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Posts from the ‘Museum Anthropology’ Category

Workshop on Ethnographic Methods in Museum Folklore and Ethnology

This post is the next in my series of reports on the trip to China that American museum colleagues and I took in December 2017. The Beijing posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) were about the time that we spent in transit to Nanning, where the core of our work on the trip would begin. This is the first post to share a bit of what the trip was about, explaining what we were up to in Guangxi.

Central to the story of our time in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is our friend and colleague Zhang Lijun. Lijun is researcher on the staff of the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi (广西民族博物馆) and she is also a research associate of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. She is essential to the museum ethnography sub-project within the China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project that has linked the China Folklore Society and the American Folklore Society for over ten years of exchanges and joint projects. As she notes in her recent contribution to Metafolklore: Stories of Sino-US Folkloristic Cooperation | 文化对话:中美非物质文化遗产论坛. (Guangzhou: Sun Yat-sen University Press, 2017), she served as a translator for the founding discussions between AFS and CFS while a masters student at Beijing Normal University. A decade later, and with a Ph.D. from Indiana behind her, she is now helping lead a key project in this flourishing partnership. (For an overview of these broader efforts, see this essay by AFS Executive Director Tim Lloyd.)

Our work in Guangxi is the reason for the trip and Lijun was crucial to the planning and the doing of both parts of that work. As called for in our proposal to the Henry Luce Foundation and planned for in our partnership discussions with the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi, this trip (the first of four during the current phase of our work) had two parts–a training workshop at the museum in Nanning and then a period of jointly pursued fieldwork in Nandan County among the Baiku (White Trouser) Yao people. This post is about the training workshop, an event for which Lijun’s bilingual skills and bi-national scholarly background were essential ingredients.

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Zhang Lijun facilitating discussion during the first day of the Workshop on Ethnographic Methods in Museum Folklore and Ethnology held at the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi, Nanning. December 11, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson.

Wang Wei, the Director of the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi, is an leading scholar in paleoarchaeology with a deep history of participating in high-level international research collaborations and a strong record of publishing in international science journals. This experience has shaped his goals for the museum’s research staff. He is eager for them to also have international research experiences and opportunities to work jointly on publication as well as exhibition projects. Those goals are part of what we are up to in the current phase of cooperative research. They also motivate his providing generous support for our joint work. Those of us connected to the American museums share these aspirations.

Because the entire research and collections staff of the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi is too large to participate in the fieldwork phase of the project, the December 2017 workshop was developed as a means of broadening the professional development opportunities that the larger project offers. The workshop was held on December 11-12 and its focus was “Ethnographic Methods in Museum Folklore and Ethnology.”

During this event, American and Chinese participants, drawn from the partner museums, gave bilingual presentations on fieldwork methods as these pertain to work of museums of ethnography. About sixty attendees attended the workshop. Some were students affiliated with universities in the city of Nanning and, as initially anticipated, quite a few were members of the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi’s research and collections staff. There were also working ethnographers from various agencies in the city. A fourth group of attendees were staff members drawn from the ten local eco-museums with which the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi partners in its 1+10 eco-museum collaboration. These eco-museum representatives are members of the local minority groups that their institutions serve and they are active with impressive cultural documentation work in their home communities. The workshop sessions, which all took place at the museum, were well-attended and well-received.

The workshop program was comprised of seven presentations interspersed with questions and discussion. All were illustrated with bilingual slides and all were translated into the language (English or Mandarin) not spoken by the presenter. I presented an overview of ethnographic methods in the contexts of research design and the goals of museum work. My presentation introduced and connected the topics to be addressed by the other presentations. I was followed by Marsha MacDowell (Michigan State University Museum), whose presentation focused on interview methods. Jon Kay (Mathers Museum of World Cultures) focused on survey methods as well as on video documentation techniques. Carrie Hertz (Museum of International Folk Art) explored the uses of still photography in research, exhibitions, publication, and other museum activities. Kurt Dewhurst (Michigan State University Museum) presented on the use of existing collections in new field research and on the role that new ethnographic work can play in re-contextualizing such collections. Gong Shiyang (Anthropological Museum of Guangxi) presented on the role of eco-museums as research centers and on the partnership linking AMGX and its 10 partners in Guangxi. Fan Miao Miao (Anthropological Museum of Guangxi) presented on strategies for ethnographic research on dress and adornment practices.

