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Posts from the ‘In the Media’ Category

Who Cares About Craft as Traditional Knowledge?

This fall has been a particularly busy season for research-based programs at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. An an outgrowth of our Indiana Folk Arts: 200 Years of Tradition and Innovation exhibition and our participation in classes and programs for Themester, we will have hosted, by semester’s end, a very large number craftspeople or groups of craftspeople representative of a broad swath of vernacular making in Indiana. Because of our Themester mandate to focus on questions of Beauty in our engagements with these artist-craftspeople, our discussions with them have always had an aesthetic component. We have asked, for instance, questions like: “What characteristics do you associate with a beautiful weaving [or chair, or drum, or pottery bowl, or…]?” or “When producing for the marketplace, how do you balance functional use and aesthetic impact?” Art and aesthetics are a crucial part of the human experience and of what makes cultures distinctive and meaningful.

But the objects that we curate and interpret, and the makers of things with whom we engage, are not only about art. Even while many have both aesthetic and functional purposes, many others of our museum’s objects are not reasonably framed as art and some of our interlocutors are talented, knowledgeable makers and users of things, without being artists. Our work is bigger than art, as important as art is. Aesthetic values are part of larger cultural systems and those larger wholes are our focus. Whether in China or in Indiana, our work is about local knowledge, including traditional cultural knowledge. A big part of our engagements with makers focuses on the knowledge that goes into making–craft expertise along with local environmental and contextual knowledge concerned with uses, meanings, significances.

A detailed story in last Saturday’s Independent by Amalia Illgner is a good evocation of the kinds of concern we (particularly Traditional Arts Indiana, led ably by my colleague Jon Kay) try to bring to our work with craft objects, craft knowledge, and craftspeople. (I appreciate Matthew Bradley for sharing it with me.) Read the story (“Raiders of the Lost Crafts”) here. (I note here that, despite the declensionist hook and playful title, the author is not so obsessed with authenticity discourses that she disregards fruitful rediscovery of older craft knowledge through the study of museum collections and documentary materials. The story is a rare and rather sophisticated treatment of its subject.)

raiders-of-the-lost-crafts

Who cares about craft as traditional knowledge? My colleagues and I do. We also like art and we also love seeing where contemporary craftspeople, including studio craft, DIY craft, and many others, are taking their passions–but documenting what people know and have long known is important and helping foster environments where those who have traditional cultural knowledge are supported and encouraged is key part of our mission. If you care about such things, you still have lots of chances to engage your interests at the museum this year. This week we will host a wonderful group of African American quilters and a talented maker of African drums. In following weeks, we offer chances to connect with Indiana limestone carvers, a hoop-net maker, a rosemaler, a pysanky artist, a Native American potter, a Zapotec weaver, and an Orthodox iconographer. Learning from such craftspeople is something we intend to keep doing as along as we can.

Tomorrow! Workshop on Social Media and Academic Freedom

Social media panel discussion flyer

Hostile Workplaces

Bad workplaces in broader social context is a theme in my social reading today.

I very much recommend reading Paige West’s essay “That person at your office.” (via @subliminaries c/o @professorisin)

I also recommend a piece that I read a while back that is back in the news because the labor leader at the center of the story was apparently fired today. The story is by Sarah Kendzior and it is called “The Minimum Wage Worker Strikes Back.” (via @sarahkendzior)

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

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

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

#Altmetrics Coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education

This week’s Chronicle of Higher Education includes extensive coverage of the topic of altmetrics by Jennifer Howard. There are two companion stories, but the main one is “Rise of ‘Altmetrics’ Revives Questions About How to Measure Impact of Research.” If you can get access to the Chronicle, this main story can be found here. I spoke to Ms. Howard during her research and was quoted in the story. My discussions with her drew upon the collaborative work of the Faculty Advisory Board for the Office of Scholarly Publishing (at Indiana University) as well as my participation in campus events focused on the reassessment of tenure and promotion guidelines. As might be suggested from the quotations that she shared, our discussions sat on the border between the altmetrics discussion and a neighboring conversation–what is increasingly being discussed as the “what counts?” issue. The later theme concerns questions of genre in scholarly communication under significantly changing circumstances. My hope is that Ms. Howard will have a chance to return to the later theme in future work. She is a fine communicator and a great observer of academic publishing, technology, the digital humanities and neighboring realms. If you can access it, please check out her stories. They are a helpful introduction to the places where we are now.

Tweeter Arrested [#IUonStrike]

This is an update on the bad news side of my post from yesterday. The tweet that I described and then described as disappearing was made by a student who has now been arrested on a preliminary felony charge of intimidation. This has been reported publicly now by Bloomington Herald Times reporter Abby Tonsing.

