Brown Bags

Video Games as Museum Interpretive Tools: A Preliminary Look

Friday, September 23, 2011

Presented by KT Lowe, MSI student, Information and Museum Studies

The idea of the video game as a museum learning tool is hardly new; the earliest examples date to 1993. Increasingly, however, museums are looking to digital technologies as a way to attract new audiences, retain old ones and inspire new connections with objects. Also, in an increasingly connected world, museums as physical spaces are attempting to gain a foothold in the digital world. Games act as a logical step in that direction. Gameplay, far from idle activity, is a method of inquiry and learning deeply ingrained in human experience. Games themselves are not mere entertainment, but an explicitly designed world with a subset of rules that must be understood and adhered to in order to facilitate play. Therefore, the natural question/answer model that games provide integrates very well with museums as places for nonstructured learning. This talk will examine gameplay in a museum environment, what examples exist and some of the options available to museums.

Exhibiting the Pituitary Gland: Engaging the Public in Current Scientific Research

Friday, October 14, 2011

Presented by Shannon Davis, Post Doc, Biology

Surveys conducted by the National Science Board indicate that only 30% of the American public understands how a scientific study is conducted. In an effort to improve the public’s understanding of science and to ensure that a scientist’s research will reach an audience beyond their fellow scientists, the National Science Foundation now requires scientists to develop a “broader impacts” plan in order to obtain funding. Frequently, scientists will develop a plan that includes education proposals targeting the general public through local science museums. The University of Michigan’s Exhibit Museum of Natural History receives numerous requests from scientists on campus to develop such proposals. In collaboration with the Exhibit Museum of Natural History, I have designed and implemented a small exhibit and two programs that present current research on the formation of the mouse pituitary gland. I will discuss my experiences in developing and implementing the exhibit and programs, the impact these projects have on museum visitors, and how my experiences could improve collaborations between the Exhibit Museum of Natural History and University of Michigan scientists.

Designing Interests: Exhibition Design at the University of Michigan Museum of Art

Friday, November 11, 2011

Presented by Andrew W. Gurstelle, PhD, Anthropology

Exhibits are the primary way that audiences experience museums and the field of exhibition design carefully considers the needs and desires of museum visitors. However, visitors are just one of the multiple constituents taken into account during the exhibition design process. Identifying and engaging all of the interested parties is an important series of steps in creating a successful exhibition. In this talk I will share some of my experiences from a summer 2011 internship at the University of Michigan Museum of Art where I worked with curators and staff to design an upcoming exhibition of art from Africa.

Fantasy in the Museum: Experiencing “Reality” at the Getty Villa

Friday, December 9, 2011

Presented by Emma Sachs, PhD, Interdisciplinary Program in Classical Art and Archaeology

In 1968, J. Paul Getty declared that he wanted to recreate the Villa dei Papyri, a large villa in Herculaneum that had been destroyed in 79 CE, to display his entire art collection. The Getty Villa today remains home to the Getty’s antiquities collection, reimagined to embrace the setting of an archaeological dig: its architects used the steep terrain around the museum to design entry from above, so that visitors who approach the museum look down on it for the first time as if it were an archaeological site. At the same time, the world below them is suggestive of an actual inhabited villa, not the remains of one. Visitors enter the villa through its front door as if they were guests of some dominus momentarily absent; a series of bronze sculptures, replicas of the ones found at the Villa dei Papyri, line the inner and outer peristyles to be enjoyed by different sets of eyes; the garden, which exclusively features plants cultivated on the ancient Mediterranean, suggests continued occupancy and a working kitchen. This brown bag will begin to explore how and why the Getty Villa is so successful as a museum, even though many of its characteristics are devoid of authenticity and closer to a fantasyland.

Visitor Experience, Commemorative Integrity, and the “Celebration of Imagination” at Green Gables Heritage Place

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Presented by Sarah Conrad Gothie, PhD candidate, American Culture

Following the publication of L.M. Montgomery’s most famous novel, Anne of Green Gables (1908), the nineteenth-century farm that inspired its idyllic setting on the north shore of Prince Edward Island became a sought-after destination for tourists. In the 1930’s this “literary landscape” was acquired as part of the newly formed Prince Edward Island National Park and now comprises the core of the L.M. Montgomery’s Cavendish National Historic Site managed by Parks Canada. This presentation will include an overview of MSP practicum activities conducted with the visitor experience team at Green Gables and a discussion of the challenges of balancing historical integrity with visitor expectations when communicating messages about people and places both real and imagined.

Through Whose Eyes? Critical Reflections about an African Art Exhibition in Detroit

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Presented by Bea Zengotitabengoa, PhD candidate, History of Art

The Detroit Institute of Arts is a critical place where identity, culture, and power are negotiated through displayed objects. But who negotiates discussions about African objects installed in its galleries? This talk describes my experience working alongside African art curator Dr. Nii Quarcoopome. I reflect upon his approach to cross-cultural representation, curatorial authority, and cultural authenticity as he designed the summer 2010 exhibition, “Through African Eyes: The European in African Art, 1500-Present.” In keeping with the DIA’s recent embrace of “new museology,” Quarcoopome’s exhibition foregrounds African perspectives, gives voice to historically silent objects, and engages the polemical histories behind them.

