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Posts from the ‘China’ Category

On the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names; AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus

While some have a deep history (library classifications, for instance), controlled vocabularies of diverse sorts are relatively new and some play an increasingly important role in a range of domains relevant to my work. One vocabulary that I am especially appreciative of in the context of present work is the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN). In the preceding phase (2013-2016) of the joint project linking the China Folklore Society and American Folklore Society, the American participants in the museum-based sub-project visited a large number of rural communities in Southwest China. (We also hosted our Chinese colleagues in community visits in the United States.)

If one is visiting (being taken to) a lot of places quickly and one does not speak or read the local or national languages, it is easy to become unsure where you are and what communities you are visiting (or have visited). Sorting through this afterwards can be an added challenge if, after the fact, one realizes (as in rural China), there can be as many as ten or twenty villages or towns with the same name in the same province (hence the custom in Chinese contexts of referring to towns and their counties and/or in relationship to the administrative center of which it is a part). The Getty TGN helps by providing a unique identifier (a number) for places all around the world. Here is an example.

Shuanglang, a large village (now a town, really) on Erhai Lake, near Dali in Yunnan province is one of (at least) three Chinese places called Shuanglang appearing in the TGN. The other two are in Guangxi. It is 8471685. In addition to its ID number, the TGN provides latitude and longitude coordinates for it, the name in Chinese characters, its status in a place hierarchy from, the sources used and other useful information. The coordinates can be plugged into Google Maps and used in other ways.

The ID number can be used to tag or code images, such as the following photograph (Figure 1) taken when our group visited Shuanglang in December 2013 on a trip led by our hosts at the Yunnan Nationalities Museum.

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(Figure 1: 8471685 [i.e. Shuanglang] has become popular with urban Chinese tourists. Local restaurants compete for their business by showing off their freshest produce on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant proper. Potential patrons can ask proprietors about ingredients and the dishes that might be fashioned from them. )

In Shuanglang, I purchased some Chinese baskets for the first time for the collections of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. The Getty TGN ID can be added to the catalogue records for these baskets as a way of conveying the location from which they were obtained with precision (Figure 2).

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(Figure 2: These baskets were collected in 8471685 [i.e. Shuanglang]. The baskets on the left are now in the collection of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. The pack basket and bassinet on the right were collected by a fellow project participant.)

Improving the accuracy of important records and enhancing their discoverability—in this case, tagging photographs and strengthening museum catalogue records are two of the kinds of uses that vocabularies such as the TGN are designed to facilitate. I appreciate the work that the Getty Institute invests in building, maintaining, and improving the TGN on behalf of the cultural heritage community.

Speaking of controlled vocabularies, close readers of Museum Anthropology Review may have noticed that several years ago we began working with authors of full articles to associate relevant terms from the American Folklore Society Ethnographic Thesaurus (AFS ET). As noted on its website, “the AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus is a vocabulary that can be used to improve access to information about folklore, ethnomusicology, ethnology, and related fields. The American Folklore Society developed the AFS ET in cooperation with the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress and supported by a generous grant from the Scholarly Communications Program of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.” The AFS ET is accessible from the Linked Data Service at the Library of Congress: http://id.loc.gov/vocabulary/ethnographicTerms.html

Having linked my two example photographs to their TGN ID, I should go ahead an close with some AFS ET terms.

Figure 1 can have: restaurants; marketing; vegetables
Figure 2 can have: basketscollection acquisitions (collection development); bamboo textiles

A Peak at Two “Miao Albums” with a Group of SIMA Colleagues

(Note to readers. This post has been added to. Whether inserted into the original text or added at the bottom, additions will be shown in red.)

