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Posts from the ‘Prizes’ Category

Reflections on The Mind is a Collection

On September 22, 2016 Indiana University’s Center for Eighteenth Century Studies held the 2016 Kenshur Prize celebration at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. The museum was an especially appropriate setting because the prize winning book was The Mind is a Collection: Case Studies in Eighteenth Century Thought (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015) by Sean Silver (English, University of Michigan). It was an honor to be asked by Center Director Rebecca Spang to join a panel of discussants of Silver’s book. What follows here are the remarks that I prepared for this occasion. Those paragraphs preceded by XX were not read in oral presentation but are noted here. Silver’s book, and companion digital exhibition, are an important contribution to material culture and museum studies, in addition to being significant in the fields of Eighteenth Century Studies and the history of ideas. My notes here presume a context present at the event but absent here–a general introduction to the author’s work and project, relevant commentary by the author, and commentary by my colleagues on the panel (who were chosen to represent a diversity of relevant perspectives on the book and project). I preceded my own remarks by welcoming the students and faculty of the Center to the museum and congratulating Sean on this important recognition for his book and exhibition.

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I lack sufficient knowledge of the science, history, culture, and literature of this period, as well as of the relevant parts of cognitive science, to knowledgeably engage the heart of Sean’s remarkable work. Reflecting it central organizing device and thematic concern though, the project’s literal and conceptual organization as a museum-minded exhibition of museum mindedness does offer me a way in. I fear though that I have proven to be one of those rushed museum visitors trying to squeeze in a stop at the big city museum while in route to the airport, roller bag in tow. Passionately interested and markedly impressed, but also nervous and feeling pressed for time, here are a few reflections on my hurried visit. They address smaller vitrines and displays around the edges rather than the main exhibition hall with the core of the story. In the end, such sites of engagement are, of course, a specialty of my own field of folklore studies.

I was struck by the degree to which this is a book and digital exhibition (among the most sophisticated that I have encountered) of our moment. This is not in itself a complete surprise, of course (all of our writings would similarly qualify in degrees), but it does warrant closer acknowledgement. Those who work in museums have a love/not-love relationship with the museum-ification of everything that western societies (and others as well) are in the midst of right now. This is easiest to see in the proliferation of settings in which the word curator is made to apply. TED talks are curated as are meals, fashion shows, and car insurance options. What Barbara Kishenblatt-Gimblett speaks of as the curation of the life world is manifest in the extreme when we speak of curating’s one’s own person brand through, for instance, one’s social media engagements. When it comes to more-than-just-museums curating, there are many very cool things happening on this front in The Mind is a Collection—both the book and the digital exhibition. Like I am, Sean is a part of the zeitgeist. He has interests and passions that are socio-culturally and historically conditioned and he knows the mood of the present so as to anticipate the interests of his readers; but at the same time, his book is fundamentally about the curation of the life world and is a valuable reminder that there is much more to this than a present-day sensibility. I loved learning about the degree to which the curatorial style was a past-day sensibility for learned London, if not for the mass of the city’s residents. Something special happens when a well conceived, well executed project is perfectly calibrated between the ethos of its present and the ethos of the other time or place or context with which it is concerned.  Such dynamics could be investigated in any scholarly project, but here they just ring clear as a bell for me.

XX Another instance of this calibration of then and now ethoses concerns what here at IU we call—as reflected in our strategic plan, for instance—“a culture of making.” Even when Sean is discussing unfamiliar matters, I sense that nearly any practicing museum curator would swoon in response to his manifest love of objects, particularly in their status as manifestations of craft. This is a book and digital exhibition for material culture specialists, even if it deals with materials and concerns not uniformly familiar to the most established material culture disciplines. But outside the scholarly realm, ours is a moment of craft in countless guises, from molecular baskets concocted in materials engineering laboratories to yarn bombing on the streets of Bloomington. I have a friend who crafts artisanal reproductions of the earliest telescopes—the kinds of objects that would seemingly belong in the cabinets of Sean’s subjects. As my own students are documenting ethnographically in a wide range of domains and as the programs of the Mathers Museum reveal, a significant portion of our fellows of the present are in love with the hand made thing and, sometimes, with making things by hand. Such enthusiasms surely persist in a core of actors in each period and place, but they also go in and out of wider fashion. Ours is a maker-minded moment and this is an engaging book and digital exhibition written about the maker-minded living in another maker minded-moment by a maker-minded author. My pleasure again arises in part from the parallelisms found here. I also look forward to learning more about Sean’s in-progress work The Crafts of Enlightenment.