Growing Experiences: Archives, Community, and Public Space at Smithsonian Gardens

Friday, January 20, 2012

Presented by Joseph Cialdella, PhD, American Culture

Museums are often dramatic visual components of the landscapes they inhabit. Yet what role do they play in collecting, preserving, and interpreting the cultural and horticultural meaning of gardens and designed landscapes? As an archival and living collection of plants, photographs, and designed landscapes, Smithsonian Gardens contains a unique, if challenging, combination of items to negotiate for visitors. In what ways can a museum be a “community garden”? In what ways can gardens be seen as more than decorative public spaces? How can a small unit within the larger Smithsonian Institution remain relevant to visitors? In this talk, I will examine these topics by sharing some of my experiences as an intern at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens during the summer of 2011.

Learning How To See: An Exploration of Education and In-Museum Classroom Experience Design at the Toledo Museum of Art

Friday, February 10, 2012

Presented by J. Amadeaus Scott, MFA, Art & Design

The role of education within a museum space may seem obvious, but integrating education into the institution is complicated. The Toledo Museum of Art is an excellent case study for this, as the day-to-day practices of K-12 curriculum-driven education programs become shifted through new approaches.

At the TMA, I had the opportunity to develop on-site curriculum driven activities for the K-12 students tied to the museum’s “Egypt Experience” exhibit, which made connections between state academic content standards and collections. These activities offered students an opportunity to engage with collections in an interactive way through a designed classroom experience while fulfilling specific learning requirements for a range of subjects. I was subsequently employed by the TMA to actualize these designs and fabricate them as well as train docents and lead school groups through the activity stations.

This presentation will explore this small-scale experience design process with an educational directive as it played out at the TMA, as well as the ways that the concepts of “resonance and wonder” play out within the Museum through interactive engagement.

Conferences and Symposia

Cross Currents: Transdisciplinary Dialogues on the Museum

For the Public Good: Libraries, Archives, Museums and Issues of Social Responsibility

Sunday, October 23, 2011

  • Bradley L. Taylor, Associate Director, Museum Studies Program
  • Margaret Hedstrom, Associate Professor, School of Information

Collecting institutions have entered the 21st century with traditional assumptions about their place in society a matter of some debate. Changes in both the public and private funding of libraries, archives, and museums as well as our national economic malaise have caused institutions to innovate, collaborate, and adapt. It has also caused them to reduce program offerings, terminate services, lay off employees, sell collections (often under controversial circumstances), and even close permanently.

At the same time, the demand for access to information has never been higher. While collecting institutions struggle to find their footing, generations weaned on the web, YouTube, and FaceBook increasingly demand information that is immediate, personally relevant, and malleable. As a result of these sea changes, collecting institutions have renewed their interest in users/audience and in a broader role in society at large, returning momentarily to earlier exhortations that such institutions exist fundamentally to serve “the public good.”

This conversation will explore the following questions:

  • What obligations do collecting institutions have to provide intellectual and physical access to their collections?
  • What role should professional organizations play in articulating a larger vision of social responsibility to the public?
  • As publicly supported institutions, what is the responsibility of libraries, archives, and museums to their users/audiences? To society at large?
  • To what extent are social change and activism consistent with a mandate for cultural institutions to serve the public good?
About Bradley L. Taylor

Bradley L. Taylor is the Associate Director of the Museum Studies Program at the University of Michigan. His degrees include advanced work in both museum studies and information and library studies at the University of Michigan, where his doctoral research received “Dissertation of the Year” recognition from the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE). He has published several articles on the effect of surrogation on the affective response to objects in museum settings. His current research addresses the role of the museum in the society; to this end, he is completing an article on Detroit’s Heidelberg Project and the role of the artist/curator in the community. Taylor teaches in the graduate proseminar for the Museum Studies Program and was recently instrumental in the development of a new undergraduate minor in museum studies at UM.

About Margaret Hedstrom

Margaret Hedstrom is Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Professor at the School of Information, University of Michigan where she teaches in the areas of archives, electronic records management, and digital preservation. She is PI for a NSF-sponsored traineeship (IGERT) called “Open Data” that is investigating tools and policies for data sharing and data management in partnership with faculty and doctoral students in bioinformatics, computer science, information science, and materials research. She was project director for the CAMiLEON Project, an international research project that investigated the feasibility of emulation as a digital preservation strategy. Her current research interests include digital preservation strategies, sharing and reuse of scientific data, and the role of archives in shaping collective memory. She is a member of the Board for Research Data and Information, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences. She has served on the National Digital Strategy Advisory Board to the Library of Congress, and the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, U.S. Department of State, and on the ACLS Commission on Cyber-Infrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Hedstrom is a fellow of the Society of American Archivists and recipient of a Distinguished Scholarly Achievement Award from the University of Michigan for her work with archives and cultural heritage preservation in South Africa.

