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Museum Ethnography in the Native South

In the “Museum Ethnography in the Native South” project (2020-present), I am focused on the study of ethnographic museum collections, archives, and exhibition practices through research work undertaken in selected museums of relevance to the study and representation of indigenous peoples from the Southern United States (referred to in contemporary scholarly and indigenous discourses as “the Native South”) and through consultation about these collections and exhibition practices with knowledgeable members of the relevant indigenous communities of origin. In-museum and in-community research are equally crucial to work of this type in museum anthropology and museum-based folklore studies (together referred to here as museum ethnography).

The project is directed towards the writing of a comprehensive study of museums and material culture centering on the lives of Native American peoples of this region across space and time and the project also aims to make collections more accessible to—and useful to—the originating communities out of which they came.

Research visits to the Gilcrease Museum, the Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Williamson Museum, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Denver Art Museum, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology are now being planned for fall 2020. Support for this research has been provided by the College Arts and Humanities Institute and the Social Science Research Funding Program at Indiana University and the Gilcrease Museum.

A array of small pieces of Florida Seminole patchwork in many colors and designs.

Sample Florida Seminole patchwork strips from the William C. Sturtevant Collection at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

“Museum Ethnography in the Native South” is not yet a group project, but I hope that I can grow it into a larger collaboration.

In this project I build on earlier work that I, and colleagues, have pursued related to the topic, including research at the American Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of Natural History, the Field Museum, the Philbrook Museum, the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the (former) Mathers Museum of World Cultures, the Columbus Museum, and in other repositories. It also connects with past exhibitions projects that I have participated in, including Children of the Sun: Euchee Indian Culture and Tradition (Gilcrease Museum, 1998), Changing Florida Seminole Life, 1930-1960 (Mathers Museum of World Cultures, 1995), and Cherokee Craft, 1973 (Mathers Museum of World Cultures, 2016). Finally, it also relates to contemporary collections that I have assembled for the Field Museum, the Gilcrease Museum, and the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Financial support for this earlier work was provided by a diversity of sources, including the American Museum of Natural History, the Columbus Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology, the Field Museum, the Fund for Folk Culture, and Indiana University.

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