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Figure: The landing page for Silver’s digital exhibition The Mind is a Collection.

 

XX For the social scientific reader, I also think that this book and digital exhibition participates in the contemporary conversation in the human sciences in a novel and interesting way. Like other particularly noteworthy works of our moment, it is a book about the recursive entanglement and co-constitution of humans (as individuals and in groups), objects, and ideas occurring together in particular environments. (For instance, consider Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World.) Its central concepts are shared keywords of our moment: design, complexity, network, embodiment, scale… Such matters interest many of us broadly, but in Sean’s project I find that they are being approached in fresh and new ways that I can happily begin carrying back into my own disciplinary conversations. His website and book are just the kinds of works that I could recommend to the graduate students with whom I work, as an anecdote to conventional approaches to conventional topics addressed with the help of canonical works. Put another way, the book and website engage shared interests in fresh ways. I say this from the perspective of someone who teaches a graduate course on Theories of Material Culture. I would welcome the challenge of working with students in that course in study of The Mind is a Collection.

XX The term material culture arose in the disciplinary context of anthropology. It fits and doesn’t fit in that field in a number of different ways in different times and places. In one now moribund American formulation, material culture was part of a triumvirate that also included mental culture and social culture. The phrase material culture persists despite our shedding of these two companion terms.  During the height of ideas and symbols-centric anthropology, material culture studies faced hard times in social and cultural anthropology. Folklore studies became a key contributor to the study of material culture during the time of its neglect in cultural anthropology.  Today, matters have changed again and material culture is front and center in anthropology and anthropologists face a changed landscape outside their field. The English Department at the University of Michigan has a nice website. When looking at the department’s faculty, one can sort them easily by research interests. In the past, but even today, many cultural anthropologists would be surprised to see that material culture is one of these departmental research foci. They would be even more surprised to see that twelve core faculty members in English—Sean among them—identify with this interest. The same dynamic is now active in many fields lacking deep histories of work in this area. Those who long studied material culture alone in a tiny disciplinary node now operate in a field that is broad and deep. Sean’s book arrives in this new context, one that is driven home each day when my editorial assistant and I open envelopes containing books sent to Museum Anthropology Review for review. If a skeptic asked me for an illustration of what a scholar of English could contribute to the material culture studies commons, The Mind is a Collection offers an incredible answer. But it also reveals the newer challenge for anyone working in material culture studies—this interdisciplinary field is now vast and sophisticated beyond the practical ability of most practitioners to keep up. Material culture studies has entered a new era.

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Figure: The cover of The Mind is a Collection (Penn Press, 2015).

Let me close with a reflection on “thinkering” this is a great word prominent in a great project. In the contexts in which it comes up here, this neologism caused me to think of a pronouncement that I always make when discussing the pleasures of being a curator. It comes up sometimes when I am discussing careers with graduate students. It always comes up in my graduate course in Curatorship, and it certainly has popped out when a non-museum friend or colleague finds me at work cleaning a vitrine with Windex or measuring a gallery wall with a tape measure. What I have said countless times is that the special pleasure of being a curator is that it is the perfect mix of brain work and of hand work—hammering one minute, studying in next. Now this dualism participates in exactly the problematic conceptualizations that are at issue in Sean’s study, but he is generous and, in my reading, he gives our folk psychology back to us and lets us get on with the work. While he holds a professorship and not, to my knowledge, a curatorship, it is a pleasure to have engaged with the work of someone whose brain work and hand work are so well integrated and so well executed. I hope that soon Sean will get the chance to build a physical exhibition to go along with his book-as-catalogue and his digital exhibition.

Candace Greene Wins Ames Prize; Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology Recognized

I learned great news today. My friend, colleague and collaborator Candace Greene (National Museum of Natural History) has been selected as this year’s recipient of the Michael M. Ames Prize for Innovative Museum Anthropology, awarded by the Council for Museum Anthropology.

In a letter sent to Candace and quoted from in an announcement making the rounds, Alex Barker, CMA President, wrote: “The award recognizes your groundbreaking work in developing and implementing the Smithsonian Institution Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology, and particularly the transformational potential of the program. Museums are more than just collections of things, after all. They’re also collections of people, and the SIMA program provides crucial training and educational opportunities, enriching the discipline of museum anthropology and embodying the innovative spirit the award recognizes.”