Tactical Museology: Thinking Strategically about Community, Museum and the Academy

Sunday, October 2, 2011

  • Raymond Silverman, Director, Museum Studies Program; Professor History of Art and Afroamerican & African Studies
  • Maria Cotera, Associate Professor, Program in American Culture, UM
  • Aimee VonBokel, PhD, American Culture

Community collaboration is full of joys and challenges. Our conversation will explore two community-based projects involving the development of museums or cultural centers. One is situated in Techiman, a small city in central Ghana, where the community is developing a cultural center that will contribute to economic growth, while at the same time function as a site for performing and preserving cultural traditions. The other is taking place much closer to home, in the Latina/o community of Southwest Detroit, where the peoples’ goals are essentially the same, to create a space where community can thrive, and the stories that matter can be told. Cotera, Silverman and VonBokel will discuss the ins and outs of such collaborations, focusing on the complexities and ambiguities of working in communities whose citizens may have very different agendas and visions for a community-based museum. They also will consider the roles that they play in these projects and the implications such activities have for their scholarly work.

Cotera, Silverman and VonBokel will consider the following issues in their conversation.

  • Institutionalizing culture. Can a community-focused museum both celebrate and critique the community that sustains it? How does one represent multiple and at times conflicting narratives in the museum?
  • Inside/Outside. Who is the intended audience for a community-based museum? Can the museum function as a space of mediation for local and global interests/narratives?
  • The ethics of community-engaged scholarship. What are the limits of “outsider” participation/intervention in creating a community-centered cultural institution?
  • Thinking strategically. How is dialogic space created; an arena for collaboration, an environment for effectively confronting the political, social and economic challenges of building and sustaining a community-based cultural institution?
  • Funding culture. Is it possible to develop a viable funding model for building and sustaining a community museum?
  • Community-engaged scholarship. How does one translate community-oriented work into scholarship?
About Raymond Silverman

In 2002, Raymond Silverman joined the faculty at the University of Michigan where he is Professor of History of Art and Afroamerican & African Studies, and serves as Director of the Museum Studies Program. In addition to teaching courses dealing with the visual cultures of Africa and Museum Studies, he has curated a number of exhibitions dealing with various aspects of African visual culture. Silverman’s research and writing has examined the interaction between West Africa and the cultures of the Middle East and Europe, the history of metal technologies in Ethiopia and Ghana, the social values associated with creativity in Ethiopia, the visual culture of religion in 20th-century Ethiopia, and the commodification of art in Ethiopia and Ghana. Among his many writings, Silverman is the author of Ethiopia: Traditions of Creativity (1999) and Painting Ethiopia: The Life and Work of Qes Adamu Tesfaw (2005). Most recently he has been exploring “museum culture” in Africa, specifically how local knowledge is translated in national and community-based cultural institutions.

About Maria Cotera

Maria Cotera has held her current position as an Associate Professor in the Women’s Studies Program & Program in American Culture (Latina/o Studies) at the University of Michigan since 2001. From 2008 – 2011 she held the position of Director, Latina/o Studies Program. Her research/teaching interests include Chicana Feminism, US-Third World Feminisms, Latina/o Studies, Comparative Race and Ethnicity, and twentieth century writing of U.S. women of color. In 2008 she published the book, “Native Speakers: Ella Cara Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, Jovita Gonzalez Mireles and the Poetics of Culture.” She has edited other books and contributed numerous articles to journals and edited volumes. She is currently working on a book titled “Chicana por Me Raza: The Hidden History of Chicanas in the Second Wave.”

About Aimee VonBokel

Aimee VonBokel is a PhD student in American Culture and Museum Studies at the University of Michigan.

Community, Identity and the Jewish Museum in Postwar New York

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Jeffrey Abt, Associate Professor, Art and Art History, Wayne State University, and Deborah Dash Moore, Professor of History & Director, Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, UM, engage in a conversation about New York’s Jewish Museum and the nature of Jewish identity in postwar America. Fall 2011.

The Jewish Museum of New York was established within the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1904 but it began building a separate and prominent cultural presence when it moved to its present location on Fifth Avenue in 1947. Among the exhibits celebrating the tenth anniversary of that move was a show surveying the second generation of “New York School” abstract-expressionist painters. The exhibited works were decidedly non-Jewish in content and most of the artists were not Jewish. The show inaugurated the Jewish Museum’s foray into two decades of avant-garde exhibitions that made the museum the place for New York’s art-world denizens to see the freshest, most adventuresome art.

