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Posts from the ‘Museums’ Category

At the Estonian National Museum

#fulbrightspecialist #fulbright #exchangeourworld

This is the third of three anticipated posts on my fall 2019 visit to Estonia (1st, 2nd).

A great resource for the University of Tartu’s departments of Estonian Native Craft, of Ethnology, and of Estonian and Comparative Folklore is the Estonian National Museum (ENM). The museum is curates vast collections of relevance to students and researchers in these fields and the museum is a research hub for all them. Founded in 1909, the ENM has a long and distinguished history as an ethnography museum centering on Estonia and, more broadly, all peoples speaking Finno-Ugric languages. It its contexts, the museum’s work centers on an Estonian instance of Northern European ethnology (with Soviet “ethnography” dominating during the period of Soviet hegemony). But not long ago (2016), the museum moved into a dramatic and vast new facility and unveiled a pair of large new permanent exhibitions.

These exhibitions move beyond (but fully include) the ethnography of 19th and early 20th century peasant lifeways. In this mode, the new exhibitions show an additive expansion of the museum’s concerns to include the archaeology of the distant past, historical and contemporary linguistics, social history, and the ethnology of everyday life in the recent period and the present. Especially in its exhibition work, the new museum is working at the cutting edge of museum technology and communication research is a part of the museum’s practice and research agenda.

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The entry to the Estonian National Museum at night. By Klarqa. CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, from Wikimedia Commons

I will not offer a review of the two permanent exhibitions here, but I want to stress how much I learned about museum practice (and about Estonia and Finno-Urgric peoples) from my multiple visits to the museum’s galleries. I was very fortunate to be given introductory tours of both exhibitions by curators who were central to the work of developing them. Encounters tells the story of people in Estonia from the earliest moments of human activity in the territory of the present nation up to the present. Encounters is actually an interconnected suite of topical and chronological sub-exhibitions and I benefited greatly from seeing it first with Kristel Rattus and Liisi Jaats, two ENM researchers/curators who were part of the exhibition development team. Similarly, I saw the Echo of the Urals exhibition with Art Leete, Professor of Ethnology at the University of Tartu and specialist on Finno-Ugric groups in present-day Russia. Art led the curatorial team for the Finno-Ugric exhibition. The two exhibitions use a wide range of sophisticated exhibition techniques and these techniques are markedly different between the two shows, making the ENM an ideal teaching and learning laboratory for museum ethnology.

While I was more learner than teacher in this context, my work at the University of Tartu teaching the short “Material Culture and the Museum” course intersected with the ENM in a couple of ways. Because the ENM is such an attraction and hub for folklore studies and ethnology, (all or almost all) students and auditors in the course were familiar with the museum and it thus could be used as a valuable point of reference in and out of class sessions. More directly, the ENM hosted the 2018 International Committee for Museums and Collections of Ethnography (ICME) conference. I will touch on that below, but I note here that students participating in the course were obligated to attend parts of the ICME meeting, an activity that I feel certain greatly enhanced the overall experience of the course. The conference and my remarks on museum ethnology could have been completely askew, but in actuality there was, I think, an unusually good fit, with the topics that I raised in the initial sessions showing up in richer context in the presentations of ICME keynote speakers and presenters. The new exhibitions and new museum provided a great context for the course and the conference.

ICME is a group within the larger International Committee of Museums (ICOM). ICOM is the UNESCO-affiliated international organization promoting and supporting museums and museum work. ICME is one of the 30 International Committees active within ICOM. As the name suggests, its focus are museums of ethnography a conception that includes museums whose ethnographic collections and work are very local (such as community-specific museums), national and regional (such as the ENM) and those whose concerns are global in scope (such as the Mathers Museum of World Cultures). The meeting in Tartu at the ENM was the 51st ICME meeting and it was organized under the theme “Re-imaging the Museum in the Global Contemporary.” (Find information on the conference, including specific presentations here and here).

The ICME conference was presided over gracefully by ICME President Viv Golding (University of Leicester) and the hard working local organizational team was led by Agnes Aljas (Research Secretary at the ENM). Agnes in particular went to great lengths to facilitate my participation in the conference and I thank her for her kind efforts.

There were many excellent presentations throughout the conference and a range of meaningful special activities, Each day began with a keynote, all of which were rich and inspiring. The keynote speakers were Andrea Witcomb (Professor, Deakin University, Australia), Pille Runnel (Research Director, Estonian National Museum), Philipp Schorch (State Ethnographic Collection of Saxony, Germany) and Wayne Modest (Research Center for Material Culture, Netherlands).

