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Posts from the ‘Digital Projects’ 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.


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.


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.


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.

The Digital Future of Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences

What follows is an open letter of invitation written by Mike Fortun in connection with an upcoming meeting of the Digital Practices in History and Ethnography Interest Group of the Research Data Alliance. All interested parties are invited to engage with the RDA and the DPHE IG.

Dear colleagues,

We hope you can join us in a discussion about the digital future of research in the humanities and social sciences (HASS), particularly history, anthropology, folklore, and related fields in which researchers generate and interpret qualitative data to understand historical, social, and cultural phenomena.   The conversation is being led by the Digital Practices in History and Ethnography Interest Group (DPHE-IG), part the Research Data Alliance (RDA), an international alliance working to making research data more open and accessible, which will host its 7th plenary meeting in Tokyo 1-3 March.  Our DPHE-IG session is scheduled for Wednesday, 2 March from 11:00-12:30 in Conference Room 3 at Hitotsubashi Hall (National Center of Sciences Building).

Together, we will assess the current state and challenges of these fields, in different national and cultural contexts, and how enhanced digital research infrastructure can vitalize them in coming years.  Among the topics on our agenda are:

  • How can digital infrastructure animate the work of HASS researchers in coming years?
  • What are the opportunities and challenges for HASS researchers in different national and cultural contexts?
  • Strategies for increasing access to basic tools and infrastructure for sharing primary data, for collaborative analysis, and for collaborative publishing (especially in an experimental vein).
  • Developing digital infrastructure to support greatly enhanced collaboration between HASS researchers, both locally and internationally, and between HASS researchers and researchers in the physical sciences, engineering, medicine and other professions.
  • Reconfiguring or extending digital infrastructure to support the particular needs of HASS researchers (consent forms and human subjects committees, metadata standards, well-designed research and exhibition platforms, citizen science and community involvement, collaboration governance processes, repositories and data nets, etc.)

You are welcome to join the RDA at this link, where you can then join our interest group and learn about our past and planned activities. If you would like more information about attending the session, or are unable to attend the session but would like to learn more about our work, please [be in touch] and we will be happy to continue the conversation. And please feel free to forward [share] this [post with] anyone else you think might be interested in this.

We hope you’ll consider joining the discussion!

Best regards,

Mike Fortun (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)
Jason Baird Jackson (Indiana University)
Kim Fortun (RPI)

Co-chairs, RDA Digital Practices in History and Ethnography Interest Group

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)

Scholarly Communication Postdoctoral Fellowship at UC Davis

Circulated on behalf of a colleague…

A new UC Davis initiative on “Innovating the Communication in Scholarship” ( is hiring a 2 year postdoctoral fellow, starting July 1, 2014. This is a cross-disciplinary project to study the future of academic publishing, involving faculty from the Center for Science and Innovation Studies, the Library, the Genome Center, and the School of Law (with additional collaborators in Computer Science, English, Philosophy, and the Graduate School of Management). Research topics include open access models, peer review, new forms of quality metrics, data publication, use of social media, and new forms of academic misconduct.

The successful candidate will conduct research, collaborate on or lead organization of conferences, workshops, participate in pedagogical activities, and assist in grant writing. A Ph.D. or equivalent degree is required in Science and Technology Studies, Library and Information Sciences, Communication, Law, Science, or Literature. Other disciplines will be considered depending on the specific focus of the candidate’s research and other experience. Qualified applicants will have experience working successfully in teams and managing multi-year projects. He or she will possess excellent written and oral communication and administrative skills.

We encourage applicants from historically under-represented groups, as well as individuals who can contribute to the diversity and excellence of the academic community through their research, teaching, and/or service.

Salary is based on experience and qualifications according to UC Davis guidelines.

To apply: E-mail a PDF file containing your CV, short description of your research experience relevant to this position, and contact details for three references to Mario Biagioli (, MacKenzie Smith (, Jonathan Eisen (

Applications are due by April 15, 2014.