These avant-garde exhibits also provoked debates within the New York Jewish community about the purposes of the Jewish Museum, which, in turn, raised difficult questions about the nature of Jewish identity in postwar America. This clash of ideas occurred just as concepts of “identity” and “ethnicity” were entering mainstream-American social thought. The issues underlying the Jewish community’s debates provide early and telling evidence of American society encountering the rocky terrain of identity politics. That they arose in the context of the Jewish Museum’s avant-garde programs augured controversies in subsequent decades when museums increasingly became flashpoints as they were expected to either preserve or break down boundaries of religious, ethnic, racial, or national identities across America””challenges that endure today.

Abt and Moore will consider the following issues in their conversation:

  • Why did midcentury American Jews feel a particular affinity for avant-garde art?
  • Why did they choose to express that affinity through the Jewish Museum?
  • How did attitudes toward assimilation or acculturation, or communal integration or separation, during that period affect New York Jews’ approaches to cultural participation in contemporary art?
  • Why did the Jewish Museum’s avant-garde exhibition program end in the late 1970s?
About Jeffrey Abt

Jeffrey Abt is an Associate Professor in the James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History at Wayne State University. He pursued curatorial and exhibitions work at the Wichita Art Museum, the Special Collections Research Center of the University of Chicago, and at the University’s Smart Museum of Art, before coming to WSU. He is an artist and a writer and has exhibited his work widely in America and abroad. His writings include A Museum on the Verge: A Socioeconimic History of the Detroit Institute of Arts, 1882-2000 (2001) and “The Origins of the Public Museum” (in A Companion to Museum Studies, 2006). His next book to be published this Fall is American Egyptologist: The Life of James Henry Breasted and the Creation of His Oriental Institute.

About Deborah Dash Moore

Deborah Dash Moore is Frederick C. L. Huetwell Professor of History at the University of Michigan and Director of the Jean and Samuel Franklin Center for Judaic Studies. For many years she taught in the Religion Department of Vassar College. She specializes in twentiety century American Jewish history. Her published works are numerous and include At Home in America: Second Generation New York Jews (1981), Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia (1997), and American Jewish Identity Politics (2008).

Presenting Science in Interdisciplinary Exhibitions

Sunday, December 4, 2011

  • Sally Oey, Associate Professor, Astronomy
  • Harold Skramstad, President Emeritus, Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village

The themes, topics, and stories in museum exhibits often cover content that provide opportunities for teaching across a broad range of disciplines. Prevailing practice, however, tends to view exhibition content as neatly fitting into categories defined as art, history, or science. This represents a lost opportunity both to present a full, multidimensional perspective on various topics, and, in particular, to offer substantive science education within a broader societal context.

This conversation will explore several broad questions related to the potential of museum exhibitions to enhance science education:

  • What format and planning process is needed for an interdisciplinary exhibition to be feasible and successful?
  • How can we recognize content that presents an opportunity for teaching science within exhibitions that are more focused on the arts, humanities, or social science?
  • Is it possible to formulate a robust collaborative paradigm that would be helpful for the development of future interdisciplinary museum exhibitions?
  • What might be the impact of such a paradigm for the future of museums and museum exhibitions?
  • What might be the impact of such a paradigm on those teachers who use museum exhibits as a teaching and learning resource?
About Sally Oey

Sally Oey is an Associate Professor in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Michigan. She attended the University of Arizona, Bryn Mawr College, and Havorford College for degrees in astronomy, physics, and Latin. Her research interests include massive star populations and their radiative, mechanical and chemical feedback. She is an editor for New Astronomy Reviews and is a member of the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics. She participates in numerous scientific organizing committees, and she was the lead organizor of the UM Winter 2009 Theme Semester, The Universe: Yours to Discover. Sally currently serves on several committees including the Faculty Senate Assembly Secretary of the University Advisory Committee and the Board of Advisors for the Exhibit Museum of Natural History.

About Harold Skramstad

Harold Skramstad is President Emeritus of Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village and a consultant specializing in strategic and interpretive planning for museums and cultural organizations. He also served as Director of the Chicago History Society, has participated in a variety of museum and executive leadership and management programs, and was commissioned in 2003 by AAM to write A Handbook for Museum Trustees. In 1994 President Clinton appointed him to the National Council on the Humanities where he served as the Chairman of the Public Programs Committee. Among other awards and honors, Dr. Skramstad was awarded the Charles Frankel Prize by President George H. W. Bush for his efforts in bringing humanities to a wide public audience.

High Wire Acts in Historic Houses and Public Gardens

Sunday, March 25, 2012

  • Robert Grese, Professor, Natural Resources, UM
  • Douglas Conley, Director of Landscapes, Edsel & Eleanor Ford House

We are in the midst of an exciting time with historic houses and public gardens as we strive to balance stewardship and best practices with a visitor experience that encourages curiosity, creativity, innovation, and exploration. The act of blending more frequently than not places the staff of today’s cultural organization on a high wire, attempting to demonstrate the fine art of balancing with one end of the balance-pole representing stewardship and best practices and the other representing the visitor experience.

