Brown Bags

Objects, Audiences, and Controversy: Observations at Monticello

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Presented by Kristine Ronan, PhD candidate, History of Art

In the initial interview for my 2012 MSP practicum, Susan Stein, director of the curatorial department at Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, made clear that at Monticello “objects are used quite differently” than in the art historical circles of my previous museum experiences. Monticello is a history museum, and at history museums, Stein emphasized, objects are never “ends in themselves.” Rather, objects are viewed as illustrations of historical narratives, and in this role they are always wrapped in various “messages.”

Stein’s statement of how objects operate in history museums did not always prove true in my three months at Monticello. This presentation examines the complicated nature of Monticello’s objects by looking at three specific areas of object engagement: (1) the ways in which the institution collects, studies, and displays objects; (2) the role these objects play in Monticello’s approach to its visitors and visitor learning; and (3) the effect that long-term controversy has had on Monticello’s object interpretations.

Behind the Scenes at the Freud Museum

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Presented by Carol Seigel, Director of Freud Museum, London

The Freud Museum in London was the last home of Sigmund Freud and his family when they fled Nazi-occupied Vienna in 1938. The centerpiece of the house is Freud’s study, preserved as it was when he lived and worked there, including the original, now iconic, psychoanalytic couch. Opened in 1986, the museum has become an international center for exhibitions, education and research.

This presentation will explore the challenges involved in running a small specialist museum. These include the conflicting demands of being at the same time a historic house, a place of “pilgrimage” for Freud devotees, a library and archive, a center for presenting the history of psychoanalysis, for education, discussion and debate, as well as the necessity of generating income to assure the museum’s financial stability.

About Carol Seigel

Carol Seigel is the Director of the Freud Museum, London. She studied history at Cambridge University and at Birkbeck, University of London. She has worked in museums in London for nearly twenty years, including as Curator of Social History at the Jewish Museum and running public programs at the Museum of London. She has been the Director of the Freud Museum since 2009; she is currently on a year’s leave of absence based in New York.

Displaying Archaeology: An Examination of 21st Century Museology in Greece

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Presented by Katherine Larson, PhD candidate, Classical Art and Archaeology

During the last fifteen years, an influx of monetary grants from the European Union has transformed the touristic presentation of cultural heritage in Greece. Many renovated museums have shifted from traditional art historical displays with minimal didactic and contextual information to a thematic but ahistorical approach based on society and culture. These new spaces incorporate technology, interactivity, multimedia reconstructions, beautiful architecture and lighting, and abundant signage, hallmarks of modern exhibitionary practice. However, after visiting dozens of old and new Greek museums during the 2012/13 school year, my contention is that thematic displays are overly generic and lack archaeological and historical context, resulting in a repetitive and redundant museum landscape that subtly promotes Hellenic nationalism, obfuscates authenticity, and fails to advocate for archaeological meaning and interpretation.

This presentation will address the state of 21st century museology in Greece by examining the display strategies of five public archaeological museums: the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, a large site-based museum and the most visited museum in the country; the Archaeological Museum of Volos, the regional museum of Thessaly; the Archaeological Museum of Messenia in Kalamata, another medium sized regional museum; the Archaeological Museum of Thasos, a moderately sized museum focusing on the archaeology of an island in the north Aegean Sea; and the Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth, a small site-based museum where I conducted my practicum.

Struggles to Remember: The Museum of the Word and Image in Post-War El Salvador

Friday, September 20, 2013

Presented by Diana Sierra Becerra, PhD, History & Women’s Studies

In El Salvador the “official narrative” of the Civil War (1980-1992) whitewashes the key role and impact of U.S. funded state repression, which included systemic disappearances, massacres, and torture. In the post-war context, the Museum of the Word and Image (MUPI) has dedicated itself to writing and documenting subaltern histories, from the participation of peasants, indigenous peoples, workers, and women in social movements, to the idiosyncrasies of everyday urban and rural life. Drawing experiences from a three-month internship and engaging with museum literature, I will discuss the ways in which the MUPI can serve as a progressive museum model to encourage critical historical analysis, self-representation, consciousness-raising, and collective empowerment.

