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Looking Ahead: University Anthropology Museums Matter

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

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

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

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

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Mathers Museum Access Ramp Project Photograph

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The project to add an access ramp to the Mathers Museum of World Cultures (and to give give the Glenn Black Laboratory of Archaeology a new ramp and staircase) is now underway. The demolition phase is about finished and the building work is set to begin. This is the view looking south down Fess Ave. at the 9th St. corner. One can see the Student Building’s red tower in the distance. The new ramp will provide access from this corner to the museum’s east door.

Early Career Jobs for IU Folklore and Ethnomusicology Ph.D.s in 2014

In order to answer a question that was posed during the recent Future of American Folkloristics conference, I took a few moments recently to crunch some placement data for Ph.D. graduates in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University. The data was collected for the department’s most recent external review. More could be done with it, but here is some simple and quick analysis.

At the time of the external review, the department gathered then-current employment circumstances for Ph.D. graduates for the period 2008 to 2014. That list of alumni comprises fifty-five colleagues in the fields of folklore studies and ethnomusicology.* I have not checked to see if there are Ph.D. graduates from 2008-2014 missing from this list (but I doubt there are). In the following discussion, I do not separate folklorists from ethnomusicologists. I acknowledge that this could be done with a bit more effort, but I was trying to do what I could do quickly.

PhD Placement

What came out in the work that I did do? I do not privilege academic jobs over those pursued away from university or college campuses, but I will begin here with those in academic roles. (My own biases would probably have me emphasize the museum workers…) The admirable diversity of roles filled by scholars in our fields means that different approaches to coding the same data are probably inevitable. While I do not describe my approach, it should be relatively transparent from the categories that I use below.

I do not support the regrettable professor-centrism of most research university faculties and deans, but I do worry a lot about precarity and contingency in the U.S. professoriate. I start then with those in the 2008-2014 cohort who were in tenure-track (TT) positions in 2014. Nineteen of fifty-five Ph.D. graduates were in such roles at the time of the snapshot (19/55 or 34%). I will comment more on skewing in this number below.

At the time of the snapshot, eight of fifty-five cohort members were in non-tenure track (NTT) roles (8/55 or 15%). As anyone in academe knows, this NTT category is itself heterogeneous, containing colleagues teaching by the course under very difficult conditions as well as those teaching relatively comfortably with full-time, multiyear contracts. I do not parse the list in a granular way to address this distinction. A more careful analysis would.

By my calculation, two more cohort members were in post-doctoral fellowships at the time of the snapshot. To the best of my knowledge, these were university-based and included teaching, thus I will gather them together with other university teaching roles (2/55 or 4%). Together, we can speculate that the NTT and Post-docs may have then aspired to be TT faculty. While I will do the math for this, I do not want to believe it categorically. A person could be in a NTT teaching role while busily seeking a research curatorship, an archivist role, or some other appropriate position. But, lumping the the TT, NTT, and post-docs together, we find 53% of the 2008-2014 cohort working in greater professordom as of 2014.

Twenty-six out of the fifty-five (26/55 or 47%) were then in some other academic support role, university-based researcher role, or public sector or applied job. Others would code the list differently, but my break down is as follows.

  • Academic support (not including librarians, but including academic advisors): N=7
  • Business roles: N=1
  • Librarians and archivists: N=2
  • Public folklorists and public ethnomusicologists (not including museum work): N=3
  • Museum roles: N=6
  • Independent research organization staff: N=1
  • Soft money (grant-funded) research posts: N=2
  • NGO work (outside the conventional public folklore/ethnomusicology sector): N=1
  • Scholarly publishing roles: N=2
  • K-12 education roles: N=1

If I slice this 47% (/non-faculty) group differently, sixteen work in college/university contexts and ten do not. Thus 82% (45/55) (including the citizens of professordom) of the Ph.D. cohort for 2008-2014 are working on campus and 18% of this particular group work off campus. This sort of surprises me, but as I think of it, it makes more sense. Our department trains a greater percentage of public and applied workers for off-campus roles but the analysis would have to add in M.A. graduates to more meaningfully capture this fact.

There are other complexities not addressed here, such as when public folklore jobs are based on university campuses or in museums or when an academic advisor role is based in a relevant academic department and includes an instructional component. The real world is more complex than any simple quantitative analysis can capture. With such caveats in mind, it is noteworthy to me that a significant number of Ph.D. graduates at the time of this snapshot were working as academic advisors. I do not think that this is a bad thing. More and more anecdotal evidence suggests to me that our training makes for excellent advising because we know academic structures, the diverse worlds from which students come, and the complex informal cultures of the university. I would also note that academic advising has proved, in at least one case that I know, to have provided a reasonable home base from which to mount a successful push for a TT professorship. In my observations at IU, an academic advisor role (in contrast to a vexing adjunct situation) would provide more of the much-needed spare time and job stability required to maintain or establish a publication program on the side and to pursue the hard work of applying to a range of professor positions.