Working with the graduate students participating in the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology is a pleasure. The students who are attending in order to gain skills for their own long-term research and who are doing their own collections-study projects are an obvious focus for faculty attention, but another group of student (and recently graduated) colleagues are also at the heart of SIMA. These are the collections interns—students who are usually pursuing masters degrees in anthropology and/or museum work—who help to make the student research possible through their facilitation of collections access. The regular collections management staff of the National Museum of Natural History’s Department of Anthropology are too few and have everyday tasks to attend to, thus the SIMA interns make a decisive difference in the work of the institute. They are excellent. Most days, they are occupied helping the institute participants access collection objects for research, but today they and I took a few moments to look at a couple of treasures as a group. I thank them for joining me in this quick collections adventure. (We snuck away during a seminar. Don’t tell anyone…)

What we saw together was (as I had hoped) a collection of annotated paintings of a type known in English as a “Miao album.” In American scholarship on China and its frontiers, such an album is the focus of The Art of Ethnography: A Chinese “Miao Album” translated by David Deal and Laura Hostetler with an introduction by Laura Hostetler (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006). In such books, Chinese observers (artists/scholars/officials…) documented the cultural life of peoples of the Chinese borderlands in paintings and ethnographic text. None of our group are specialists, but we knew that we were looking at something really important and that these books are inherently interesting. Here are a some images of us with these albums. We did not look at each page, but we took enough time to ooh and ahh over a few pages in each of these fragile, beautiful books. We all hope that they can be the focus of new scholarly attention soon.

One of these books is Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History E424083 and the other is E175187. (You can search them in the public database here: http://collections.nmnh.si.edu/search/anth/#new-search )

The members of our expedition (with me) were Eilanra Abdesho Kavsi, Sarah Baburi, David Gassett and Emily Cain . Herself a former SIMA intern, Emily now works full-time in the Department of Anthropology. Eilanra and David are all studying a mix of anthropology and museum studies at the MA-level at George Washington University, while Sarah has recently completed her own MA degree in these fields, also at GWU.

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Our group getting ready to peak at the first of the books on our agenda. (L-R: Emily, Sarah, David, and Eilanra)

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Even the cover is pretty great.

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Our first glimpse.

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This is the first in-person “Miao Album” painting for all of us, myself included.

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Baskets, of course.

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You can get a partial glimpse of the associated text on the facing page here.

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While we normally wear gloves, for fragile things, it is sometimes best to use clean hands.

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Our group, studying.

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Until the translation proves us wrong, we think it is a game scene. See Note 3 below for information from Qing Colonial Enterprise.

IMG_5856More baskets, of course.

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Our favorite, so far. We do not know yet why these guys are trying to fight but we admire the effort of the women to prevent it. See Note 2 below on how this scene appears in The Art of Ethnography. See Note 3 below for information from Qing Colonial Enterprise.

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Weaving inside, hair care outside. See Note 3 below for information from Qing Colonial Enterprise.

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We were pretty worried about the guy in the blue cap, as with think he might be held captive. We look forward to the finding out what the associated caption says. UPDATE. See note 1 below. Also, see Note 2 below on how this scene appears in The Art of Ethnography. See Note 3 below for information from Qing Colonial Enterprise.

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The paintings are still beautiful, but insects have done what insects do.

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Here we begin to investigate the second of the two albums (E424083), this one with wooden covers

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In the second album, the paintings span the fold and the text is integrated into the images, as seen here.

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Both albums include musicians and include images of this particular type of drum.

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More work baskets, of course. See Note 3 below for information from Qing Colonial Enterprise.

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This is a detail from a scene in which four people do something with their arms pulled inside their sleeves like this. Whatever it was, we were interested in it. We also liked the hem of her skirt. See Note 3 below for information from Qing Colonial Enterprise.

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Plowing. Do they take turns pulling? Also, see Note 2 below on how this scene appears in The Art of Ethnography. See Note 3 below for information from Qing Colonial Enterprise.

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There is always work to do, even if the illiterate museum ethnographers do not yet know what it is all about.

IMG_5877The region’s famous basketry raincoats, we think.

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Work baskets, one last time.