Just the Interest Group for You: Digital Practices in History and Ethnography

I would like to share news of the formation of an interest group in an area of interest that I know I share with many Shreds and Patches readers. The group is known as the “Digital Practices in History and Ethnography” Interest Group and it is a constituent interest group within 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. The RDA aims to enhance capacity to archive, preserve, analyze and share data, and to foster collaboration across research communities.  My DPHE colleagues and I invite you to join this interest group, and to participate in its online discussions. Biannual RDA meetings are an opportunity to meet face-to-face with others in our area, and with researchers in other areas.

The RDA website describes RDA’s full array of interest and working groups, and the mission, structure and process of the RDA.  You can join the DPHE interest group at no cost by following these steps:

1. Navigate to the RDA website.

2. Register in the top right hand corner of the site.

3. Once you’ve finished your registration and are logged in, navigate here:

4. In the middle of the page, click Request Group Membership

5. Answer the form question with a yes, and then you should be subscribed.

The second RDA Plenary was held in Washington D.C. September 16-18, 2013.  Our group discussed its mission and plan at a session on Wednesday afternoon, and circulated a list of discussion questions for on-going consideration by the group.

We’ve now started a discussion thread about metadata in historical and ethnographic research.

We’ve also scheduled held several project review sessions and plan to continue holding these events online in coming months. Early sessions in our series have looked at the

Perseids project (A Collaborative Editing Platform for Source Documents in Classics)

and the

Nunaliit Atlas Framework

As detailed here, Garett Montanez and I will present tomorrow (2/13) at a project share (1 pm, eastern time) event focused on the Open Folklore project. The presentation will be online and is free and open to anyone interested.

The DPHE group will be pursuing additional project-focused presentations, as well as open discussions of common interests and concerns.

My fellow DPHE IG co-chairs Mike and Kim Fortun (RPI) and I look forward to your participation.  Please let us know if you have

On the New Volume of Museum Anthropology Review

Museum Anthropology Review (MAR) has just published a new double issue—its first themed collection. Volume 7, number 1-2 of MAR collects papers originally presented at a January 2012 workshop titled “After the Return: Digital Repatriation and the Circulation of Indigenous Knowledge.” Hosted by the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution and funded by the (U.S.) National Science Foundation and the Understanding the American Experience and World Cultures Consortia of the Smithsonian Institution, the workshop was organized by Kimberly Christen (Washington State University), Joshua Bell (Smithsonian Institution), and Mark Turin (Yale University). The workshop brought together scholars from indigenous communities, cultural anthropology, folklore studies, ethnomusicology, linguistics, and collecting institutions to document best practices and case studies of digital repatriation in order to theorize the broad impacts of such processes in relation to: linguistic revitalization of endangered languages, cultural revitalization of traditional practices, and the creation of new knowledge stemming from the return of digitized material culture. Like the workshop itself, the peer-reviewed and revised papers collected in MAR ask how, and if, marginalized communities can reinvigorate their local knowledge practices, languages, and cultural products through the reuse of digitally repatriated materials and distributed technologies. The authors of the collected papers all have expertise in applied digital repatriation projects and share theoretical concerns that locate knowledge creation within both culturally specific dynamics and technological applications.

Find this special issue of MAR online at:

As it has always been, MAR is an open access, peer-reviewed journal free to all readers. With volume 8, to be published in 2014, MAR is becoming the journal of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. It will continue to be published in partnership with the Indiana University Libraries with assistance from the IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and other partners.

2014 will bring new enhancements to MAR. To keep up with the journal, please sign up as a reader, follow it on Twitter @museanthrev, and/or like it on Facebook.