While I have not parsed the data or done the math, it seems evident from the listing that the international scholars who secured tenure track jobs in their homelands skew the data for TT appointments in a more positive direction. For Americans seeking TT professorships in the United States, the task is simply harder than the aggregate 34% TT versus 15% NTT numbers would suggest.

Since I am the teacher of our graduate Curatorship class and the director of our campus museum of ethnography, I have a special interest in museum placements and I feel pretty good about the 11% represented here. This cohort, graduating between 2008 and 2014 was the first to benefit from expanded museum training opportunities. I expect our placements in this area to continue gaining strength.

I do not feel overwhelmingly good or bad about these numbers, even as I worry about the state of social science and humanities doctoral training overall. I think that they are a reasonable snapshot of the early career career paths of an impressive group of Ph.D.s in folklore studies and ethnomusicology. Reviewing 2014 data in 2017, I know that many of those represented here have moved on to even better (for them) roles. Post-docs, NTT professors, and academic support staff now hold TT posts, press editors have been promoted, museum people have migrated to jobs that they like even better…. But not everyone is employed as they aspire to be. As the higher education press makes clear every day, the career worlds inhabited by those holding the Ph.D. are not easy and excellent people can struggle under the weight of significant structural challenges. I believe that those challenges require us—especially those of us working in graduate degree granting programs—to try to study current realities and to communicate clearly with those who want to gather data on the graduate programs that they might join or that they are already a part of.

I hope that these notes are useful to someone.

*The set of lists that I am discussing here also include a separate listing of full-time placements among those then-still the Ph.D. program and a list of M.A. graduates for 2007-2014. I do not touch on either of these groups here.

 

The Basketry of Blaise Cayol: A Mathers Museum Connection to Southern France on the Occasion of the Indiana University Visit to Marseille

Indiana University has connections and partnerships all around the world. This week, special attention is being directed to Spain and France, where IU President Michael M. McRobbie is leading a delegation of university leaders and visiting some of our important institutional partners, as well as connecting with our students studying in some of the most longstanding and distinguished of our study abroad programs.

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Basket Maker Blaise Cayol (right) and two American Scholars (left) at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2015.

Today IU leaders met with senior administrators and faculty of Aix-Marseille Université in Marseille. Not far from there lives a very talented French basket maker with whom the Mathers Museum of World Cultures has begun corresponding. In the summer of 2015 I had the pleasure of meeting him at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His name is Blaise Cayol and he lives in the town of Tavel in the Occitanie region of southern France. Blaise has mastered the making of willow basketry in a wide variety useful forms that are characteristic of his region and, like many of the most talented contemporary basket makers working in traditional materials, techniques, and forms, he has also developed his own unique designs and creative works. As the Mathers Museum of World Cultures prepared to present an exhibition of the work of Indiana-based willow basket maker Viki Graber in 2015, I had the opportunity to not only meet Blaise, but to obtain two of his baskets for our collection. They provided a great pairing with Viki’s European-rooted-but-American willow baskets. In a wonderful way, they also helped expand our museum’s collection of contemporary European objects. (A pressing need given the small and less-well documented nature of our European holdings.) Since meeting Blaise, he has been a generous correspondent answering my questions about French basketry in general and his basketry in particular. As President McRobbie and our Indiana University colleagues visit southern France, it is a nice moment to celebrate our museum’s connection with Blaise and with the very rich tradition of French art, craft, design, and culture that he carries forward into the contemporary world.

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French willow baskets await the crowds at the 2015 International Folk Art Market.

You can learn more about Blaise’s work on his website here: http://www.celuiquitresse.com/p1.htm. You can also learn about his work in a short English-language video compiled by the International Folk Art Alliance (organizers of the International Folk Art Market). The four-minute video is titled Baskets are Universal Objects and it is on Vimeo here: https://vimeo.com/67416276. If you can make it to the folk art market this summer, I know that Blaise would love to sell you one of his baskets and tell you about the contexts from which the come.

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A basket by Blaise Cayol, now in the collections of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

You can learn more about the Indiana University delegation to Spain and France via this press release: https://news.iu.edu/stories/2017/05/iu/releases/12-spain-france-delegation.html and the stories being shared on the trip blog: http://blogs.iu.edu/france-spain-2017/

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A basket by Blaise Cayol, now in the collections of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

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There are always big crowds at the International Folk Art Market where Blaise Cayol is a favorite artisan.

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.

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

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

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

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

Abstract:

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

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/

CFP: Museum Anthropology Futures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SESSION FORMATS
Read more

Don’t Miss the Quilts of Southwest China Exhibition Opening at MMWC

While the coming week will be diverse and full as always, I have one big hope–that many friends, colleagues, campus citizens, and community members will come out for the opening of Quilts of Southwest China. The exhibition opens next Saturday (January 21, 2017) from 2-4 p.m. This is a project that we (a big, bi-national we) have been working on since 2013. If you would like to learn more about the project, you can also come out on Friday at noon for a talk (“Curating Quilts of Southwest China”) by co-curator Lijun Zhang of the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities. (Lijun is also a research associate of the MMWC and an IU Ph.D. graduate).