This conversation will explore this balancing act by looking broadly at:

  • The impact of bringing thousands of people to an historic site for an event; welcoming them to a garden designed for use of a family who held significantly smaller scale gatherings and parties
  • Bringing technology into an historic house or public garden to engage and inform the visitor; introducing these new learning concepts in a manner that enriches instead of diminishes the experience for the visitor
  • Tossing out the velvet ropes; making an historic garden or house accessible in new ways that allow the visitor to immerse his/herself in the experience and the stories that are told
  • How ongoing historic preservation of the landscape or built environment can become a more engaging part of the visitor experience; learning from observing – learning from participation
  • One Size Doesn’t Fit All – changing the belief that a public landscape or historic house should serve all audiences; defining an organization’s unique niche and determining how to exploit that niche.
About Robert Grese

Robert Grese is a professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan. He serves as the Director of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. His teaching and research involve ecologically-based landscape design and management that respects the cultural and natural history of a region. Particular interests include the restoration and on-going management of urban wilds and the role such lands can play in re-connecting children and families with nature and the work of early designers such as Jens Jensen and Ossian Cole Simonds who advocated for native vegetation and regional emphasis. His current research involves work on the prairie/oak savanna restoration a Nichols Arboretum and the history of ecologically-based design. Robert received his master’s degree in landscape architecture in 1984 from the University of Wisconsin. Selected publications include The Native Landscape Reader (in press), “Trends in Botanical Gardens and Arboreta: Connecting Kids to Nature” (2010), and “Ethics, Water Conservation, and Sustainable Gardens” (2006). Robert is a registered landscape architect and is involved in numerous service activities including the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation, the Society for Ecological Restoration Midwest Chapter, and Michigan Chapter Nature Conservancy.

About Douglas Conley

Douglas Conley is the Director of Landscapes at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House. He earned his Master of Science degree and Museum Studies Certificate from the University of Delaware and completed a Longwood graduate fellowship in the public horticulture program. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in applied biology and an Associate in Applied Science degree in ornamental horticulture. He previously held the positions of Director at the Gardens of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), Assistant Superintendent at Walnut Hills Country Club, and Horticulturist at Dow Gardens. He has been involved in many outreach programs and presented presentations for various organizations including the American Public Gardens Association, Edwardsville and Highland Garden Clubs Watershed Nature Center, and Longwood Gardens Visiting Committee. He is involved in several civic engagements including membership of the Missouri Botanical Garden Plants of Merit committee, SIUE’s Academic Land Use, Greenhouse, and Campus Image committee, and the Southwestern Illinois Resource Conservation and Development Conservation Subdivision Task Force.

Museum Ethics in Collecting and Ownership

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Brian Kennedy, President, Director and CEO, Toledo Museum of Art and Peter McIsaac, Associate Professor, Germanic Languages and Literatures, UM, engage in a conversation about ethical and legal issues associated with the acquisition, maintenance and display of objects in museum collections. Winter 2012.

Shifts in perceptions of social responsibility and a rapidly changing global environment have presented curators and scholars with unprecedented challenges. Key among these are a range of ethical and legal demands that museums openly account for the ways they acquire, maintain and display the objects in their collections. In this talk, these issues will be examined from scholarly and curatorial perspectives. These varied perspectives will help to provide a differentiated view of the forces at work in demands as diverse as the return of antiquities and archaeological artifacts to their countries of origin, repatriation and/or the appropriate treatment of human remains and sacred objects taken from indigenous and colonialized peoples, and the restitution of objects looted during the Nazi era. As a non-exclusive list, these topics will, in turn, serve to probe the complexities of “doing the right thing” in today’s global museum culture. This will involve examining prevailing methods””for instance, online databases and community consultation””and concepts”” for instance the public trust””that museum scholars, directors and curators have developed in their attempts to redress past and present wrongs while still striving to educate, delight, and serve the widest range of constituencies using collected objects.

About Brian Kennedy

Brian P. Kennedy has been President, Director and CEO of the Toledo Museum of Art since September 2010. He came to the Museum with extensive experience in senior leadership positions at art museums in Ireland, Australia and the United States. A strategic thinker and collaborative leader, he also is a respected art historian, curator and author. Kennedy studied art history and history at University College in Dublin, earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Some of his previous positions held include Director of Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art in New Hampshire, Assistant Director of the National Gallery of Ireland (Dublin), and Director of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Kennedy is a past chair of the Irish Association of Art Historians and of the Council of Australian Art Museum Directors. A frequent speaker at conferences and seminars, Kennedy is a prolific author of six books and editor of six others. His most recent books are about artists Sean Scully and Frank Stella.