ICME Group Photograph (ICME 2018)

Participants in the 2018 ICME meeting. From http://network.icom.museum/icme/, accessed November 1, 2018.

One contrast that I would highlight concerns the way that many of core conference presenters–as one might expect in Estonia as a Northern European host country–work in contemporary contexts shaped by volkskunde– or folklife-centered disciplinary histories (European ethnology, etc.). Their ethnographic concerns remained issues of commonality and difference inside (usually small) nation states. Nationalism is their main specter. With the exception of Pille Runnel from the ENM, whose valuable keynote took us behind the scenes at the host museum, the primary concerns of the other keynote speakers were more inflected towards volkerkunde (social anthropology, etc.) disciplinary histories or contexts. Whether overseas colonial projects or the dynamics of settler colonialism (in Australia), colonialism was the specter that haunted their remarks, even when focused on the problems of contemporary national cultures. This distinction was never complete and it is less so in places like modern Europe, but it remains present but not always acknowledged in our discussions. Discussions of projects with source communities, for instance, mean very different things in Berlin or Tartu. One could often feel audience members straining to connect the compelling suggestions made by keynote speakers to their own very different working contexts. I am always hyper sensitive to these dynamics working as a folklorist, ethnologist, and cultural anthropologist in a settler society that has vexing colonial (overseas and internal) circumstances as well as a difficult history of nation building in multicultural-but-unequal circumstances. This is a hard problem to solve because working knowledge of different disciplinary traditions and circumstances are so unevenly spread and widely-read and discussed work in English language museum anthropology has often overwhelmingly favored work in colonial situations over work arising from provincial and national ones.

These remarks are not in any way a criticism. A problem that I have long felt as a museum folklorist who is also a museum anthropologist (and as a teacher of folklore studies and of anthropology) were made still clearer for me in the ICME context. I hope that I can find new ways to help bridge the gap that I am evoking. International meetings where different perspectives and different national and global circumstances converge certainly help. I know that I am not alone in having learned much at the ICME meetings. I would not normally have been able to travel to an international meeting of this sort, thus my visit to Tartu was an extra-ordinary opportunity.

One last ENM note. The ENM stewards another museum site that I visited. As noted in my first post, I visited the Heimtali Museum of Domestic Life near Viljandi. My visit was excellent thanks to the work of my guides Kristi Jõeste and Ave Matsin of the Department of Estonian Native Craft and the kindness of our hostess And Raud. A textile artist, arts professor, and student of Estonian craft, costume and textiles, Ms. Raud founded the museum around her extensive collection. While it is now a branch of the ENM, the Ms. Raud remains the Heimtali Museum of Domestic Life’s greatest guide and interpreter. I thank her and Ave and Kristi for my visit.

My museum engagements in Estonia were inspirational and they will inform my teaching, research, and curatorial work for many years. I am fortunate to have had these opportunities and I thank all those who made them possible, including the Fulbright Specialist Program, the University of Tartu, and the Estonian National Museum.

The 2019 Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA)

It is time to think about SIMA again! As in the past, I share here on an announcement from the SIMA organizers at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Read on to learn about a great opportunity for graduate students in cultural anthropology and neighboring fields.

(Quoting now from the announcement….)

The Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA) is a graduate student summer training program in museum research methods offered through the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History with major funding from the Cultural Anthropology Program of the National Science Foundation.

During four weeks of intensive training in seminars and hands-on workshops in the research collections, students are introduced to the scope of collections and their potential as data. Students become acquainted with strategies for navigating museum systems, learn to select methods to examine and analyze museum specimens, and consider a range of theoretical issues that collections-based research may address. In consultation with faculty, each student carries out preliminary data collection on a topic of their own choice and develops a prospectus for research to be implemented upon return to their home university. Instruction will be provided by Dr. Joshua A. Bell, Dr. Candace Greene and other Smithsonian scholars, plus a series of visiting faculty.

Who should apply?

Graduate students preparing for research careers in cultural anthropology who are interested in using museum collections as a data source. The program is not designed to serve students seeking careers in museum management. Students at both the masters and doctoral level will be considered for acceptance. Students in related interdisciplinary programs (Indigenous Studies, Folklore, etc.) are welcome to apply if the proposed project is anthropological in nature. All U.S. students are eligible for acceptance, even if studying abroad. International students can be considered only if they are enrolled in a university in the U.S. Members of Canadian First Nations are eligible under treaty agreements.

