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Posts from the ‘Ethnographic Archives’ Category

An Interview with Dorothy J. Berry, Metadata Specialist and Project Manager for Umbra, an Initiative of the Givens Collection of African American Literature, University of Minnesota Libraries

While a graduate student at Indiana University, Dorothy J. Berry concurrently earned an MA degree in ethnomusicology from the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and a MLS degree from the Department of Information and Library Science. She undertook several projects at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, including work co-curating the 2014 exhibition Ojibwe Public Art, Ostrom Private Lives. Her masters research focused on African American musical theater in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era and she has broad interests in the curation and presentation of historical and cultural materials. She has just begun work as Metadata Specialist and Project Manager for Umbra, “a free digital platform and widget that brings together content documenting African American history and culture.” The Umbra project is an initiative of the University of Minnesota Libraries.

Jason Jackson (JJ): Its great to catchup with you Dorothy! Congratulations on your new post at Minnesota. As you know, I am a huge fan of the work being done at the University of Minnesota Libraries, thus I am really eager to catchup with you and your efforts there. Umbra sounds very ambitious in terms of its technical work, its institutional partnerships, and its culture-changing goals. What is it all about and how are you beginning to contribute?

Dorothy Berry (DB): Umbra is ambitious in scope, indeed! In clear technical jargon, Umbra is an African American digital archives aggregate. It will provide an accessible interface for researchers at various experience levels to explore African American archival materials from across a wide variety of repositories, from huge institutions like the Smithsonian to smaller, but still vital cultural heritage sites like the Jacob Fontaine Religious Museum. Umbra works as a gathering place for African American collections, placing far flung digitized holdings within the broader context of African American history.

Up until now, Umbra has primarily worked with its over 500 contributing institutions to get their already digitized holdings accessible through the site. My position as Metadata Specialist and Project Manager is part of a Council on Library and Information Resources funded grant to digitize over half a million holdings from over 70 collections across the University of Minnesota Libraries system. U of M library staff and faculty have already gone through their wealth of collections looking for hidden records related to African American history—collections which on their face may not be directly related to Black history but have turned out to have breadcrumb trails leading to newly contextualized rich resources. At this point, we are in the digitization and metadata augmentation stage. There is a fantastic cadre of student workers doing large batch scanning and quality control. My position involves supervising their work, as well as using my research background in African American history to add to the metadata for these recontextualized items, making them more easily findable to future scholars studying Black history both in Umbra and in U of M’s Online Finding Aids and UMedia. Not to mention, of course, documenting the process along the way so that other major institutions can potentially implement a similar hidden holdings digitization plan for marginalized histories within their own collections.

In spite, or perhaps because, of the broad scope of the project Umbra has very clear pathways from both the front and back ends. My fellow Umbra team members with more forward facing positions are really masterful at organizing with stakeholders from all levels of participation and creating an aesthetically engaging and community engaged portal, and this massive addition from the University of Minnesota Libraries will go even further in making Umbra a research destination.

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Dorothy J. Berry shares historic film photographs with Danny Glover, star of stage and screen.

JJ: That sounds awesome. I look forward to using it in my own work and teaching! In my experiences visiting there and talking with librarians and campus leaders, I came to see that Minnesota has long been a leader in special collections development and has advocated an approach to access that is mindful of broad and diverse community needs. It seems that your work there is a part and parcel to a wider embrace of open access values and practices. There is also the context of the Big Ten Academic Alliance—what we until recently called the Committee on Institutional Cooperation or CIC. Minnesota is part of a community of universities and libraries committed to working on such things in an innovative way. Indiana University is part of that environment too. How have your graduate studies and the hands-on work that you did at IU prepared you for the work that you are now doing?

DB: I think the wealth of hand’s on opportunities available at Indiana University are what have most prepared me for professional life. While a graduate student I had a two year assistantship at the Archives of African American Music and Culture, one year at the Black Film Center/Archive, a year’s practicum at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, and a semester practicum in the Film Archive. Librarianship in particular is a field that expects its emerging professionals to already have a wealth of experiences before getting that first full time job—I don’t believe I’ve ever really seen a job listing that didn’t ask for at least two years experience, unless it was a specific “recent graduates” oriented position (few and far between!). Having the opportunity to work at a variety of cultural heritage repositories in both front and back of house positions, exhibitions and cataloging, really set me up to have a set of skills and experiences that demonstrate competency, even from a very recent graduate.