About Peter M. McIsaac

Peter M. McIsaac is currently an Associate Professor of German and Museum Studies at the University of Michigan. Some of his previous positions include Director of the Canadian Centre for German and European Studies and Affiliated Faculty of Graduate Studies (Program in Humanities), both at York University, as well as Assistant Professor and Lecturer positions at Duke University, Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the York University Merit Award, the Richard K. Lublin Distinguished Teaching Award from Trinigy College, and the Randall and Barbara Smith Faculty Enrichment Award from Duke University. He has contributed to numerous publications including Museums of the Mind: German Modernity and the Dynamics of Collecting, German Politics and Society, Preserving the Bloody Remains: Legacies of Violence in the Austrian Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, and many others. He is currently working on The Body Spectacular: Science, Public Enlightenment and Profit in German Anatomy Exhibitions. Peter McIsaac earned his bachelor’s degree in Physics and German from the University of Michigan and his PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures from Harvard University.

The Sonic Experience of Museums

Sunday, January 15, 2012

  • John Kannenberg, MFA, Art & Design
  • Terry G. Wilfong, Associate Curator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and Associate Professor, Department of Near Eastern Studies, UM

Artist John Kannenberg and Egyptologist Terry Wilfong will explore the many integral roles sound can play within the museum experience however much it remains overlooked by curators and designers. Sound in museums is presumed to equal music or some kind of significant historical documentation or didactic presentation, but museums are capable of producing and deploying sound in ways that could resonate far beyond its expected uses.

Moreover, most museums could collect, curate and present sound but most do not; we will explore therefore why museums should be more engaged with the concept of sound as an object. To this end, the discussion will explore whether “museums of sound” could become commonplace and, if so, what their collections might contain. Kannenberg and Wilfong will draw on their varied experiences as, respectively, an artist working with sound as a plastic medium and a researcher and museum curator investigating issues of sound in ancient cultures, as well as their shared experiences collaborating on museum projects and their mutual interest in the appreciation of sonic art.

  • Museums deliberately deploy sound in a variety of ways and contexts, but these are largely predictable: sound for didactic purposes predominating (music in connection with displays of musical instruments, historical recordings, instructive or illustrative sound-bites, etc.). What are the other ways in which museums do or could use sound?
  • Ambient sound produced by, in and around museums by visitors, staff, display components, systems machinery and the museum building itself can be a significant part of the museum-going experience, but little attention has been paid to this. How does the ambient sound that museums generate affect the museum experience? Can the sonic experience of museum-going be recorded or documented in an effective way, and should museums pay more attention to their sonic environments?
  • Can/should museums try to invoke sound without trying to produce it?
  • How can museums collect, curate and exhibit sound, and why should they do so? Could “museums of sound” become commonplace?
About John Kannenberg

John Kannenberg is a current MFA candidate in the University of Michigan’s School of Art & Design and a member of the 2010 Museum Studies Program cohort. As an artist, he creates quietly reflective work in image and sound that blurs the boundaries between intention and accident. Using techniques derived from free improvisation, musical composition, rules-based process drawing, and digital/analog minimalism in their construction, his works deal with a wide variety of themes including the human experience of time, the psychology of collection, the sonics of space and place, and the processes of both making and observing art. His work has been presented extensively worldwide. Since April 2002, John has served as the creator, designer and curator of Stasisfield.com, an experimental music label and interdisciplinary digital art space presenting works by a diverse collection of artists from around the globe.

Terry G. Wilfong

Terry G. Wilfong is Associate Professor of Egyptology in the Department of Near Eastern Studies and Associate Curator for Graeco-Roman Egypt in the Kelsey Museum at the University of Michigan. He received his Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Chicago, where he curated his first exhibition at the Oriental Institute Museum. Since coming to the University of Michigan in 1994, he has curated numerous exhibitions on a variety of topics at the Kelsey Museum, most notably “Women and Gender in Ancient Egypt,” “Music in Roman Egypt,” “Archaeologies of Childhood” and the current “Karanis Revealed,” in addition to curation of the Kelsey Museum permanent installation on Graeco-Roman Egypt. He has published and lectured extensively on a wide variety of topics, including books and articles on gender in the ancient world, Egyptian religion in the later periods and Coptic texts. His current project is a book tentatively titled: “Egyptian Anxieties: Living in an Oracular Age.”

History, Nation, and Memory in the 21st Century Museum: Exhibitionary Practices in Washington and Berlin

Sunday, February 12, 2012

  • Kerstin Barndt, Associate Professor, Department of Germanic Languages and Literature
  • Kristin Hass, Associate Professor, Program in American Culture

Since their inception as public institutions in the 19th century, museums have been implicated in processes of nation and empire building. In the 21st century, national museums must find their place in a new global order as well as vis-a-vis their citizenry. National museums in Washington and Berlin still construct heritage and project an ideal, “imagined” community. At the same time, we witness efforts but efforts do not generate more self-reflexive and dialogic exhibitions.

