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Posts from the ‘Degrees Earned’ Category

An Interview with Jessica Richardson Smith, Museum Anthropologist and Research Services Librarian at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

Jessica Richardson Smith is the Research Services Librarian at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. She pursued three majors—Anthropology, Latin and Greek, and Geology for her Indiana University BA degree from the College of Arts and Sciences. While at Indiana, she used the museum practicum course in the Department of Anthropology to gain a range of experiences working in the Midwest Archaeological Laboratory. That work resulted in a published paper—Tools of the Trade: Chipped Lithic Assemblages from the Hovey Lake (12Po10) and Ries-Hasting (12Po590) Archaeological Sites, Posey County, Indiana (with Cheryl Ann Munson, Meredith B. McCabe and Dean J. Reed). She earned a master’s degree from the Department of Anthropology at the George Washington University and leads the Wymer’s DC project.

Jason Baird Jackson (JJ): Before we circle back and discuss your experiences at Indiana University and George Washington University, I’d love to begin by finding out about the mission of the Historical Society of Washington and your role there. What are your core responsibilities as a Research Service Librarian?

Jessica Richardson Smith (JRS): Sure! The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. is a 122-year old educational and research institution that collects and shares the history of Washington, D.C., emphasizing the local community over the federal city. We are a team of seven who strive to produce diverse public programming and exhibitions, as well as public access to our collections. That’s where I come in as the Research Services Librarian. The core of the Historical Society is our research library which houses over 100,000 photographs, over 800 manuscript collections, and hundreds of maps, prints, and objects—all on D.C. history.

My day-to-day duties consist of working with researchers in our library to help them find the information they need. Whether they are writing a scholarly article or just bought a house and want to learn about its history and their new neighborhood, my job is to help facilitate their needs with what our library can offer. Another facet of my job is to know what the other repositories in the city have. If the Historical Society doesn’t have some piece of information, I want to know where I can direct them.

I love my job—I never do the same thing twice and each day I am learning more and more about this city, our collections, and our members. On any given day, I may meet members of our community and learn about their projects and passions, research a topic in our collection for a researcher working remotely, or help troubleshoot a long-shot research query that someone submits based on a decades-old memory. Every day is something new and every day is something interesting. The best part is when I can apply what I learn one day to a question we get the following week. That’s great. It makes you feel like you are making real headway into learning the complex history of a city like D.C.

Also, because we are a small institution with a big mission, my colleagues and I are expected to wear many hats. In addition to my librarian duties, I also participate in shaping our public programming and exhibitions; I conduct photo research for our publications; I digitize material and tackle rights assessment questions; and I track our library statistics. Each of these things are being juggled on a day-to-day basis, which can be demanding but also very fulfilling.

The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. is located in Washington's historic Carnegie Library, dedicated in 1903.

The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. is located in Washington’s historic Carnegie Library, dedicated in 1903.

JJ: It sounds like you are in a sweet-spot in terms of scale. Your institution is big enough to be doing important, interesting work but small enough that you have not gotten trapped in a specialist silo in which you do only one task over and over again.

Washington is such an incredible place for museums, libraries, and archives. What is it like to work in a small-but-old museum/library in a city of large-but-old museums/libraries? Do you feel connected with GLAM (Gallery, Library, Archives, and Museums) professionals around the city or, like many of our colleagues elsewhere, do the day-to-day demands of the job keep you from connecting to colleagues around the city?

JRS: I can’t speak for what it is like at other institutions, but I think we do a good job of collaborating with our fellow institutions in the city, particularly those with a local focus. The D.C. Public Library, National Archives, Library of Congress, National Building Museum, the newest Smithsonian, the National Museum of African American History and Culture—these are all institutions we work alongside and collaborate with in order to forward our mission of preserving local D.C. history.

As the Research Services Librarian, my daily duties are often intra-institution focused but I regularly refer our library patrons to other institutions around the city when we don’t have particular resources. While this means I don’t personally interact on a daily basis with my GLAM colleagues, there is mutual awareness of our work through referrals. At the Historical Society, our main collaboration with our GLAM colleagues is through joint public programming, from conference plenaries to archival fairs, workshops, exhibitions, etc.