On the academic side, I think the pursuit of a dual masters is really key for reaching new levels of accomplishment in archives and museums, especially when it comes to dealing with marginalized people’s collections. My job involves adding value to pre-existing metadata—something that requires technical archival skills, but also a focused research background. Every archivist I’ve known has great research abilities and can quickly become an expert in the collection they’re currently dealing with, but I think specific experience with rigorous research in a specific area leads to richer and more diverse finding aids and exhibits. Studying ethnomusicology was particularly of use as it established a research praxis that values discrete cultural intent, which is useful when working with marginalized people’s collections, but also with historical collections as well. My focus has always been on historical ethnomusicology, and I’m a proponent of the idea of research-based historic ethnography. I believe that work in understanding historic lived experiences from the perspective of the day is integral in fairly representing archival collections, which is increasingly important in the more widely accessible world of digital archives.

JJ: That is a great expression of the value of both hands-on work and interdisciplinary or multi-disciplinary academic training. You also stress something that I also care about, the continued importance of historical work in ethnographic fields that have often become very present-centered. In your concern for the historical experiences of marginalized groups, I hear you rightly stressing the need to understand and represent such peoples in their own historical contexts. This is part of the Umbra mission, as I read it. But this initiative clearly is also doing important social or political work in the present. Umbra’s name reminds us, for instance, of “a renegade group of Black writers and poets who helped create the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s.” I cannot stop thinking about all that is happening right now in our tragic, shared American present. What are some of the roles that you emphasize when you think about the work of the archivist and curator of African American cultural materials in the present?

DB: What’s most important to me as an African American archivist/Archivist of African American materials is to use the past to inform the present that Black history has always been filled with a gradient of experiences, emotions, activism, and suffering. Because African American history is taught at a very surface level, usually beginning vaguely before the Civil War, people of all colors often come away with a historical timeline along the lines of “Antebellum slaves-Civil War-Maybe Harlem Renaissance-Civil Rights Movement-People had Afros-Hip Hop in the 90s.” Archivists have the ability to show materials from the hands of African Americans and people of African descent from the earliest periods of North American colonization, showing not only that Black people have always been here, but that those Black people were not tropes pushing forward a linear narrative of American history. Primary documents have the ability to humanize in a way that even the best written non-fiction book cannot, and Archivists are the gatekeepers for this information.

I think we are in a time of extreme hunger for this sort of history, in the face of racism that says Black life is one-note and useless. Letters, publications, notes, films, photos—they force people to see that Black life has always been an integral sinew in the American corpus, and that Black people are human. That phrase “that Black people are human,” should be trite but we live in a segmented society that has long seemed to view African Americans as symbols, as stand-ins for cultural and social issues. Fleshing out human experience is an incredibly important role for all cultural heritage workers, but I think archivists have a really unique ability to share things that can completely turn a worldview on it’s head.

I love African American musical theater of the turn of the 20th century, and people usually get a chuckle out of how obscure that topic sounds. At the end of the day though, it was not an obscure topic at the time—we are talking about celebrities amongst Blacks and Whites, who staged financially and culturally successful performances and were well-known enough to have invitations for private performances from the Rothschilds and the British Royal Family. When the average person thinks of turn of the century Black life, they might think share-croppers, Great Migration, Jim Crow. Those are all realities, but so are popular entertainers and more frivolous things—because Black life has always been diverse and complex (something always assumed of White American populations, but rarely of Black ones).

At the same time, I think it’s important for people who work in historical contexts to not get so comfortable in the past that they ignore the present. When I am speaking on archival objects from the past, I do so to inform and complicate understandings of the present. One of the best recent examples of addressing contemporary understandings while exploring a historical document can be seen in Musical Passage: A Voyage to 1688 Jamaica. This project explores some of the earliest transcriptions of African diasporic music in the Americas using two pages from a 17th century book called Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica. Decisions like referring to the planter class as “…people involved in colonizing Jamaica and enslaving Africans in pursuit of profit” might seem trivial, but is a powerful step in discussing archival history without traditional deference to a presumed white readership.

The other role I find incredibly important, personally, is that of someone who is a vocal trained expert who is not easily cowed. This is a role of personal importance because I do not think it is necessarily required of every archivist of color or person working with marginalized people’s collections, but it is one that I try to fulfill as someone with the disposition and positionality to feel comfortable doing so. I have found that many White scholars in a variety of fields assume that people of color who work with materials from their own ethnic/racial/cultural groups are not true scholars—that their expertise comes solely from lived experience and personal opinion. Lived experiences and personal opinions are not without value, of course, but it is important for me to stop those fellow scholars and say “Oh, I hear that you are devaluing my expertise, but we are actually going to talk about this right now.”

