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Paid Internships for IU Students at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures

We have realized a big museum goal–establishing a paid internship program at MMWC. Please check out the announcement (below and here) and encourage bachelors and masters students to apply. (Application materials are on our website.)

ALLEN WHITEHILL CLOWES CHARITABLE FOUNDATION INTERNSHIP PROGRAM

The Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation has awarded funding to support the establishment of a new internship program at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Indiana University Bloomington. This new program will be MMWC’s first offering of competitive, paid internship experiences, building on decades of practicum student programming, and significantly increasing the MMWC’s ability to cultivate dedicated museum professionals at the undergraduate and master’s level.

With a long-term goal of improving Indiana’s professional museum workforce, this program’s primary objective is to increase the quantity, quality, and accessibility of real-world professional development experiences available to IUB upper-level undergraduate and M.A. students seeking museum careers.

Beginning in Summer 2017 an inaugural class of interns will launch the program. Internship cohorts of three students per semester will participate in the program over a 1o-semester pilot (fall, spring, summer) through Summer 2020.

On-campus internships undertaken during fall and spring semesters will enable IUB students to gain valuable work experiences without interrupting their studies by relocating to distant locations or for Unrelated part-time work. The program will also advance a public service mission through the option of funding summer session work in off-campus museums as well. This option expands the range of professional opportunities available to museum-focused IUB students, while strengthening the work of these peer institutions.

The Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation, Inc., a private foundation, was established by Allen W. Clowes. a leading philanthropist in Indianapolis. Indiana, who during his life made major contributions to various charitable organizations that promoted or preserved the fine arts, music, literature, education, science and history. Most of these organizations are located in Central Indiana.

The primary mission of the foundation is to support charitable organizations that promote or preserve the Arts and Humanities and to support charitable organizations that were supported by Mr. Clowes during his life or are similar to those supported by Mr. Clowes.

For information on applying for 2017 Summer and Fall internships, please see here.

Southern Foodways Alliance: 2017 Summer Oral History Workshop

An organization whose work I am enthusiastic about is the Southern Foodways Alliance. Here I share news of its next oral history workshop. I quote from the call for participants and end with a link to the webpage where more information can be found.

SFA’s 2017 oral history workshop will be held in Atlanta, Georgia. Geared toward those who are new or moderately new to oral history methods and fieldwork, participants will think critically and creatively about the dissemination of oral histories and the impact recorded narratives have on communities and audiences.

This summer’s workshop will study and document stories along Buford Highway, collaborating with We Love BuHi, a nonprofit community organization that catalyzes and supports an inclusive and sustainable Buford Highway through creative place-making collaborations.

Open to undergraduate and graduate students, professors, educators, and SFA members, participants will learn SFA-devised methods and approaches to oral history, audio recording skills and techniques, an intro to digital photography, and hear guest lecturers from documentarians and community organizations documenting Atlanta foodways. The week will culminate in the collection and processing of oral history interviews using foodways as a way to open the door to life stories and experiences.

We strongly encourage people of color to apply.

SFA documents stories of the diverse communities throughout the South, and we believe it to be equally important for oral historians to represent that diversity.

For dates, more information, pictures, and the broader SFA context, start online here: http://www.southernfoodways.org/scholarship/workshops-2/

Thank You @iupress for a Great Material Vernaculars Reception at #afsam16

A quick note to convey appreciation for the great staff of the Indiana University Press, especially the work of the press staff who attended the 2016 American Folklore Society meetings in Miami. It was clear that the press had a great meeting. They brought mountains of new books and were wiped out. They also announced a lot of forthcoming titles and clearly were talking to a lot of scholars about their work. One highlight for me was a tremendous reception sponsored by the press in celebration of the Material Vernaculars series that the press co-publishes with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures and that I edit. The reception attracted a huge crowd and the food and drinks that IU Press so kindly provided were first rate. Thanks to IU Press and to all who came to the reception. Thanks to all who purchased copies of the first two Material Vernaculars titles. Your endorsement is very encouraging.