Bourke-White Exhibition Opening

Congratulations to exhibition curator Alex Lichtenstein on the very successful opening, this evening, of “Photos in Black and White: Margaret Bourke-White and the Dawn of Apartheid in South Africa.” More than 130 students, community members, photography enthusiasts, faculty members, Mathers Museum boosters, and Mellon Innovating International Research, Teaching and Collaboration (MIIRT) conference participants converged on the MMWC from 4 to 6 pm today to see, and learn from, Alex’s exhibition, to discuss South Africa, past and present, and to hear from Alex and two special guests from South Africa–Dudu Madonsela, Chief Curator at the Bensusan Museum of Photography in Johannesburg, and leading contemporary photographer Cedric Nunn. Thanks to everyone who participated in the opening and who lent support to the exhibition and its associated activities.

If you missed the opening, or just want to go further with it, you can check out the companion website, attend the upcoming symposium or film series, and, for the truly ambitious, see the exhibition when it travels to South Africa next year. The exhibition can, of course, be seen at the MMWC throughout the rest of 2013.

The MMWC Newsletter and Other Infrastructure: Building our Bazaar


The Mathers Museum of World Cultures (MMWC) has a new newsletter. The cover for MMWC #1 is shown above. Clicking on it should take you to the whole issue as it appears on the online publishing platform Issuu. To add the newsletter to your hoard of PDFs, you can download it from the MMWC website download it here. For the long haul, we will soon add the newsletter to the museum’s “community” in the IUScholarWorks Repository.

Before talking about the newsletter as infrastructure, I want to thank MMWC Assistant Director Judy Kirk for her great work getting it edited and launched. This is a small summer issue that recaps some recent MMWC developments. A forward-looking fall issue will follow it very soon. While thanking Judy, I want to also thank the whole MMWC community–staff, volunteers, students, researchers, advisory board members, donors–for the work that we begin reporting in this first issue of the newsletter.

One of the museum’s accomplishments of the first half of 2013 was the establishment of an ambitious strategic plan. One thread running through that plan is work aimed at putting into place a range of kinds of museum “infrastructure.” Some of this will be very visible to the museum’s friends and supporters, other kinds of infrastructure will help the museum do its behind-the-scenes work more effectively. As I can, I will try to tell the story of our infrastructure work here. I have found the public reporting of my colleagues and of peer-institutions extremely helpful and my aim here is to reciprocate in appreciation for what I have learned from them. (For a recent example, consider this great account of the building of a teaching lab at the Penn Museum.) Read more

Last but Not Least: Hacking the Academy–the Print and Ebook Editions

I am pleased to note that the University of Michigan Press has now published the print and ebook editions of Hacking the Academy: New Approaches to Scholarship and Teaching from Digital Humanities. This volume was organized and edited by Daniel J. Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt and is part of the press’ Digital Humanities series.

Followers of the project will know that this is just the latest iteration of a multimodal effort. The history of the project is narrated in numerous places, including in the preface to the free open web version (made available earlier by the Press’s Digital Culture Books unit). Very instructive is the more primordial version (inclusive of much content not in the book) at

I was trilled to participate in the project with an abridged version of a blog post that first appeared here (still a best seller after several years). That original post was called “Getting Yourself Out of the Business in Five East Steps” and it promotes resisting the increasing enclosure of scholarly publishing by large multinational firms. (In the new book, it appears on pages 13-14.)

Everyone reasonably wonders about the point of a print edition of a “book” born out of twitter links and weblogs posts. Here is how the editors address this point.

Finally, the reader may legitimately ask: Doesn’t the existence of Hacking the Academy as a book undermine its argument? Why put this supposedly firebrand work into a traditional form? The answer is that we wanted this project to have maximal impact and especially to reach those for whom RSS and Twitter are alien creatures. Moreover, one of the main themes of this volume—and of digital technology—is that scholarly and educational content can exist in multiple forms for multiple audiences.

A review of the book edition, but someone new to the effort (who missed the earlier instances), has been published on the Education Technology and Change (ETC) blog.

Thanks to all of the editors, contributors, readers, and publishers involved in this experimental work.

Its the Day of Digital Humanities 2013!

The Day of DH (Digital Humanities) has just begun (4-8-2013). I am hoping to participate as my schedule allows and I look forward to learning from other project participants. Learn more about the project here:

My Day of DH Blog is located here:

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