Updates:

Note 1 (July 23, 2017). I returned from my time at SIMA and the NMNH in July 2017 and immediately went to look at The Art of Ethnography: A Chinese “Miao” Album (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006). Regarding the picture of a person being held captive noted above (see the picture that is captioned “We were pretty worried about the guy in the blue cap…”), I note that the image shown here is almost the same as, but not the same as, Plate Number 63 (pages 126-127) in The Art of Ethnography. It will take time to sort out what is going on in this instance, but one or the other plate is clearly a copy of the other. The text in The Art of Ethnography indicates that the scene is about the waylaying of solitary travelers, placing them in a wooden yoke, and extorting them to redeem their own freedom. I checked The Art of Ethnography out of the library right before this trip and now have even more reason to read it asap.

Note 2 (July 26, 2017). In reading The Art of Ethnography, I learned about how “Miao Albums” were frequently copied (inexactly) and observed that some of the pages that we saw in the two NMNH albums appear in similar form in the album published in The Art of Ethnography. Here are three known examples (see above):

(1) The scene of the men fighting but being restrained by the women (see p. 28 (#14) in The Art of Ethnography and the E175187 scene pictured here);

(2) The scene of plowing, where a man pulls the plow (see p. 106 (#53) in The Art of Ethnography and the image from NMNH E424083 pictured here);

(3) The scene of the scene of a man being held hostage in a wooden yoke (see p. 126 (#63) in The Art of Ethnography and the image from E175187 pictured here).

Note 3 (July 28, 2017). In reading Laura Hostetler’s Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Modern China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), I learned further about the re-occurring tropes linked to specific groups from those reoccurring in book after book. In relation to some of those pictured above, I can note, for instance “Women restrain men from fighting one another” is the brief description that Hostetler points to as reoccurring for Hong Miao entries (see above). Similarly, the trope table in Qing Colonial Enterprise notes (with group identifications): “A tall ladder leads from a streambed up a steep cliff. Figures appear above and below” (Kemeng Guyang Miao); “Men and Women dancing. Long sleeves cover their arms and drape down over their hands” (Lingjia Miao); “Two women play Chinese chess” (Qing Zhongjia); “Several armed men surround a Han prisoner in a cangue whom they kidnapped for ransom” (Qingjiang Zhongjia); “One woman works at a loom, another washes her hair in a basin” (Yangdong Luahan Miao); “Agricultural scene. Two men plow a paddy. No draft animal is used; instead a man pulls the plow” (Yetou Miao); (See pp. 171-174)

Putting Baskets to Work in Southwestern China || 百工之篮 | 中国西南篮子展

Putting Baskets to Work in Southwestern ChinaI am very enthusiastic about the fact that the second of the Mathers Museum of World Culture‘s three Themester 2015 exhibitions about basketry opens tomorrow (September 1, 2015). It is titled Putting Baskets to Work in Southwestern China (百工之篮 | 中国西南篮子展) and I co-curated it with Dr. Lijun Zhang of the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities. As always, the MMWC staff has worked hard to bring the script and objects and images to life and to get the word out. Support for the exhibition project has come from Themester, a project of the IU College of Arts and Sciences. The exhibition, like its two companions, relates to the 2015 theme @Work: The Nature of Labor on a Changing Planet. In the case of the MMWC exhibitions, grouped together as @Work with Basketry on a Changing Planet, we are looking at the changing story of baskets made and used for work and the story of the changing work of making baskets.

The baskets featured in the exhibition were collected for the museum by me during trips made to Southwestern China as a participant in the American Folklore Society‘s China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project, specifically its current phase focused on Intangible Cultural Heritage and Ethnographic Museum Practice. (For funders of the ICH project, see here).

I hope that many visitors will get a chance to stop by the museum and see the exhibition. It has been a lot of fun to learn about the rich basket culture of Southwestern China and to find ways to share a bit of it with museum guests, including the students participating in Themester programming.