I was recently talking to two very intelligent medievalists and said in passing that “race is made up.” They both know me as someone with multiple degrees and professional experience working with archival materials, but one of them immediately scoffed and brought up the dreaded specter of “internet social justice warriors.” I could tell this was something I was supposed to let slide, but instead began a discussion on the undefined “white person” of the 1790 Naturalization Act and the various court-cases and social movements that followed in attempts to create meaning for “white person.” This type of intellectual and emotional labor is, in brief, a pain. I personally find it remarkably important, however, to use my role as a researcher and archivist to plant Black history firmly in the minds of fellow scholars who might, consciously or not, attempt to ignore the historical and archival record solely because they don’t understand or like the 21st century discourse around race.

JJ: Given that talking such issues through over and over again for the larger social good is, as you note, a pain—even as it is also remarkably important—I am very thankful that you were willing to speak to them so eloquently here in the context of your work. In further shaping your understandings of them and in the professional practice that you pursue around them, did you find mentors and allies here at IU during your studies? My hopeful self hopes so, but my worried self worries “not-so-much.”

DB: I don’t know that I’d say I found mentors but that is mainly because my personality doesn’t really seek out that sort of individual one-on-one relationship, for better or for worse. I found many, many people who provided intellectual, professional, and sometimes even emotional support, however. Within the department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Fernando Orejuela has always been a great champion and someone with whom I could discus navigating the racial and social problematics of academic life. My time working at the Mathers was fairly instrumental as well, because I had the opportunity to talk with people working with collections, exhibitions, curation. I found everyone there very supportive of professional intentions/potential and was given a lot of opportunity to discus processes and learn. In the other degree side, I spent a lot of time working with Andy Uhrich and Brian Graney, of the University Film Archives and Black Film Center/Archives respectively. They were very much super-allies of the Dorothy-cause, providing again that combination of education and professional freedom that I think is really valuable for graduate students. Graduate students need to learn huge amounts, obviously, but without hands-on projects the job market outside of academia doesn’t really care how many papers you’ve read. There are other professors, Judah Cohen in the Jacobs School [of Music], Terri Francis in the Media School, who really encouraged and challenged me intellectually.

I think there are definitely people at IU who presented serious problems for me, but that is to be expected in life! It is an effort to find and pursue the people that can add to your experiences, but for me it was certainly worth it.

JJ: I am obviously glad that the MMWC provided some of the useful opportunities that you drew upon and took advantage of. I am also glad that you took the Curatorship course and then followed up with hands-on projects at the museum. Engaging a diversity of people and organizations seems to be one key lesson that I read out of your experience. I know that the museum and I benefit from the diversity of students and other stakeholders with whom we engage.

In your new role, you are encountering many different collecting organizations, collections, and collection items. Is there one—at any of these levels—that has really struck a chord with you and that you would like to narrate? (This is the “favorite object” question reworked in an archival context, of course.)

DB: I’m so fresh into the position I haven’t had too much to explore, but in my first week I came across some really interesting holdings in the Social Welfare History Collection. I was pulling files and enriching metadata from a large collection called the Verne Weed Collection for Progressive Social Work, that holds the papers for a variety of activist social workers. That collection contains the Jack Kamaiko Papers, and a subsection of those papers were marked as relevant. The files all had titles along the lines of “USS New Orleans Segregation,” so I originally thought, “Hmm maybe this is someone who was fighting against segregation in the Navy? Maybe a lawyer, maybe someone who was discriminated against themselves?” When I looked through the first file, however, it was all correspondences dealing the the purchase of the Senator Hotel in New Orleans. I had no idea what that could possibly have to do with anything. I tried Googling, and came up with maybe two relevant results that all hinted at the real story.

In the 1940s, the United Seamen’s Service, a non-profit that works for the welfare of seafarers by providing services and local information, attempted to purchase the Senator Hotel to provide recreation and temporary housing for both African American and White seamen. Though the housing would be separated into two segregated wings, with separate entrances, local forces in the French Quarter railed against the close proximity. Jack Kamaiko, who would later go on to become a well respected professor at Hunter College’s School of Social Work, was employed by the United Seamen’s Service and kept letters, telegrams, and ephemera detailing the eventually unsuccessful purchase. These kinds of materials are exciting because while they are accessible at this point to scholars who know where to look, once they are digitized and added to Umbra Search they will be easily discoverable for anyone simply searching for “Segregation in New Orleans.” That kind of fleshing out of the historical record, showing the ongoing fights for fair treatment, provide the “vindicating evidence” that Arturo Schomburg described as his intellectual pursuit. Evidence that Black history is now and has always been, American history.

