Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I'm Published!

Some of you might recall the post I wrote in May, pleased as punch that I passed my thesis defense and completed my thesis project. Well, I'm happy to report that after some revision over the summer and into the fall, the project has now gone online!

In the words of the museum's website:
Discover the life and times of Midshipman Pardon Mawney Whipple as he participates in some of Old Ironsides’ most daring exploits. Encounter a lost world of heroism, sacrifice, and determination – a world brought to life by Whipple’s own letters and personal possessions.
Without further ado, may I present "In the Zenith of his Glory: Pardon Mawney Whipple, United States Navy"? The exhibit is currently featured on the museum's main page, as well as its permanent home in the "Collections and Library" section of the website. How very exciting!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Artifact Repatriation

A year and a half ago, I wrote a post about "The Restitution of Cultural Property in the Modern Age." It was a post sparked in large part by meeting Dr. Robert Anderson, former director of the British Museum. He spoke at my graduate university that spring and then later joined my classmates and I in our museum studies class. It was supremely interesting to get a perspective on artifacts like the Elgin Marbles from someone who once actually had power over said artifacts.

Last Monday, I came across two stories on Reuters and BBC News detailing more nationalistic conflict in the museum world centering upon the "return" of certain artifacts. From the BBC, "France's Louvre museum returns five frescoes to Egypt." And from Reuters online, "Egypt to ask British Museum for Rosetta Stone."

Now, here's the thing about "returning" objects to countries where they were excavated. On the one hand, I completely understand the desire of a country to have intellectual and physical control over an object - a thing of wood or bone or stone or something else entirely - that hails from their shores. I do.

However, isn't it of some significance that most of these objects were excavated and placed in the stewardship of a museum solely because some first world nation provided the funding and vision to do so? And that most of these objects are better cared for in their current (non-original) countries than they would likely be in their "home" nations?

I understand that this issue often becomes about the White Man and his history of very very bad interactions with poorer nations. And for good reason, I know. However, as a museum professional, I keep coming around to some of the basic tenets of collections care: care & preservation of artifacts and public access to said items. These ideals are painfully practical but, to me at least, incredibly important. I say whoever can care for the collections better and ensure greater public access (the eternal Sophie's choice) - wins them all!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lincoln in Dance Form

Now, as a museum professional, I normally turn to things like exhibits (brick-and-mortar or online), educational programs, and publications to educate the public about an historical topic. However, I recently reconsidered historical learning based on something written by an old friend of mine, Anna.

We've known each other since we were about two years old and she recently completed her MFA in dance performance. She's since moved to L.A. and started a blog featuring her thoughtful reviews of local dance performances. In October, she posted a review of a performance called "
Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray," danced at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. As she so aptly puts it:
Bill T. Jones’ Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray moves through the legends, impressions and famous words of Abraham Lincoln to discover a man and his enduring relevance and challenge to America. Fondly Do We Hope pursues this admirably ambitious vision with a deluge of projected and spoken text, riveting performance of an original musical score, bits of video, and glorious dancing.
I think I like this. Anna's review of the performance does a great job assessing its merits from the perspective of a dance scholar. I would obviously have to see the performance myself to sum it up from a historian's point of view, but I like the idea, at least.

I'm sure I'm oversimplifying things, but it seems to me that one of the great things dance can do is convey emotion. And one of the great things the teaching of history can do is help us connect with people in the past. So, accompanied with the proper framework of historical context, I can see a performance like this as a powerful tool to both teach about history and help the audience relate to a great man like Lincoln and the very human emotions he experienced in his vaunted life.