Digitizing the Library of Ashurbanipal at the British Museum

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Presented by Gina Konstantopoulos, PhD candidate, Near Eastern Studies

The library of Ashurbanipal, king of the Neo-Assyrian empire of the first millennium BCE, is the oldest surviving royal library in the world. It contained an enormous collection of clay tablets, a broad range of texts from royal inscriptions to literary epics and incantations. Over 30,000 of these tablets were first excavated by the British Museum in the 1850s, and have remained in London to the present day. Although much of it is unedited or unpublished, it is an enormous collection of information about Mesopotamia. Over the summer of 2012, I worked at the British Museum on their project to make these tablets accessible online, for Assyriologists and a broader academic audience. In taking high-quality photographs and processing them digitally, we created a high-resolution digital image of the tablet. As these are written documents, the ultimate goal was to produce images good enough that cuneiform writing on the tablets themselves could be read. This digitization stood as the first step of a larger project, where these images could then be analyzed, finding trends and patterns in the writing of the cuneiform signs themselves that would allow us to identify individual scribes who were writing nearly 3000 years ago.

The Relocation of Cultural Heritage in Contemporary Morocco

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Presented by Ashley Miller, PhD candidate, History of Art

In recent years “heritage” has become a vital cultural arena in Morocco, receiving considerable attention from local policy-makers, professionals, and scholars. New museums of both “traditional” and contemporary Moroccan art are under construction, Morocco maintains nine UNESCO World Heritage sites, and King Mohammed VI has announced the creation of a National Museum Foundation to be launched in late 2013 in tandem with new legislation concerning the inventorying, preservation, and management of Morocco’s material heritage.

These developments in Morocco parallel the acceleration of “heritage” projects throughout Africa and the postcolonial world over the last two decades. In the face of amplified tourism campaigns, international support for heritage preservation, and a nascent market for contemporary art in the “developing” world, what does “heritage” mean in a local context? Who has the authority to identify and manage cultural heritage, and for whom will this heritage be preserved and promoted?

This presentation will draw upon my recent three-month research trip to Morocco, sponsored by the University of Michigan Museum Studies Program. I will examine the relationship of recent developments in cultural heritage management to the particular history of “heritage” in modern Morocco. How has the legacy of colonial-era cultural heritage management in Protectorate Morocco (1912-1956) impacted articulations of “Moroccan” cultural heritage today? What possibilities exist for the expression of cultural heritage(s) and identities outside of official state-sponsored heritage projects?

New Space and the Creation of a Small Tribal Museum

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Presented by Courtney Cottrell, PhD student, Anthropology

The Brothertown Indian Nation (BIN) of Wisconsin recently opened a new community center with help from a generous donation and the ongoing support from the Brothertown Indian Nation bingo committee. This community center allowed the council’s chambers, offices, bingo hall, and gift shop to come together in one physical space. The added benefit of the new community center was the designation of space for a BIN museum. Before the community center, the BIN “museum” consisted of single objects placed around the various spaces owned by the BIN.

This consolidation into one location and the designation of a museum space allowed for new policies and procedures to be instituted by the Brothertown Indian Nation, including new museum practices. As a small community museum that is run by and for Brothertown members first, the Brothertown Indian Nation council members thought it would be an opportunity to create policies and practices shaped to the specific needs of the community.

My museum studies practicum allowed me to explore possibilities for tribally specific museum practices that included unconventional museum practices. This talk will explore some of the practices discussed and tested by the Brothertown Indian Nation Museum during this transition in issues of transparency, reciprocity, and ownership.

Managing the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary: Analyzing Access to and Preservation of Lake Huron’s Underwater Heritage

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Presented by Leah Burgin, BA Honors, Anthropology

Heritage sites are vitally important cultural resources, and how cultural resource managers negotiate public access to and preservation of these sites becomes a complicated balancing act. When heritage sites exist underwater, as in the case of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, this challenge is compounded due to the limitations of the underwater world. To help heritage managers mitigate the balancing act of access and preservation, heritage laws and policies advocate for access and preservation efforts to bolster one another, creating a “feedback loop” that can act as an effective management strategy.

Little research, however, has been conducted that considers how the ideal interaction of access and preservation put forth by these laws and policies can be translated into practical management decisions for submerged cultural resources. This presentation will examine the decisions the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary made when planning how to manage its submerged cultural resources. Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is an important heritage site to study, because it currently manages a nationally significant collection of shipwrecks, and is on the cusp of an expansion that would drastically increase the sanctuary’s management challenges and opportunities.