In comparing history museums in Berlin and Washington, this conversation will explore the changing landscape of national museums in both capitals throughout the last twenty years. The discussion will address specific exhibitions, analyze the politics of history inscribed into their displays, and explore the connections and points of dissonance in their research.

The following questions will be considered:

  • How do national museums in Washington and Berlin engage difficult and traumatic pasts?
  • What are the politics of exhibiting history as national heritage?
  • How do national history museums engage the future?
  • Which aesthetic paradigms and strategies of display inform recent history exhibitions in Berlin and Washington?
  • Does the concept of hegemony still provide a productive lens to think about the national museum in the 21st century?
About Kerstin Barndt

Kerstin Barndt studied German literature, philosophy, and linguistics at the Free University Berlin and Duke University. An Associate Professor in German Studies, she is also affiliated with the Museum Studies Program. She currently serves as Associate Chair and Director of Graduate Studies in the German department, and on the Steering Committee of the Museum Studies Program. Her research and teaching focus on the literary and visual cultures of the long twentieth century. Barndt’s publications include interwar literature, gender history, and exhibition culture in Germany as well as in the US. Her current book project is devoted to exhibition culture in Germany since 1989. Non/Synchronicities: Exhibiting Time and History in Contemporary Germany analyzes shifting representations of temporality in historical exhibitions, world fair pavilions, and post-industrial landscapes. Drawing on her curatorial experience from working with the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum in Dresden, Kerstin Barndt collaborated in 2010 with artist Sarah Berkeley and exhibited a multi-media installation Hello. My name is Tam in the old public museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The installation revolved around a female transparent anatomical model with links to Dresden’s famous Gläserne Mensch from 1930.

About Kristin A. Hass

Kristin A. Hass is an Assistant Professor in the Program in American Culture at the University of Michigan. Dr. Hass was the Assistant Director of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life from 1999 – 2004 and the Acting Director in 2002. She published her dissertation work as Carried to the Wall: American Memory and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1998 and continues to lecture, teach, and write about memory, publics, and memorialization. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies and has worked in a number of historical museums including the National Museum of American History, and The Henry Ford.

MSP 2011 Capstone Presentations

Bringing the Ancient World to Life at the Toledo Museum of Art: Generating Content for an In-gallery Digital Kiosk

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

  • Laura Alcantara, PhD, Near Eastern Studies
  • Sanam Arab, MSI, Information
  • Jenny Kreiger, PhD, IPCAA
  • Kayla Romberger, MFA, Art & Design

Migrant Technologies: Documenting the Material Culture of Undocumented Border Crossing

Monday, April 9, 2012

  • Abigail Celis, PhD, French Language and Literature
  • Anna Topolska, PhD, History
  • Alisha Wessler, MFA, Art & Design

The Scope of History: Exhibiting Historical Science at the Detroit Observatory

Monday, April 9, 2012

  • Keeley Briggs, MS, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • Molly McGuire, MSI, Information
  • Shannon Schmoll, PhD, Astronomy and Science Education


Issues in Museum Studies

The Inevitable and the Invisible: Stories of Race and Class in Two New York Museums, 1968-2008

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Presented by Aimee VonBokel, PhD, American Culture

This paper compares the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (LESTM) in Manhattan and the Weeksville Heritage Center (WHC) in Brooklyn. It is a story about how capital works to conflate race and class, and more specifically in this case, to create two potent mythologies: the common-sense perception of an inevitable white middle class on the one hand, and an invisible black middle class, on the other. The LESTM tells the story of poor white ethnic immigrants in Manhattan while the WHC tells the story of a rural middle-class black community in Brooklyn. The two historic sites bear witness to a significant chapter in U.S. urban history, that of the post-war devastation of U.S. cities caused by federally subsidized white suburbanization, deindustrialization, and capital flight. Instead of telling this story, however, the museums obscure it.

About Aimee VonBokel

Aimee VonBokel is a PhD student in American Culture and Museum Studies at the University of Michigan.

Building Bodies in the Australian Periphery: Dioramas, Petroglyphs, and the Enactment of Aboriginality in Tasmania

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Presented by Christopher Berk, PhD, Anthropology

Australia’s Aboriginal peoples have been central to how anthropologists have historically thought about progress and difference. Tasmania’s Aboriginal peoples receive less attention, both in Australia and in discussions of global indigenous movements. Before and after their supposed extinction in 1876, they were considered the most primitive humans.

In this talk I focus on two events in the early 1930s that had major impact on the scientific description and evolutionary placement of the “lost Tasmanian race.” The first was the construction of a diorama at Hobart’s Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery; the second was the recovery of Aboriginal petroglyphs on the island’s Northwest coast. We conclude with a discussion of contemporary Aboriginal self-representation in Tasmania, and consider where such practices fit in a larger history of difference-making.

About Christopher Berk

Christopher Berk is a PhD candidate in Anthropology and has fulfilled the requirements for the Certificate in Museum Studies.