The Free-to-Readers Edition of Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds

As I discussed in a previous post, works in the Material Vernaculars series are being made available in a free-to-readers PDF edition via IUScholarWorks. The eponymous edited collection Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds was posted today and you can find it here: http://hdl.handle.net/2022/20925

If you think that high quality open and/or free access editions of scholarly monographs are a good thing, and if you have the means to do so, I urge you to purchase copies of the companion print or ebook editions as a way of supporting the cause and subsidizing the access of others, including those who cannot otherwise afford to obtain the book. If you really want to make a difference, consider donating to the not-for-profit publishers and libraries behind such efforts. In our case, you can contribute to the Indiana University Press (co-publisher of the Material Vernaculars series with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures) here: http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/pages.php?CDpath=12

Here is a screen shot showing you where to click to download Material Vernaculars. The image should link to the page in IUScholarWorks where the book is found. (The link is given above as well.)

slide1Happy reading!

Who Cares About Craft as Traditional Knowledge?

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

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

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

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

Really Really Getting Up to Speed for Tomorrow, Fall

This week the Mathers Museum of World Cultures has been part of a larger Indiana University effort to get the word out about an interlocking set of events and initiatives. As readers here will have noted, these include the campus’ first First Thursday Festival (happening tomorrow), the Siyazama exhibition opening at MMWC (happening tomorrow after the First Thursday Festival concludes), and the College of Arts + Sciences’ Themester, which focuses on Beauty and includes a raft of MMWC activities–both tomorrow and throughout the semester. Here I want to post one last time before our big day tomorrow. My purposes are two. To lay out specifically what MMWC activities are happening and to provide a round up of the various communications and news stories that have appeared in connection with these events. Getting the word out is normal, but when some events are new (as First Thursdays is) it pays to really get it out. Here is a round up of coverage and a chance to get the whole picture, so as to not miss out.

First the MMWC part:

Tomorrow at the museum we host four visiting artists for demonstrations (10:30 to 11:30) and a narrative stage hosted by Jon Kay (11:45-12:30). [This will be the first use of our brand new stage!) Here is how we explained this part:

The Beauty of Indiana Folk Arts: Visiting Folk Artists Series–Viki Graber (Basketmaking), John Bundy (Decoy Carving), John Bennett (Blacksmithing), and Greg Adams (Willow Furniture)

Thursday, September 1; 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. (Demonstrations), 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (Narrative Stage)

Drop by and meet some of Indiana’s master folk artists while they make and create–Viki Graber (Basketmaking), John Bundy (Decoy Carving), John Bennett (Blacksmithing), and Greg Adams (Willow Furniture) will share their work and their art with you. The demonstrations and narrative stage will be free and open to the public, and are sponsored by Themester 2016: Beauty, an initiative of the IU College of Arts and Sciences.

Our artists guests have a break before they join the museum at First Thursdays for outdoor demonstrations and narrative stage presentations in the Culture Tent adjacent to Woodburn Hall. The Bicentennial Exhibition will be on display outdoors, providing engaging context.  Here is how we explained this:

First Thursdays–Indiana Folk Arts: 200 Years of Tradition and Innovation
Thursday, September 1, 5 to 7:30 p.m.

For more than 200 years Indiana has been home to a wide variety of folk arts. In celebration of the state’s Bicentennial, a special traveling exhibit has been developed by Traditional Arts Indiana, a program at IU’s Mathers Museum of World Cultures, with accompanying demonstrations by Indiana folk artists. Drop by and meet some of Indiana’s master folk artists while they make and create–Viki Graber (Basketmaking), John Bundy (Decoy Carving), John Bennett (Blacksmithing), and Greg Adams (Willow Furniture) will share their work and their art with you. Their presentations will be free and open to the public, and are sponsored by Themester 2016: Beauty, an initiative of the IU College of Arts and Sciences.

As First Thursdays concludes, we will open the Siyazama exhibition (as well as our two other Themester exhibitions–Costume: Beauty, Meaning, and Identity in Dress and Hózhó: Navajo Beauty, Navajo Weavings. Here is our overview of the opening event.

Mathers After Hours–Siyazama: Traditional Arts, Education, and AIDS in South Africa
Thursday, September 1; 7 to 9 p.m.