Summer 2015 Roundup

Sherds and Patches has been neglected. My summers are always busy, but this year has been really busy. As the fall semester is about to begin, I feel like I should at least take stock of where I have been. A surprising number of folks visit this site and seemingly find something that they are looking for. In hopes of leading online visitors to some of the exhibitions, projects, etc. that I have been involved in this summer, I offer this roundup with relevant links. Packing a summer into one post, please excuse the length (about 1600 words). Skimmers welcome.

When the spring semester ended, my Mathers Museum of World Cultures colleagues and I, together with MMWC Policy Committee Chair Eric Sandweiss, poured our energies into hosting Museums at the Crossroads: Local Encounters, Global Knowledge. Held at the museum between May 14 and 21, the workshop was supported by the IU School of Global and International Studies and the College of Arts and Sciences. It gathered museum professionals and other scholars from numerous institutions and various countries for generative discussions and activities aimed at considering the state of museums in changing social contexts around the world. I am thankful for all who journeyed to Bloomington to join the discussion. Thanks too go to the MMWC staff members who helped organize the gathering and to the School and College for their generous support. Learn a bit more about Museums at the Crossroads from this IU press release. SGIS published a wrap-up story about Crossroads.

Before and after Museums at the Crossroads, I worked as a lead investigator on a Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded research/planning project considering the viability of alternative, sustainable financial models for university press monograph publishing in the humanities and interpretive social sciences. This is a project being pursued concurrently on the University of Michigan and Indiana University campuses. I am the researcher for the IU component of the project. A glimpse of the project is available in this IU press release (where our project is the second of two being discussed). A story last summer in the Chronicle of Higher Education provides additional context for the models that I have been discussing with IU faculty and administrators as well as with our UM/IU, research team.

Another big project that came to fruition in the days after Museums at the Crossroads is the Mathers Museum of World Cultures exhibition Cherokee Craft, 1973. This is an exhibition that I have looked forward to doing since the early 1990s. As I student, I first studied the museum’s collections made among the Eastern Cherokee. I knew then that they would make a great exhibition. That moment came this summer. Originally, I was going to curate the exhibition with help from graduate students Emily Buhrow Rogers and Kelley Totten but by the time we finished, it was Kelly and I helping Emily with her exhibition. What Kelly and Emily came up with is infinitely better than the simple exhibition that I had originally imagined. Cherokee Craft, 1973 opened June 16. Here is how we have described the exhibition in promotional materials.

Cherokee Craft, 1973 offers a snapshot of craft production among the Eastern Band Cherokee at a key moment in both an ongoing Appalachian craft revival and the specific cultural and economic life of the Cherokee people in western North Carolina. The exhibition showcases woodcarvings, masks, ceramics, finger woven textiles, basketry, and dolls. The works presented are all rooted in Cherokee cultural tradition but all also bear the imprint of the specific individuals who crafted them and the particular circumstances in which these craftspeople made and circulated their handwork.

What that description does not explain is that the presentation for the exhibition creatively evokes the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc. gallery (ca. 1973), from which the museum obtained its collection. Come by and see the exhibition at MMWC and find the real co-op as it is today on its website.

After a quick but wonderful visit to Oklahoma for Green Corn, I headed off to the Smithsonian Institution to again serve as a visiting faculty member at the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology, which is led by Candace Greene and funded by the National Science Foundation. I have discussed SIMA previously. It is a great program and this was a another great year. If you are new to SIMA, check out the SIMA information page. On top of the great SIMA stuff, I even had a bit of time to see the Chinese basketry in the NMNH collections!

A basket cataloged as Chinese in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. ET08510

A basket cataloged as Chinese in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. ET08510

SIMA was followed by a quick family trip to Santa Fe, where I got to attend the International Folk Art Market (which was great as always) and see the exhibition “The Red that Colored the World” at the Museum of International Folk Art. The “Red” exhibition is a tour de force. Simply amazing. I hope that many many more people get to see it in Santa Fe or on the tour to come. You can read about the Red exhibition in many places, including this NEH story by Peter BG Shoemaker in Humanities magazine.