It is worth noting that, as my web scouting last night began revealing to me, the tweeter has been an opinion writer for the IU student newspaper (the IDS) and seems to specialized in careless and willfully inflammatory criticism of progressives and their politics. His inappropriate tweet was part of a campaign of hassling the strikers and, it seems, more generally provoking mayhem. His conduct thus appears to be the campus equivalent of right wing talk (and shock) radio and its print and TV analogs. Even as satire, I condemn his act as reprehensible for an educated person who is seeking to speak in a public forum. I am more unforgiving than at least some of the #IUonStrike participants. The IU on Strike twitter account offered this:

Tweettweet 2

I support free speech, but rights come with companion responsibilities attached. Rights are talked about indignantly a lot right now, but I wish more attention was being paid to responsibilities, particularly to one’s neighbors.

Update: As reported by Laura Lane for the Herald Times on April 16, 2013, charges are not being pursued in this case. http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/stories/2013/04/16/news.no-charges-coming-in-death-threat-tweet.sto

Good News | Bad News

On the good news front, students, faculty, staff, and friends associated with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures continue to come together to do good work and illustrate why museums are good places to gather, talk, think, study, and try to make a difference. As I move into my fourth month as the museum’s director, I feel so thankful for everyone’s interest in, and support of, the museum’s efforts. Here are some highlights from recent days.

Last Saturday the museum hosted a great “Meet the Collection” event. The focus was the museum’s collection of handmade chairs by Chester Cornett. This collection was assembled by folklorist Michael Owen Jones during his doctoral research at Indiana. Some chairs came to the museum at the time of Jones’ initial student research, but others were recently donated by this now distinguished UCLA scholar. Jon Kay, James Seaver, and Ellen Sieber all contributed remarks that led to a wider group conversation to which Joanne Stuttgen, Pravina Shukla, Henry Glassie and others contributed valuable questions, observations, and historical reflections.

A recent IU press release describes a 2nd Meet the Collection event as part of the series of events celebrating the museum’s 50th anniversary. The next gathering focuses on the museum’s collection of Aboriginal Australian bark paintings and will feature remarks by Earlham College art historian Julia May. The gathering will be held at the museum from 2 to 3 pm on Saturday, April 27. Please join us if you can. (The IU press release linked to here focuses on the upcoming Treasures of the Mathers Museum exhibition. I will focus on that in an future post.)

More good news at the museum was reported in the latest issue of Inside IU Bloomington. Bethany Nolan wrote a great article profiling the work the students in my Curatorship are doing studying the ethnographic collection given to the museum by the late Vincent and Elinor Ostrom. The quotes that the students gave Bethany would be music to any teacher’s ears. Alumni of this graduate course are now doing great things as museum professionals and it is exciting to teaching it again, particularly in a spirit of hopefulness. Public folklore and museum anthropology–these are fields that have roots that extend back to the time before the fields became rooted in academia. They were alt-ac (ie. alternative to academic careers) before these fields even had an “ac” track. As neighboring humanities disciplines begin (sometimes for the first time and in a spirit of panic and despair) to seriously consider non-academic careers for their graduate students, it is great to point to a deep tradition of engaged research-based public humanities work in museums and to be able to illustrate the skills required and the path ways that can be taken.

It helps to have role models. A graduate of my department, Michael Mason, has just been named Director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Smithsonian. He is moving over to this new leadership role from the National Museum of Natural History, also at the Smithsonian, where he has been serving as Assistant Director for Exhibitions. (Read all about it in a recent Smithsonian press release.) I do not want to get ahead of the institution that has just hired her, but a current student in my department has just been hired into an impressive postdoctoral fellowship aimed at bridging academic and museum work in New York City. At the other most distinguished end of the career spectrum, one of our department’s most innovative and impactful graduates is Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. Barbara is in the news constantly now because she is playing a central role in the development of the (soon to open) Museum of the History of Polish Jews. As core exhibition designer for the museum, she is drawing upon all the lessons she has learned over an amazing career as a Jewish ethnographer, cultural theorist, museums studies specialist, public folklorist, and NYU professor of performance studies. Reporting on the (incredible) museum (to be) and her work is ubiquitous, but one can dip into it in a recent Tablet magazine story “Curator of Joy and Ashes” to gain a sense of the amazing effort.

Back home at the Mathers, I feel like we are having success.

Read more

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.

The AAA Author Agreement is Not the Same as the New MLA Author Agreement

If I am wrong about this, I hope that someone in a position of authority will explain clearly why my understanding is in error.

As I have discussed previously, the American Anthropological Association has an author agreement that allows for the circulation of author post-prints down the “green” OA (open access) path. It has had this author agreement for a number of years and it is a worthy thing that the association can be proud of.