Virtual Reunification: Bits and Pieces Put Together to Form a Semblance of a Whole

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Presented by Ricky Punzalan, PhD Candidate, Information and Museum Studies

Renewing Scotland’s Most Popular Museum

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Presented by Mark O’Neill, Director of Policy & Research at Glasgow Life and former head of Glasgow Museums

Opened in 1901, Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery expressed the confidence of Victorians that one museum could house a world encyclopedia “” with Old Masters and Egyptian mummies, French Impressionists and Scottish wildlife, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and arms and armor. By the 1990s the 100,000 square foot museum regularly achieved over one million visits each year, in a city of 600,000 people. It was however very tired, with failing systems and some displays which had not been renewed since the 1940s. The philosophy of the refurbishment was to build on Victorian commitments to the museum as a centre for public education, but also to reflect a century of developments in psychology, communications and respect for diversity, as well as many experiments in access in Glasgow’s other museums (Glasgow has the largest civic museum complex in the UK.) The aim was to create an object-based, visitor-centred, flexible and responsive museum. In its first year after reopening Kelvingrove had over 3,000,000 visits, making it the 14th most visited museum in the world, ahead of MOMA and the Uffizi. This lecture will explore the philosophy behind the refurbishment and the successes and failures of its implementation.

About Mark O’Neill

Mark O’Neill has worked in Glasgow since 1985, when he was employed by a local trust to establish a museum in Springburn. In 1990 he was appointed Keeper of Social History in Glasgow City Council’s museum service. He originated the concept for, and established, the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, the only interfaith museum in the UK. He led the team which refurbished the People’s Palace during 1995 to 1998. His main project since the mid 1990s was the Heritage Lottery funded £30 million redisplay of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which received 3.2 million visits in its first year after reopening in 2006. He was Head of Museums from 1998 to 2005 and Head of Arts and Museums from 2005 until January 2010, when he was appointed to his current role. Glasgow Life is a charity established by the City to manage and develop its cultural and sports facilities, the largest complex of its kind in the UK.

What Happened to the “Ant”? Planetariums in the Digital Age: Do They Still Work?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Derrick Pitts, Planetarium Director and Exhibit Developer, Franklin Institute Science Museum, delivers the 2012 Whitesell Lecture that considers the past, present and future of planetariums as theaters of space and time. Winter 2012.

Just 25 years ago, planetariums were the theaters of time and space. Forward into the future or backward into the past, their presentations shone a light into the dark of space and illuminated the depths of the universe using astronomical images, special effects, and that oh-so-incredible “voice from beyond.” Many of us had our first mediated astronomical learning experience in the planetarium, but by the turn of the century the video and digital revolutions made them nearly obsolete and “the ant” has all but disappeared. Would you believe they are again the most advanced of the visual theaters? They are, but we’ve not yet learned how to wield their fantastic power to show.

The 2012 Whitesell Lecture is organized by the Museum Studies Program and co-sponsored by the Bentley Historical Library.

About Derrick Pitts

Derrick Pitts is the Planetarium Director and Exhibit Developer at the Franklin Institute Science Museum. He has been associated with the museum since 1978, designing and presenting many public programs and exhibits. Pitts was the original director of the Tuttleman OMNIMAX Theater, museum vice-president and many other valued positions. He has been Chief Astronomer and Director of the Fels Planetarium since 1990, having written and produced more than two-dozen planetarium programs. He served as the US National Spokesperson for the IAU ‘International Year of Astronomy 2009’ and currently is a NASA Solar System Ambassador. Among his many awards are the Mayor’s Liberty Bell, the St. Lawrence University Distinguished Alumni Award, the G. W. Carver Medal, Please Touch Museum’s “Great Friend To Kids” Award, induction into the Germantown Historical Society Hall of Fame, selection as one of the “50 Most Important Blacks in Research Science” by Science Spectrum Magazine in 2004, the 2010 inaugural recipient of the David Rittenhouse Award, and in 2011, an honorary Doctor of Science degree from LaSalle University.  Pitts currently serves as the Academic Affairs committee chair on the Board of Trustees for his alma mater St. Lawrence University, is a member of the Board of Trustees at Widener University and is currently president of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc.

MSP@10 Celebration!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Join faculty, current students, alums, local museum partners, and friends of the University of Michigan Museum Studies Program on Friday, April 20, as we celebrate MSP@10 – the tenth anniversary of the Program. Alumni of the Museum Studies Program representing a variety of disciplines and professional experiences have been invited to participate in a public forum at which they will discuss a range of theoretical and practical concerns associated with museums and their audiences.

MSP@10: Growing an Interdisciplinary Program at UM

MSP Director Raymond Silverman will offer an overview of the development of the Museum Studies Program

Engaging Museums

Three successful alums will speak about their careers and current work with museums.

Museum Work: A Roundtable Discussion

Senior Museum Consultant Elaine Gurian will moderate a conversation with five MSP alums about the relationship between the theory and practice of working in and with museums.