JJ: I am especially glad to hear that you have not only pathways to connect with colleagues, but that your institution is well-situated enough to support, and to see the value in, outreach, research dissemination, and professional development activities like those you have just mentioned. One of my reasons for being interested in your connectedness to the cultural institutions of DC is that you were trained at the MA level there, at George Washington University. That institution has a unique advantage in that it trains students in a city with so many public collections and so many collections-oriented professionals. Before we turn to your undergraduate experiences at Indiana, could you describe your graduate studies? What did you study? What role did hands-on work play in your career? Read more

An Interview with Rachel Tavaras, Indiana University Graduate and Collections Manager at the Museum of Miniature Houses in Carmel, Indiana

Rachel Tavaras grew up in the Chicago area and earned undergraduate degrees in History and Anthropology, both in the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University (IU), where she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. At IU, museum work was a special focus for her and she undertook internships and practicum at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, the Wylie House Museum, the Monroe County History Center, the Hinkle-Garton Farmstead, and the LaPorte County History Museum. After graduation in 2015, she joined the Historical Administration M.A. program at Eastern Illinois University (EIU). This highly regarded program is built around an on-campus year of coursework and hands-on training followed by a six-month supervised internship or job in a relevant museum or historical institution. While at EIU she was a graduate assistant at the Tarble Arts Center. Eager to catch-up with an outstanding undergraduate alumna who made a big difference during her time at Indiana University, I was pleased that Rachel agreed to an interview with me. In it we discuss her first job hunt, the Museum of Miniature Houses in Carmel, Indiana, where she now serves as Collections Manager, and her experience studying at Indiana and Eastern Illinois.

JJ: Thank you Rachel for being willing to do this interview.

Folk wisdom holds—and I think that it is often true—that one’s first full time job is often the hardest to find. We will come to your current work in a moment, but first could you tell us a bit about how you first got connected with the Museum of Miniature Houses?

RT: The initial job hunting process was quite daunting! My graduate program at Eastern Illinois University requires that we complete a six-month internship after coursework, unless we find a job. While I would not have had an issue with taking an internship, I sought something more permanent. When I saw an opening for the Collections Manager position at the Museum of Miniature Houses and Other Collections through the Association of Indiana Museums (AIM), I did not hesitate to apply.

Miniatures have always fascinated me, and, while I did not have a background in miniatures explicitly, I felt that my prior experiences with other types of collections could apply. From working with jewelry from the Middle East at Mathers, to working with Midwestern folk art dioramas at the Tarble Arts Center, I felt confident in my ability to work with a collection of objects made by less “formally trained” artisans. My theoretical training, both in class and in the museum field, also helped when it came to landing the job. I have been trained in methods of material culture, decorative arts, understanding folklife, and more. Such training is essential to understanding miniatures, whether it be a representation of an American Rococo living room or a Japanese farm house from Osaka.

IMG_1798[4]Rachel Tavaras shows off the “Yellow Georgian,” an assemblage of objects in the collections of the Museum of Miniature Houses in Carmel, Indiana.

JJ: Did you have any personal contacts with the museum beforehand or were you applying in response to the AIM advertisement? What did you learn from the application and selection process?

I did not have any personal contacts from the museum beforehand—I applied merely because of the online advertisement. Because I did not know anyone at the museum personally, every chance to leave an impression with the hiring committee was especially precious.

Because of this, through the hiring process I came to better understand the importance of the interview. I think that many recent graduates focus heavily on their resume and cover letter—and rightfully so. These are the first items that a potential employers looks over, and they will ultimately determine the applicant’s chance at an interview. For the interview, I was fully prepared and had anticipated many of the questions that the hiring committee asked. I had also researched the institution and miniatures in general beforehand, giving me the opportunity to explicitly express how my skills and experiences would make me a great asset. My efforts were worthwhile. Since being hired, I have been told that I “nailed” the interview. While my application materials got me the interview, it was my interview that go me the job.

I have since had to opportunity to be on the other end of the hiring process. Looking for a part-time Collections Assistant was an intimidating task, especially being so new to my own position. While sifting through applicants, I was reminded of the importance of first impressions. Many applicants sent vague and brief application materials. It was clear that they did not read the job description. On the other hand, one applicant both emailed and physically mailed me copies of her application. She was a high contender.

JJ: The name alone suggests that the Museum of Miniature Houses is a rather interesting institution. I won’t be alone in wanting to know more about it. Is the part-time Collections Assistant your only staff colleague or is the staff bigger than these two roles? Do volunteers play a big part in your museum? What can you tell us about the history of the museum and its current status? Who is the museum’s governance authority? Read more

(Double) Ph.D. Success: Kimberly Marshall Edition

Congratulations to Kimberly Marshall on the successful defense of her Ph.D. dissertation today. Up until today, Dr. Marshall was a doctoral student in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and the Department of Anthropology, both at IU. Her doctoral fields are ethnomusicology and cultural anthropology (she has a folklore M.A. already!)  and her research is focused on the expressive and religious lives of Navajo Christians. As noted previously, Kim will soon begin work as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. Congratulations Kim!

M.A. Success: Rachel Biars Edition

Congratulations to Rachel Biars on the very successful completion of her M.A. degree in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University. Rachel has also completed her concurrent work on her M.L.S. degree in the IU School of Library and Information Science. Rachel did a fine job in her folklore M.A. exam a week ago last Friday. Her M.A. project was a public folklore/exhibition project pursued collaboratively with artisans of the Miami Tribe of Indiana. Well done Rachel!

Congratulations to Curtis Ashton!