At the conclusion of the workshop on December 12, research participants from the three U.S. partner museums, from the AMGX and from the Baiku Yao Eco-Museum in Nandan met to discuss the research plan for the joint fieldwork that would follow.

Here are some pictures from the first day of the workshop.

Here are some images from the second day of the workshop.

One of the temporary exhibitions on display at the museum is an exhibition produced in partnership with the Museum of Women and Children in Beijing (the museum we visited earlier in our trip). This exhibition is interesting because it deals with a classic ethnographic topic (“Brocade Made by Minority Nationalities in China”) in a kid-friendly way. Here are some pictures.

The Ethnic Costume Museum at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology (12/9)

In the previous post in this series, I described how my traveling companions and I visited Beijing’s 798 Art Zone. (For the series in order, see 1, 2, 3, and 4.) After that stop on December the 9th, we visited one more Beijing museum. This one was a new one for everyone. Carrie researched it and put it on our agenda—The Ethnic Costume Museum at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology (BIFT). We were uncertain what to expect, but we speculated that it would be a small university museum.

It won’t take many words to tell the story. We were extremely impressed. The museum is not richly contextualizing and interpretive in approach (as more and more university museums work to be) but its collections are outstanding and they are beautifully presented in large, comfortable galleries. For scholars interested in dress, adornment, and textile history in China, it is a definite must-see.

The museum is located on an upper floor of a multi-use academic building in the midst of the BIFT campus. Discovering this, one presumes further that the space will be small, as many similar university galleries in the United States often are. But on arrival up the stairs, this speculation is dispelled. The galleries go on and on. You can check out an English language web page for the museum here: http://english.bift.edu.cn/department/ethniccostumemuseum/index.htm It begins:

The Costume Museum at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology (BIFT), founded with the approval of Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage, is the first museum specializing in ethnic costumes in China. The Museum is also a cultural research institute integrating collection, display, research, and teaching.

BIFT Costume Museum covers a floor space of 2,000 square meters, with several major exhibition halls: Han Nationality Costume Hall, Ethnic Minority Costume Hall, Miao Nationality Costume Hall, Metalworking Jewelry Hall, Brocade Embroidery and Wax-printing Hall, Olympic Uniform and Ceremony Costume Hall, Picture Hall, and Hands-on Workshop (for teaching and academic exchange).

As the top specialized costume museum in China, it has a fine collection of over 10,000 pieces of costume, accessories, fabric, wax printing, and embroidery. The collection is displayed in different categories, such as costumes of Miao nationality, metalworking jewelry, folk wax printing, and fabric. The museum also has a collection of nearly 1000 precious photographs taken during the 1920s and 1930s featuring the ethnic costumes of Yi, Zang, and Qiang nationalities.

That is all true. Here I share some of our photographs from the visit, which was the high point of our day and great preparation for the work we would begin in Guangxi the next day.

When we arrived, we noticed a sign that indicated that no photography was allowed. This left us crestfallen. We started taking in the exhibitions and noticed that all the other visitors were taking pictures and that the staff was completely aware of this. On investigation, it was flash photography that was prohibited. As a result of these factors, as well as the appropriately dark galleries (appropriate because textiles are being put on display for extended periods, raising the problem of light damage) our photographs are dark and rushed.

In honor of our generous hosts in Nandan County, I present the Baiku Yao men’s outfit on display at the museum before posting a sample of other images from the museum.

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The “Men’s attire of the white-pants Yao branch of the Yaozu people” at the Museum of Ethnic Costumes. December 9, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson.

Congratulations to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science on the Publication of Navajo Textiles Volume

Congratulations our colleagues at in the Department of Anthropology at the the Denver Museum of Nature and Science on the publication of the new volume Navajo Textiles: The Crane Collection at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (Denver: Denver Museum of Nature and Science; Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2017). It is a beautiful volume contextualizing a beautiful collection of Navajo textiles. Kudos especially to the contributing authors, photographers, and everyone else who brought the project to life.

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A Mon Carrying Basket from Myanmar

Between November 1963 and August 1964, William C. Sturtevant and Theda Maw Sturtevant pursued ethnographic field research in Burma (now Myanmar) with support from the (U.S.) National Science Foundation. The Smithsonian Institution provided funds with which an ethnographic field collection could be assembled. This collection, comprising about 400 objects, was accessed in 1967 into the collections of what is now the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History.