The Modern Languages Association has recently announced changes to its author agreement. These changes are also designed to facilitate green open access practices. (For the announcement see here. For reporting in Inside Higher Education see here. For commentary from Kevin Smith at Duke, see here.)

The MLA has been receiving a lot of positive attention in the wake of its announcement.

Commenting on the story presented in Inside Higher Education Hugh Gusterson credited the MLA with making a positive step, but chided IHE for suggesting that this move was novel among scholarly societies, pointing to the green status of the AAA policy. The suggestion of Gusterson’s comment is that the two policies are equivalent because they both allow authors to post articles on websites and in repositories. Gusterson is someone whose research I respect and who is working hard on AAA publishing issues as a member of the association’s Anthropological Communications Committee.

More recently, on the AAA blog and in a tweet from the AAA twitter account, this argument is made in more elaborate terms. The AAA is basically saying that its author agreement is equivalent to the new MLA one and that anthropologists should be proud (rather than alarmed) that the AAA got there first. The blog post notes: “AAA members should rest assured that such an agreement is not new to publishing; in fact AAA journal authors have enjoyed this practice for quite a while.” There is no need for me to quote extensively from the blog post. It is there for interested readers to consult. To see the relevant tweets, the twitter account to look for is @AmericanAnthro.

I stand ready to be corrected and I have not seen the actual MLA author agreement, but the MLA’s language is clear on the following point: “The revised agreements leave copyright with the authors…”. This is clear language on a major point. If it means what it says (and I have every reason to believe it does given that Kathleen Fitzpatrick is the Director of Scholarly Communication for the MLA), then it means that the MLA agreement and the AAA agreement should not be treated as equivalent. Unless things have changed since the last time I saw a AAA author agreement, it does not leave copyright in the hands of an author but instead serves as an instrument by which copyright was transferred to the association. While the agreements may be alike in having the effect of allowing authors to circulate their work outside the society’s publication channel, retaining copyright and granting a license to your scholarly society to do something with your work is very different from signing away your copyright and retaining (i.e. being granted back) certain rights to use the work in which you formerly held copyright.

I hope that raising this distinction (something smarter people than me can explain more effectively) is not seen as snarky. As a board member that helped implement it, I am proud of the green author agreement that the American Folklore Society has and am quick to celebrate its strengths (i.e. it allows authors to circulate the publication version rather than just the post-print version of an accepted manuscript). I can also acknowledge that the AFS did not take the further step of defaulting to author-retained copyright. I am cognizant of the arguments for and against societies gathering in copyrights (and for the opposite position in which authors are allowed to retain them). My point here is just that, unless I am wrong, it is not accurate and thus not helpful to describe the AAA and MLA frameworks as being the same.

If I am reading the MLA language incorrectly and the association is actually obtaining copyright is the customary way, then it would be good if I were corrected on this point and for the accurate word to get out.

If I am wrong about the AAA author agreement and it does not now serve as a means by which copyright is transferred to the association, that too would be good to know. It would be an amazing and unlikely development.

If I am right and there is a difference between the two frameworks, then it would be beneficial for all interested parties to think about their implications and to discuss them with as much clarity as possible.

Despite the ways that my attempts to clarify its specifics have gone nowhere, I am glad that so many AAA anthropologists worked hard and early to establish a green author agreement for their association. It is a worthwhile accomplishment, for certain. Progress on open access can, of course, be incremental.

At the same time, I think that the MLA should be commended for its systematic reform efforts across the scholarly communications spectrum. If I am right and the copyright transfer aspects of their new agreement are distinctive, then they deserve particular credit for the kind of innovation that the recent AAA postings have aimed to diminish.

Folklorist and Technology Writer Audrey Watters @audreywatters Now Blogging at Insider Higher Education

Folklorist (M.A. in folklore from the University of Oregon, 2000) and technology writer Audrey Watters has a new column/blog at Inside Higher Education, the free daily newspaper for the higher education community. It is called Hack [Higher] Education. Describing the goals for the blog, she writes:

In this blog, I plan to address some of the developments in the tech industry and analyze how these might impact teaching, learning, institutions, teachers, students. But I’m also just as intrigued by the possibilities of the inverse:  how will education “hack” technology?  In other words, how will teachers and students and institutions “hack” technology back? How will a new era of technology and a new generation of technology users challenge some of the institutional practices, policies, and power-players both in education and in education technology? … My posts on Inside Higher Ed will — like me — traverse both the worlds of academia and the worlds of “hackers” (or at least the worlds of technology companies, both established and upstart).

Her first column/post can be found here. Congratulations Audrey.
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