I am not attending the American Anthropological Association meetings and will unfortunately miss it, but there will be a formal announcement and presentation during the current AAA meetings during the Council for Museum Anthropology’s reception on Saturday, November 17 in the San Francisco Hilton’s room Imperial A. The reception runs from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

I am super pleased with this wonderful news of recognition well-deserved. Candace has been a great leader in the museum anthropology community and her vision for the creation of SIMA, together with her hard work to make it a success, have been amazing. This is an important award, well-bestowed. Congratulations to Candace and to everyone involved in making SIMA a thriving endeavor.

Museum Anthropologists are Award Winners

I am presently batting my email box. One of the small rewards in this situation is discovering great news emails that slipped by. From the excellent news rediscovered department, I am happy to note two recent awards bestowed on friends from the museum anthropology community.

Dr. Nancy Parezo was awarded the 2011-2012 Graduate College Graduate and Professional Education Teaching and Mentoring Award at her home institution, the University of Arizona. Nancy is a member of the Department of American Indian Studies at UA and is a lead faculty member for the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology held each year at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. (I will be joining Nancy for part of this year’s SIMA).

The Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM) recently bestowed its 2012 Guardians of Culture and Lifeways International Awards. Winning for “Outstanding Project” was the
Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal, “an interactive, online digital archive that provides access to Plateau peoples’ cultural materials at Washington State University through tribal curation. The Portal provides a way for tribal communities to include their own knowledge and memories of digital materials for various collections.  This project is an inspiring model of how university repositories can successfully collaborate with tribal communities to curate and enhance collections with tribal voices and histories.” The project director for this effort is my friend and collaborator Kimberly Christen of Washington State University.

Belated congratulations to Nancy, Kim, and to the Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal team on these well deserved awards.

Historian Tiya Miles Honored with a 2011 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship

Congratulations to Tiya Miles on being honored with a 2011 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. It is always fun to see who has been awarded one of these amazing Fellowships and it is great when someone working in the same corners of the world that I do is a recipient. Learn more about the awards and Professor Miles’ work on African and Cherokee history in the American South here.

Outstanding Collaboration Citation for Open Folklore

The Open Folklore project, a collaborative effort between the Indiana University Bloomington Libraries and the American Folklore Society, is the recipient of the 2011 Outstanding Collaboration Citation. The honor comes from the Association of Library Collections and Technical Services within the American Library Association.

The award recognizes and encourages collaborative problem-solving efforts in the areas of acquisition, access, management, preservation or archiving of library materials, as well as a demonstrated benefit from actions, services or products that improve and assist with the management of library collections.
Open Folklore debuted in October 2010 to provide open online access to many useful — but heretofore difficult to access — research materials in the field of folklore studies, including books, journals, “gray literature” (unpublished) and web sites.

“Open Folklore is extraordinary in its vision and its promise. A true example of the spectacular things that can be achieved together but which are entirely impossible alone,” said Julie Bobay, Associate Dean of IU Bloomington Libraries.

“Ultimately, Open Folklore will become a multifaceted resource, combining digitization and digital preservation of data, publications, educational materials and scholarship in folklore; promoting open access to these materials and providing an online search tool to enhance discoverability of relevant, reliable resources for folklore studies,” said Kurt Dewhurst, president of the American Folklore Society.

“As it grows, Open Folklore will provide a vehicle — guided by scholars — for libraries to re-envision our traditional library services centered on collections — selection, acquisition, describing, curating and providing access to a wide range of materials, published or not,” said Brenda Johnson, Dean of IU Bloomington Libraries. “The progress of this experiment will, in a very real way, illuminate the path academic libraries must take in supporting collection development in the digital age.”

Primarily, Open Folklore was developed so quickly and productively because of the close match between the collection development and scholarly communications priorities of the IU Libraries and the American Folklore Society, Dewhurst said.

Barbara Fister of Inside Higher Ed blog Library Babel Fish, said the project is drawing “a terrific map for societies unsure of how to proceed” with open access.

“Partnering with Indiana University Libraries, the American Folklore Society is identifying where their literature is and how much of it is accessible, bringing attention to existing and potential open access journals, asking rights holders if material can be set free, digitizing gray literature so it will be preserved . . . these folks are sharp,” Fister said. “And they’re doing what scholarly societies should do: promoting the field and sharing its collective knowledge for the greater good.”