Costs: The program covers students’ tuition and shared housing in local furnished apartments. A stipend will be provided to assist with the cost of food and other local expenses. Participants are individually responsible for the cost of travel to and from Washington, DC.

SIMA dates for 2019: June 17 – July 12

Application deadline – March 1, 2019

For more information and to apply, please visit http://anthropology.si.edu/summerinstitute/

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Two Short Courses in Tartu

#fulbrightspecialist #fulbright #exchangeourworld

In an earlier post, I expressed my appreciation for the opportunity to visit the University of Tartu as a Fulbright Specialist. Among my tasks while there was to teach two short courses. Here I want share the story of those courses and reflect upon how they fit into my visit and into my fall of sabbatical leave.

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The Departments of Ethnology and of Estonian and Comparative Folklore are not only headquartered in the beautiful building on the left, but they are located across from the wonderful, legendary cafe Werner on the right. The cafe itself justifies a trip to Tartu.

As I noted earlier, the University of Tartu has well-established and distinguished degree programs in (1) folklore studies, (2) ethnology, and (3) Estonian craft. My visit was in part prompted by the addition of an English-language MA program in folkloristics and applied heritage studies. This new program is being offered by the three departments in partnership. Given the focus of the new program and the interests of its students, there was a desire in the core faculty to offer an enhanced opportunity related to museums and material culture. That is where I fit it, as I regularly teach graduate courses in museum curatorship and in material culture studies for students of both folkloristics and in ethnology (≈ cultural anthropology). I suspect that my experience working in both museums and academe is also relevant here.

For my Fulbright visit, I was asked to contribute to a course called “Material Culture and the Museum.” Wonderful Tartu colleagues Kirsti Jõesalu, Elo-Hanna Seljamaa, and Ene Kõresaar organized and kicked off the course prior to my arrival and carefully managed its mechanics during and after my visit. I offered four course lectures and then participated with the students in the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Ethnography Conference held during my final week in Estonia at the Estonian National Museum (more on the conference later). The descriptions for my course talks were:

Museum Ethnology and Material Culture Studies: An Introduction

In the first of four sessions, the core concerns of museum-based folkloristics, cultural anthropology, and ethnology (= museum ethnology, hereafter) will be introduced. Material culture studies within these fields is an intertwined but independent endeavor. Concerned especially with the areas in which museum ethnology and the study of objects and built environments intersect, material culture studies as an research area in ethnology will also be introduced.

Theories of Material Culture

In the second of four sessions, the focus will be a survey of theoretical perspectives relevant to the study of material culture within the ethnographically-oriented disciplines. As a prelude to later investigations by course participants, a wide range of perspectives will be introduced briefly. The session will conclude with a somewhat more elaborated account of the primary approach to material culture studies now active in North American folkloristics. This dormant perspective reflects the communication or performance focus characteristic of North American folkloristics more generally.

Practices in Museum Ethnology

The third of the four sessions will characterize the practice of museum ethnology by scholars who are both based in museums and those who, while employed in other kinds of institutions, take museums and their collections as a special focus. What does a museum anthropologist, a museum-minded folklorist, or a museum ethnologist do? Why do they do what they do? What are the broader implications of this kind of work? How do such museum scholars contribute to the larger work of their field(s)? These questions will animate this session.

Contemporary Developments in Museum Ethnology and Material Culture Studies

In the final of the four sessions, the focus will be on emergent trends at the intersection of museum ethnology and material culture studies. These trends will be situated within a broader revitalization of work within these endeavors. Among the developments to be discussed are: (1) the changing role of museums in society, (2) reconfigured relationships with originating or source communities, (3) the impact of new digital technologies, and (4) the rise of new or reconfigured heritage and property regimes. We will also reflect on the relationship between museum/collections-based material culture studies and the now much larger and more diverse realm of material culture studies as a whole.

I was honored and a bit surprised that so many colleagues from around Estonia came to sit in on these four course meetings. There was a large and talented group of students participating in the course from the English-language MA and from other degree programs, but there were also faculty, researchers, and museum curators from around Estonia attending as well. It was exciting to engage with this diverse and interested audience. I am sorry that the size of the group prevented me from connecting personally with everyone.