Curating Memories in Conflict: New Ethnography in an Old Museum

Monday, March 31, 2014

Presented by Erica Lehrer, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Concordia University

Anthropologist Erica Lehrer will discuss a participatory exhibition of Polish-made figurines depicting Jews that she curated in Kraków’s Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in summer 2013. The exhibit grew out of research for her recent book Jewish Poland Revisited: Heritage Tourism in Unquiet Places (Indiana, 2013). In the broadest terms, the exhibition took up the question of how to deal with painfully disputed subject matter: How can one productively exhibit objects whose existence or the meanings one community promotes are deeply objectionable to another community? Lehrer will discuss Poland’s Jewish figurines as “intersectional objects” that both bind and divide communities, and suggest their potential as catalysts for critical memory work that transcends the terms of today’s defensive public debate about Poland’s Jewish past.

When the Dignity of the Dead Runs Out: The Legal, Ethical, and Policy Issues Surrounding a Dead Body’s Transition from Corpse to Archaeological Resource

Friday, January 24, 2014

Presented by Katherine Carlton, JD, Law

In most countries around the world, it is legally impossible to own the human remains of a recently deceased person. Largely borne out of concern for preserving the dignity of the newly departed, property rights over a dead body commonly extend only to the deceased’s next-of-kin, and even then exist only so far as is necessary to properly dispose of the remains. Yet countless museums possess, study, and display dead bodies and skeletal material every day. How does such activity go on within the confines of the law? While most countries have statutes and legal precedent mandating the immediate disposal of the recently deceased, remains considered “too old” to have identifiable living descendants exist in a kind of legal limbo; they cannot be legally owned, but they also fall outside the protection of most laws. Further, those countries which have laws or ethical guidelines governing the use of human remains in museums generally differentiate between remains less than a few hundred years old and those over a few hundred years old, treating the former as items entitled to greater care and respect, while viewing the latter as archaeological resources more appropriate for study and display.

This presentation explores when the protection of a person’s dignity in death lapses under the law, as well as how and where museums draw the line between human corpse and archaeological material. I have analyzed and compared law, policy, and case studies in the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom in an attempt to answer the aforementioned questions. It is my hope that this research will help to create a more informed and thoughtful policy for the use and display of human remains in museums both domestically and abroad.

Conferences and Symposia

It’s Alive! Re-Discovering Institutions of Living Collections

Fleeting Beauty, Enduring Consequences: Decisive Issues in Peony Garden Collection Development

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Presented by David Michener, Associate Curator, U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens; Lecturer, School of Natural Resources and Environment

The historic Peony Garden at the University of Michigan Nichols Arboretum already holds the most diverse and largest heritage (pre-1950) herbaceous peony collection in North America. The Arboretum has launched a multi-year effort to develop the peony collection to become the foremost of its type in the world, with a target date of 2022.

Our goals require unassailable accuracy, collection breadth, depth, and complete public access – physical as well as digital. Deliberate and irrevocable decisions must be made along the way, especially since the potential to acquire missing materials is rapidly diminishing with time. The garden space is finite, thus the only way to upgrade the collection to international significance is to replace selected existing plants with ones of greater intellectual and cultural value, while still maintaining the aesthetic integrity of the whole.

This presentation examines how museum practices frame the stewardship and decision-making of the Nichols Arboretum as we shape this collection and break new ground in living collection management.

About David Michener

Dr. David C. Michener is the Associate Curator at the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, where he oversees collection development, renovation and related information management. He serves on the university’s Museum Studies Program’s steering committee and as a Faculty Associate in the Program in the Environment. David teaches in the Michigan Math and Science Scholars summer program. He has conducted over a dozen on-site, confidential reviews of living collections for funding agencies. David has written several technical curatorial articles, and in the popular press, is the co-author of Taylor’s Guide to Groundcovers (with Nan Sinton). His doctorate in botany is from the Claremont Graduate School and Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden; his undergraduate degree is in botany with highest honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Policy and Practice in the Treatment of Human Remains in German Museum and University Collections

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Presented by Robert Jütte, Director of the Institute for the History of Medicine of the Robert Bosch Foundation and Adjunct Professor of History at the University of Stuttgart

In most European countries current legislation regulating the treatment of human remains held in collections, museums, and public places is still highly fragmentary and is insufficient for the resolution of the legal and ethical problems associated with them. Details regarding the display of human remains also varies between different collections and museums.