Join us for the opening of a special traveling exhibition–Siyazama: Traditional Arts, Education, and AIDS in South Africa–that explores how traditional arts, knowledge, and skills are used to address AIDS. The exhibition also showcases the Siyazama (Zulu for “we are trying”) Project, an arts education project based in KwaZulu-Natal, which uses traditional crafts to raise awareness about AIDS. The exhibition grew out of the South African National Cultural Heritage Project, a bi-national project led, in part, by Michigan State University Museum and MATRIX: Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online. The exhibition opening will be free and open to the public, and is sponsored by Themester 2016: Beauty, an initiative of the IU College of Arts and Sciences, and the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington.

I note that we also have a great performance and great food lined up for the opening! (see Figure 1 for a piece from Siyazama)

We hope to see you at all or some of this tomorrow. Now for the published stories and releases.

Sanya Ali wrote a nice piece for the Indiana Daily Student (“Mathers plans variety of programming for beginning of September“)

T. J. Jaeger wrote a nice article about First Thursdays, including its Mathers angles, for the Limestone Post. (“IU to Showcase Artists with Massive Monthly Festival“)

On the Art at IU blog, Karen Land posted a nice account of First Thursdays, including its Mathers parts, (“New First Thursdays festival puts the focus on IU’s arts and humanities, food and fun“)

In a message to IU students, staff, and faculty, Provost Lauren Robel invited the campus community to First Thursdays, including the Siyazama opening and other associated events. (“Inaugural First Thursdays Festival“)

First Thursday’s lead organizer, Ed Comentale, Associate Vice Provost for Arts and Humanities, authored a overview of First Thursdays for Inside IU Bloomington. (“First Thursdays Festival will showcase creativity on campus“)

There is a pay-walled story about First Thursdays in the Bloomington Herald-Times by Michael Reschke. Check it out if you have a subscription, just don’t feed the trolls. (“IU ‘First Thursday’ showcases art and humanities“).

In addition, there are press releases for Siyazama and Themester.

Hopefully that is enough information for everyone to really know what the deal is. I look forward to seeing you at our artists events, at First Thursdays, at the MMWC exhibition opening, and at all the great programs lined up for fall. Thanks to all who have worked to bring these events to fruition.

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Figure 1: “Let’s Work Together to Fight AIDS” cloth by Johanna Sebaya, Mapula embroidery project, Winterveldt, North West Province, South Africa, 2005. | Photo by Pearl Yee Wong, courtesy of the Michigan State University Museum

Get Oriented to Themester 2016: Beauty

Reviewing the Mathers Museum of World Cultures events and exhibitions pages is probably the only way to get a full sense of all that we are doing for 2016 Themester, but for an overview of Themester as a whole and its focus on Beauty, I recommend checking out yesterday’s kickoff press release (Figure 1). In addition to the MMWC pages, it would also be great to see the Themester website. For MMWC, Themester boils down to three great classes [A400, E460, F360] taught at the museum, three great beauty-focused exhibitions [Costume, Hózhó, Siyazama], plus a lot of programming, including folk artists residencies throughout the semester, as well as films, lectures, and hands-on activities. Check out the full list here. Thanks go to the College of Arts and Sciences for including the museum in an impressive roster of Themester activities. Thanks too go to the students who are helping us organize our Themester activities and to the artists and tradition bearers whose work we are highlighting. Please join it this remarkable exploration of beauty around the world.

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Figure 1: The Themester 2016 press release, which leads off with a photography b MMWC Consulting Curator Pravina Shukla, from her exhibition Costume.

Improving Access to Scholarship: Material Vernaculars as Milestone and Experiment

First the take away, then the story. While produced in very nice and reasonably priced hardback, paperback, and ebook editions, works in the new Material Vernaculars series are also being made available in free-to-the-reader PDF versions. This is a great thing and, if you agree with me about that, and can afford to do so, I really hope that you will purchase the edition of your choice, thereby signaling your support for making such works freely accessible to those who cannot afford to purchase them. If this seems strange to you, its a lot like community and public radio in the United States. Those who can support these services help make them accessible to those who cannot afford to make their own donations. We all gently nudge those who use them and could, but don’t, support them. (Called free riders.) Its not utopia, but its what we have and its better than the vast majority of people being locked out of non-commercial arts and education programming (and scholarly books). Now you can skip to the end for the link if you are in a rush.