I am on sabbatical leave this fall. Did I really have any business teaching? Yes. I will not be the first to observe how valuable teaching can be for the advancement of one’s own thinking and research. My Material Culture course at IU has been taught several times already, as has my Curatorship course. They need fresh thinking. Together, these two courses occupy 30 weeks of graduate seminar (75 contact hours). While in a small group, American-style seminar, I might have conversed my way across the topics outlined above, the large audience and tight time window necessitated coming at the material in a new way. Thinking about how to present the big picture in these two intersecting domains in a brief series of lectures was extremely productive for my own thinking. As I re-engage with my own museum-related material culture research, this fresh look is really valuable. One other thing that I can say about it was that–in the doing–I really drew inspiration from the recent work of younger scholars, including the IU graduate students with whom I get to work. The whole undertaking was generative and I appreciate the opportunity to pursue it. Special thanks to my colleagues for organizing it and for all who attended the course meetings.

My other short course was titled “Getting the Most Out of Peer-Review.” One of the advantages of a university with smaller course modules is that there is room for focused courses like this. This is the course that previously mentioned was partially supported by the European Union. It drew students from beyond folkloristics and ethnology and the participants were mostly PhD rather than MA students. It was at a high level from the first moment because a majority of the students came to the course with publishing experience. Most had already published one or more peer-reviewed articles, which meant that our discussions did not focus on the mechanics of submission and publication but focused specifically on peer-review. In this, we explored two phases. How to (1) engage with peer-reviews as an author receiving them and (2) how to be a good citizen and effective as a peer-reviewer. My kind hosts Kirsti Jõesalu and Elo-Hanna Seljamaa handled the kick-off and follow-up and mechanics of this course also and I hosted and led two seminars (one short, one long-but-with excellent snacks!) in which we discussed the broad domain. Unlike the lecture-hall material culture course, the peer-review course could be handled in seminar style and I thus had an increased chance to learn from the participants. I note here my thanks to all of the participants and to my hosts.

I won’t elaborate the peer-review course content further here, but I will note one related issue of particular interest to me.

The students in this course are advanced in their research and advanced in their publishing careers. This is normal for their institutional and disciplinary contexts in Europe and it also articulates with how most of them will meet their dissertation requirement for the PhD. As is true in the hard sciences in the United States but rare in cultural anthropology or folklore studies (or history, art history, etc.) here, these students dissertations will be assembled around a suite of peer-reviewed articles rather than a long-form, book-like manuscript. I hope to write more about this difference in the future, but if you are curious about what such a dissertation looks like, consider the case of Anastasiya Astapova’s dissertation titled Negotiating Belarusianness: Political Folklore Betwixt and Between. I choose this example because it is highly regarded and connects to my own home department.

As you will see if you consult the dissertation online here: https://dspace.ut.ee/handle/10062/49509, this dissertation combines a 69 page contextualizing and framing essay with presentation of five peer-reviewed articles and chapters. The first of these appeared in the journal Humor, the second appeared in the Journal of Folklore Research (published the IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and IU Press), the third appeared in Ethnologia Europaea, the fourth appeared in the Journal of American Folklore, and the fifth appeared in an edited book titled Contesting Authority: Vernacular Knowledge and Alternative Beliefs. This is a stellar set of high profile publications in leading venues.

If you look at the dissertation online, you will find all of the framing and wrapper material, but not the five articles/chapters themselves. Professor Ülo Valk kindly gave me a paperback edition of the dissertation and it includes reproductions of the five published or then-forthcoming contributions. (All of the current Tartu dissertations are beautifully produced as book-like objects.) I suspect that the University of Tartu withholds these in the open access version for copyright reasons.

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While I mention Anastasiya Astapova’s dissertation in my post, there are plenty to attract our attention. Here is the cover of Jinseok Seo’s dissertation on Korean shamanism.

I hope to reflect more on this model of the dissertation in the future. Here, I mention it to provide context for the peer-review course. This structure definitely gives the peer-review article genre a key place in doctoral training.

In closing, here I want to thank the Fulbright Specialist program again as well as my staff and faculty hosts at the University of Tartu. In connection with the two courses, special thanks go to the students and colleagues who engaged with the efforts described here. (And thanks to the European Union for supporting the peer-review course.)