In 2000 a German group of experts set out to create guidelines regarding the housing of human remains in anatomical and pathological collections. In 2013 the German Association of Museums (Deutscher Museumsbund) published guidelines on how to deal in general with human remains in museums from a legal and ethical point of view. This includes the much debated issue of repatriation of human remains in anthropological and similar collections. The German case shows that no government action is needed if experts produce a code of practice for maintaining human remains in public places which is in accordance with the existing national legislation and in line with modern ethical standards.

About Robert Jütte

Robert Jütte is currently Director of the Institute for the History of Medicine of the Robert Bosch Foundation and Adjunct Professor of History at the University of Stuttgart. From 1983 to 1989 he was Associate Professor at the Department of General History of the University of Haifa/Israel. He is a social and medical historian and the author or editor of over 35 books, some translated into English and into other languages. He is a member of the steering committee of the Scientific Board of the German Medical Association.

Ethics and Living Collections: A View from the Zoo

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Presented by Ron Kagan, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, The Detroit Zoological Institute

November 6, 2013 at 6:30 pm, UM Museum of Art Helmut Stern Auditorium

Zoos are unique societal intersections where nature, science, and human values converge. Like most museums, we conserve artifacts. The zoo and aquarium community strives to advance the conservation of thousands of living species and animals. Effective conservation efforts that advance populations and the welfare of species do not necessarily advance the welfare of individuals. Is it ethical to ignore individuals to conserve species? Furthermore, picking which species we conserve often means de facto picking which species may ultimately become extinct. How do we sort through those ethical dimensions? For many museums the ethical considerations of the collection or objects (for example, a work of art) center around ownership. For zoos the ethical choices truly often revolve around life and death.

Though zoo environments are predator-free, they are also captive spaces, limiting and foreign to animals that are often denied basic freedoms. This presentation addresses the complex and significant ethical issues confronting those who take seriously their responsibility to protect and optimize the lives of their animal collections – what we now call the living resident population.

About Ron Kagan

Ron Kagan is the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Detroit Zoological Society, a position he has held since 1992. Kagan’s career spans 35 years working in zoos including the Dallas Zoo and Aquarium and the Jerusalem Zoo at Hebrew University. Throughout Kagan’s tenure at the Detroit Zoo, he has been steadfast in his commitment to treat the animals with respect and empathy. The zoo has transitioned away from a more traditional approach to become a national leader in the compassionate treatment of animals in captivity. The zoo has also participated in the rescue of thousands of animals and been able to provide them with a much improved quality of life. Kagan was educated at Hebrew University, and his dedication to the proper care of animals is a lifelong commitment for him.

Exquisite Corpses: Our Dialogue with the Dead in Museums

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Presented by Robert D. Hicks, Director of the Mütter Museum and Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Images of post mortem human remains are fascinating and disquieting. They amuse children at Halloween and disturb adults when on display at museums. Today’s omnipresent imagery of people doing everything at all times has not accustomed us to depictions of human mortality. The dead are speedily removed from view, and our direct contact with the dead is limited and controlled. Although mortal images can arouse empathy and may develop tolerance for a spectrum of human physical variation, other cultural voices argue for proscription and censure.

This presentation explores our dialogue with post mortem human imagery by examining its relationship to politics and ownership of the dead. The collections of the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia form a backdrop to this dialogue and illustrate the contradictory and challenging messages anatomical displays convey to visitors. The presentation incorporates perspectives drawn from anthropology, art criticism, history, museum curatorship, and criminal justice, and suggests how museums with pathological anatomical collections might re-invent themselves.

About Robert D. Hicks

Robert D. Hicks, PhD is the director of the Mütter Museum and Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Formerly, he supervised exhibits, collections, and educational outreach at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. He has worked with museum-based education and exhibits for over three decades, primarily as a consultant to historic sites and museums. Robert has a doctorate in maritime history from the University of Exeter, United Kingdom, and degrees in anthropology and archaeology from the University of Arizona. His most recent book is Voyage to Jamestown: Practical Navigation in the Age of Discovery (U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2011)

Museum Technologies/Museum Transformations

Friday, March 14, 2014

Museum Technologies/Museum Transformations convenes a host of international experts to explore how technology has transformed museums and to introduce the next wave of innovations headed our way. Through presentations and discussion, the conference will facilitate critical reflection on where past developments have led us and will begin to articulate a scholarly agenda to travel forward with the rapid advances that continue to be made. Presenters include scholars from the sciences, arts, and humanities, leading representatives from the museum community, and key innovators from the private sector.