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Those who know about my work know that I have been focused on promoting free and open access to scholarly work for a relatively long time. My advocacy efforts followed soon after I began work as a scholarly journal editor. At that time, I was drawn into a diverse range of problems, opportunities, and paradoxes that the transformation of scholarly communication was (and is still) engendering. Probably the best place to find the things that I have written on this theme is to look at the interview that I did with Ryan Anderson (published in Cultural Anthropology in 2014)

In 2015, my focus in this work shifted to books when I was a participant in a project funded by the Mellon Foundation. The results of that project were reported in: A Study of Direct Author Subvention for Publishing Humanities Books at Two Universities: A Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation by Indiana University and University of Michigan.

Concurrent with such advocacy work, I have tried to build real-world projects that could advance scholarship while testing strategies for increasing public access to research. Now in its tenth year, Museum Anthropology Review (now the journal of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures) is the best example of this. On the book side, there is now the Material Vernaculars series co-published by the museum and the Indiana University Press. In my previous post, I highlighted the series first title—Folk Art and Aging: Life-Story Objects and their Makers by Jon Kay and the series’ scholarly mandate. Here I am flagging the series’ relationship to free and open access movements.

Books cost a lot of money to make. In a peer-reviewed article, based on our humanities book research studying publishing work of the Indiana University Press and University of Michigan Press, my colleagues report that the zero copy cost for a typical humanities book is about $27,000. Efforts to increase access to scholarship have to find ways to confront these costs from all sides—finding ways to lower prices but also new ways of funding the professional work that it takes to make a quality book.

For me, for the museum, and especially for the IU Press, the Material Vernaculars series is an experiment. If we get past talking about it and actually begin doing it, what can we learn that will, we hope, help us learn to do it more and better? This is part of what is at stake for IU Press and for the whole world of university press humanities book publishing. I am thrilled to be a part of a new series that has a secondary role (beyond its primarily scholarly one) of finding ways to make scholarly books more widely and openly accessible.

So paradoxically, if you believe (for example) that the communities about whom ethnographers write should have access to what they write, then I call on you, paradoxically, to purchase a copy of Folk Art and Aging and the other other books that are in the pipeline. Your purchase helps support the goals of the series and it demonstrates that paid-for print editions or e-book editions are not mutually exclusive of free-to-readers electronic editions. If it helps, think of the print edition as a thank you gift for your donation to this cause rather than as a commodity that you are purchasing in the marketplace. You can feel particularly good about it if you purchase it directly from the Indiana University Press, thereby cutting out one or more commercial intermediaries.

It (PDF) won’t always be the file format of choice, but for now the free editions of Material Vernaculars titles will be circulated in PDF form via the IUScholarWorks Repository. When people download the books from IUScholarWorks, there is a download count, which helps us learn how many people, over what time period, showed interest in the book(s). (So, send your friends to the link rather than passing around the PDF…)

If you are wondering how to download the book, see the picture above for the place to click.

Here is the link. Two actually. The first is durable but enigmatic. The second is more human readable, but potentially less permanent.

http://hdl.handle.net/2022/20906
https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/20906

Happy reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WAWV Profiles Two Indiana Craftspeople; Draws Content and Inspiration from Indiana Folk Arts Catalogue

A local ABC affiliate profiled two Indiana craftspeople in a recent local news segment. These makers–blacksmith John Bennett and bowl hewer Keith Ruble–are featured in the exhibition and catalogue Indiana Folk Art: 200 Years of Tradition and Innovation. The WAWV story weaves together content from the catalogue with interviews with these two artists. The reporter also announces upcoming presentations of the exhibition around the state. It is great to see mainstream local media covering Indiana traditional artists/craftspeople and passing on news of the exhibition. See the video here and download and read the catalogue for yourself here.

Thanks to reporter Rebecca Brumfield for her story. (Excerpts from the catalogue for the two artists featured in the story are posted below.)

Bennett Page

Rubble Page

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