The University of Tartu, Appreciated

#fulbrightspecialist #fulbright #exchangeourworld

I recently spent an extended time in Tartu, Estonia. I had the wonderful opportunity to be a Fulbright Specialist visiting the Departments of: (1) Estonian and Comparative Folklore, (2) Ethnology, and (3) Estonian Native Craft at the University of Tartu. My visit also provided rich opportunities to learn about the work of the Estonian National Museum, with which these departments collaborate closely. Visiting Estonia was a transformational experience for me and I am very grateful for my generous hosts in Estonia and for the continued work of the [U.S. Department of State’s] Fulbright Program. Here I reflect briefly on the work of my fields at the University of Tartu. In a later post, I will evoke the courses that I taught and the students I met while in Tartu. In a final post, I will touch on the Estonian National Museum and the rich International Committee for Museums and Collections of Ethnography (ICME) conference that it recently hosted.

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On the left, with the mural on its end, is Ülikooli 16 in Tartu on the University of Tartu campus. It is today home to the Institute for Cultural Research, which includes the Departments of Ethnology and of Estonian and Comparative Folklore.

The twinned disciplines in which I work–folkloristics (folklore studies) and ethnology–have a deep and important history in Estonia. So too do the practice of, and the study of, the nation’s rich craft traditions. For my interests, it would really be difficult to think of a richer and more rewarding place to make an in-depth, scholarly visit. The University of Tartu is almost two centuries older than Indiana University where I work. It was founded in 1632 under the auspices of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. Through Swedish, Russian, and Soviet rule as well as in independent Estonia, the University of Tartu has been a major world academic center. This is reflected in the fame and impact of its academic programs and in the scholars and students who continue to gather there from around the world. (For those interested in Indiana University connections, the university is strong not only in folklore studies and ethnology, but in the neighboring field of semiotics, another field of special interest to Indiana University scholars. Semiotician and IU Distinguished Professor Thomas Sebeok’s library can be found there (See: Thomas A. Sebeok Memorial Library. As noted here, Sebeok was a Fellow of the IU Folklore Institute and a Professor of Anthropology among his many IU roles.)

The Departments that hosted me have longstanding and strong undergraduate and graduate programs, but a new joint MA program was one catalyst for my visit. Having just welcomed its second cohort of students, the Folkloristics and Applied Heritage Studies program is an English-language masters degree program attracting strong students from around the world (including the United States). It is taught and managed in partnership between these units.

I taught two short-term courses while visiting campus (see later post) and met with colleagues and students both in Tartu and in the city of Viljandi, where the Department of Estonian Native Craft is based. It and other arts programs are located in the Viljandi Culture Academy. Viljandi–about an hour east of Tartu–is a strong hub for the arts in general and for Estonian vernacular and folk arts in particular. For example, near Viljandi is a great satellite museum of the Estonian National Museum that is focused on handicraft and rural life (Heimtali Museum of Domestic Life) and Viljandi is home to the major Viljandi Folk Music Festival.

Both in Viljandi and in Tartu, UT faculty were very generous and taught me much about their work and its contexts. As someone who teaches the history (and present status) of folklore studies, anthropology, and ethnology, it was extremely valuable to have a close encounter with the past and present of these fields in a national context that is inflected in both Northern European ways and in the Russian, Soviet, Post-Soviet ways. As throughout the region, issues of nationalism and national identity are a central theme, but colonialisms and their afterlives are also woven throughout the disciplinary histories. Estonia offers much to think about.

This is not just a historical matter, as changes and innovations in Estonia society also offer many lessons. For instance, life at the University of Tartu is now heavily impacted by programs and initiatives of the European Union and technological mediation is a constantly present dynamic in the university’s educational work. While I am quite accustomed now with online and distance education, I was struck by the extensive role that these techniques play not only word-heavy curriculums such as in ethnology and folklore studies, but in the university’s native craft curriculum. Most students in this later department are older students (older, that is, than recent high school graduates) and they are learning advanced textile, metalwork, and building techniques as well as heritage studies methods and theories through a combination of intense-but-brief in-person work on campus and online education activities.

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My course on “Getting the Most Out of Peer-Review” was generously supported by the European Union, thus this sign was posted during class sessions.

From colleagues in these departments, I also gained a deeper understanding of their impressive publishing work. Highlights include the Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics (which I have long admired) and Studia Vernacula and a great diversity of monographs and edited volumes. Publication work in my fields is very advanced in the UT departments. The well-researched and beautiful books being produced related to Estonian craft techniques and histories are a marvel–little work of this quality is found in the United States.