Sturtevant summarized the scope of the collection in this way: “The majority of the items derive from the Burmese proper; small collections included derive from the following minority groups of Burma: Intha, Mon, Shan, Karen, Kayah, Pa-O, Bre, Padaung, Kachin, Thado Chin, Zomi Chin, Lahu Shi, Lahu Na, Lisu, Akha.” (NMNH Accession 273786)

Pictured below is one of fourteen objects attributed to the Mon people in Burma. It is a “carrying basket” (catalog number E408784).

I have written several essays [1, 2] on the career of William C. Sturtevant. In this context, it makes more sense to highlight here the life of Theda Maw Sturtevant, Bill Sturtevant’s then-wife and research collaborator. Legacy.com provides access to a Washington Post obituary that notes that Theda Maw Sturtevant (1931-2016) was:

Born in Rangoon, Burma, the daughter of Dr. Ba Maw, former Prime Minister of Burma, and Daw Kinmama Maw.” After noting her children, the obituary continues: “She loved her family, her parents, and her country. As a teenager she came to the United States to attend graduate school at Yale University where she received an MA in History. She later was the editor of her father”s book “Breakthrough in Burma: Memoirs of a Revolution 1939-1946”, published by Yale University Press. Beloved by all for her strong will and impish sense of humor, she lived her rich life with integrity and duty.

Here is the basket that I looked at last week.

NMNH E408784 Back A

Other posts in this series on Asian (pack and related) baskets in the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History can be found here, here, and here.

A Japanese Packbasket

Here I present another of the Asian packbaskets that I examined in the ethnology collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. (See here for a previous post.) This example is catalogue number E402450. It was collected in the early 1960s in Koishiwara, Fukuoka Prefecture as part of a larger post-war systematic collecting effort that aimed to improve coverage of Japanese culture in the National Museum of Natural History’s collections overall.

As a tool of work, this example is exceptional. It is very sturdy and well-executed, with a range of impressive features, such as the strong-but-comfortable twined straps, the careful inner attachment bar for the straps, reinforcements in the inner bottom, finely executed rope, and a sturdy rim.

For an exceptional study of basketry from a different part of Japan—one that devotes significant attention to packbaskets, that is based on a different collection at the NMNH, and that is now accessible in a open access edition from the Internet Archive, see A Basketmaker in Rural Japan by Louise Allison Cort and Nakamura Kenji (Washington: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1994). This volume focuses on the life and entire basketry repertoire of Hiroshima Kazuo. It is an impressive exhibition catalogue evoking a rich cultural practice and a talented individual. I wish that we knew more about the maker of this basket from Koishiwara.

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An overall look at 402450.
NMNH E402450 Front A
The front of the basket.
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Top strap attachment inside the basket.
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Inside and bottom of the basket.
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The rope tied off at the front top of the basket.

An Ifugao Packbasket from Northern Luzon, Philippines

In connection with ongoing research on work baskets in the Southwestern provinces of China, I spent some time during the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology looking comparatively at packbaskets from societies in East and Southeast Asia. These baskets are from a variety of accessions in the ethnology collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

Below, I share some photographs of a “backpack” basket from among the Ifugao people of Northern Luzon in the Philippines. Collected about 1977 and donated about 2001, it is catalog number E431417. Finely made, among its most distinctive features are the flaps that pull down over the opening when it is worn. Its a very clever design, one unlike any others among the baskets that I have seen in the NMNH collections.

NMNH E431417 Back ANMNH E431417 Bottom ANMNH E431417 Front ANMNH E431417 Side A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Even the cover is pretty great.

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Our first glimpse.

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

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Baskets, of course.

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

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

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Our group, studying.

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

IMG_5856More baskets, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_5877The region’s famous basketry raincoats, we think.

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Work baskets, one last time.

Updates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead: University Anthropology Museums Matter

With notices going out from the Program Committee this week, the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting (November 29-December 3, 2017) is coming into focus. Notes that I am seeing on Facebook and Twitter suggest that the program will feature a lot to like. I am pleased to note that a Executive Session that colleagues and I have organized has been accepted and scheduled. If you are interested in museum anthropology or the future of university museums, I invite you to hold the day and time. We would love to see you there. Here are the details.