“As a librarian deeply involved in building digital collections of the future, I view Open Folklore as a stunning example of the value of, and opportunities presented by, new developments in scholarly communication,” said John Wilkin, executive director of HathiTrust Digital Library.

The award will be presented at the Association of Library Collections and Technical Services Awards Ceremony at the Annual Conference in June 2011.

(From an IU Bloomington press release.)

Folklore Studies and the Big Digital Humanities

(As John Laudun has already noted) warm congratulations are due to our UCLA folklore colleague Timothy R. Tangherlini who (with Peter Leonard of the University of Washington) has secured a Google Digital Humanities Research Award for their project Northern Insights: Tools and Techniques for Automated Literary Analysis, Based on the Scandinavian Corpus in Google Books. Tim is a leader in digital humanities research whose focus is on big projects that explore ways of dealing with large amounts of folklore data. This is important work and I am glad that Google is recognizing the work that Tim and his colleagues have been pursuing. Congratulations!

New Prizes for Students and Practitioners in Museum Anthropology

The board of the Council for Museum Anthropology has just announced two new developments of interest to the museum anthropology community. They have established a Student Travel Award that will fund student participation in the CMA’s annual meeting (at the AAA meetings). Two $500 awards will be given annually. Learn more on this award here on the Museum Anthropology weblog.

Also newly established is Michael M. Ames Prize for Innovative Museum Anthropology. The Prize will be: “awarded annually to individuals for innovative work in museum anthropology, which is understood to entail outstanding single or multi-authored books, published catalogues, temporary and permanent exhibits, repatriation projects, collaborations with descendant communities, educational or outreach projects, multimedia works, and other endeavours.” Learn more about the prize on the Museum Anthropology weblog here.

It will be exciting to see what projects are recognized with these important new awards.

IU Celebrates the Work of Christopher Peebles

One of my graduate school mentors-turned-senior colleagues, Dr. Christopher Peebles has been recognized by the university through the bestowal of the Thomas Hart Benton Mural Medallion by IU President Michael McRobbie. Chris has maintained a remarkable administrative and research agenda, concurrently working as a Southeastern archaeologist (hence our connection) and as a research computing scholar and administrator. He is transitioning into retirement this year after more that 25 years of service at Indiana, where he has directed the Glenn Black Laboratory of Archaeology and served in a number of key administrative roles. The IU Press Release is available here.  Congratulations Chris!

(Chris was an amazing teacher and supporter of my work during my graduate school career and he has been a generous mentor in the ways of university administration since my return to Indiana.)

Henry Glassie Named Haskins Prize Lecturer

Great news for my Department in the form of a ACLS press release circulated today.

 

Henry Glassie, College Professor Emeritus of Folklore at Indiana University, Bloomington, will deliver the 29th Charles Homer Haskins Prize Lecture at the 2011 ACLS Annual Meeting in Washington D.C.

Named for the first chairman of ACLS (1920-26), the Charles Homer Haskins Prize Lecture series, entitled “A Life of Learning,” celebrates scholarly careers of distinctive importance. The lectures are published in the ACLS Occasional Paper series. The list of previous lecturers includes John Hope Franklin, Gerda Lerner, Helen Vendler, Peter Brown, Clifford Geertz, and William Labov. Historian of science Nancy Siraisi will deliver the 2010 Haskins Prize Lecture at the ACLS Annual Meeting on May 7th in Philadelphia. Read more

Chicago Folklore Prize!!!!!

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What amounts to the Nobel Prize in Folklore Studies was announced last week at the American Folklore Society meetings in Boise, Idaho. I am so super pleased that two friends with ties to my home department are sharing the award for 2009. The Chicago Folklore Prize is a book prize and it is the oldest and most distinguished award in folklore studies. Begun in 1928 by the University of Chicago, it is today given by the university in partnership with the American Folklore Society.

Sharing the prize are my colleague Michael Dylan Foster (Assistant Professor of Folklore at Indiana University) and Ray Cashman (Associate Professor of Folklore at The Ohio State University). Ray earned his Ph.D. in folklore here at Indiana University.  Michael’s book is Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yôkai (University of California Press). Ray’s book is Storytelling on the Northern Irish Border: Characters and Community (Indiana University Press).

Indiana University has distributed a press release celebrating news of their winning the prize. Congratulations to Michael and Ray and to folklore studies.

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