Google Digitizing Culture?

Piotr Adamczyk (Program Manager, Google Cultural Institute)

Black Box in a White Cube: Media Arts in Museum Contexts

Gunalan Nadarajan (Dean, Penny Stamps School of Art and Design, U-M)

Exploring Openness in Digital Cultural Heritage

Ethan Watrall (Department of Anthropology and MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences, Michigan State University)

Exhibiting Data: Using Embodied Interface Designs to Engage Visitors in Big Data

Leilah Lyons (University of Illinois at Chicago and New York Hall of Science)

The Animal Diversity Web: Bringing Museums into Classrooms

Tanya Dewey (Museum of Zoology and Animal Diversity Web, U-M)

Turning the Museum Inside Out: Smithsonian Scale Digitization

Günter Waibel (Director, Smithsonian Digitization Program, Smithsonian Institution)

Final Comments and Discussion

Elaine Heumann Gurian (Senior Museum Consultant) and conference presenters

Many thanks to the support received from the Institute for the Humanities, Department of the History of Art, Herbarium, Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, Museum of Natural History, Museum of Paleontology, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan Museum of Art, and the University Library.

MSP 2013 Capstone Presentations

History in the Twenty-First Century: Re-envisioning the Telling of Jackson’s Story

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

  • Caroline Braden, MA, Educational Studies
  • Christina Ladkau, MA, Japanese Studies
  • Molly Malcolm, MSI, Information
Making the Voigt House Vital: Can a Historic House Become Self-Sustaining in the Twenty-First Century?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

  • Rebecca Cassidy, MPP, Public Policy
  • Alison Rittershaus, PhD, Interdisciplinary Program in Classical Art and Archaeology
  • Caitlin Townsend, PhD, History
Evaluating Digital Learning Tools for the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History

Thursday, April 17, 2014

  • Jeremy Golubcow-Teglasi, PhD, Educational Studies
  • Nicholas Malzahn, MSI, Information
  • Andrea Rottmann, PhD, Germanic Languages and Literature
  • Alice Tsay, PhD, English Language and Literature


Issues in Museum Studies

‘A Funny Match’: Interpreting Radicalism and Nostalgia at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House Museum

Monday, March 17, 2014

Presented by Sarah Gothie, PhD candidate, American Culture

In 1868-1869, Louisa May Alcott reluctantly wrote, at the behest of her publisher, a novel that would become an American literary classic. Alcott drew upon her own life experiences to craft Little Women, conventionalizing controversial aspects of her biography to ensure the fictional March family would appeal to a mass, middle-class audience. Alcott’s nostalgic account of the March sisters’ lives reveals only tinctures of the grinding poverty her own family endured, and omits almost entirely the Alcotts’ support of women’s suffrage, abolitionism, and other social reforms. Orchard House (in Concord, Mass.), the place where Alcott wrote and set her novel, opened to the public in 1912 under the auspices of the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association. The founders framed the museum as home of the fictional March family, creating a domestic shrine they hoped would safeguard conservative, 19th-century Anglo-American values during a transformative time of mass immigration and urbanization. Today, Orchard House tours educate about the real-life Alcotts as well as the fictional Marches, touting their previously unmentionable social activism. This presentation examines how Louisa May Alcott’s choices as a writer obscured her progressive politics and set the stage for the complicated relationship between nostalgia and radicalism that contemporary Orchard House visitors encounter today.

About Sarah Gothie

Sarah Gothie is a doctoral candidate in American Culture at the University of Michigan and a graduate of the Museum Studies Program, ‘09 cohort. Her dissertation examines the ‘extra-literary’ (i.e. beyond the book) cultural legacies of children’s literature authors Louisa May Alcott, L.M. Montgomery, and Beatrix Potter. Drawing upon a diverse popular archive of tourist sites, films, and consumer goods, she interprets the personal, ideological, and commercial significance of 21st century nostalgia for these writers and their classic children’s stories.