JJ: That’s an interesting collection and a great point to close on. Thank you so much for sharing your work with me.

Funding for Collections Research at Indiana University

This wonderful program of the Indiana University Institute for Advanced Study provides support for researchers–including community-based scholars–to study collections held at Indiana University. The Mathers Museum of World Cultures is one of the eligible repositories. Details are available in the request for proposals, which is copied below:

Announcement for distribution:

The Indiana University Institute for Advanced Study is now accepting applications for its 2016 Summer Repository Research Fellowship. In partnership with repositories on the IU Bloomington campus and supported by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, the program funds a short-term fellowship for a faculty member or community scholar to conduct in-depth research in the collections of one or more of our partner repositories. Applicants from Minority Serving Institutions, community colleges, and source communities are welcome. Preference will be given to applicants who are collaborating with Indiana University Bloomington faculty members.

This initiative is intended to support research in the rich collections of the IU Bloomington campus and to build partnerships between scholars at and beyond IUB.  The fellowship provides funding for travel costs, accommodation, per diem, and a two-week stipend.  Please note: This fellowship is intended to support research in IU Bloomington’s unique collections; the application should focus on materials that cannot be accessed elsewhere.

Summer 2016 partner repositories include the Archives of African American Music and Culture, the Archives of Traditional Music, the Black Film Center/Archive, the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology, The IU Art Museum, the IU Herbarium, the IU Libraries, the IU Paleontology Collection, the Jerome Hall Law Library, the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, and the Sinor Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies Central Asian Archives. Applications are due by March 21, 2016. For application materials and additional information, please visit our website at http://ias.indiana.edu/fellows/summer-research-fellowship/ .

Notes on an Eastern Cherokee Gathering Basket

For me, new light was just cast on a basket in the William C. Sturtevant Collection in the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. In the mail, I just received a slew of basketry books. This is a topic on which I need to get caught up for a number of interconnected purposes, including for the analysis and publication of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures basketry collections (especially the Eastern Cherokee baskets, which will be the focus of an exhibition that I will co-curate).

Among the used books that I just received is Baskets and Basket Makers in Southern Appalachia by John Rice Irwin (Exton, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1982). In a chapter devoted to “The Indian Influence on Southern Appalachian Mountain Baskets” the author describes a relatively unfamiliar (to me, at this stage, at least) basket form on the basis of an example believed (to the author, at least) to be Cherokee and collected in Buncombe County, NC (p. 157). The basket discussed by Irwin is similarly shaped and similarly sized to a basket that I studied a few summers ago in the Sturtevant collection at NMNH. The splint basket that Sturtevant collected among the Eastern Cherokee is pictured here:

Eastern Cherokee Basket

Eastern Cherokee Basket, NMNH, Temporary Number WCS 322

Eastern Cherokee Gathering Basket

Eastern Cherokee Basket, NMNH, Temporary Number WCS 322

IMG_4760

Eastern Cherokee Basket, NMNH, Temporary Number WCS 322

It shares the same, flat on one side, curved on the other, shape as the basket pictured by Irwin. In a photo on p. 157, Irwin photographed a older boy holding the basket under his right arm, thereby illustrating how the shape of both baskets facilitates the collecting of berries, nuts, etc. with both hands. Prior to getting direct information from a Cherokee consultant who has made or used such a basket, this (that is, Irwin’s) is a much better account of this shape and its use that I had been speculating about.

 

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. https://rd-alliance.org/

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

3. Once you’ve finished your registration and are logged in, navigate here: https://www.rd-alliance.org/internal-groups/digital-practices-history-and-ethnography-ig.html

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) http://sites.tufts.edu/perseids/

and the

Nunaliit Atlas Framework http://nunaliit.org/

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excellent Symposium Concludes 2013 Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology

Many things have been happening lately–so many that keeping up with them here has been difficult. Many good things have gone unreported and some bad current events (global and national, not personal) have gone un-commented upon. I am pleased though to celebrate the conclusion of the 2013 Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology. I was invited to join the institute for its last week and a half and to participate in its concluding symposium at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) on the Mall in Washington. In the symposium, SIMA’s twelve graduate student participants presented the initial findings of their four-week research projects utilizing the (amazing) collections–both objects and archival materials–of the NMNH Department of Anthropology. The students came to SIMA from many different graduate programs and backgrounds and possessed a diversity of historical, ethnographic, topical, and theoretical interests. They did wonderful work and I learned a lot from their studies and from their careful and compelling reporting. While they have further to go, of course, with their projects, I think that it is pretty exciting to hear the results of four intensive weeks of research as the concluding act of that same four week process. Quite remarkable.