Congratulations go to Dr. Curtis Ashton who very successfully defended his Indiana University Ph.D. dissertation in folklore today. The title of his important and innovative study is: Interpretive Policy Analysis in Beijing’s Ethnographic Museums: Implementing Cultural Policy for the 2008 “People’s Olympics”. I hope that everyone will be reading it as a book very soon.  In addition to finalizing his dissertation, Curtis has been teaching a course in museum anthropology at Brigham Young University.

Congratulations to Virginia Luehrsen!

Congratulation to Virginia Luehrsen on the successfully passing her folklore M.A. oral exams today. While a student at Indiana, Virginia pursued the joint M.L.S. degree in our School of Library and Information Science and M.A. in folklore in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. Her thesis project, which was discussed extensively in today’s exam, is a study of intangible cultural heritage issues in libraries. She builds upon work undertaken in ethnographic museum contexts (by museum anthropologists, indigenous activists and others) carrying the insights and experiences found in this domain into the neighboring–but less well developed–domain of library collections, including library special collections and archives. Virginia is already a doctoral student in the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin. At UT, she is studying with my friend and collaborator Patricia K. Galloway and is the co-organizer of the recent Engaging in the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (EPOCH) conference. Well done Virginia!

Congratulations Dr. Jessica W. Blanchard

Another successful dissertation defense to report and celebrate. Jessica Walker Blanchard (a.k.a. Dr. Blanchard) is a wonderful person and scholar whom I have known and respected for many years. She has just completed her Ph.D. in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Oklahoma (where I was proud to be one of her teachers). I am little behind in reading her dissertation (about a chapter short of finished) but I can say that it is a important contribution to anthropology and Native American studies.  Jessica’s focus in her study are the activities of Southern Baptist missionaries (church “planters”) of diverse Native American backgrounds who establish mission congregations in (i.e. “targeting”) particular and specific local Native American communities. Her work was undertaken in congregations in Central Oklahoma, near the communities of Little Axe, Shawnee, and Earlboro. When she is not dissertating, Dr. Blanchard is a researcher at the Center for Applied Social Research at OU. She has been involved in a wide range of complex and important research projects, mainly focusing on the sociocultural aspects of health and wellness in Oklahoma and in general. Congratulations Jessica!

Congratulations to Dr. Kate Hennessy

News arrived today of Kate Hennessy‘s successful dissertation defense. Kate is an awesome scholar that everyone should know about. She has just finished her doctorate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Her dissertation, which I can recommend on the basis of firsthand experience, is titled: Repatriation, Digital Technology, and Culture in a Northern Athapaskan Community. It is excellent. It is an an important contribution at the intersections of visual anthropology, museum anthropology, digital culture studies, media studies, indigenous studies, and applied anthropology. It is a companion to the award winning media project Dene Wajich–Dane-zaa Stories and Songs, which Kate produced with a impressive group of Dane-zaa and non-native collaborators. (Including our mutual friends Pat Moore and Amber Ridington.) More could be said, but for now three cheers for Kate!

Dr. Arle Lommel

Congratulations to Arle Lommel on the successful defense today of his Ph.D. dissertation in folklore. His dissertation is titled Semiotic Organology: A Peircean Examination of the Bagpipe and Hurdy-Gurdy in Hungary. His innovative project unfolds at the intersections of Hungarian ethnography and general ethnomusicology, organology, folklore studies (especially of “folk revivals”), material culture studies, and semiotic theory. It was a pleasure to be member of Arle’s dissertation committee.

Janice Frisch on T-shirt Quilts

A note of congratulations for Janice Frisch on the completion of her M.A. in Folklore. Her M.A. Thesis, recently accepted by the faculty, is titled Scrapbooks in Fabric: Memory, Identity, and the T-shirt Quilt. It is a wonderful study utilizing ethnographic methods in the study of contemporary U.S.  material culture. It is particularly valuable in the ways that it situates t-shirt quilts relative to the areas of (1) dress and adornment, (2) quilts and quilt history, and (3) scrapbooking and other practices associated with hand-made memory objects. In her abstract, she writes:

Historically, in the United States, clothing that was worn beyond repair was used in quilts in order to salvage the still usable parts while creating another useful item. Modern quilters, however, generally purchase new cloth to use in their quilts rather than cutting up old clothing. Fairly recently there has been a trend towards constructing quilts out of still wearable clothing items, such as t-shirts. This form of quilting is both a continuation of past practices and an innovation. In today’s society these quilts are a medium for the expression of personal identity and memories. This thesis draws upon existing literature on body art, material culture, memory, and identity as well as original fieldwork to examine the rapidly growing phenomenon of t-shirt quilts and connect them to the larger history of quilting, dress, and collecting in the United States. [Frisch 2010:vi]

Looking ahead to her Ph.D. work, Ms. Frisch will be continuing her studies of quilting this summer at the Smithsonian and several European museums. Congratulations to her on the completion of an important M.A. study.

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