I give here the invitation (everyone is invited!). Below the invitation, I share some links for more information on the exhibition.

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Read about Quilts of Southwest China in the Bloomington Herald Times.
Read about Quilts of Southwest China on the Art at IU Blog.
Purchase the Quilts of Southwest China catalogue at the MMMWC store or from the IU Press.

See you at the museum!

An Interview with Jessica Richardson Smith, Museum Anthropologist and Research Services Librarian at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

Jessica Richardson Smith is the Research Services Librarian at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. She pursued three majors—Anthropology, Latin and Greek, and Geology for her Indiana University BA degree from the College of Arts and Sciences. While at Indiana, she used the museum practicum course in the Department of Anthropology to gain a range of experiences working in the Midwest Archaeological Laboratory. That work resulted in a published paper—Tools of the Trade: Chipped Lithic Assemblages from the Hovey Lake (12Po10) and Ries-Hasting (12Po590) Archaeological Sites, Posey County, Indiana (with Cheryl Ann Munson, Meredith B. McCabe and Dean J. Reed). She earned a master’s degree from the Department of Anthropology at the George Washington University and leads the Wymer’s DC project.

Jason Baird Jackson (JJ): Before we circle back and discuss your experiences at Indiana University and George Washington University, I’d love to begin by finding out about the mission of the Historical Society of Washington and your role there. What are your core responsibilities as a Research Service Librarian?

Jessica Richardson Smith (JRS): Sure! The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. is a 122-year old educational and research institution that collects and shares the history of Washington, D.C., emphasizing the local community over the federal city. We are a team of seven who strive to produce diverse public programming and exhibitions, as well as public access to our collections. That’s where I come in as the Research Services Librarian. The core of the Historical Society is our research library which houses over 100,000 photographs, over 800 manuscript collections, and hundreds of maps, prints, and objects—all on D.C. history.

My day-to-day duties consist of working with researchers in our library to help them find the information they need. Whether they are writing a scholarly article or just bought a house and want to learn about its history and their new neighborhood, my job is to help facilitate their needs with what our library can offer. Another facet of my job is to know what the other repositories in the city have. If the Historical Society doesn’t have some piece of information, I want to know where I can direct them.

I love my job—I never do the same thing twice and each day I am learning more and more about this city, our collections, and our members. On any given day, I may meet members of our community and learn about their projects and passions, research a topic in our collection for a researcher working remotely, or help troubleshoot a long-shot research query that someone submits based on a decades-old memory. Every day is something new and every day is something interesting. The best part is when I can apply what I learn one day to a question we get the following week. That’s great. It makes you feel like you are making real headway into learning the complex history of a city like D.C.

Also, because we are a small institution with a big mission, my colleagues and I are expected to wear many hats. In addition to my librarian duties, I also participate in shaping our public programming and exhibitions; I conduct photo research for our publications; I digitize material and tackle rights assessment questions; and I track our library statistics. Each of these things are being juggled on a day-to-day basis, which can be demanding but also very fulfilling.

The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. is located in Washington's historic Carnegie Library, dedicated in 1903.

The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. is located in Washington’s historic Carnegie Library, dedicated in 1903.

JJ: It sounds like you are in a sweet-spot in terms of scale. Your institution is big enough to be doing important, interesting work but small enough that you have not gotten trapped in a specialist silo in which you do only one task over and over again.

Washington is such an incredible place for museums, libraries, and archives. What is it like to work in a small-but-old museum/library in a city of large-but-old museums/libraries? Do you feel connected with GLAM (Gallery, Library, Archives, and Museums) professionals around the city or, like many of our colleagues elsewhere, do the day-to-day demands of the job keep you from connecting to colleagues around the city?

JRS: I can’t speak for what it is like at other institutions, but I think we do a good job of collaborating with our fellow institutions in the city, particularly those with a local focus. The D.C. Public Library, National Archives, Library of Congress, National Building Museum, the newest Smithsonian, the National Museum of African American History and Culture—these are all institutions we work alongside and collaborate with in order to forward our mission of preserving local D.C. history.

As the Research Services Librarian, my daily duties are often intra-institution focused but I regularly refer our library patrons to other institutions around the city when we don’t have particular resources. While this means I don’t personally interact on a daily basis with my GLAM colleagues, there is mutual awareness of our work through referrals. At the Historical Society, our main collaboration with our GLAM colleagues is through joint public programming, from conference plenaries to archival fairs, workshops, exhibitions, etc.

JJ: I am especially glad to hear that you have not only pathways to connect with colleagues, but that your institution is well-situated enough to support, and to see the value in, outreach, research dissemination, and professional development activities like those you have just mentioned. One of my reasons for being interested in your connectedness to the cultural institutions of DC is that you were trained at the MA level there, at George Washington University. That institution has a unique advantage in that it trains students in a city with so many public collections and so many collections-oriented professionals. Before we turn to your undergraduate experiences at Indiana, could you describe your graduate studies? What did you study? What role did hands-on work play in your career? Read more

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