Looking Ahead: University Anthropology Museums Matter
Friday, December 1, 2017
8:00 AM – 9:45 AM

Session Abstract: University-based museums of anthropology, including campus museums of natural history, history, and art with anthropological programs, play a vital role not just as hubs for the work of museum anthropology but for the research, teaching, professional training, and public outreach agendas of the field as a whole. While the historical contributions of university-based museum anthropology are decisive and worthy of continued investigation, this panel aims to characterize present work viewed in institutional terms and to anticipate new developments and emerging needs in the field more broadly. Numerous campus anthropology museums have experienced leadership changes in recent years. This collective shift, as well as dramatic changes happening in the publics with which campus museums engage, suggests that now is a particularly good moment to undertake an environmental scan and in which to consider a collective agenda that is cognizant of the vexing challenges—from anthropogenic climate change to rising inequality; from resurgent xenophobia to the transformation of higher education—that anthropology museums are positioned to address. As the leaders of six key university anthropology museums, the speakers will characterize the present work and emerging goals of their institutions. Considering the changing contexts—intellectual, economic, political, technological, educational, ethical—within which museum anthropology, and anthropology more generally, is being pursued, they will also propose topics and tactics for collective work in the period ahead. While rooting their reflections in the work of their institutions, the presenters will directly address the conference theme Anthropology Matters from the distinctive vantage point of campus anthropology museums in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Thanks go to all who supported or endorsed the session proposal, including our sponsor, the Council for Museum Anthropology. See you in Washington.

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Translation and Materiality: The Travels of European Porcelain (2017 Bauman Lecture)

News of the upcoming Richard Bauman Lecture in the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University is now circulating on campus. Here are the details about this year’s talk by Professor Susan Gal of the University of Chicago. Quoting:

“Translation and Materiality: The Travels of European Porcelain”
Dr. Susan Gal

Friday, March 24th
3:00 PM
Wylie Hall 005
Indiana University Bloomington

Abstract:

Porcelain is, today, a familiar material of dishes, figurines and tiles. The qualities of such objects – fineness, artistry – point to similar qualities in their buyers and users. Certainly, that is the role of material objects in systems of social distinction. Yet, this view often presumes that material qualities pre-exist the social, and need only be recognized. In some versions of the current ontological debate in Anthropology and Cultural Studies, materiality is the ultimate limit on cultural interpretation. I argue, instead, that the properties of materials are not fixed. They are semiotic achievements reached by a dialectical process of embodied social interaction with objects within political and economic institutions. The histories of “porcelain” in Europe show the varied qualities it has embodied as it has been swept up – and translated – into diverse regimes of knowledge, state economic strategies, and politico-ethical discourses. Translations of porcelain destabilized attributed qualities, changing “it” as sign and as material.

CFP: Museum Anthropology Futures

On behalf of the Council for Museum Anthropology, I am happy to pass along the call for proposals for the Museum Anthropology Futures conference in Montreal this May. Find details below. (Quoted material follows, contact the organizers with questions or concerns.)

Call for Session Proposals: “Museum Anthropology Futures” Conference (due March 1)
Council for Museum Anthropology Inaugural Conference

May 25-27, 2017 at Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The Council for Museum Anthropology is seeking submissions for its inaugural conference taking place in Montreal from May 25-27, 2017. This will not be your traditional conference experience! “Museum Anthropology Futures” seeks to spark critical reflection and discussion on (1) the state of museum anthropology as an academic discipline; (2) innovative methods for the use of collections; (3) exhibition experiments that engage with anthropological research; and (4) museums as significant sites for grappling with pressing social concerns such as immigration, inequality, racism, colonial legacies, heritage preservation, cultural identities, representation, and creativity as productive responses to these.

The conference will have several sessions each day that all participants will attend, as well as one period each day with breakout sessions like workshops and formats that would benefit from a more intimate setting for dialogue and collaboration.
We are seeking session proposals that are different than the usual call for papers – see session descriptions below. Feel free to email us with questions at museumfutures2017@gmail.com.

Updates available at our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/MuseumFutures/

Email your session proposal to museumfutures2017@gmail.com by March 1, 2017

Please provide the following information in your email text, no attachment:

1) Your name, title, home institution (if applicable), and email address
2) Your proposed session format (see below)
3) The title of your session
4) Additional session participants if a group submission (title and email address)
5) A description of your session (max 150 words) Specific requirements for each format below.
6) What you hope to achieve in presenting/participating in this session (1-3 sentences)
7) What you believe this session can contribute to museum futures (1-3 sentences)
***Please note: Some Workshops and Pre-circulated Paper sessions will be by registration only due to limited capacity. All other sessions are open to all conference participants. For example, Roundtable or PechaKucha sessions will have several presenters who discuss their work, and the audience attending the session is invited to listen and ask questions or give feedback.***

SESSION FORMATS
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