of the small rewards in this situation is discovering great news emails that slipped by. From the excellent news rediscovered department, I am happy to note two recent awards bestowed on friends from the museum anthropology community.

Dr. Nancy Parezo was awarded the 2011-2012 Graduate College Graduate and Professional Education Teaching and Mentoring Award at her home institution, the University of Arizona. Nancy is a member of the Department of American Indian Studies at UA and is a lead faculty member for the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology held each year at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. (I will be joining Nancy for part of this year’s SIMA).

The Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM) recently bestowed its 2012 Guardians of Culture and Lifeways International Awards. Winning for “Outstanding Project” was the
Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal, “an interactive, online digital archive that provides access to Plateau peoples’ cultural materials at Washington State University through tribal curation. The Portal provides a way for tribal communities to include their own knowledge and memories of digital materials for various collections.  This project is an inspiring model of how university repositories can successfully collaborate with tribal communities to curate and enhance collections with tribal voices and histories.” The project director for this effort is my friend and collaborator Kimberly Christen of Washington State University.

Belated congratulations to Nancy, Kim, and to the Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal team on these well deserved awards.

A Sea Island Basket by National Heritage Fellow Mary Jane Manigault

The William C. Sturtevant collection includes a nice group of coiled, sea grass baskets created by the African American weavers of the Sea Island region near Charleston, South Carolina. The better documented of these were collected by William C. Sturtevant in 1959. In this group is the basket shown above. It was made by Mary Jane Manigault (1913-2010), a basket maker who would go on (25 years later) to be awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1984.

There is a rich literature about the Sea Island basketry tradition. A recent work is the exhibition catalog Grass Roots: The African Origins of an American Art. The volume was edited by Dale Rosengarten, Theodore Rosengarten, and Enid Schildkrout and published by the Museum of African Art in 2008. The associated exhibition led to free online resources on the subject being made available through the Museum of African Art, the National Museum of African Art, and the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina.

Interestingly, one of William Sturtevant’s photographs from his 1959 visit to the Sea Island region was featured in the Grass Roots exhibition’s online presence. It is an image of Pearl Dingle weaving a basket at her family’s stand in Mt. Pleasant South Carolina. You can see it on the McKissick website.

The rich obituary for Mrs. Manigault published on the website for the documentary film Bin Yah: There is No Place Like Home is definitely worth checking out. It notes that her baskets are among those in the amazing Sea Island collection curated at the Mathers Museum (at Indiana University) where I work as a Faculty Curator. The NEA National Heritage Fellow profile for her is another great online resource.

This basket is currently identified as T331 and is from the William C. Sturtevant Collection, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

ACLS Publishes 2011 Haskins Prize Lecture by Henry Glassie in Print and Video [Free Online]

The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) has published the textual and video versions of the 2011 Haskins Prize Lecture by Henry Glassie, College Professor of Folklore Emeritus at Indiana University Bloomington. “Named for the first chairman of ACLS, the Charles Homer Haskins Prize Lecture has as its theme “A Life of Learning.” The lecturer is asked “to reflect on a lifetime of work as a scholar and an institution builder, on the motives, the chance determinations, the satisfactions (and dissatisfactions) of the life of learning, to explore through one’s own life the larger, institutional life of scholarship.”” Professor Glassie delivered his Life of Learning lecture during a meeting of the ACLS in Washington, DC on May 6, 2011. The first folklorist recognized with the Haskins Prize, Professor Glassie was preceded in the lectureship by many scholars of distinction, including William Labov, Clifford Geertz, Natalie Zemon Davis, John Hope Franklin, and Mary R. Haas.

Congratulations again to my friend, colleague, and teacher Henry Glassie on this remarkable honor.

@Mukurtu Project Wins Major IMLS Grant

Congratulations to Kim Christen and everyone working on the Mukurtu project on news that the effort has received a major grant from the (U.S.) Institute for Museum and Library Services (announced here). This is a major development for a major project.

As noted on the Mukurtu project site, Mukurtu is “A free and open source community content management system that provides international standards-based tools adaptable to the local cultural protocols and intellectual property systems of Indigenous communities, libraries, archives, and museums.” It is “a flexible archival tool that allows users to protect, preserve and share digital cultural heritage through Mukurtu Core steps and unique Traditional Knowledge licenses.”

Historian Tiya Miles Honored with a 2011 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship

Congratulations to Tiya Miles on being honored with a 2011 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. It is always fun to see who has been awarded one of these amazing Fellowships and it is great when someone working in the same corners of the world that I do is a recipient. Learn more about the awards and Professor Miles’ work on African and Cherokee history in the American South here.

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