I am very appreciative of my continued association with this wonderful program. I am glad that I have been able to help it continue moving along so well.

SIMA will happen again next summer. Details will be posted here on the SIMA website in the months ahead.

The Woody Guthrie Center Seeks Executive Director, Educator

The emergent Woodie Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma (one of my favorite places) is seeking to fill two key positions: (1) Executive Director/Chief Curator and (2) Educator and Public Programs Manager. These are great opportunities in an exciting new venture to be built around the Woody Guthrie Archives . Find out about both the Director and Educator jobs on the Oklahoma Museum Association website.

New Beginnings: Mathers Museum of World Cultures

Today I had the privilege of beginning work as Director of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. I will surely write about the work of the museum extensively in the months ahead. Here I just want to thank the museum’s staff for welcoming me and thank the Indiana University administration for giving me this exceptional opportunity to do the  work that I love.

I could single out countless museum objects, collections, colleagues, goals, or aspirations to write about here, but I will use this post to acknowledge the long and important service of my predecessor Geoffrey W. Conrad. The Mathers Museum celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and Geoff led the museum for nearly 30 of those years. The museum accomplished a tremendous amount over those three decades and it is exciting to have a chance to collaborate in building upon the solid foundation that Geoff and the staff built over the span of his long and distinguished career leading the museum.

Director, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Having been asked to do so, I am happy to share news that the Smithsonian Institution is seeking applications for the position of Director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. This is an important and exciting post. See the details below:

The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian Institution, is accepting applications and nominations for a Director. The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage is responsible for planning, developing, and managing programs which have as their major objectives the research, documentation, presentation and conservation of living traditional and grassroots folk cultures of the United States and of other countries. The director is responsible for the administrative direction and management of all Center program activities including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, exhibitions, symposia, scholarly research, cultural heritage policy, educational projects and all media, as well as the participation of other Smithsonian museums and programs in national celebration events and National Mall events. The Director represents, at national and international levels, Smithsonian concerns relating to the understanding of the cultural representation of living heritage, as well as public sector folklore, and policies related to them. The Director will have a proven track record of leadership, management and fundraising skills to run a unique multi-disciplinary cultural organization. The successful applicant must have a degree in a relevant field, management level experience in public programming, and have earned a presence in the scholarly and/or cultural community. The Smithsonian offers a competitive salary commensurate with experience and a comprehensive benefit plan including a lucrative, fully vested retirement program with TIAA- CREF. For detailed information on the position, qualifications and application instructions, go to http://www.sihr.si.edu/jobs.cfm and scroll to position announcement EX-13-01. We are only accepting online applications for this position. For questions or additional information, contact Tom Lawrence, 202-633-6319 or lawrencet@si.edu. The Smithsonian Institution is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

A First Rate Podcast: Artisan Ancestors Visits the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology

A perfect example of how scholarly research in folklore and anthropology can be made accessible and interesting for a wider audience is the Artisan Ancestors podcast produced and hosted by my friend and colleague Jon Kay. (Jon is, among other roles, the Director of Traditional Arts Indiana.) If you have not yet encountered the Artisan Ancestors show, I urge you to check it out. As Jon describes it, the focus of the show is on strategies for “researching creative lives and handmade things.” Jon does interviews with people involved in such work with the goals of encouraging and guiding newcomers to such studies and of expanding the horizons of those already deeply involved. Long adept in the skills of the public folklorist, Jon has mastered the podcast genre. He is a great interviewer and he knows how to do in interview with the needs of his audience and the requirements of the medium in mind. The production values are high but it is clear that he has worked out a system that gets good results without endless, expensive work.

In his newest episode (#26) Jon interviews Dr. Candace Greene, another friend and the Director of the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA). The interview explores the purposes and goals of SIMA in a way that not only introduces this training program (for which I was a faculty member this past summer) but also encourages deeper understanding of the broader value of museum collections for research in social and cultural history. It is a great interview and listening to it will illustrate not only the value of the SIMA effort but also suggest the value of podcasting initiatives such as Artisan Ancestors. Kudos to Jon and Candace for their great job with this episode.

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