I could continue at near endless length, but this is enough for now. I close for the moment with warm appreciation for all of the staff, faculty, and students who worked hard to make my visit possible and who shared so much of their work and passion with me. Thanks also go to the Fulbright Specialist Program and to the European Union, the University of Tartu, and other funding agencies that supported my activities.

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In downtown Tartu.

After the Workshop, Before the Fieldwork (12/12)

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A photograph of the project team and special guests on the steps of the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi in Nanning. December 12, 2017. Photograph courtesy of the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi.

This is the seventh in my series of posts reporting on collaborative work and travel in China during December 2017. The first five posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) dealt with preliminary activities in Beijing, while the last (6) post focused on the Workshop on Ethnographic Methods in Museum Folklore and Ethnology held in Nanning at the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi (AMGX) on December 11-12, 2017.

As I noted previously, the workshop together with fieldwork (discussion forthcoming) in Nandan County, were the primary activities for this trip. When the workshop concluded, two small events took place before our departure for Nandan the next day. As I noted previously, the research team met in a smaller group format to discuss plans for the work. Those discussions involved participants from the AMGX, the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, the Museum of International Folk Art, the Michigan State University Museum and most-importantly, from our hosts in Nandan County, the Baiku Yao Eco-Museum.

Prior to these practical discussions, a small ceremony featuring remarks by Director Wang Wei of the AMGX and by American Folklore Society Executive Director Tim Lloyd (whose own trip intersected for the afternoon with ours). At this gathering, successful past projects were evoked and enthusiasm for the new projects that we were then beginning was conveyed. The three U.S. museums also bestowed gifts of handmade objects from New Mexico, Michigan, and Indiana upon the AMGX and received wonderful Zhuang brocade textiles from Guangxi to add to their own collections. The exchange of such gifts has become a meaningful moment in each gathering linking the American and Chinese partner museums since 2013.

As is also customary, a group photograph was taken. For the wider contexts for our work in China within the American Folklore Society and the China Folklore Society, see this overview story on the AFS website.

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.

The Museum of Women and Children | 中国妇女儿童博物馆 (12/9)

This is the third 2017 China trip post. As in the two (1, 2) previous posts, it reports on adventures in Beijing with Jon Kay (my MMWC colleague) and Carrie Hertz (of the Museum of International Folk Art). On the second day in Beijing, we were thrilled to be joined by our friends and colleagues from the Michigan State University Museum—Marsha MacDowell and C. Kurt Dewhurst.

Our goals for December 9th were pretty ambitious. In the morning we went to The Museum of Women and Children, China’s “first state-level museum focusing on women and children.” Because the museum previously hosted the U.S. exhibition The Sum of Many Parts: 25 Quiltmakers from 21st-Century America (here and here), it was well known to Marsha (who was central to the earlier traveling exhibition—a project that Jon was also involved in). Marsha and Kurt told us of the extensive and detailed textile exhibitions they saw previously at the museum (and that are still announced on the English website…). Sadly the museum was rather deserted on our arrival. It soon became clear why. Most of the exhibitions were recently taken down, leaving the galleries rather empty. We saw where the great textile exhibitions had been and we quickly saw the remaining history exhibitions and then we kept moving. Later in the trip—when we got to Nanning—we would see an exhibition that gave us hope for the Museum of Women and Children, but at this stage, we just departed the museum a bit disappointed and looking ahead to our next stop—Beijing’s 798 Art Zone.

The Temple of Heaven | 天壇 (12/8)

This briefer note is the second on our recent trip to China. The context for this travel will come (I hope) a few posts down the road. For now, perhaps you can just go with it. For the first post in the series, see The IU Gateway Office and Tsinghua University Art Museum (12/8).

After our group’s visit to the Tsinghua University Art Museum we ended the day with a visit to the Temple of Heaven (天壇). Wikipedia’s account (or whatever you can access) is probably sufficient for those who are curious about what the Temple of Heaven is about. In a nutshell, it is an impressive temple complex dating back to the early 1400s and was a key site for imperial sacrificial rituals. It is comprised numerous surviving buildings and beautiful grounds. For our interest as museum-types, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (number 881, to be exact). While it clearly attracts a significant number of visitors, visiting it (late in the day, in winter?) was certainly different from visiting the Forbidden City, where one typically becomes one tiny fish in a single vast, densely packed school of fish swimming straight through the complex from one end to another.