While in Santa Fe, I purchased (at the market) two willow baskets by Blaise Cayol, a remarkable French basket maker. Learn about his basketry on his website Celui qui Tresse.

I collected Blaise Cayol’s baskets for a lot of reasons, including wanting them to help expand on the story that the Mathers Museum of World Cultures is telling in the exhibition Willow Work: Viki Graber, Basketmaker, which opens tomorrow. It is a great exhibition focused on the work of a great basket maker. Quoting from our exhibition announcement:

Willow Work: Viki Graber, Basketmaker presents a weaver of willow baskets from the Mennonite community of Goshen, Indiana, where she has lived for 25 years. Graber learned willow basket weaving at the age of twelve from her father, who was recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts as a 2009 National Heritage Fellow. Where once her family plied their talents to make utilitarian workbaskets, today she works full-time weaving baskets for collectors and to sell at art shows and galleries. While using the same tools and methods as her great-grandfather, Graber’s keen sense of color and innovative designs have elevated her family’s craft to a new aesthetic level.

Jon Kay curated Willow Work, drawing upon work done for Traditional Arts Indiana. Get details on the exhibition on the MMWC website. Learn more about Viki’s basketry on her website, Confluence of Willows.

Willow Work: Viki Graber, Basketmaker is one of three exhibitions that we (MMWC) are organizing for Themester. I will post (I hope) about the two that are still to come, but I note here that a second one has been curated by Jon Kay. Here is the description. Working Wood opens on September 8.

Working Wood: Oak-Rod Baskets in Indiana presents the work of the Hovis and Bohall families of Brown County, Indiana, who made distinctive white-oak baskets for their neighbors to carry everyday items and to gather corn. However, by the 1930s, the interest of urban tourists transformed these sturdy workbaskets into desirable souvenirs and art objects. In recent years, these baskets have come to be called “Brown County” and “Bohall” baskets, perhaps because of the great number of baskets made by the Bohall family in Brown county during the 1920s and 1930s. Nevertheless, the history of this craft is more complex these names reveal. Using artifacts and historic photographs, this exhibit explores the shifts in the uses and meanings of these baskets as they changed from obsolete, agricultural implements, into a tourist commodity. Using the lens of work, this exhibition tells the story of these oak-rod baskets and the people who made and used them, and how local makers strived to find a new audience for their old craft, and how ultimately the lure of steady work in the city contributed to the end of this tradition.

Between now and then, we will be working to finalize an third basketry exhibition that I have co-curated with Lijun Zhang of the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities. Opening September 1, It focuses on work baskets in Southwestern China. We describe it in this way.

Putting Baskets to Work in Southwestern China explores the contemporary the use of basketry in urban and rural labor in contemporary China drawing upon a newly acquired representative collection of bamboo baskets documented as active tools of labor in the region around Dali, in Yunnan province, and in Guizhou and Guangxi provinces. The collection was acquired and documented by Jason Baird Jackson, Director of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, who will co-curate the exhibit with Lijun Zhang, Research Curator at the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities in Guangxi, China.

All three of these work-related basketry exhibitions have been organized for the Fall 2015 Themester, which is themed “@Work: The Nature of Labor on a Changing Planet.” Our museum programs are organized under the rubric “@Work with Basketry on a Changing Planet.” The College of Arts and Sciences at IU has contributed to these projects and the public programs that will accompany them. Learn more about Themester 2015 on the Themester website. Learn more about the exhibitions and programs on the MMWC website.

In the background, Emily Buhrow Rogers and I have been finalizing a double issue of Museum Anthropology Review. We look forward to sharing it in the next couple of weeks. See some of its content online in preview mode at the journal website.

In the midst of all of this, I have—with the support of numerous friends and colleagues—been preparing my faculty promotion case. Time will tell how that turns out.

This is just some of the high points. Its been a busy summer. Whether relaxing or busy, I hope that your summer was excellent.

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