As earlier in the day, the companions were Jon Kay, Carrie Hertz, and Jason Jackson. At the Temple of Heaven we arrived too late in the day to enter any buildings, but we were able to stroll the grounds and see some of the buildings from the outside. Like so many monumental sites in China, one rarely has enough time to see the whole destination properly. Visiting when we did though, we really enjoyed the quiet contemplative nature of the experience. Many of those at the site were, like us, having a park visit experience as much or more than they were having a historical buildings experience. Of course, our state of reverie did not keep us from attending to the buildings, which were great. (A bit more text follows the images.)

Carrie and I, on an earlier trip’s visit to the Forbidden City, had noticed the English language signs pleading for no scratching. At the time, this had not made full sense to us, although we of course understood the impulse to protect these ancient monuments. At the Temple of Heaven, we were able wander without rushing or bumping into other people and thereby got a close look at the problem these signs work to prevent. You can see both the signs and some scratches in the images here.

We figured it out with some smart phone help, but one of the reasons that we were late in the day getting to the Temple of Heaven is that our taxi driver delivered us to the Temple of Heaven Holiday Inn (not yet a UNESCO World Heritage site), which it turns out is not exactly right by the Temple of Heaven itself. This meant that what we lost in terms of time spent at the site, we gained in terms of a walk through a not particularly touristy but elder-rich Beijing neighborhood. Posted here are some pictures for our families, friends, and other interested folks.

Thanks as always to my great travel companions. For deciding on the Temple of Heaven, thanks go especially to Carrie.

The IU Gateway Office and Tsinghua University Art Museum (12/8)

This post is about a portion of my recent trip to China. The main focus of this trip was collaborative ethnographic research in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, but other activities happened along the way. This post about the morning of December 8, 2017 and my companions for the day were two friends and colleagues–Dr. Carrie Hertz, Curator of Textiles and Dress at the Museum of International Folk Art and Dr. Jon Kay, Director of Traditional Arts Indiana and Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Indiana University.

After traveling from the U.S. to Beijing, our first morning in China was devoted to a visit to the Indiana University China Gateway Office, which is adjacent to Tsinghua University in Beijing. There we met with China Gateway Director Steven Yin and IUPUI Recruitment Coordinator and Assistant Office Manager Peter Wen. We spent some time at the Gateway discussing China-related projects (including our own) and then Peter walked us across the Tsinghua campus for our visit to the remarkable Tsinghua University Art Museum (TAM), where Steven had arranged for us to meet with colleagues and see the museum.

 

At TAM we met with Ge Xiuzhi from the research department and Wang Ying from the education and external relations department. They were generous hosts with whom we shared tea and luxurious visits to the museum’s spacious and beautiful galleries. Our interests gravitated to some of our favorite topics–textiles and dress, architecture, and furniture. Here are some images from “Architecture China,” an exhibition that tells the story of a group of vernacular architecture researchers while also introducing architecture students (and everyone else) to the key techniques in the national architectural tradition.

 

A key exhibition at TAM at present is a large overview exhibition titled “Tsinghua Treasures: Exhibition of Tsinghua University Art Museum Collection.” It is very large and presents a rich sample of the museum core collection. As reflected in this sample of our images, we devoted a lot of time to the textile section, which is rich in items of dress and adornment.

 

We could have spent more than one day just studying the various sections of Tsinghua Treasures. We regretted neglecting some wonderful sections, including those devoted to ceramics, painting, and calligraphy.

 

We focused intently on the furniture gallery. As with the architecture exhibition, there were excellent hands-on educational stations in this gallery that helped one better understand the techniques and woods used in Chinese furniture.

 

Staff from the Tsinghua University Art Museum visited Indiana University during May 2017. On that visit I attended a presentation at the Eskenazi Museum of Art at which the Eskenazi staff (and I) were given a exciting overview of this new museum’s work and collections. It was wonderful to be able to follow up on this presentation and to see the TAM itself in the company of very generous hosts and my wonderful colleagues.

Our visit to the Tsinghua University Art Museum

A view of our group and the grand staircase at the Tsinghua University Art Museum. (L-R) Peter Wen, Ge Xiuzhi, Jon Kay, Carrie Hertz, Jason Jackson. December 8, 2017. Photograph courtesy of Ge Xiuzhi.

 

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